By the time a child reaches college, 75 per cent of his academic learning will be through listening and the rest through reading

I was visiting a friend. We reminisced about our college days. Her grandson, Rahul (6), was trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle that I had given him.

“Rahul, have you finished home work?” my friend asked.

“Hmmm,” he said, without looking up.

After a minute, she realised Rahul had still not answered her. So she raised her voice and said: “You have not answered me yet.”

“What?” He looked up.

“I asked whether you have finished your homework,” she said, a little annoyed. “Oh, you did?” he responded, and returned to the puzzle.

My friend complained how often her grandson tuned her out.

The purpose of mentioning this incident is because I feel it provides useful information for parents and teachers. As a teacher, I worry about the number of opportunities that are missed by students simply because they are not listening in class.

Listening is more than just hearing what is said. It is an important skill to develop even at an early age, because by the time a child reaches high school and college, 75 per cent of his academic learning will be through listening and the rest through reading. So, the sooner he learns to listen, the better. Research shows a strong connection between reading and listening. Learning to listen carefully is an important pre-requisite to reading. Children who are good listeners grow up to become good communicators. They are also likely to do well on aptitude and achievement tests in high school. Listening is a skill, the foundation for which is laid in childhood. Parents should spend at least 20 minutes a day reading aloud to the child. This will help him imbibe language patterns. Discussing stories and characters, will not only expand his vocabulary, but also introduce him to a variety of listening experiences. One benefit of developing better listening skills at home is your child’s behaviour will get better in school.

To develop listening skills, parents and teachers need to engage older children in discussions on all subjects. An excellent strategy to motivate them to listen is to create interest by giving them information on the topic beforehand. This will help prepare their mind about the topic ahead of time. They need to have a reason to listen to you. Conversing with children about people and things around them will help them reflect on past experiences and what they see and read in future. The inability to listen stems from either the want of a decent attention span, or the desire to pay attention. However, with young children, it is important to remember that their attention span is short and their vocabulary limited. If you continue a discussion for too long, use too many words or repeat instructions, they will tune your voice out. The mind has a tendency to wander, so help children pay attention and listen by maintaining eye contact and asking questions.

The eyes, the ears and the brain form listening tools. Take steps to guarantee the functioning of each. I remember a case where the parents of a seven-year-old girl told me that she had an attention problem. “We have to repeat two to three times before she even hears us,” they lamented. A visit to the ENT specialist revealed that she not only had an ear infection but was also suffering from severe hearing loss! Imagine how guilty the parents must have felt for having shouted at their child for not following directions! How much the child had missed out in early schooling is anybody’s guess.

So if you suspect your child might have a problem with hearing, have him/her tested without delay.