"Get dressed and brush your teeth. It's almost time to go," I say to my 6-year-old son, only to return five minutes later to find him sitting in his underwear with one sock on, zooming a car around the room. Although I'm frustrated, I'm not surprised. Nearly half of our verbal communication time is spent listening, yet listening (that is, comprehending and interpreting what someone says) is one of the least-taught communication skills — and one of the more challenging skills to learn.
Many games promote active listening, making them fun and simple ways to practice the skill with kids. Here are a few tried and true ideas that your family may find fun:
1. Simon Says
Simon Says is an easy way to entertain kids in a pinch and requires listening to win. Remind your kids that they are only supposed to follow the direction if you say "Simon Says" first. The child who listens best gets to be the next "Simon Says."
Reading aloud to your child naturally teaches listening skills, but if the story has a repetitive word or phrase in it, have your child shout it out every time she hears it. For example, read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow with your kids and they can shout out the repetitive phrase: "No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!" Ask questions when reading together to encourage comprehension and discussion.
3. Story Starter
Start a story with something like "There once was a boy named..." Your child repeats the sentence and completes it: "There once was a boy named Bob, who liked to fish." He then passes the story on to the next person. The next person repeats everything said so far and adds to the story. The challenge is to listen carefully and be able to repeat the story up to the point where it was left off. As the story winds around and gets outrageous, it becomes more challenging and fun.
4. Red Light, Green Light
This active outdoor game not only expends energy, it demands listening. Say "Green light" when you want your kids to start running, jumping, or dancing around, and "Red light" when it's time to stop.
5. 20 Questions for Kids
While you can purchase this game, you can also play without card clues. Players try to guess the person, place, or object that another player is thinking about. Participants must pay attention to deduct the final answer. The player who figures out the answer with the least amount of questions wins.
6. Who Am I?
Gather your preschooler's favorite stuffed animals. Have her turn her back while you use silly voices for each animal. Describe the animal and challenge your child to figure out which one you're talking about.
Yoga naturally encourages children to listen for the poses while moving their bodies. If you don't know many poses yourself, check out The Kids' Yoga Deck: 50 Poses and Games, a deck of colorful cards with playful names like gorilla, cat, flower, and airplane. Just as it does with adults, yoga can also help children learn to quiet their minds and listen to their own thoughts and feelings. Couldn't we all use a little more of that?
If listening and focus seem to be exceptionally challenging for your child, consult your pediatrician to rule out other health issues.