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
  • Boredom!
  • 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
  • Illness


  • 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

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