Listening and Learning

Taking advantage of the world of sounds is a wonderful way to help young children develop their listening skills.




Three year olds have fun with language, delighting in simple nursery rhymes and making up their own. As they listen to and repeat familiar rhymes and create word plays, children develop an ear for sounds, discovering they can be manipulated and changed.

Tell Me a Story
Most 3 year olds enjoy listening to books — talking about the pictures and discussing what's happening. They particularly love listening to the same story over and over again. This kind of listening helps young children rehearse specific words and begin to repeat lines as they "read" their favorites along with us.

Talk to Me
At this age, children engage in conversation — listening to simple questions, responding with appropriate answers, and contributing to what has already been said. When not distracted, 3 year olds demonstrate active listening skills, focusing eyes, bodies, and attention on the person speaking. Four-year-olds can use their listening skills to follow a three-step direction. When asked, Marcus can put away his book, get his hat, and line up at the door.

Listening plays still another role as 3 and 4 year olds carry on conversations with themselves during play. They become involved in listening to their own comments and questions while they act out the role of Mom or dump and fill at the water table.

Growing With Language
In addition to spouting spontaneous rhymes, songs, and finger-plays, 4 year olds love to listen to jokes and riddles. They like to hear and use silly names, and also enjoy devising silly language for daily events, like having "crackers-wackers" for snack.

On a more serious side, 4 year olds feel very competent when they dictate stories about their artwork; they listen intently while their words are read back to them during this highly meaningful experience.

What You Can Do

  • Make sure you are heard. Eliminate noise and distractions. Speak clearly — not too fast or too soft.
  • Model good listening skills. Give children your full attention when they speak. Make sure you're at their level and make eye contact. Smile or nod to let children know you are listening.
  • Combine words with actions. If you want to know: "Which color marker would you like me to use to write your story?" pick up the markers while you are asking.
  • Help develop sound awareness. Involve children in clapping and tapping patterns. Tape record sounds in your environment to listen to and talk about later.
  • Read books every day. Find stories to share that involve children in listening to and repeating rhymes, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • Have pleasant conversations. Taking time to chat quietly at snack or on a cozy couch will help children learn about the positive reasons for listening.

"Listen To Me"
In the active world of the kindergarten classroom, there is an abundance of sound — so much so, that listening becomes not only an important language skill, but a vital technique for successful group integration, individualization, and self-esteem. At 5 years of age, children are acutely aware of the power of listening to others and being listened to themselves. They already know that they are expected to listen, and they also know that not listening can be a useful tool. However, like people of all ages, 5-year-olds want to be listened to with attention and respect.

Hearing and Listening
Children can be quite proficient in their ability to hear and still have difficulty attending in a group, following directions, or listening for detail and understanding.

Differences in children's ability to listen can be developmentally based. Some children begin the year with a strong facility for attending or with well-developed phonemic awareness, while others take longer to "tune in" to listening or realize the connection between rhyming words, because their auditory "filtration system" needs more practice in discernment. Some 5-year-olds engage in learning through active kinesthetic or visual channels before they develop listening skills. Those who are innately auditory are the most likely to use their listening skills as a major tool for learning and navigating through the day.

The range of children's listening skills can also have an environmental and/or emotional base. Some children come to us with a "backpack of experiences," moments when it was safer not to listen, when it was more comfortable to tune out. These children learned early on to ignore or to pretend not to understand. As teachers, we need to look at the whole child — at the reasons for individual behaviors. Then, we can begin to give each child reasons to listen and the satisfying experience of being listened to.

What You Can Do

  • Model active listening. Verbally reflect back what you hear a child saying. During group time, invite children to restate what they heard you or another child say.
  • Practice listening for understanding. Pause in the middle of a story and invite children to tell what they think has happened so far. Give a direction and ask children to repeat it before they follow it.
  • Involve children in aesthetically pleasing listening experiences. A gentle wind chime, soft music, or a flowing fountain can be antidotes for the harsh sounds children encounter and the habit of tuning sounds out.
  • Play three- and four-part directions. On the way to outdoor play, try giving individual children sets of silly directions. You might ask one child to "Stand up, go to the sand table, wiggle your arms, and then line up at the doors" Give verbal directions for finger-plays and obstacle courses (indoors and outdoors).
  • Respect each child's voice. Make time for children to express thoughts and feelings while others listen. Encourage children to speak and listen without criticism. 
Speaking & Language Skills
Listening and Speaking
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Communication and Language Development
Listening Comprehension