Therapy for Attention and Listening Skills

Normal Development of Listening Skills

From birth, children become aware of the sounds around them and attach meaning to them, especially through the voices of parents and siblings, who play a huge part in this process. Young children start to recognise sounds as speech, and to gradually develop an understanding of the words they hear. These listening skills become vital as children start school, and not just for learning in the classroom.

Child boy looking at camera

For social development like making friends, children need to be able to focus their attention on others and hold conversations. Listening to and focusing on the communication around them is crucial for children to develop their own speaking and language skills.If they don't develop these skills they may benefit from therapy for attention and listening skills.

Underdeveloped Listening Skills

There are many reasons why children can have underdeveloped listening skills including:

  • Early hearing difficulties such as glue ear

  • Language delay

  • Difficulty processing what they are hearing

  • Difficulty focusing on one thing for long enough to learn

  • Easily distracted by the noises around them so unable to tune in to the person speaking to them

Therapy Activities To Help Attention and Listening Skills

There are many activities that a Speech and Language Therapist uses to improve a child’s attention and listening skills. These vary according to the age of the child and what is expected at their age…

For Children in Nursery and Reception:

We may try some of the following activities to increase a child’s awareness of the environmental sounds around them:

  • Play games that match a recorded familiar sound to pictures

  • Go on a ‘listening walk’ to name what we can hear in the playground.

  • Discriminate between different musical instruments

  • Teach a child about ‘loud and quiet’ or ‘high and low’ sounds, ‘fast and slow’,’ or rhythm in music and words

For older children in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2:

We help children of this age to improve their ‘auditory memory.’ People process, store and retrieve the information we hear. Each child learns to recognise sounds and speech in a meaningful way, and to retain the words that are spoken to them. All listening skills involve memory to an extent and as children get older the memory ‘load’ increases.  In therapy, we increase this memory ‘load’ gradually through various activities including:

  • Working on new tasks each week so the child can’t guess what you are saying

  • Increasing the amount of language concepts used in instructions.

  • Subtle changes in information or instructions that encourage really focused listening

  • Reduced visual supports and a time delay before the child answers a question

  • Giving increasingly complex verbal instructions to reflect what children will experience in the classroom

We also give strategies and activities to teachers and LSAs so that lessons can be differentiated for children with this area of need, and to encourage further development of listening and attention skills in the classroom. This facilitates learning right across the curriculum, because listening, attention and speaking skills are vital in all subjects.

If you are worried about your child's attention and listening skills, call the speech and language therapy team at Children's Therapies for advice and we can arrange an assessment if we think there is cause for concern.

10 Tips for Encouraging Early Listening Skills At Home:

  1. Draw a child’s attention to everyday sounds in the home and street like the doorbell or water running, let them see and touch the sound-maker and make the sound themselves

  2. Help your child associate a sound with an activity, e.g. a ring a bell for meal time or the end of garden play.

  3. While walking in the park talk to your child about the noises you hear, make noises with them, bang a stick on a fence, splash in puddles, crunch leaves.

  4. At bath time talk about the different sounds: splash water, swish bubbles, dribble from a sponge, plink-plonk bath toys and play with windup toys.

  5. Show your child different ways that sounds can be made from one sound maker; a tambourine can be shaken, tapped, scratched, hit hard or softly.

  6. Show your child how to make different sounds from shaking objects like keys, a rattle, a tin of rice, or bricks in a box. Talk about how they sound different.

  7. Make different sounds with your child using your voice; humming, whispering, laughing, singing, talking. Copy each other’s noises.

  8. Pretend play with a doll; ask your child to carry out actions with the doll only when they hear a sound e.g. blow her nose when they hear her sneeze

  9. Build a tower together and encourage your child to wait until they hear ‘go’ after ‘ready, steady,’ before knocking it down.  Praise them for waiting for the word.

  10. Play ‘what’s in the box?’ and put in items that make different noises so you can both guess as you shake it.

10 Tips for Encouraging Auditory Memory Skills At Home

  1. Ask your child to bring you 1,2,3,4 items and see if they can remember them all, repeat the list as needed and praise them for trying.

  2. Give your child an instruction and then leave a pause before they carry it out - can they remember? Repeat it again until they can remember.

  3. Tell your child the shopping list and see if they can remember the items when you get to the shop. How many can they recall? Start with 2 items and build up to 7

  4. Ask older children to fetch 1-7 items at the supermarket for you. Group them by section eg fruit, veg, dairy to help them remember.

  5. Play Simon Says with action words and increase the instructions from 1 part to 4; touch your knee, clap, turn around, blink.

  6. When your child is dressing, ask them to fetch different items of clothes to wear ‘find your red spotty socks’ - don’t ask in the right order or they may guess!

  7. Draw a big outline of a body, ask your children to draw on the body parts you say, take turns so the drawing looks funny.

  8. Looking at picture books together, ask your child to point to the item you describe, choose pictures with several similar items to make your child listen harder ‘where’s the little red bike?’

  9. Farm sets; ask your child to fetch the animals you say to put in the farmer’s field: two cows, four sheep, one horse, can they get the number and animal right?

  10. Listening to action words; use a doll with moving arms, give your child instructions to make dolly sit/run/jump/hop, take turns and use different toys.

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach