Hearing is an ability, Listening is a skill. Let’s explore some thoughts about our attention for what we hear, and how we may use this information as a parents to help our children learn the skill of listening, starting as an infant.
1 – Listening is different from Hearing.
2 – TUNING IN is a life skill we need.
In order for our brains to process incoming information from what we hear, we must pay attention to it. Intentional listening is a life skill that does not necessarily develop on its own. Guidance is extremely helpful to learn how to attend, what to attend to, and how to act based on what we hear. This is true for many life situations.
3 – We have the physical capability to TUNE IN, and TUNE OUT
The world is full of sounds, and we have the unique ability to tune in on a particular sound and tune out the other sounds around us. These are abilities we develop, and can improve, through intentional practice – both tuning in, and tuning out. A young child’s brain, even a small infant, is actively seeking opportunities that help them recognize which sounds are important to listen to, and which can be ignored.
4 – Learning to TUNE OUT sounds is also a helpful skill.
Our brain is selectively learning to tune OUT those sounds in our environment when there is no interaction needed. For example, the odd sounds we may hear from our refrigerator or air conditioner are sounds we learn to ignore. It is a great life skill to learn what can be tuned out. We will need that when we want to focus on what is important.
5 – Learning to TUNE IN with intention takes practice.
Our brain is constantly seeking to make connections. When we hear an unfamiliar sound, we are curious about what made the sound. A young child is eager to resolve many questions (even before they can verbalize these questions): Did you hear that? What made that sound? What should I do when I hear that sound?
There are certain skills we develop to truly focus on the sound itself. For most children, these skills will need to be taught. We stop talking and try to quiet the sounds around us. We use our eyes to look at the sound source (if available). We use our brain to analyze the sound. Sometimes, even our current emotions can be key to hearing and processing the sounds effectively, especially when we are listening to people. Some educators identify these skills as Whole Body Listening.
There are also physical ways to help focus on our attention to sound. Cupping a hand behind our ear really does help funnel the sound waves.
Due to the pressure points in our ears, unrolling the outer edges of our ears can help us to focus in on the sound. Start at the top, and roll outward along the edges to the bottom, repeating three times. in our Kindermusik classes here in Lakeland, we use this little Brain Gym activity when focusing on specific sounds, practicing the art of intentional listening. (A better description is found in this article.)
6 – TUNING IN thrives through multi-sensory experiences.
Not only do we need to use our whole body to listen, children crave the ability to truly explore sounds: Seeing what is creating the sound, possibly exploring the object that makes the sound (yes, even to the point of pulling on mom’s lips), hearing the words to name the object, describe the sound, and why it sounds that way, and then even trying to recreate that sound with their own voice. What we hear connects with what we see, feel, and do, and sometimes with what we smell and/or taste. The sound of popcorn popping, even without the smell, may make your mouth water, based on previous experience/connections.
Neural connections in the brainare formed most strongly through this kind of multi-sensory exploration and through repetition that builds a base of experience with sounds; these help us categorize and understand new sounds in the future. At first, adults must guide this process, making sure children have the opportunity and guidance to fully explore in this manner, then gradually encouraging the child to go through this exploration process themselves.
As parents, the way we present sounds and interact with our children along with the sounds we hear, is what builds the foundation in the brain for what children learn to tune in to, and what to tune out.
7 – Emotions create critical connections to sound experiences.
Even the emotion we experience upon hearing a sound affects how the child will react to this sound in the future. If the first experience with a dog barking loudly scares a child, with no one responding to help the child get past the fear, the child may become scared of dogs. Or, if a family member responds with fear, the child learns to respond with fear and related behaviors. This is all part of our instincts to survive. Future encounters with dogs may result in more fear, and attempts to avoid or respond aggressively to the dog.
Whereas, if someone is there when the sound occurs, responding with interest or pleasure, the child will be more open to the next experience. “Oh, I hear a dog barking. I see the dog now, excited about meeting new people.” When a parent interacts in fun ways with their child along with music, positive emotions are connected to the musical experiences. Pleasurable experience initiate the body to release serotonin in the brain, adding to the strength of the neural connection, and creating a desire to seek out that experience again.
When a child learns to ENJOY listening to the sound of an adult talking, singing, reading a book, telling stories, and providing relevant teaching moments, that child is gaining the ability and the desire to actively listen to other adults. We learn to listen with a caring heart, with the ability to learn so much more in the process.
8 – Choose and use intentional sounds wisely.
When we add sounds to our environment, such as music, radio, television, etc., our child is still determining what to do with these sounds. What connection do we want to help create? When we add music to our day, and sing along with it, occasionally dancing, or playing along with it, even while doing other things, like getting ready in the morning, we are training our brain to make connections with what we are hearing. Music is actually an excellent medium to add to a repetitive sequence to make it more enjoyable.
When we watch a video together, and talk about the characters and what is happening, we help our child learn to build comprehension skills and connections what they are hearing and seeing to what is happening in their own lives.
9 – Constant Sound leads to TUNING OUT.
When our environment is saturated with sound (music or television), too many at once, or for prolonged periods of time, our brain cannot continue to process it, and will learn to tune it out. If the sound is largely ignored while we do other things, and/or if it continues for long periods of time without interaction, we are training the brain to TUNE OUT these sounds. For this reason, even beautiful music should not be played constantly in the background all day long.
10 – Silence is Golden
It’s important for there to be times when no sounds are added to our environment. It creates an open sound space, which can be directed from within ourselves. It allows our brain a chance to not have outside stimulation, to let it THINK with its own direction. It allows us a chance to hear the natural sounds in the environment. In fact, this may encourage motivation and creativity in creating our own sounds, whether it is an infant learning to use their mouth and tongue, or a child wanting to talk about their interests, or exploring how to make sounds with objects they find, or making up songs about how silly the dog is, or trying to play the right sounds on an instrument to create a familiar song.
TUNING IN to Music
Suzuki, a master musical teacher, recognized the abilities to create music in correct rhythms and with correct pitch directly related to repeatedly listening to the music which a person was learning to play. So part of the Suzuki method is to LISTEN frequently to the music.
Research actually shows that listening to certain music actually helps organize the brain connections. You may be familiar with the “Mozart Effect”, a book that describes how music can have a positive effect on our ability to learn, recall, and function. Further research has shown it takes more than just listening.
The most long lasting neural connections and positive effects of music develop when we interact with the music, moving to the music, using our voice with the music, watching something that connects with what is heard, feeling the vibration of the music. Musical skills are developed as we listen and create matching rhythmic patterns, as well as melodies. We must listen well if we are to repeat it well.
ALL of this is woven into the Kindermusik curriculum in ways that just seem like fun games through vocal and instrumental play., that are easy to learn and continue with our children. Kindermusik is an easy way for parent to learn new songs and games and ways to interact that help our children build these listening skills, as well as so much more.
As a life skill, and as a musical skill, the ability to listen and process sounds is critical. The way we interact with our children from the time they are born can give them a great beginning that will make a true difference for the rest of their life.