Listening and Learning Strategies

With today’s technology, almost every child has the ability to learn to listen. No matter what communication strategy a family chooses, listening can be a useful component. For families who choose listening and spoken language, the ability to listen is critical. Even for families who choose to use sign language, a child who can listen and speak will have an easier time going to the ice cream store or the super market if he has some listening abilities.

Parents are the primary teachers for all young children. They need to provide lots of language stimulation in whatever communication mode they choose. If they are signing, they need to sign almost full time. If they are using spoken language, talk talk talk.

Here are some techniques that may help working on listening skills.



Children with hearing loss need to have technology on every waking hour (and maybe some when they are asleep). Learning to use technology should not be a gradual process. Children should be wearing technology full time within two weeks. As an old colleague of mine used to say, “If it’s electric, it will break,” so, until children can report technology problems, technology should be checked several times a day. If a child stops responding, don’t assume the child is tired; assume the equipment is not working.  Remember, if a child wears hearing aids 4 hours/day it will take 6 years for the child to hear what a child with typical hearing hears in one year.



It takes children with hearing loss a little while to attend to sounds well. Parents need to point out sounds around them. “I heard a bird, did you hear that?” “Listen, someone is knocking on the door.” Point out sounds around you when you go for a walk. Ask children to listen and report what they hear.



Call a child’s attention to a sound and then have them locate it. Hide a toy that makes noise and have them find it. Hide a toy and describe what it looks like and have the child try and guess. “We ride in it, it has wheels, it has a horn that goes beep beep.” \



We know that children with hearing loss will use vision in general communication, but we want to be sure their listening skills are maximized so they can use both listening and looking. Sit next to the child while playing so they are going to be relying on listening and you can still maintain joint attention on toys and communicate in a natural way.



Hart and Risley have reported that children with normal hearing hear 45,000 words before they are four. We need to do a lot of work to be sure that children with hearing loss do the same. That means we need to talk, talk, talk. Describe absolutely everything that is happening. We’re going to have cereal. Where is it? It’s in the cabinet. Let’s get the cereal. What should we put into the cereal? Do you want milk? Milk is in the refrigerator…..



Children need to learn conversational turn taking. They need to listen and they need to understand that they are expected to contribute to conversation and respond. Expect the children to respond. Ask a question and wait for a response. Lean in, wait, and look expectantly. If the children do not respond, ask the question of another family member who can monitor the response.

Mom: Do you want some milk?

Child: no response

Mom: Trixie, do you want some milk?

Child: no response

Mom: Daddy, do you want some milk?

Dad: Yes, mommy, I want some milk.

Mom: (pours milk and hands it to daddy) Here, daddy. Here is your milk.

Mom: Trixie, do you want some milk?

Child: Milk, momma.

Mom: Good girl, here is your milk.



Sabotage is an effective learning strategy. Help children to recognize that something is wrong and have them tell you how to fix it. A child asks for milk. Pour the milk without taking off the cover and hand a glass to the child. Or, pour the milk into his hand. If he looks confused ask him what is wrong. Or invite everyone to the dinner table and there are no plates on the table. This helps the child figure out what is wrong and come up with solutions. It builds theory of mind.



Children with hearing loss may not feel safe answering questions if they are not absolutely sure what they heard. It is easier to say “What?” than to answer. Say, “What do you think I said?” or “What did you hear?” Reinforce whatever the child says. “You were close, I said ….” It is also useful to make note of the misperceptions and report them to the therapists and audiologist. The audiologist may be able to use that information to change technology settings.

This is just a start with some ideas for helping little ones and their parents learn to build listening skills.



About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 7 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.