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Study Skills and Attention

First stage activities to develop listening skills

Many children who have difficulty in understanding spoken language and expressing themselves have difficulty with listening.  ‘Listening’ is not the same as hearing, since listening requires some concentration, whereas hearing does not, e.g. you may be listening to the TV but, at the same time you may hear the clock tick, or the dog bark.

In developing a child’s ability to listen, these games should also help them to concentrate better.  Above all, they will improve their facility for understanding the spoken word and expressing themselves in words.

Awareness of sounds

Awareness of different sounds. The first step towards developing listening is to arouse the child’s awareness of different sounds, by experimenting with them as much as possible.

Good noisemakers:  Rattles, chimes, bells, squeaky toys, spoon in cup, etc.

Homemade noisemakers: Clean, dry, plastic fruit juice bottles with spaghetti/rice or dried peas/beads/buttons/strips of baking foil inside. N.B. Take care to seal lid firmly.

Detergent bottles or margarine cartons may be filled and covered with ‘Fablon’. A quick, easy-to-make rattle, which can be held in the hand or hung up for the child to hit or kick, is as follows: – Bottle tops (no sharp edges!), film or Elastoplast spools, cotton reels, and large buttons can be threaded on to a string, which may be shaken to make the objects dance and jingle.

Slither box: Use a fairly large flat box e.g. chocolate or soap powder.  Put in a few spoonfuls of gravel/rice/buttons/dried peas, etc., according to the sound you wish to make.  Seal well and cover box. As the weight is transferred from one hand to the other, the contents ‘slither’ and make a noise.

‘Plonking’ game: Drop objects without the child seeing. Guess by the sound which object has been dropped. Suggested ‘plonkers’: cotton reels, fir cones, hair curlers, clothes pegs, dried peas. Suggested containers: grocery carton, biscuit tin, plastic bucket, paper bag.

Location of Sounds

The next step is to encourage the child to listen and to recognise which direction the sound is coming from. These games are helpful in training this:

Make a noise out of sight of the child and he/she has to turn to, or point to the direction it is coming from.

Introduce more than one sound so that the child has two sounds or more to locate.

Have somebody hide and the child has to look for him/her.  The person who is hiding has a noisemaker, so that the child follows the direction of the noise.

Identifying Sounds

The child must be able to recognise sounds in the environment and where they come from, if he/she is to make connections and develop understanding of the world about him/her, so he/she may use words meaningfully.

The first step is identifying familiar voices – can the child identify family voices?

If the child is unable to move around the house freely by himself/herself, make sure you take him/her to the things which make particular noises, e.g. show him/her the water as it gurgles down the plughole, illustrate for him/her how the doorbell rings etc.

Make a tape recording of familiar noises. Find large pictures appropriate to each noise (or actu alobjects, if portable enough).  Let the child practise matching the noise to the picture or object.  When he/she can do this, play each noise on the cassette and place two or more pictures for him/her to select from. Suggested noises: clock ticking, doorbell ringing, telephone ringing, toilet flushing, vacuum cleaner, tap running, cups clinking.

Animal noises: Teach the child to connect animals and their noises. Use toy animals and clear pictures.  Start with just one animal and gradually build up.  This is ideal for a game matching noise to toy animal and later for discriminating between noises.

Discriminating Between Sounds

The child must be able to appreciate if two sounds are different and, at a later stage, what is different between them.  This is especially good for developing concentration and is important for the child who later uses incorrect sounds.

Matching noisemakers: Collect six plastic pots with lids – all looking exactly alike.  Put them into pairs and fill each pair with something which makes a noise, e.g. two with rice, two with nuts, two with paper.  Present the child with two very different noisemakers at first, e.g. paper and nuts. Shake the one with paper and the child selects the other one that sounds the same.  Allow them to play with the noisemakers to make their choice.  As they become more able, introduce noisemakers that sound similar and give them a greater variety to choose from, making more noisemakers if necessary.

Animal noise games: Make sure the child knows the noise each animal makes.  Find simple animal pictures and play the game making the animal noises while they select the correct picture. ‘Sounds Alike’: Find pictures of common words which sound almost alike and with which the child is familiar, e.g. boat/coat, tea/key, sock/clock, hat/hot, etc.  Show each pair and say ‘Show me the coat’, etc.  N.B.  Your child must be very familiar with these pictures before this activity is attempted.  At a simpler level, actual objects could be used.

Remembering Sounds

It is very important that the child remembers what he/she hears, as he/she has to remember words and sounds they have heard in order to develop understanding and to use sounds and words expressively.

Place two or three objects in front of the child (more if they can cope) and ask them to fetch or point to one object; then two, three, etc.  Gradually move the objects further away, so he/she has longer to remember the instructions.  Develop this game by putting the objects in the next room and get the child to fetch them.

Hide and Seek: Hide three or four (or more) familiar objects round the room.  Say ‘Find me the shoe’ etc. Your child has to find the object you have asked for; any of the other hidden objects will not do.

Play hide and seek as above, but try using simple picture cards. Ask your  child to match the real object to its picture.

Gradually make commands more difficult, e.g. ‘Put this car on the table’, ‘Jump, then put the car on the table’.

See if he/she can remember a series of sounds, then numbers or simple words.  Start with two and build up.

Read or tell him/her a short story in simple sentences and ask him/her to tell you the story back again.

Shopping: Play ‘shops’, sending him/her gradually for more and more items to ‘buy’