It wasn’t all that long ago I had a group of kindergarten students in my speech room and I muttered, “Now where’d I put my tea?”
One of my students who is always a willing helper (and has an extremely difficult time sitting still) hopped up, darted around the table, circled a standing bookshelf and scrambled over to my desk before I could explain, it was a rhetorical question. He bounced back to our group with my room key in his hand. “I found it!”
He looked so triumphant, I didn’t mention his error but let my tea grow cold and pulled out a listening game.
Listening is a prerequisite skill for speech development. Kids have to hear the difference between various sounds before they can pronounce them correctly. Listening is also critical to building vocabulary, sentence structures, and other language concepts. And some might say listening is a prerequisite for good writing. One popular piece of advice is to listen in on conversations and jot them down when you’re working on dialog. (You have to be discrete when you follow this suggestion.)
And what of poets? Don’t you believe when Longfellow wrote, The Sound of the Sea, he spent some time listening to it? Note the rhythm of the sea reflected in these lines - you can almost hear the rush of waves over the beach:
“The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;”
I plan to keep teaching my students to listen for small differences, like the difference between “tea” and “key” or “thumb” and “some”. But my hope is they’ll listen for more as they grow older. I’m hoping they’ll listen to, and recognize, the beauty of language; the tone of voice, which speaks a warning or a warm welcome; nuances and subtleties. I’m hoping their listening skills will provide a foundation for good relationships – from political to personal.
If you’d like to practice your own listening skills, take a listen to this 12-second clip from behind my back fence. The wind is rasping over the microphone on my iPad but you’ll hear birds chirping. Listen closely. There are sea lions barking in the background.
I plan to take a walk along the river today and listen to it lapping over the rocks . . . but hold on, my husband is about to walk out the door and he’s saying something. I think he’s looking for his tea.