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Are those ears an appendix?

I think we all grew up with some or other adult asking if our ears were just ornaments of if we were going to use them.

Being a speech and language therapist, we deal with the area of auditory perception, auditory memory which involves processing language and the ability to follow instructions. I have so many educators coming to me often to ask for advice on how to get children to listen, that I have dubbed it ‘The Listening Pandemic’.

In the past we worked on listening skills in the junior grades and children were able, for the most part, to sustain attention and learn to listen. We are now seeing difficulties in listening all the way up the into the Intermediate Phase. There are, in my opinion three reasons for this:

Firstly, the world has become increasingly visual. The making of a mental image while hearing information is no longer necessary as there is screen to show you what is presented. Screens have often been spoken about in terms of hindering development and its almost as though we are tired of hearing about it. The truth is the constant visual images our children are exposed to lead to the underdevelopment of having to process what they are hearing and make sense of it. There is a picture to show you before you have had to.

Secondly, we as parents find it difficult to model good listening behaviour. We too have become distracted with our screens and if we are not working we are often quickly checking Instagram or Facebook. If you do get a work email or Whatsapp, it is expected by the working world that you respond. They have a read receipt and two blue ticks to prove that you have received the message. This might however just be at the same time little Johnny is telling you about the terrible day he had at school and you are not actively listening but rather ‘multi-tasking’ – as necessary as this skill is.

The third reason is that information is presented in a fast -paced way on the internet. We get short bursts of information on our phones, a summary of a news article a 2- minute video on a pressing issue via Instagram or Facebook. This makes sustained attention difficult. We don’t train our ears to listen to beautiful pieces of prose – we simply don’t have the time.

Below is a table, of behaviours which developed listening skills in the past and the current way we do things. I had a bit of fun with it, so perhaps some are a bit tongue in cheek, but maybe we could learn from the past and reinstitute some of these things.

Are those ears an appendix?

I did feel rather old writing some of these down, but you get the idea. We need to use our ears and develop our children’s listening skills before ears become like an appendix ….obsolete!

By Adelle Schwark
Speech and Language therapist