Hear ye, hear ye! Parents, practicing focused attention can be simple and fun with an activity that will have your child all ears!
This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.
Executive Function Skills Practiced:
Focused attention: A quiet environment and specific instructions help your child give their full attention to identifying sounds and their origin
Inhibitory control: Children must keep their eyes closed and practice patience while following instructions.
Cognitive flexibility: As the game levels progress, your child’s focus must shift between different sounds, numbers of sounds, and sound patterns. They must also associate sounds with the correct objects.z
What is childhood executive function?
At its core, Executive Function is a set of cognitive skills essential for planned and focused behavior, or put simply: decision-making. These skills encompass inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Put simply, EF helps guide our actions, emotions, and thoughts, acting as a sort of “control center” in the brain.
Ready To Play? Game Levels and Step-by-Step Instructions:
Duration: 10-15 minutes
Plastic eggs or containers filled with dried rice, beans, salt, paper clips, etc.
Any noise-making objects
Environment: Any quiet space, such as a kitchen table, a clear area on the floor, or outdoors.
If a child has trouble ignoring distractions, shake both eggs in your hand and have your child point to which egg is making noise.
Add variation to this activity by shaking the eggs at different tempos and forces, gradually extending the focus time.
Choose the environment where your child focuses best for other activities.
Game Level 1 | Listen to the Sound:
Find a quiet space to introduce the game to your child.
Hold a plastic egg in each hand, one filled with a noisy substance and one empty.
Explain, “We are going to play a game! I want you to listen very closely. I’m going to shake these eggs, but only one of them is going to make noise. See if you can tell me which egg is the noisy egg when I mix them up!”
Game Level 2 | Different Sounds:
Use other items to make various sounds, like a single hand clap or finger snap, while your child listens carefully.
Instruct your child to close their eyes and listen to the sounds you make. Tell them, “I’m going to make the sound THREE times, and then you can open your eyes and tell me what you think the sound was!”
Game Level 3 | Sounds Around Us:
In this level, your child will listen to the sounds around them and try to identify three different sounds they can hear in the environment.
Say: “This time, I won’t be making any sounds but there are still sounds all around us. You’re going to listen carefully and see if you can hear three different sounds.”
After a period of time, ask your child to share the sounds that were heard.
Game Level 4 | Matching a Sound:
Have one container filled with something that makes a sound when shaken (e.g., rice, salt, paper clips). Number several other matching containers, filling one with the same item and the others with different items.
Say: “I’m going to make this game a little bit tricky! You have to listen really well because I’m going to shake a container. Your job is to listen for the container that sounds the same as the first one. When I’m done, you’ll hold up the number of fingers that match which container was the same. Ready?”
Talk and Reflect:
At the end of each activity, talk with your child about what they noticed during the game.
Ask questions like, “Was it easy or hard to be quiet and listen to one sound?” and “Were some sounds harder to identify than others?”
Encourage them to share their experiences.
Model reflection by restating some of your child’s responses.
Additional Ideas and Resources
Try the activity at different times of the day and in different settings.
If you have an older child, ask them to choose different objects to create new sounds.
For younger children, start with familiar sounds that are easier for them to identify to build their confidence and engagement.
Explore additional resources like “A Ten Step Guide to Mindful Listening” from MindSpace, “Starter Lesson: Mindful Bodies and Mindful Listening” from Mindful Schools, and “Mindful Listening” from MindUp.