Attention and listening is being able to listen and focus on specific tasks or sounds. It can be a tricky skill for young children to learn. It usually involves the ability to focus the eyes and/or ears on one thing while ignoring others, for a certain length of time. By the time a child is 4-5 years old, he/she should be able to follow verbal directions related to the task on which he/she is engaged, without needing to interrupt the task to look at the speaker. This is called 2-chanelled communication, i.e. stimuli that are heard/seen can be integrated. It can usually only be sustained for short periods. By 5-6 years, integrated attention should be well established and well sustained. The child is thus able to concentrate in larger groups and classroom settings.
Why are Attention & Listening skills so important?
- A good attention span is needed before a child can begin to understand language.
- Attention skills are the basis of ALL learning: children need to learn to listen and look appropriately & control their own focus of attention
The following behaviours can indicate Attention and Listening difficulties
- Easily distracted from listening
- Difficulty listening in noisy environments
- Difficulty in following verbal instructions
- Slow or delayed responses to verbal stimuli
- Frequently asks for repetition of instructions or questions
- Often misunderstands what is said
- Reading & writing difficulties
- Problems in learning sequences eg counting days of week, rhymes and songs
- Behavioural difficulties
- Children with Autism
What can cause Attention & Listening difficulties?
- Something more interesting is going on at the same time
- Not understanding what is being said
- Finding an activity too difficult, leading to “switching off” or being distracted by something that the child can do
- Feeling threatened or under pressure
- Middle ear infections, causing temporary hearing loss
- Attention deficit disorder
KEY ATTENTION AND LISTENING STRATEGIES:
- Use class rules such as Good Looking/ Good Listening/ Good Sitting/ Good Waiting. Remind the children of these often. Praise children when they remember and follow the rules.
- Ensure that you have the child’s attention BEFORE giving the instruction: eg say the child’s name first and wait for them to look
- Make sure you look at the child you are speaking to & attract their attention eg by touching table in front of them
- Make activities interesting and fun. Provide varied experiences during activities
- Demonstrate the skills to be taught using the same materials as the child has
- Try alternating between listening/quiet tasks and more active ones (allow energy release breaks between activities eg star jumps, stretching etc.).
- Don’t expect a child to listen and write at the same time.
- Use natural gesture and visual cues to help retention & recall of information
- Use short simple sentences with familiar vocabulary and avoid ambiguous language
- Offer forced choice answers – eg “Which one is right? The green shape or the red one?”
- Break long instructions into short steps
- Give instructions in the order in which they are to be done: “First finish your writing, then read page 6” rather than “Read page 6 after you’ve finished your writing”
- Set the child manageable goals: make sure that previous task is finished before giving instructions for the next one.
- Slow down your speech and use pauses.
- Encourage ACTIVE ATTENTION & LISTENING SKILLS where child asks when they have forgotten or not understood a message