Developing Babies' Listening Skills - Guest Blog by Sarah Billingham
3 Top Tips for Teaching Baby to Listen
We spend lots of time with our babies supporting them in learning new skills, but have you ever given much thought to teaching your baby to listen?
Learning to listen is an important foundation for later development. This is particularly true for speech and language development. Being able to hear the difference between different sounds is an important first step. Then tuning into the language used by others to understand it, learn from it and copy it. As with so many skills, starting early and building in lots of practise makes all the difference. Try these tips to get your baby engaged in early listening.
Allow baby lots of opportunities to listen to different sounds in a variety of ways. Rattles, shakers, bells and drums are all great for exploring new sounds. We often focus on noisy toys which babies can hold, but it is great fun to extend this exploration by encouraging baby to explore with their whole body. Dangle bells from the play gym that baby can kick or put a squeaky toy under their legs when lying down so that it makes a noise when they move. Is there something which makes a sound that they can play with during tummy time? Incorporating different parts of the body encourages movement and creates a cause and effect opportunity (great for cognitive development too!). Baby needs to listen carefully to try to work out where the sound is coming from and then try to make the sound again and again! Initially their ability to keep the noisy toys making a sound will be totally random, but over time they will get an increased sense that they are in control of making the sound.
Babies really benefit from lots of access to a good role model. When you make sounds, this encourages little one to make sounds too. Great eye contact whilst singing nursery rhymes, demonstrating how to use noisy toys, stringing babble like sounds together (go-go-go, ba–ba-ba, ma-ma-ma) and clapping, all encourage baby to have a go at listening to what you are doing. Babies will also begin to copying some of these sounds. To maximise their opportunity to join in, build anticipation with animated facial expression and varying the tone of your voice. Leave a long gap to allow baby to process what they have heard and respond with their own sounds. A good guide is to give baby as much time to ‘chat’ during play as you do. As adults we have a natural desire to want to fill any gaps or silence – resist!
Choose your tools with purpose in mind
Not all noisy toys are created equal. Noises made by people or movement are more nuanced and adapt in respond to babies’ reactions. If baby is really enjoying something, you can do it again. They are encouraged by this immediate feedback and this encourages them to keep communicating with you by showing you what they like. Electronic noisy toys are not as good for encouraging careful listening as the sounds they make do not allow for the child to have much influence over the type or length of the sound they make. Keep this in mind when selecting toys for listening activities. (There is a time and place for electronics, they just aren’t ideal for this specific purpose). You don’t need to feel limited to baby toys, there are lots of household items which make great sounds – a wooden spoon and pans drum set, pouring water from a jug, shaking an object in a box / tin.
Most of all, just have fun with sound!