Any mother who has ever heard her own words parroted back to her by a young child knows all too well what good listeners children can be. Often, it seems, they’re listening when we don’t even know it!
Infants appear to focus on the human voice shortly after birth, and some research indicates they can actually become familiar with voices and music while in utero. Studies suggest that hearing is the first sense to develop in the embryo. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, researcher and author of The Conscious Ear, found that babies’ hearing becomes functional around four or five months of gestation. Thomas Verny, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, also discovered that five-month-old fetuses responded to sound and melody, preferring soothing music such as Mozart and Vivaldi to heavy metal or rock sounds.
The most important and attractive sound to an infant is the human voice—especially that of his mother. In fact, a newborn baby is able to pick out her mother’s or father’s voices in the first few hours after birth. “They will prefer their mother’s voice to another woman’s voice shortly after birth,” says Linda Polka, Associate Professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montreal. “There is also research showing that if the mother has repeatedly read a story or sung a song in the last trimester, her newborn will prefer that story or song over another one.”
Since hearing is such a critical aspect of a child’s development, many hospitals have initiated newborn screening clinics. Good hearing is the first step toward developing language. Even if you’ve had your infant’s hearing tested, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends that you should continue to look for signs that your baby is hearing well. Responding to loud noises, smiling in response to your voice, and vocalizing are all signs that your infant is progressing as she should. Older children should also have periodic checks of their hearing, particularly if they are prone to ear infections.
We know that future learning is affected by early learning experiences. Positive interactions with your baby through singing, reading, and sound play will lay the foundation for auditory awareness and future academic success.
Children’s learning styles vary. Learning styles are typically described under three basic categories: kinesthetic, visual, and auditory. All new information comes into the brain through the five senses, and each one of us has preferred modes of processing that information.
Although most young children are very tactile and learn best through hands-on activities, some may also be intrigued with the spoken word and music. Children who have auditory strengths enjoy listening to what others have to say. They like different tones and pitches—particularly when listening to stories—and they take great joy in silly rhymes and songs. They often have well-developed vocabularies and may surprise you with what they remember. Has your three- or four-year-old ever arrived home from preschool spouting words like “stupendous” or “superlative”? He may not know the exact meanings of these words, but chances are he’s heard the word in a story and enjoys the sound and rhythm of repetition. Auditory learners may also have strong oral communication skills that allow them to carry on articulate conversations.
Some of the following traits will tip you off that your child is primarily an auditory learner:
- he enjoys listening to and participating in conversations
- she seems to remember by talking out loud
- he likes to have things explained
- she loves to play with words and repeat sounds
- she talks to herself while learning something new
- he enjoys listening to music
- she may be easily distracted by voices and music
- he sings, hums, and whistles to himself
- she uses advanced vocabulary and sentence structure
- he has quick recall of names
Although we live in a world full of sound, we are so bombarded with words and music that sometimes we “tune out” subconsciously. To help children who are just beginning to acquire language and learn about their world, it’s important to minimize background noise and provide specific listening opportunities. Turn off the television unless you’re actually watching a program. Alternate children’s music with some classical or rhythm and blues. Take your child to a live concert. Let him try playing a musical instrument. Balance silence with sounds.