As parents and teachers we can feel like we spend 90% of our day asking children to listen and pay attention. Whether we are giving directions, teaching a lesson, seeking active participation, or even just trying to have a conversation with our child after school, getting children to listen is challenging! It can be easy to forget in the moment that active listening is a skill that takes practice. Just like tying your shoe, learning your letters, or expressing your emotions in a prosocial way, children can learn and improve their active listening abilities: And it is worth it. Active listening helps kids be better communicators, friends, and learners by helping them to tune into their own needs and allowing them to self-reflect, choose self-care, and ask for what they need.
As with anything we teach children, modeling is an essential first step. Model what good listening looks like by engaging in conversations without other distractions, putting down your phone when your child is talking, asking clarifying questions, and repeating back important statements.
Providing children with concrete steps towards active listening can also be helpful. In KITS we love to practice “whole body listening” during stories or lessons. This can include something like telling the children, “Give me five: 1) Eyes on me, 2) voices off, 3) calm bodies, 4) listening ears on, and 5) be ready to learn.” You can adjust these reminders depending on the task at hand or child’s developmental skill level.
Most importantly, make it fun! Check out the list below for six fun ways to practice active listening skills at home or in the classroom:
- 1. Simon Says: This classic game from childhood allows children to practice active listening skills by paying close attention to directions, while using the information (“Simon says, touch your head”) to make a decision.
- Popcorn Storytelling: In popcorn storytelling, each “player” takes a turn adding on to the story that the group is building together. The first person can start with “Once upon a time there lived a great big purple dragon…” and the next person has to use their active listening skills to incorporate what they just heard in order to add on to the story. This activity can be enhanced with picture cards or word prompts on dice.
- Telephone: Another classic children’s game which provides children with the opportunity to listen closely, reflect, and repeat back what they think they heard.
- 20 Questions: In 20 Questions, the person who is “it” thinks of an object that the other players have to guess. The catch is, they can only ask 20 yes or no questions to figure out the clue! This game gets kids thinking about the information they have already heard and putting it together to ask the best questions that will provide them with the most information.
- Did you notice?: I love this activity because it can be adjusted for a wide range of ages. One version of this game is to set out a tray with several objects on it. Show the children the tray of objects for 10 seconds, cover it with a towel, and then sneak one of the objects off of the tray. Reveal the tray with the missing object and have the children guess what is missing. This can be repeated several times. Another fun version of the game is to have another child or teacher leave the circle and go where they cannot be seen. Then ask the children to describe exactly what that person was wearing. Both of these activities require paying close attention and practicing recalling information.
- The Listening Game: Active listening is not only about noticing others, but also checking in and paying attention to what is happening with ourselves. Check out this short video from Cosmic Kids featuring a fun listening game
Image: © Marzanna Syncerz | Dreamstime.com