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Learning to listen in a distracting world

Teaching your children to listen

In my job as a mom and Speechie, I become more and more aware daily, that our children are being disadvantaged  by our visual, colourful, snappy happy, touchscreen, garish society. All of those things are great on their own, but when it submerges our society in a flood of visual input, to the exclusion of all else, it is no wonder our children are drowning. Drowning at school, drowning in homework, drowning in concepts that came a lot easier to children 30 years ago, simply because their brains are wired for looking, not listening, and definitely not listening with intent.

Music and listening and auditory skills are incredibly important for children to develop the ability to read and write among other essential lifelong skills. I am a private speech therapist and a mom, and there has been a terrifying increase in reading and listening/ language processing disorders in children, simply because there are very few or no opportunities for children to listen without looking, or to “listen with intent”. Whose children listen to age appropriate stories on the radio or audio-books? Whose children play “broken down telephone” or can focus in a room when music is playing in the background? Conversely, how many children require extra reading lessons from early on? The latter group is expanding at an alarming rate…

Screens are creating more of a problem than people realise, and the result is a generation or more of children who struggle to read, and who could possibly have been saved by informed parents who made an effort to devote time to reading stories, listening to music, teaching songs or playing simple listening games at home and in the car.

I feel so strongly that my purpose is to be a catalyst for decreasing the amount of children needing special schooling and medication because their brains have not had enough opportunities to mature in the areas used for listening.

Be warned: our daily lives hold no opportunities for children to listen without looking! The first time they have to do this is when they learn the phonics skills for reading! How is this ok? How is this acceptable? Why are baby stores, child toy stores, crèches, day cares, play schools and pre- schools not routinely including auditory processing in their products and curricula?  This is a real struggle that is sweeping the planet, and there are not enough people talking about it or doing something about it!

No wonder we have to pay exorbitant amounts to schools and speech therapists to tell us that our child has difficulty reading because they struggle with processing sound and language.  The bottom line is we, as parents need to create the opportunities for our children to listen without looking at moving pictures. We need to start pushing for auditory skills and listening skills to be taught routinely in homes and schools the world over.

How do we teach our children to listen?

  • Keep screen time for weekends.
  • Read to your children.
  • Rhyme with your children.
  • Keep music playing in your home and in your car, sing songs to your children, talk to your children.
  • Put your phone down and look at your children when you talk to them.
  • Do funny accents and voices.
  • Teach them an instrument.
  • Listen to daily noises around you and name them.
  • Point in the direction a sound is coming from, talk to your kids and play games in the car, forcing them to listen with engine noise in the background.
  • Play with words play with absurdities (cows live in trees), use voice pitch to teach concepts e.g. chipmunk voice when you say “small” or “far” or “up” or “high” and a low voice for “big” or “low“.
  • Talk to your baby slowly in a mommy- type “high pitched” voice non stop, from the day they are born.
  • Use the proper word for naming items. “Shoo shoo” is stealing the spot for another word that would expand your child’s vocabulary.

Please spread the word, parents! This could be the difference between your child thriving or struggling through life.

Written by Joanne Ravell – Speech Language Pathologist (BCP – SLP) UKZN

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