Listening skills are important learning components for your toddler; they'll help her communicate and read, and will even influence her social relationships. "Language development is comprised of two parts: expressive language, or the ability to use words according to a set of rules, and receptive language, or the ability to listen, process and understand what is said," says Melanie Potock, a certified pediatric speech-language pathologist in Longmont, Colo. Help your toddler develop good listening skills by talking to her -- whether you're folding laundry or brushing her hair -- and incorporating listening activities that are entertaining and educational into her daily routine.
Make music a part of your child's play. "The most successful listening activities for toddlers involve movement and music," says Irene Shere, director of the Early Childhood Consultation Center in Silver Spring, Md. She explains that toddlers pay attention when directions are given in rhyme, in cadence with a song or tune, thus promoting listening skills. You can also pair music to a variety of everyday activities, Shere suggests: "A clean-up song or a tooth-brushing song to the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' helps a child listen and engage in the activity." For fun, play Simon Says to your youngster's favorite tune, or roll a ball back and forth to the tune of "Frère Jacques," Shere recommends.
With a few small modifications, you can turn story time into an interactive listening activity. Instead of just reading through the book, ask questions at the end of every page, such as, "What happened to the teddy bear?" or "Why is the kitty sad?" The more questions you pose, the more you teach your child to pay attention. Make connections between the text you're reading and the pictures in the story by having your toddler point out the characters and other details on each page: "Can you point to the birthday cake?" or "Which character is feeling sad?" Relate characters and objects in the story to things that are familiar to your toddler: "What sound do cats make?" and "What is your favorite toy at the park?"
"As you read, slow down toward the end of a familiar sentence and leave off the last word," advises Potock. For example, if you start the phrase, "And the little old lady, whispering …" and just wait and listen, your toddler will whisper "hush."
Story Art and Drama
Let your little artist create her own artwork to reinforce listening skills and make reading a more engaging activity. Parents should encourage children to interact with stories by drawing or acting out scenes from the book recommends the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Your toddler can create her own storybook artwork after listening to a story on CD or reading one with you as you point out characters and scenes. Let your toddler draw her favorite parts, or make a storyboard of the events she remembers. You can incorporate this activity into other events of the day: Sing her a song and have her draw pictures to illustrate, or bake together and then encourage her to draw a picture of the cake, cookies or other treats. If your toddler is more drama queen than art master, set up the puppet stage or bring out the costumes and let your little actress perform her favorite storybook scene.
Whether it's just you and your toddler playing a game of Red Light, Green Light or a room full of your toddler's play-date friends engaging in Simon Says, your child's interest in the activity will keep her engaged and listening attentively. Play a round of I Spy on each page of a storybook suggests the booklet "Every Day I Learn Through Play: Activities to Do With Your Infant and Toddler." Change your voice to capture your child's interest, too. While it may seem commonsense to raise your voice when you want your toddler to listen, try the opposite and see what happens. It immediately draws your kiddo's attention to what you're saying because she's eager to hear the "secret," explain authors Robin Harwood, Scott Miller, and Ross Vasta in "Child Psychology: Development in a Changing Society." Play an entire game, read a whole story or have a complete toddler-length conversation in whispers -- see which one of you forgets and talks in normal tones.