As with other aspects of communication, the way children listen changes as they grow. I CAN explains the stages of listening.
Birth to 12 months
Babies can focus on something, but will very quickly move on to another object. They’re most interested in ‘exciting sounds’ like the noises animals make, or outside noises. They enjoy silly sounds and songs!
1 to 2 years old
Very young children will focus on what they’re interested in. They can listen to and understand single words, or two words together, such as ‘big car’ or ‘more juice’. They enjoy action songs they can join in with.
2 to 3 years old
At this age children can only focus on one thing at a time, and will need help from an adult to shift their attention to something else. They can listen to short stories, and still enjoy action songs.
3 to 4 years old
Your child may still focus on one thing at a time (e.g., playing with cars, then turning to look at you). Children are more able to shift their attention, but may still need help to focus. They can listen to longer stories, and can understand when you use longer sentences.
4 to 5 years old
Your child is developing the ability to carry on what they’re doing while listening to you. If they’re doing something tricky, they may need to focus on this completely first – think of what happens when you’re counting something and get distracted!
5 years and up
Your child should be able to sit and listen for longer periods of time, and will enjoy longer stories.