reading with grandfather
Listening, Language and Literacy Skills for Ages 3 to 5

Stephanie S. Pauls, M.Ed., M.S., CCC-SLP/L

Now that your child is 3-years old and is talking, you should be aware of the most fundamental truth: receptive oral language (listening) is the building block for all higher level language and literacy skills. This is the first and largest area to develop (at 6 months of age).

I have included in this article why listening is important and how to help your child listen. We will then touch on the remainder of the language/literacy hierarchy. First and foremost, you should be sure that your child has normal hearing acuity. If you have any concerns regarding your child’s hearing ability, seek professional help from an audiologist, who will complete a full hearing evaluation.

When your child hears, he is learning to understand what he is hearing in order to respond appropriately. Auditory comprehension is achieved when your child can understand what he hears. When your child understands words and sentences, then he has developed speech and language skills.

Good listening skills will aid in social skills (pragmatic language), conversational “give and take” and will benefit in the classroom, since this is where the majority of listening skills are concentrated.

Tips for Encouraging Your Child to Listen

  • Be a good model for your child. Listen to them will all of your attention (eye contact, wait patiently for them to finish, be on their level and respond in a meaningful way).
  • Eliminating distractions when possible is also helpful (turn off radio/tv’s and devote your attention to that child)
  • Challenge your child’s listening abilities by interjecting humor and varying the types of questions. If you are asking your child questions about school that are within the everyday norm (What was your favorite part of school today?) interject something silly that may make your child listen and think (What do you think would happen if you took the dog to school today?).
  • Read, read, read and read to your child!!
How To Improve Your Child’s Listening Skills
  • Get your child’s attention before you speak.
  • Speak slowly and clearly and repeat if necessary.
  • Use sequence words such as “first, next, then and finally” to help the child remember.
  • Repeat your requests often and in different ways (Please put your coat on before you go outside), (Coat first then you may go outside), (If you have your coat on, you may go outside)
  • Give you child some time to process information or to think before he is expected to answer
  • Stress important words with your voice (Get the GREEN ball)
  • Rephrase your directions/requests
  • Observe listening experiences-when listening to music “can you hear the drum?”, when you are outside “can you the birds?” listen for voices, sounds, animals…play “what do you hear?” and let you child tell you what they hear in the environment around them.
  • Spend time conversing and listening with your child in a relaxed and unhurried setting

Reading Strategies to Encourage Listening and Interaction

For pre-school age, use an “Echo” or “Paired-Reading” approach. For Echo Reading: Have your child copy you/imitate you so that they know what to do. They say what you say. For example, if you say “one fish, two fish….” Your child says “one fish, two fish” Echo reading will keep your child engaged, it will help them to learn vocabulary faster and will aid in turn taking skills (pragmatic language) Paired Reading should be used with books that have repetitive and predictable phrases. Pause and use vocal inflection and facial expression to indicate to the child that it is his turn to read. For example the parent says “the wheels on the bus go…..” and the child says “round and round”.

Language to Literacy Hierarchy

Ok, so now that you are listening with your child, the next block on the hierarchy is expressive oral language… also known as TALKING. If you child doesn’t understand what they are hearing or doesn’t know the meaning of the words, chances are, they won’t use them expressively and that could lead to an expressive language delay.

From talking we head upwards on the hierarchy to receptive written language (READING) and then to expressive written language (WRITING) and we end the hierarchy with other content areas such as other subjects that your child will have in school, which are out of the scope of this age level of 3-5 years.

In this article, I wanted you to be aware of the developmental hierarchy of listening, language and literacy skills. I discussed the listening aspect in detail and could have gone further (never let it be said that SLP’s don’t like to talk!!). I have touched briefly on talking and reading, which I will revisit in an upcoming article as I would like to focus more attention to those aspects of language and literacy. Until then, keep listening, keep reading and keep talking to your children.