As busy parents, carers and teachers, we can all understand the difference between listening and really listening. Focused listening, otherwise known as active listening, requires a few extra elements than just being in the same room as the person talking. Active listening means you are:

 Fully concentrating

 Understanding what is being said

 Responding (verbally or non-verbally)

 Retaining (and organising) the information being communicated

With all these elements in play, it is easy to see why active listening is a skill rather than a natural response. So, how do we build the skill of active listening in children so that they can not only communicate more effectively with their peers but so that they may develop better listening habits with parents and carers? One way is by using carefully selected songs to enjoy together throughout the day.

One of my favourite songs to help develop active listening skills in children

A fun and simple song I use to foster active listening is A-Tisket A-Tasket. Have you sung this one before? It’s a folk song from the 19th century but you may be more familiar with the upbeat version released by one of my absolute favourite musicians, Ella Fitzgerald (in the 1930’s). Check it out on YouTube to get the melody (and a whole lot of magnificent jazz improv) if you like. I’ve made a few adjustments to the lyrics (from Ella’s, but am in keeping with the original folk tune) to keep it short and sweet and perfect for practising active listening. Here’s the version I use:

A-tisket, a-tasket
a brown and yellow basket
I wrote a letter to my love
and on the way I dropped it
I dropped it, I dropped it
Yes, on the way I dropped it
A little boy picked it up
and put it in his pocket.

Once we’ve sung the song once together, I ask the children

“What colours were my basket?”

Depending on their age, I can usually see them thinking back over the song and trying to come up with the answer. If they can’t remember, I suggest that we sing it again. The second time around, I have their:

 Concentration

 Understanding of the lyrics as they ask themselves “what colours are the basket?”

 Memory retention while they wait for the end of the song so they can respond with the correct answer

As you can see, the second round of this song engages all those lovely active listening skills!

But it doesn’t end there. I then ask them…

“Who picked it up my letter?”

Again, we sing the song so they can discover the answer for themselves and continue their active listening. I also go on to ask questions such as:

“How many times did I drop it?”

“Where did the little boy put it?”

Or I mix up the colours of the basket or who picked it up and see if they can catch the changes.

By the time we have covered all the possible questions, the children have engaged in active listening 10 times instead of once or twice and they have a fun game to play well after we’ve finished for the day.

When children are listening for specific information using the same piece of music, they actually take in a lot more than just the lyrics. They are hearing the tone, the pitch, the beat and all the other wonderful elements of the song in a relaxed and easy exercise.

When used creatively, there are an endless amount of songs that can be modified to practice active listening. Using familiar pieces of music can help the children build confidence in this area while they strengthen this essential skill. Want more great songs to enjoy together? Make sure you subscribe to my mailing list where you get songs delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up here.

Love, Julie.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996). If you’re not familiar with this magnificent woman’s music you’ve been missing out. Look her up and fill your ears and heart with song.