Supporting Attention and Listening Skills

Attention and Listening Skills

Hello everyone!


In my previous post, I discussed the idea of language development as a pyramid in which there is a general hierarchy of all the different skills that we develop in order to communicate effectively. Today’s post will be discussing the foundation of this pyramid: attention and listening skills.

Children develop attention and listening skills through interaction and play with others around them in quiet environments. 

These skills are an important foundation for children’s language and learning development. Attention involves concentrating on an activity and managing information from different sources (e.g. what you see vs. what you hear). At the same time, having the ability to ignore irrelevant information and not become distracted.

Around the age of 6 years old, we can expect a child to manage their attention skills independently. By this, we mean that children of this age can listen to someone talking while they are doing something else. They can also independently switch their attention from what they are doing to listen to someone talking and then refocus their attention back to their original task without an adult telling them to do so.

Below I have included a simplified timeline of the attention and listening skills that would be expected throughout a child’s development:

0 – 2 years: Attends to their own choice of activity. Focuses on one thing at a time. Easily distracted.

2 – 3 years: Focuses on one thing at a time but can shift to a different task if attention is fully obtained. Beginning to follow adult direction.

3 – 4 years: Can shift their attention between tasks independently. Can listen to others OR do task. Listens to others when interested.

4 – 5 years: Can both listen to others and do a task. Maintains attention, concentrates and sits quietly when appropriate.


Why are these skills important?

Having good attention and listening skills help us with:

  • Following instructions
  • Speech sound development
  • Our understanding and ability to express ourselves with language
  • Social skills

Supporting Attention and Listening

Developing attention and listening skills can be challenging for many children. Here are some ideas for strategies to help develop these skills:

  • Changing the environment:
    • Try to make the environment as distraction free as possible (e.g., minimal background sounds) when they are doing a more challenging activity.
    • When possible, try to make activities more motivating for your child based on their interests.
  • Using visuals to support their understanding:
    • Say your child’s name and get down to their level to gain their attention before giving them information. This will help them to focus their attention ready to listen.
    • Provide visual ‘clues’ alongside spoken language, such as, gestures, objects, pictures, etc.
  • Using language strategies:
    • Talk about what ‘good listening’ is (e.g., sitting still, looking at who is talking, and thinking about what is being said to you).
    • Break long instructions into short steps and give one instruction at a time. Try to give instructions in the order that they are expected to happen.
    • Children benefit from knowing what is expected of them. Try to give a countdown (e.g. ‘three more left and then we will take a break/finish playing’) when doing an activity or playing a game together.
    • Emphasize keywords that might help give context to an instruction (e.g., ‘You need your boots… and your bag’).
    • Provide your child time to process spoken information and to respond. Slow down your speech and give pauses if needed.
    • Using different ‘voices’ when speaking as characters in a story can help make reading more interesting and attention grabbing.


Supporting attention and listening skills in the daycare:

Here at Albatross, we use various strategies in the classroom and in our small language groups to support the children’s’ attention. We use…

Visual strategies to show what is happening:

First, Next, Last board
  • First, Next, Last boards
  • Visual timetables
  • Sand timers
  • Reward charts

Good listening support strategies:

  • Modeling and explaining ‘good listening’
  • Display of visuals to support listening
  • Referring to the visuals regularly
  • Helping children recognize when they are doing ‘good listening’ e.g. “Jori’s showing good sitting.”
  • Role play (modelling and explaining what it is to be a good listener)

Environmental strategies:

  • Creating a safe classroom environment where children are not afraid to make mistakes and can admit when they do not understand or weren’t doing ‘good listening’
  • Use movement breaks (e.g. walk to get a drink, body wake-ups).
  • Use the child’s name before giving them an instruction.
  • Seating: making sure the children can see the teachers when given instructions.

Hopefully this post has provided you with some insight into how we promote these skills at Albatross and ideas on how to support these skills at home. In my next post, I will be speaking about the next building block in our pyramid: the importance of play in language development.