Like most parents, you probably feel you've repeated requests to pick up toys a million times, but your toddler isn't necessarily ignoring you. Your child learns to listen by practicing activities that incorporate listening to words and sounds. Games that introduce and practice listening teach your toddler new skills that help the child focus attention to follow your directions. Young children have individual learning calendars, and listening skills develop gradually with practice. Not all toddlers learn to listen the same way either, and using a variety of listening exercises helps speed the learning process.
Matching sounds with objects, animals and humans helps toddlers identify the origin of the noise. Ask younger toddlers to point to the direction of the sound during the day, and encourage older toddlers to identify the person or thing making the noise. Focus on indoor sounds to introduce common noises heard around the house. Ask toddlers to listen for and identify outdoor sounds such as local transportation and work noises, including trains, trucks and cars. Move onto anticipating noises for the indoor or outdoor activities once your toddler has mastered some basic sounds. Ask your toddler, "What noise does the car horn make?" Share picture books with images of the sound-makers to reinforce the pointing and identification games for toddlers at all ages.
Story summaries teach toddlers basic listening skills. Begin with a simple story that tells a tale about something of high interest to your child. Stories that feature a favorite animal, toy or activity help toddlers listen carefully for details. Review the basic vocabulary included in the story with your toddler and read the same story for several days. Pause during the later readings and ask your child to contribute more of the story details. Ask your child, "What does the boy do next in this story?" Encourage older toddlers to interpret major ideas learned from listening to the story such as, "Why do you think the boy ran away?"
Direction exercises ask toddlers to follow verbal instructions involving multiple steps. Mapping activities incorporate verbal directions with a physical pattern to help toddlers remember directions. Direction mapping involves using an organizer, such as a dollhouse, and also uses toys to help keep track of the information. Begin with only one or two directions with younger toddlers, such as, "Place the doll in the playhouse bedroom," and expand the number of directions as your child ages and learns to listen for specifics. Use compound directions, such as, "Place the toy dog in the living room, and then move the dog to the kitchen," for older toddlers.
Expanding story exercises start with a short tale that involves your child as the key participant. Toddlers pay attention closely to stories about themselves or family members, according to the Center for Early Literacy Learning. Develop a personal story of at least a minute that describes a trip or an event with at least one other person or an object as part of the tale. Tell the same short story the next day and ask your child to repeat the story. Add a new element to the story each day to teach listening for details. The exercise continues for a week with the foundation story expanding each day. Expand the length of the story with older toddlers, and ask your child to anticipate actions, review the basic plot and identify story characters to teach listening skills.
- PBS Parents: Toddler Listening Milestones
- Reading Rockets: Early Literacy -- Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years
- Center for Early Literacy Learning: Listen Up! Talking and Listening
- Center for Early Literary Learning: I Wanna Be a Storyteller -- Storytelling and Listening
- Department of Education: Typical Language Accomplishments for Children, Birth to Age 6 -- Helping Your Child Become a Reader
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