Auditory perception is an important part of a child’s healthy intellectual development.
What is it and how can parents and teachers develop this skill in their children through simple games and activities?
In this article, I’ll share some fun auditory perception activities for kids in preschool and kindergarten.
What is Auditory Perception?
Auditory perception (or auditory perceptual skills) is the brain’s ability to interpret sound that is heard through the ears. It is about attaching meaning to the sound.
Why is Auditory Perception Important for a Child?
Auditory perception is important and necessary for children’s language development, which is part of their overall cognitive development.
Auditory Perceptual Development and Reading
In order for children to successfully learn to read, they need to have well-developed auditory perceptual skills, as well as visual perceptual skills.
Learning to read is not as simple as learning the letters of the alphabet and sounding them out. It involves the ability to manipulate sound and attach the correct meaning to it.
Reading integrates multiple types of auditory perceptual skills such as auditory memory, discrimination, comprehension, analysis and synthesis. These are all explained below.
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Aspects of Auditory Perception
Auditory perception skills can be categorized into the following types or aspects, as described by Martie Pieterse in her book “Language and School Readiness“.
This refers to a child’s ability to distinguish between different sounds, and hear similarities and differences (e.g. to hear the difference between chair and share, or rack and rake).
Sound may differ in intensity, pitch, duration and interval.
Auditory memory is the ability to store and remember what has been heard, whether sounds are related or unrelated.
Auditory Sequential Memory is the ability to remember these sounds in the order they were presented.
Auditory Analysis and Synthesis
This is a child’s ability to break up sounds as well as put them together. This is crucial for learning to read and spell.
Analysis is the ability to break a sentence into words, a word into syllables, or a word into sounds – necessary for learning to spell.
Synthesis is the ability to put sounds or words together (e.g. c-a-t) – necessary for learning to read.
Auditory Foreground-Background Discrimination
Also known as auditory figure-ground, this refers to the ability to focus attention on particular sounds, even when there are other sounds in the background.
A child with this ability can focus on his mother’s voice in a noisy place or listen to what the teacher is saying even though there are children whispering behind him or noises outside the window he is seated beside.
How to Develop and Improve Auditory Perception
Auditory cognition is developed from birth through play.
As babies are stimulated with different sounds – through speaking, singing, toys, reading to them, listening to sounds in the environment, etc. – they learn to distinguish between them and attach meaning to sound.
Developing Auditory Perception in Preschool
The preschool years are a time of major learning and it is a crucial time for doing auditory perceptual skills activities. This is because the more these skills are developed, the easier it will be to learn to read when starting school.
They are also important for a child’s language and speech development.
Children continue to naturally develop perception through play. As a parent or teacher, the best way you can develop and improve your kids’ auditory perception is through playing games and doing auditory activities.
22 Auditory Perception Activities for Preschoolers
Here are some examples of simple auditory perception activities you can do with your preschoolers in just 5 or 10 minutes a day to sharpen their ears!
Some are general activities that should be done regularly, such as reading, and others are ideas of games to play.
Read to your children every single day if possible. Use different tones, voices and speeds as you read.
Don’t forget about nonsense rhymes and books that focus on rhyme. Every child should grow up listening to books such as the Dr Seuss books, to train their ears to hear different sounds.
Talk to your children every opportunity you get, asking them open-ended questions and encouraging them to respond.
3. Nursery Rhymes
Expose children to a wide variety of music – children’s songs, theatre, current popular music, musicals, etc.
Teach your children about different instruments and play with them often.
Improvise by making cymbals with pot lids, drums with boxes, shakers with toilet rolls and rice, etc. Or, if you prefer, buy a good set of instruments.
6. Musical Statues
The musical statues game is another fun game to help build auditory perception.
Play music and pause it every now and then. Kids dance to the music and freeze like a statue every time the music stops.
A variation is musical chairs – when the music stops the children must run quickly and sit on a chair.
Teach your kids the sounds that animals and objects make (e.g. birds, mammals, a vacuum cleaner, a car, etc.)
Then, play a game where you take turns taking out a picture of an animal or object from a bag. Without showing the picture, make the sound and the other must guess what object or animal it is.
Play this game with real objects too. Get kids to close their eyes and listen while you make sounds such as shutting a door, switching on the blender, drawing on a chalkboard, etc.
8. Listening Walk
Go on a listening walk in the garden, playground, park or around the neighbourhood.
Identify all the sounds you hear, whether natural or man-made, such as wind, leaves crunching, chirping, cars on the motorway, an airplane, etc.
9. Recorded Sounds
Record sounds around the house or school. Look for sounds of nature or even animal sounds if you can catch your pets in time.
