Aspect 1: Environmental sounds

Find here some ways you can support children’s play to help them develop their ability to discriminate between environmental sounds. These suggestions are followed by activities and ideas that you can use to develop your practice and further children’s development.

Supporting children’s play

  • Join in with children when they play, to extend their talk and enrich their vocabulary.
  • Encourage children to use ’thinking’ language by asking open questions such as ‘What does it feel like to be in the tunnel?’
  • Make large movements with swirling ribbons to develop the physical skills that are necessary for writing.
  • Explore the sounds that different animals make. This often includes imaginary creatures, such as dragons.
  • Experiment with the sounds that different objects make.
  • Use unusual role-play areas to inspire children to use language for a range of purposes.

Developing your practice

  • Suggest to children how activities may be extended. This provides a greater challenge. It can also encourage children to apply their developing language knowledge and skills more widely.
  • Use picture or symbol prompts to remind the children how to be good listeners. These can be displayed on the wall, on a soft toy or in a quiet listening den.
  • A busy environment can hinder a child’s ability to tune in and focus on listening. It is important to have a listening area that’s free from overly distracting wall displays, posters and resources.
  • A small group size is preferable, to allow all of the children to have sufficient time to participate in and respond to the activity.
  • Gestures – such as a finger to the lips alongside ‘shhh’ and a hand to the ear alongside 'listen' – give vital clues to children who have difficulty with understanding or those who find it difficult to listen to the spoken instruction.
  • Scan the group before giving any sound cue. Use a child’s name if necessary then make the sound as soon as you have their attention.
  • If parents or carers speak languages other than English, find out their word for ‘listen’ and use it when appropriate.
  • If the children seem to recognise an object, but can’t recall its name, you can help them with prompts such as ‘what would you do with it?’ or ‘where would you find it?’
  • When you lead the singing, slow the song down. Slowing the pace can make a huge difference; it helps children to understand the language and gives them time to prepare before joining in with the words or sounds.
  • Forget conventional sound effects. For example, dogs don’t always bark with a ‘woof’. Big dogs can sound like ‘WUW WUW WUW’ and little ones give a squeaky ‘rap rap’. Vary the voice to add interest. These sounds are often both more fun and easier for the child to attempt to copy.
  • Be daring with sound effects. Include some less conventional animals (e.g. a parrot, a wolf). You might include dinosaurs – many children love them and, since no one knows what noises they made, children can be as inventive as they like.
  • Where parents or carers speak languages other than English, find out how they represent animal noises. Are 'woof', 'meow' and 'quack' universal? Which examples from other languages are the most like the real sounds?