Let’s hear it for hearing

Scientists would suggest that, even before birth, each one of us has an awareness of our surroundings through our senses, one of which is auditory awareness.  One of the most comforting sounds to a newborn baby is the sound of his mother and other familiar voices.  As well as being able to identify voices, a child will quickly identify the sounds of his routines and his environment.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is a very important part of the bonding process.  Face to face contact alongside a quiet, gentle voice will offer a child comfort and security. The more we talk to babies, they more they will recognise our voice. They will focus their attention on the tone we use and will concentrate on the words they hear. The more words they hear, the more words they will understand and learn.

How you can help:
  • Sit close to children and talk gently, anything from rhymes and poems to general chatter.
  • Sit opposite a child and talk to him about the things he is wearing or sitting near.
  • Repeat sounds around children and make up musical sounds to accompany tunes, such as ‘la, la, la’; ‘doh, doh, doh’; and ‘de-dum, de-dum, de-dum’!
  • Make up silly tunes and encourage children to listen. When talking to a child, try to avoid confusing them with background sounds or music.
  • Whenever possible, use real words – dog rather than doggy, train rather than ‘choo-choo’,

Concentrated Listening

Try to avoid having a television or radio on when talking to a child. Change the tone of your voice, using high and low pitches as appropriate. If you are happy and enthusiastic, then highlight the emotion in your voice. Use calming music at appropriate times, such as feeding or approaching nap time. This will encourage a child to listen and concentrate. Introduce some movements that your child can take part in with you as you listen to music, stimulating a response to the sounds.

How you can help:
  • Sit a baby on your knee and tap your toes to the beat of the music, changing to tapping him on the knee.
  • Offer a variety of items which will make sounds as they are manipulated. Introduce items from home that make sounds such as a music box, telephone or clock.
  • Use toys and objects that relate to words in the songs you sing.

Making your Own Music

As well as the sounds he can hear as he manipulates objects, there are a rich variety of sounds a baby can make using his hands and feet.  Encourage him to shake, tap and squeeze toys and objects to create a range of sounds with his hands.  Then encourage him to tip toe, stamp and clap using his feet and hands to create sounds.

How you can help:
  • Place a variety of objects in a basket that can be taped together to make a noise.
  • Place different types of paper in a large bowl. Rip the different pieces to create a range of noises.
  • Offer a range of materials – metal, wooden, plastic and cloth, so that he can hear the different sounds that can be made when using them.

Sounds all Around

We take for granted our ability to hear all the sounds around us. Young children too may be aware of them, but will not necessarily know what is causing them unless we take the time to show them.  Encourage children to listen to sounds – to the water running, the kettle boiling, the toaster popping and so on.  Hearing is essential in supporting a child’s ability to concentrate and pay attention.

How you can help:
  • Involve him in what you do. If you create a sound, call his attention to it.  Repeat the sound a few times – each time pretend to be listening closely and then act surprised when the sound is made!
  • When outside, call attention to the sounds that your shoes make on the path, the grass and the pebbles. Encourage him to make the sounds too.
  • Use an empty container such as a plant pot or water bottle to drop items into, such as a leaf, a twig, a stone. Encourage him to hear the different sounds.
Pic: Tom Finnie

Repeating Sounds

Be aware that all young children are different in what they like and dislike and they will respond differently to sounds.  Whereas one child may enjoy lively, loud singing and stories, another may prefer a calmer and quieter approach.  Using songs and stories to repeat sounds is great fun.  A story about a farm will allow you to create tractor and animal noises over and over again! This will not only encourage a child to listen, but will also encourage him to make the sounds himself.

How you can help:
  • Sing the same few songs over and over again each day, giving your child the confidence to join in.
  • Repeat sounds around your setting, such as closing the door, running the taps, stirring your tea etc. Call attention to the sounds.

Music and Movement

Music and movement can have a calming effect.  A restless baby or child may often be soothed by singing and dancing activities.  Young children enjoy listening to a wide range or songs and music, not just children’s tunes.  They will eagerly sway and dance around to music if you join in.

How you can help:
  • Listen to a short extract of music together, then repeat it – this time with movements.
  • Play fast and slow music and vary the movements to reflect the tone.
  • Play short bursts of music, dancing until the music stops, then listening and moving again when the music begins.
  • Enjoy the sounds around you together. Help children to use their sense of hearing to make sense of their environment.