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Listening for the Child's Voice

Throughout each day, thousands of sounds and noises create opportunities for learning and engagement through listening experiences where children can be exposed to the magic of sound and the immeasurable joy it can bring.

Written by: Jo Harris Educational Advisor  

Even before a child is born, sound influences connection to the outside world. Many parents talk and sing to their growing foetuses, often rewarded with two-way communication by receiving a kick or flip in response to a familiar voice! Once they are born, sound takes on a new meaning as they begin a different type of exchange. Not only do parents need to learn how to listen to the various cries emitted from their tiny infants, but how to respond by distinguishing the request from each type of cry.

As children grow and develop, the method of communication gradually changes from sounds to single words and words to sentences and commands. Learning how to create meaningful exchanges through carefully planned activities and experiences that support all areas of development is a critical element in this journey.    

Sound is critically important to the way children learn about their world

Of the five body senses, sound is integral to keeping human beings safe from danger. Along with a sense of sight, our brains can quickly alert us to remain protected from potential hazards that can harm us. If hearing is compromised, our bodies compensate with the heightened use of our other senses.

Tests are conducted and measured to assess appropriate reactions from children, including gauging items such as the 'Moro reflex', a biological response to a perceived threat, in which a baby is startled by a loud noise or sudden movement. Their cry can even trigger this reflex until they are about two months old.

When we communicate, we rely on visual and auditory skills to convey messages that form conversations. During early development, infants learn to discriminate between words and other sounds, and as they become more familiar, infants make associations to form understandings.

Young children first attempt spoken language with what might seem like random syllables and mirror back their impressions. With regular engagement and repetition, children watch and listen to the body language conveyed by others expressing ideas and information.

Music supports critical areas of children's development

A key communication element is gesture, in which children learn to convey their feelings and emotions. Through the emphasis on words and facial expressions, there are opportunities to deepen connections with others.

Many young children enjoy music and singing activities and experiences, fostering physical, cognitive, emotional, and cultural development. Singing nursery rhymes and lullabies during a nappy change, settling into a sleep routine, or welcoming children at the beginning of their day at their educational care service promotes positive relationship-building skills. 

Joining in an incidental or planned group time with musical instruments, dancing, and movement experiences, children develop their listening and language. There are opportunities to increase their vocabulary and comprehension as they interpret instructions and directions.

When children can use whole-body movements in response to what they are hearing, it can improve memory skills through practice and repetition. This leads to increased self-confidence and creativity as learning becomes embedded through a multi-layered connection between themselves and others.

Listening to a variety of music can support children in learning more about the diversity of cultures represented in their educational service, affording opportunities for discussion and reflection and providing a catalyst for children to learn more about their identities and those of their peers and educators.

The Role of Sound and Emotional Regulation in Children

Sound is unique in that it sends automatic signals from the brain that dictate responses and reactions that differ from person to person, which must be considered when considering the diverse needs of children in groups. This creates space for reflecting upon what emotions are felt and different ways to express those feelings.

As a form of engaging children's attention, sound is signficant because it is an important indicator in setting the tone of communication and interaction during play. When an environment is busy, noise levels can rise, which for some children can become overwhelming, leading to frustration or sadness.

Observing children and how they respond to a busy environment can provide insight into their developmental progresss. Educators may recognise the potential for requiring early intervention or adaptive planning support for them to learn in comfort. Perhaps more importantly, children can recognise where and how they want to play, which reflects and can meet their individual needs.

When there are clear physical guidelines regarding what level of interaction (and expected level of volume) to expect, it becomes easier to consider what they might choose. Educators can use quieter, softer spaces to support time and space for reflection, relaxation, and creativity, allowing a sense of wellbeing.

Sound is always around us in every environment we engage in

It provides stimulus through conversation and interaction with objects and people, created naturally and artificially. The vibrations can be felt even when 'white noise' is transmitted on their journey through the ear-to-brain connection.

Listening to music can evoke a range of emotions that encourage expressions as unique as each person. Children learn to change their voices and use their bodies to share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings with tone, pitch, and volume.

Hearing the sound of family and friends' voices can provide comfort, understanding, and safety. The soothing words of a carer help children to feel safe when they are hurt or upset.

Engaging with everyday materials and objects teaches how things work and inform us of when they have changed.

Incorporating both 'noisy' and quiet play spaces is essential to every child and educator, they assist in providing a balance of active and passive play. Just as there are a variety of learning experiences for children to choose to engage in, the way they are positioned and arranged gives children a sense of autonomy in where they would like to interact.

Throughout each day, thousands of sounds and noises create opportunities for learning and engagement through listening experiences where children can be exposed to the magic of sound and the immeasurable joy it can bring. For more information and ideas to promote listening and sound activities, please visit


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