Simply put, the auditory system is the sensory system for the sense of hearing. The auditory system is stimulated when airwaves reach the auditory receptors in the ear. Auditory processing is the ability to perceive, decode and understand sounds. Language development is greatly influenced by the ability to process auditory information.
Of the eight sensory systems, the auditory is the first to become fully functional during gestation, at about 25 weeks. But children can’t listen like adults. Why not? Because the higher auditory brain centers are not fully developed until a child is about 15 years old.
Auditory discrimination is the ability to detect similarities and differences between sounds. Why is this important? For instance, when you have two children and call to one by name, you expect Jack to appear, not his sister Olivia. Children also need to be able to respond to sounds that signal danger, like a smoke alarm or a car horn. Before children can begin to read, they must first learn to discriminate between the sounds associated with different letters (phenomic awareness). As well, they must have the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds that make up words (phonological awareness).
So, a two year old may recognize the sound of a dog. But if two dogs were barking at the same time, the child may not be able to tell you if the barks were the same or if they sound different. This is why we use simple instruments and acapella voices in the Kindermusik classroom much of the time. Young children do not have the ability to filter sounds and know what to attend to.
The development of auditory discrimination can not be pushed. However, researchers tell us that as parents and educators, we can provide activities that assist in assuring development of this vital skill. Researchers also say that listening, singing and dancing to music, as well as playing musical instruments are the best ways to stimulate the auditory system.
Here’s some of the auditory discrimination activities you’ll find in a Kindermusik classroom, as well as some to do at home:
Village: Vocal play. Vocal play involves the babbling that babies speak, and the natural response from parents. When your baby babbles, you’ll likely repeat back to them what they just said. That’s exactly what you should be doing! Then, wait for your baby to respond. Give them an opportunity to continue the “conversation”. A baby must see your mouth and facial expressions during vocal play in order for them to be able to mimic the physical process of speech.
Our Time: Active Listening. We spend time almost every class playing sounds from the CD’s in class, and identifying them. Children have to learn individual sounds before they can discriminate two sounds that are occurring at the same time.
Imagine That: Layered sounds in active listening. It is at this age where we begin to layer sounds. For instance, a “fountain” will play on the CD. It is identified by the children. The fountain sound plays again and identified, and a bicycle bell is added and named. Layering sounds in this manner helps children to begin to attend to individual sounds in a multi-sound environment. We also begin to listen to the sounds of individual instruments.
Young Child: Symphonic instruments. Now children have become a bit more sophisticated in their listening skills. Your child might hear and identify all the individual solo instruments in Peter and the Wolf, and then listen to the music of Peter and the Wolf. As each solo instrument begins to play on top of the orchestral background, your child will become adept at singling out the clarinet, or violin part. You can do the same thing at home with pieces such as The Magic Flute, or Carnival of the Animals, or The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Here are some auditory-stimulating activities for you to do at home:
- Listen to your CD’s, of course! All the active listening sounds are on your CD’s.
- In the car (you’ll have a captive audience!), play a lot of “What does the ____ say?”. (telephone, cow, horn, clock, rooster) You can even do this before your child can give a response! Just ask the question, and then say, “The sheep says ‘baaaa’”. They can learn to recognize sounds before they can say them. And then one day, you’ll be surprised when a “baaaa” comes out of your little ones’ mouth!
- Talk to your child and let her talk back to you in different intensities of voice: softer, louder and with different intonations. Speak or sing in a high pitched voice and then a low pitched voice and ask her to imitate you.
- Auditory hide and seek. Hide, and then call to your child. See if he can find you by following your voice. Children as young as crawlers LOVE this game!
- Play musical statues with your children. Play music and dance. When you stop the music they must freeze like statues.
- Clap a rhythm and ask your child to imitate it. Repeat with your backs to each other so that she cannot see you clap.
- Sing to your baby acapella. He want to hear his mother’s voice (and his father’s voice, too). He’s been listening to it since utero. It is the most comforting sound to him.
-posted by Miss Analiisa, who remembers when Nathan was born 5 weeks premature and used to “baaaaaa” like a sheep whenever he cried, while his little chin quivered. And she totally regrets she never got it on video.