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All Ears? Nine Games to Tune Up Listening Skills

Ever notice how your kids tune you out just when you need them to listen to you the most? While listening is critical in communication, this skill is one of the most difficult to master and the least taught. From toddlers to teens, make learning to listen fun by playing games that will help your kids tune in. 

1. Sing together. Toddlers and preschoolers love to sing and imitate movements that go along with songs.

“Any opportunity for songs and fingerplays promotes working on listening skills,” says Debra Burnett, Ph.D., an assistant professor and speech-language pathologist. “After they know the song, play with language by changing the lyrics or adding new original verses.”

Try it with songs like The Itsy-Bitsy Spider; If All the Raindrops (and Snowflakes); Wheels on the Bus; and Ten Little Ducks.

2. 20 Questions. You can purchase this game or make up your own version by putting slips of paper in a jar that feature categories like animals, famous people, or objects. One player pulls a slip of paper out of the jar and the other players have to guess what is on it by asking questions to gather clues. The person who deducts the answer in 20 questions or less by carefully listening to the clues gets to go next.

3. Shout it out. Read books with repetitive phrases like Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle; and Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. Whenever your toddler or preschooler hears a key word or phrase, they can shout it out.

“Reading together is critical. Starting early by looking at books and labeling pictures, then reading simple, repetitive stories will allow the child to learn and predict,” says Burnett. “Books are a great tool for sharing language.”

4. Who am I? This game will probably get both of you giggling! Gather your preschooler’s stuffed animals and have your child turn their back. Pretending to be one of their stuffies, use a silly voice and describe the stuffy’s characteristics. Can your child figure out which one of their favorite loveys you are describing?

5. Picture it. Give your child a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Using step-by-step instructions, tell them what to draw. How accurate was your child’s drawing? Then let them challenge you.

6. Heads Up! Fun for anyone to play and much like the retro game Password, Heads Up! is an inexpensive app inspired by the game Ellen DeGeneres plays with guests on her talk show. Players must guess the word on their head by listening to the clues the other players give before the time runs out. The game features 18 different categories for players to choose from.

7. Conversation-starter games. Try out the Ungame, a non-competitive game that features an entertaining way for older kids to practice conversation and listening skills. This game is available on Amazon and comes in pocket or board formats with various themed editions, including all ages, kids, teens, and families. Chat packs and TableTopics are other convenient options.

8. Get omthe mat. With playful names like gorilla, cat, happy baby, and airplane, many of yoga’s poses appeal to kids’ imaginations. Practicing yoga enhances concentration, focus, and listening because you must listen to instructions while moving your body. For ideas, check out The Kids’ Yoga Deck: 50 Poses and Games by Annie Buckley; download kid-focused yoga videos on YouTube; or for a free pose of the week, visit yogakids.com.

9. Revisit the classics. Games like Simon Says; Red Light Green Light; and Bingo is His Name-O, (an electronic board game available on Amazon), remain favorites among kids and can be played almost anywhere.

Outside of games, set aside time every day without the distraction of electronics to chat with your children. “There is no substitute for personal interaction with young children,” says Burnett.

Freelance journalist Christa is the mom of two boys who are selective listeners. Christa’s latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

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