How to Help Children Listen… To Each Other

I’ve talked about ways in which we as teachers can support children’s creative thinking, but it’s also important to help our students learn to support each other’s creativity. Children learn by watching us, of course – and they watch how we listen and show interest when new ideas are shared. But there are more ways in which we can foster supportive behavior. One way is to help children increase their listening skills.

Too often, when we ask children to “listen,” what we really mean is “please do what I want you to do,” whether it’s to sit, quiet down, line up, or whatever the case may be. Young children learn to associate listening with obedience and passivity.

Listening is actually an active skill, or set of skills, which can be improved with practice.

When I studied music in college, as part of our music theory classes we did ear-training exercises to practice listening to identify musical intervals and harmonies. This kind of training improved our listening skills significantly and helped us to understand music on a deeper level.

Understanding and respecting other people’s ideas also starts with being able to listen. I use many listening games with my students, and they love the challenge and novelty of using only their ears to solve a puzzle, locate an object or person, or identify an instrument.

I’ve found that when children realize the difficulty of careful listening, and when they practice it on a regular basis, they begin to take pride in their ability to listen – and they become more likely to use this ability to listen to each other’s ideas.

Listening games are a fun way to help children improve their listening skills and be better able to listen to each other’s ideas with attention and respect.

Here are some of my favorite listening games:

Shake, Tap or Roll. Take one shaker and demonstrate the sounds it makes when you shake it in the air, tap it on your palm, and roll it on the floor. Then have children close their eyes, one at a time, while you perform one of the motions. See if they can identify the motion you used. You can play similar games with other instruments or sound makers.

Where’s the Mouse? One child sits in the middle of the circle with eyes closed.  Point to one of the children in the circle – this is their signal to squeak like a mouse. Then thechild in the middle opens her eyes and  guesses which child was the “mouse,” based on the tone of voice and location of the sound. I like to play this game after reading a story about a mouse. You can also play “Where’s the Cat?”, “Where’s the Dog,” or whatever animal you’ve been reading about.

Mystery Music. Decorate a coffee can to be a “mystery music machine.” Fill it with plastic bottle caps, macaroni, building blocks, cotton balls, crunched-up pieces of paper, or other items. Have children pass it around the circle, taking turns shaking it. Then ask them to guess what’s making the “mystery music.” It’s fun to play this regularly and surprise the students with different kinds of sounds. They also like to turn the tables and put something in the mystery machine for you to listen to guess.


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