Attention & Listening Skills

by | Jun 11, 2020 | 0 comments

Developing Attention and Listening Skills 

Almost all of us have been in a situation where we are spoken to but are not really hearing what the speaker is saying. It is not until the speaker checks with us do we realise that we were not paying attention. Therefore, how do we respond? We may bluff our response, hazard a guess or be upfront about it and inform the speaker that we were not listening. 


Children’s listening skills are equally if not more important as they are on the brink of developing their communication skills, starting with attention, and listening. This is the foundation of all communication skills. Grasping a child’s attention is the key to ensuring they are listening to what we say. Therefore, would it make sense for us to expect them to repeat a set of your instructions if they were not listening? No, it would be illogical for such expectation.


If a child is not listening to what is being said, how can we expect them to respond appropriately or according to what we expect. Which is why it is so important to have them look at you as you speak to them; ensure they have paused the game on their Xbox as you explain a set of instructions; come closer to you as you talk; or have stopped jumping on the trampoline or sofa to heed what you have to say.


Take a look at this simple yet conclusive diagram which explains how the hierarchy of communication develops:

This tells us that we need to have the attention and listening skills in place before we develop other aspects of a child’s communication skills. Yes, improving the way Daniel says his ‘f’ as ‘p’ is important; and supporting Jenny’s vocabulary from 20 words to 30 words is productive; and encouraging Yusuf’s interaction with his peers is healthy for developing social relationships. However, if these children are struggling to sit and attend to an activity for a length of time which is appropriate for their age, then it is equivalent to using a bucket full of holes to transfer water from place A to B; the water will eventually be transferred, but the process will be long and tiring.


Developing a child’s attention and listening skills will help them flourish in numerous ways, and parents will undoubtedly benefit from having their children listening more attentively.

I have listed below a few activities for pre-school and primary school age children in terms of how they can improve your child’s attention and listening skills. The list and recommendations are not exhaustive:

  1. Play Simon says.
  2. Locating and identifying sounds – get 2 sets of 2-5 noise making objects. Take a set and give a set to the child. Hide both sets behind a screen. Make a sound with one object behind the screen and ask the child to identify which object it was. Then the child has a turn.
  3. Posting game – use a set of action picture cards (e.g. a girl reading a book; a boy reading a book; a girl swinging; a boy swinging) and a post box (shoe box designed into a shoe box – look at this link for ideas about how to create one: Ask the child to post ‘the girl is swinging’. Take it in turns t post a picture. Make occasional mistakes to check if the child notices and is observing you well.
  4. Sound bag – get a range of toys, around 8-10 you have in the house and put them together in a bag. Ask the child to pull one out and make the associated sound, e.g. ‘brum’ for car; ‘moo’ for cow.  Encourage them to repeat it after you. Put the objects back in the bag once all sounds have been identified. Make a sound, e.g. ‘moo’ and ask the child to take out the associated object.
  5. Turn taking games – this can be anything from throwing a ball or bean bag to each other; winding up toys back and forth; pushing cars along to each other; taking turns to add a brick or 2 to a tower; sharing toys with a sibling and putting a physical timer of 3-5 minutes (e.g. phone or sand timer) so the child can see for themselves. Gradually increase the length of time the child needs to wait, but not too long. As a rough guide, begin with a minute per age, e.g. if the child is 3, encourage waiting for 3 minutes before they get their turn on the toy from their sibling.
  6. Telling stories – use character voices to make it interesting and ask a few questions at the end.
  7. Use as many visual cues as possible, especially when giving instructions, such as gestures, objects, pictures, writing down- check the child’s understanding after.
  8. ‘In my bag, I’ve got’ game – have a selection of small toys in front of you and the child; say ‘In my bag ive got …erm… a ball and pick up a ball and put it in the bag. Pass the bag to the child. They say ‘In my bag Ive got a ball and …a car’ and they pick up a car. Continue this game until all the toys have gone into the bag or until you can see the child struggling to remember. Give subtle hints to support the child and stop when you can see the frustration building.
  9. Fill in the gap nursery rhymes/songs – sing a familiar song to the child, pause at the end of each line and wait for the child to fill in the gaps. For example, ‘Humpty dumpty sat on a … Humpty dumpty had a great … All the kings horses and all the kings … etc.    
  10. The ‘Listening Walk’ – whilst walking to the shops or any location, ask the child to listen to what sounds they can hear; ask them to list 5 sounds and identify what they are and where they might be coming from.


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