Listening & Understanding

I Understand

With listening and understanding come attention skills. Four year olds’ ability to focus their attention is a developmental stage vital to the entire process of acquiring language.


Camille goes to the public library with her older brother. As she goes of f to look at books she sits and listens to the story The Princess and the Pea. As the librarian reads the story to the children, she speaks in an animated voice, using high-pitched and low-pitched tones. She also uses props to catch the children’s attention. When the story is over, Camille goes over to her brother and excitedly tells him about the story she just heard.


Camille demonstrates her listening skills by sitting while the librarian is reading. The librarian’s use of props enables Camille to focus and gain a bet ter understanding of what the story is about as well as entertaining her. Developing language skills using play and entertainment makes learning fun.

Parents can provide a variety of opportunities for their children to focus their attention and listen carefully. This skill will support all aspects of learning and development, including emerging literacy skills such as phonetic and phonemic awareness, which lead to reading and writing.

When your child was two, she listened with interest when you read stories to her and encouraged her to respond to familiar sounds. At ages three and four, you encourage your child to listen one-on-one or in a small group, such as going to a reading at the bookstore, because she can focus her attention and listen, which leads to understanding.

As your child continues to develop listening skills, you will see improvement in her speaking skills. Your child will say all speech sounds in words. Mistakes will be made with the more difficult sounds, such as “l,” “s,” “r,” and “v,” but this is not a cause for alarm.

She will talk without repeating words; name letters and numbers; use sentences that have more than one action word, such as play and jump; tell a short story; and—best of all—keep the conversation going. It is critical to build your child’s vocabulary.

Model listening skills by making sure you are truly listening. Playing games such as Stop, Look, and Listen will encourage your child to pause and pay attention to what she hears.

Give definitions for new words, and use them in sentences: “A taxi is a type of transportation. It is a car. A double decker bus is another type of transportation. So are motorcycles and bicycles.”

Understanding involves the way your child comprehends meaning and her interpretation of instructions and problems given to her. Parents will often ask their four year olds, “What did I ask you to do?” When parents do this, they are asking their children to explain what they heard in order to make sure the children understood the directions given to them so the task can be performed.

Your child has the ability to retell a story she has heard or create a story using a wordless picture book.

In a storytelling event, your child has not memorized the words; rather, she is interpreting and paraphrasing the words as she understands them through a spontaneous performance, assisted by audience interaction. For children to retell stories, they must understand what they heard.

They are able to understand the main idea of the story, recognize the characters, and organize the facts.

Understanding is important to your child’s ability to build her language and literacy skills because it is also a necessary cognitive skill used in storytelling.

Stories provide a four year old with the mental framework for thinking so she can shape experiences into a whole that she understands. Storytelling allows your child to mentally map experiences and see pictures in her head; it gives her a model of language and thought she can imitate. Remembering and understanding occurs when your child answers questions that require her to organize previously gleaned information.

It is important for parents to create an environment that is rich in language opportunities for their children.