The buzz…

Diving Deeper - Learning to listen by Robyn Stewardson

Still. Quiet. Listening to nothing. The littlest children in our classes are great at listening and the older ones get great at it. Funnily enough, it is harder for them as they get older, but the babies? They’re expert! That ability to just sit in the moment and focus, listening, in the case of our classes, to nothing – the absence of the music track we have just paused – is something that we adults can struggle with (we need to fill the space with ‘stop’ and ‘shhhh’), but not the babies.

Every child is different. They come out that way — the way they are — and, despite what I believed for many, many years before becoming a parent, there doesn’t seem to be much of their personality that nurture can change — it is set (although this is purely from observation, I’m not quoting any particular research here). There are, however, ways to help children build certain skill sets.

Is hearing the same as listening? It takes no skill to hear something, but you realise when it gets complex (that ‘tone’ in your partner’s voice can help you notice!), or a list of instructions, that you need to start listening properly, and it is something that you can learn. In this article ‘Listening to Music’ from the authors find that the ability to listen involves more than just hearing. It requires children to focus their minds on the sounds perceived. Haines and Gerber (2000) state, “This ability to pay attention is not innate but it is a learned skill, and the young child needs training and help to acquire it”. They go on to say that "…children cannot develop a high level of listening skill unless attentive listening is stressed".

Children are constantly taking in all that surrounds them, but music can foster complex listening skills alongside creativity, self-esteem and self-expression. Learning to listen also means learning to follow instructions and to co-operate within a group, allowing time for others to talk – valuable lessons, not only for school preparation, but for life.

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Stephen R. Covey

In our Mini Maestros classes we help children to develop their listening abilities in a number of ways. From our littlest learners pricking up their ears when we pause a musical track, and all stop playing our instruments, leading to reactions that can be as small as a blink and as significant as a smile and/or vocalisation. It can be as simple as a peek-a-boo or ‘freeze’ activity, learning to hear the end of a musical phrase. The children listen for actions in songs as we mime holding our hand to our ear to help them focus their senses and, as they grow in ability, then strain to listen for the sound of a bell to indicate it’s time to put their instrument down until they again hear the bell and pick the instrument up.

In the older classes, games with blindfolds help to hone these burgeoning skills as a child must point to where the sound originates whilst another child, singing, moves around outside the circle they are sitting in. Each age group builds on the learning of the previous ones and their ability to focus and concentrate is developed.

In addition to children taking part in Mini Maestros structured music and movement classes, you can help build your child’s listening ability in a number of ways, including playing fun activities and games together like those in this list. As with so many things we realise as parents, modelling good listening will speak volumes to your child, and be one of their best teachers. Give them your attention.

“Listening shows kids they matter, we love them and their words are important.”

Make the most of this time while your child is young and spend quality time together – they grow up in the blink of an eye.

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