Developing listening and attention

The Early Learning Goal that pre-school practitioners will be helping your child to achieve is:

‘Children listen attentively in a range of situations. They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.’ 
(Statutory Framework for the EYFS, 2017)

early years teacher reading book to class

  • Attention and listening develop from the moment your baby is born! They then develop in the same way as any skill, such as walking.
  • However, it is less clear what these stages are, and at what age children may expect to go through them.
  • The attention levels listed below are from work carried out by Cooper, Moodley and Reynell in 1978. These researchers helped us to understand how children develop their attention to the point where they can concentrate in a distracting environment.
  • Fleeting attention (0–1 years)  The baby is easily distracted and turns readily to distractions. This is essential for learning to occur. Rigid attention (8–20 months)  The toddler concentrates on a task of their own choosing but resists interruptions from others. They find it hard to concentrate on tasks others choose. Single-chanelled attention  (22–36 months) The child can’t listen and do at the same time. They will need to stop the task in hand and focus attention on the adult to receive an instruction. Focusing attention (30–50 months)  The child still needs an adult to help them listen to instructions while engaged in an activity, but they find it easier to stop what they are doing themselves and focus attention on another. Two-chanelled attention (40–60 months) The child is able to listen to an instruction while engaged in another activity, but their concentration span is still quite short. Integrated attention (60 months +) Two-channelled attention is well established across different contexts and in potentially distracting environments.

    Top Tips to support listening and attention

    a) Don’t worry about the age norms listed above. Children develop at very different rates and these are only a guide. The most important thing is that you provide your child with ‘Special Time’ in an environment that has as few distractions as possible. See Creating Special Time at home.

    b) Don’t expect too much. If you say, ‘just one more minute’, then stick to that.

    c) Concentrate for short periods of time.

    d) Follow your child’s lead, as they are more likely to maintain interest if they’re doing something they enjoy. See Interacting with your child.

    e) Work on reducing distractions and background noise where you can.

    f) If possible, create a cosy and quiet space for book sharing and Special Time. This may be a pop-up tent in the living room or a rug in your child’s bedroom.

    g) When you are outside in the park, play games where your child has to run to the swings and then the slide, etc.

    h) Go for a ‘listening walk’ and talk about all the noises you can hear.

    Web links

    Check out these pages to find lots more information and great ideas.

  • PACEY Top tips for listening (this information is designed for childminders, but you may also find it useful)
  • The Fundamental Building Blocks of Speech and Language

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    Last modified: Friday, 15 May 2020, 2:26 PM