Play the recording and see how many sounds your children can identify.
This is easy to do now that most mobile phones have a recording function.
10. Glass Jars
Fill glass jars with different amounts of water. Tap them with a spoon and arrange them from the lowest to the highest sound.
Play this game with a group of friends or family members. Everyone closes their eyes, then someone speaks and they must guess whose voice it is.
12. Body Sounds
Think of ways to make sounds with your bodies, such as clapping, clicking, tapping or yawning.
Take turns closing eyes and guessing what sound the other is making.
13. Sound Jars
Find at least 6 jars or tins that you cannot see inside and fill matching pairs with the same materials (e.g. 2 with beans. 2 with lentils, 2 with macaroni).
Get kids to shake the tins and place the matching pairs together.
14. Listen for the Word
While reading a story, choose a word and ask your children to clap each time they hear the word (e.g. they must clap every time they hear the word wolf while listening to Little Red Riding Hood).
15. Body Rhymes
Teach rhyming by pointing to a body part and saying a word that rhymes with it, instead of the correct word.
Ask your children for the rhyming word that is correct. (e.g. point to your eye and say sky, point to your ear and say dear, point to your hand and say land etc).
16. Do They Sound the Same?
Say pairs of similar-sounding, or identical-sounding words and ask your kids if they are the same or different (e.g. say bear and beer, chair and share, pat and pat, put and pit etc).
17. Do They Rhyme?
Say pairs of words and ask if they rhyme (e.g. house and mouse, pat and cat, lap and lip, etc.)
18. Chain of Rhyming Words
Make a chain of words with your kids by choosing a simple word such as cat and taking turns adding a word that rhymes with it (e.g. cat, sat, pat, mat, fat, etc.)
See how many words you can add to the list then pick a new word and play the game again.
19. I Spy With My Little Eye
Play this popular game by choosing an object in the room and saying “I spy with my little eye something that starts with b”.
Begin with easier consonants and move on to vowels later. Use the sound at first, not the letter name (e.g. say “ssss”, not “letter s”).
20. String of Words
Say a string of words and ask kids to repeat them back to you in order. With young children, start with just three words, then move on to four, five and six as they get better at memorizing them in order.
Also, begin with related words to make it easier to remember (pizza, ham, mushroom) and later switch to unrelated words (glass, book, song).
21. Clap Your Name
Teach syllables by clapping to your and your children’s names together (e.g. Ma-ry-anne, Su-zie).
A syllable is a part of a word that contains only one vowel sound and is pronounced as a unit. A word can be made up of one or several syllables. “Bed” and “rain” are examples of words with one syllable, while “bedroom” and “rainbow” have two.
Clap together on each syllable. Call them beats to make the concepts of syllables easier to understand.
Then, introduce common words and clap the syllables together. Start with one syllable (bed, door), then two (ke-ttle, mon-key), all the way up to 5 (con-gra-tu-la-tions, re-fri-ge-ra-tor).
22. What Word Is It?
Teach your children to put sounds together with this game.
Break words up by splitting them into the beginning sound and final sound. Say, for example, “It starts with b and ends with ed. Put it together and it says ….?”
Start with simple words and make them more difficult as you go.
Then, switch over and separate the end sound – “It starts with trai and ends with n. Put it together and it says…?”
A few of these activities are examples shared by Joanne Hendrick in her book “Total Learning: Developmental Curriculum for the Young Child“.
Auditory Processing Disorder
Some parents may find that their children have problems with auditory perception. Here are some common manifestations of children who struggle with auditory processing, according to this article on APD:
- They struggle to process what they hear when there is any background noise, but they seem to understand better in a one-on-one situation
- They struggle to remember what they were told
- They can’t follow long instructions and need them to be broken up into smaller instructions
- They have poor attention
- They have an expressive or receptive language delay
- They struggle with reading and spelling
- They need more time to process information
You may have heard of the term Auditory Processing Disorder. A child with APD is able to hear but struggles to process the information received from the ears [source].
Here is a video on APD, explaining the symptoms to look out for.
APD should be diagnosed by a professional. Below are are some tips, suggested by this article on APD.
These tips should not replace therapeutic help as they will make it easier for a child to cope, but not really fix the underlying problem.
- Speak slowly to the child
- Use visual clues as well as verbal when giving instructions
- Make sure the child is focused on you before speaking
- Allow the child to sit in front of the class, away from distractions
Make sure to test your child’s hearing first to ensure there is no hearing problem. Here are some common signs of a hearing problem:
- Not understanding simple instructions
- Not responding when you call them
- Turning the volume of the TV too loud when watching
- Speaking loudly
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