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Guest Blog: Developing Attention, Listening and Memory Skills - featured June 7, 2011

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Developing Attention, Listening and Memory Skills

All material Copyright © April 2009 The Down Syndrome Centre
Reprinted with the express permission of the Down Syndrome Centre as originally published on their website.

By: Marinet vanVuren
Marinet vanVuren is a South African born Speech and Language Therapist. For the past seven years she has worked with a range of Irish disability organisations including Enable Ireland, St Michael’s House and the Children's Sunshine Home. She recently set up her own private speech and language therapy practice where she sees children of all disabilities with various speech, language and feeding difficulties.


What do you mean by developing ‘attention’?

Attention is ‘the ability to focus on, stay interested in and respond to the things we see, feel, hear and experience’.


Why is it important?

It is not unusual for young children to have a short span of attention. Working on ‘attention’ aims to extend the time a child is able to concentrate on, or attend to, one activity. A good attention span will help children learn and understand language more easily.


There are a few steps involved in developing attention in young babies:

First, the child has to show visual regard. This means that the child watches for a few seconds when a voice, sound or object is present. In the next developmental step, the child will be able to focus on the voice, sound, or object. This means that the child will pay extremely close attention to the activity, person or object. The last step is when the child responds to the voice, sound or object. This can be through reaching (it may initially be accidental, but over time child learns to reach with a purpose), smiling/crying or vocalising in response to the stimulus.


How do I develop attention in my baby?
  • First, remove all distractions, e.g. switch off the television or the radio.
  • Choose toys/materials which your child is most interested in.
  • Playing with the same toy in many different ways can help to develop attention span (e.g. Stacking Cups: you can stack them, put them into each other, bang them, roll them, pretend to drink from them).
  • Adding surprise to games (hiding things/wrapping them in paper).

Follow your child’s centre of attention by:
  • Getting involved and play like a child (Get in touch with your inner child!).
  • Providing live commentary on what your child is feeling, looking at, exploring.
  • Using age-appropriate vocabulary.
  • Reducing your language and using short sentences.
  • Repeating key words again and again. A child has to hear a word a few times before he will be able to understand its meaning.
  • Looking at the object your child is looking at, and making a comment about the object.
  • Listening to sounds your child is listening to and commenting.
  • Feeling the object your child is feeling or touching and make a comment.
  • Exploring the object your child is exploring and talk about it.
  • Describing with words the object which interests your child.
  • Showing your child how the object of interest works.

For Preschool Children:

Play games where your child has to remember a list of 2-3 items. Place 5-8 objects on the table in front of your child and name 2-3 of them. Encourage your child to listen to the entire instruction before he responds. Make sure you give the instruction clearly and slowly with emphasis on the key words. Examples include:
  1. Shopping game (e.g. Tell your child to “buy the apple and the yoghurt”)

    Make this fun by using real/toy foods and a bag, trolley or basket. Pretend to ‘beep’ the food on the scanner and let your child pay for it. There are lots of opportunities for practising vocabulary and language (e.g. Hello, how are you? That’s 4 euro please/ Thank you/ Have a nice day etc). Take turns so your child gets to tell you what to buy.
  2. Dirty clothes (e.g. “Wash the sock, the t-shirt and the jumper.”)
    Use a pile of clothes and pretend that they need to be washed. Name 2-3 items for your child to put in the basket. You could either bring these to the washing machine (or simply pretend and make a whish-whish sound!). Again you could involve nice simple language and repetitive phrases (e.g. open the door/ put them in/close the door/turn on the washing machine/round and round/We’re washing the clothes/Now they’re clean etc).
  3. Dirty dishes (e.g. “Wash the spoon, the cup and the plate.”)
    Again present 5-8 items (e.g. knife, fork, bowl, glass etc.) and use a basin of water/sink. You could include phrases in the game like: The cup is dirty/ We have to wash it/ Turn on the tap/ Look at the water/Put the cup in/It’s all wet now/ Here’s the sponge/ I’m washing the cup, washing, washing the cup/ Now we have to dry it etc….
  4. Similar games could be…
    • Tidying toys into a box (e.g. “Give me the book and the doll” OR “Put the brick, the ball and the bubbles in the box.”)
    • Toy animals (e.g. “Get the pig, the monkey and the dog”)- you could hide them, wash them, let a glove puppet pretend to eat them, post them into a box, put them in a farm etc.
    • Listening for body parts (e.g. “Touch you head and your knees” OR “Point to your feet, your toes and your mouth.”)
    Be imaginative and try to think of games your child will enjoy.

Resource used: Early Listening Skills, Diana Williams, ISBN: 9780863883446


Featured Organization: The Down Syndrome Centre

We thank the Down Syndrome Centre for allowing us to reprint their copyrighted article. For more information about this organization please visit The Down Syndrome Centre

Tags: Down Syndrome OT SLP Article Newsletter 10 June 2011