Practical ideas to use at home to improve crucial learning skills during lockdown

Playing board games.
Playing board games.

Liesel van Niekerk, author of The Listening and Language Home Programmes, provides Parent24 readers with some ideas which parents can use to enrich their children’s listening and language abilities at home during lockdown.

See her top tips to help teach your kids at home, below:

First, three steps:

TALK to your children – they understand much more than they can say.

LOOK at your children when they talk to you and be interested in what they want to say.

LISTEN, really listen to your children.

“Answering children’s questions is an excellent method of supplying just the information the children need at a given time” – Mary Atkinson.

Children learn to speak by hearing speech, and to hear speech used creatively in their own homes has a far greater influence on them than hearing it only at school.

Get them involved in daily tasks and talk to them about what you are doing, how and why you are doing it, whether it is whilst you are cooking, baking, making the bed or tidying.

Five Ws

Incorporate all the senses when you teach them a new concept e.g. let them listen to, look at, feel, taste and smell the object.

Ask questions (why, when, who, what) and … wait for an answer.

Encourage descriptions and explanations. Something pretty can also be beautiful, colourful, interesting, attractive

Play “How many” game: Ask, “How many things can you think of that have wheels/eyes/legs?” Or, “How many things can we do with a pen/spoon/a brick?” Encourage conversation.

At school children learn to converse sensibly and to explain what they mean.

Unless they can express their thoughts in speech they will find it difficult to later write down their thoughts on paper.

Engage in conversations

Now, during lockdown, is a good time to help your children to have a conversation. For children who are shy, it helps if they dress up or pretend to be someone else.

A coat, a hat, a shopping bag are enough to turn them into  different characters.

You can ask questions like: “How lovely to meet you, who are you?”; “Where do you live?”; “How are you going to get to the shops?” “What are you going to buy?”

Or play a “Pretend I don’t know” game: “Pretend I don’t know what an apple is. Can you tell me what it looks like.”

Never punish poor speech. Praise them when they use good language.

Don’t correct a child, by saying: “Don’t say you ran down the passage….”  Rather give him the correct model by saying “Oh, you ran down the passage.”

Use everyday situations to enrich their language and to build their vocabulary – but in context: In your home: In every room of your house there is something waiting to be explored by your children.

Discuss the different rooms, furniture, and so on.

In the kitchen

Talk about categories such as cutlery/crockery; fruit and vegetables and food. 

Let them remember a short recipe or discuss the type of eggs you eat at breakfast compare shapes and sizes.

Such as a bread knife vs butter knife: Which one is smaller/bigger?

At mealtimes

Set the table together and ask: “What do we need?” make them aware of the names of different food eat together as family and take turns to discuss topics (highs and lows of the day; I really appreciate….; nonsense topics…)

In the bathroom

Ask: “How does the soap feel?” (encourage descriptive language); “Why do we have tiles against the wall?”

In the garden 

“What do I use a spade for?”

“What can you see that has wings, a tail, crawls along, grows in the soil, flies, has petals?”

Help your children to understand language concepts e.g. same/different: “How are a bus and a car the same? How are they different?” comparisons: “Is ice cream colder than coffee?” associations opposites concepts of time, positions and such. 

Use “waiting time” to play language games: Pretend I don’t know-game. I wonder why….Guess what I am thinking of.

Control the TV

Television has become another member of many families.

It is often central in children’s lives – as tutor, entertainer, babysitter, salesperson and influencer all in one.

Make sure you control it and don’t let the TV control your family. Find other leisure activities besides TV, like building a puzzle, playing Bananagrams or UNO. 

If you break the TV habit, you have a better chance of avoiding an addiction to it. 

Instead of letting them watch TV for long periods of time, rather let them listen to audiobooks, podcasts or initiatives like #savewithstories where celebrities read books on Instagram.

READ, READ, READ to your children.

Make bedtime 15 minutes earlier and read or tell stories to your children.

Ask questions about the stories (refer to listening games below). Make books part of your family life and be an example of someone who also reads for pleasure. 

Once lockdown is over you can continue to enrich their vocabulary -In town: Talk about things you see: buildings, people, transport

Who works where? What type of work do they do?

In the shop: let them fetch items from another aisle (memory), teach names of fruit and vegetables, especially the more uncommon ones.

Take your children on outings and let them tell you about their experiences.

Prepare them  for the outing by paging through picture books about the place and consolidate what they have learnt afterwards. 

Try to take advantage of any interesting place, sight or experience and talk about it. 

Develop listening skills

Children need to be taught to listen while someone else speaks. At school they have to wait their turn, and therefore they need practice to listen patiently.

This is a very difficult task for small children. They need to listen carefully to instructions and be able to repeat a message.

Make sure your instruction is clear and try not to repeat it.(*Comic insert)Discuss and let them identify the quality of sounds(high/low; loud/soft; far/near)

Auditory ATTENTION: Close eyes and listen to sounds.

Auditory DISCRIMINATION: The ability to hear differences and similarities in sounds/words, e.g. ask: “Touch your nose every time you hear the word nose: nose, cat, dog, rose, nose, no” “Clap your hands every time you hear and s sound ”.

”Cover your mouth and ask: “Do these two words sound exactly the same? Man - man, man - pan, ….” 

FIGURE GROUND – the ability to listen to sounds despite the background noise. Play a radio or music and turn up the volume or clap hands while asking them simple questions.

Auditory RECEPTION – the ability to listen and give answers without visual stimuli. 

“Listen and answer YES or NO: I have two eyes - The floor moves - Bananas can sing - Dogs can bark.”

Guessing game: “Who am I?  I am made out of wood, I have four legs and you can sit on me.”

Auditory SEQUENTIAL MEMORY is a very important skill in everyday life.

It is the ability to recall that which was heard in the correct order. It requires concentration.

Kim’s game.

I went to the market and I bought a _______.

Parrot game.

Say two, three or four unrelated words and your child must repeat the words in the same order.

Telephone game.

Child repeats “telephone number” of three, four or five digits depending on his ability. Always finish the game with an easy number. 


Give your child instructions that are short initially, but become progressively longer, e.g. “Clap your hands three times, fetch a spoon, walk around the chair, and put the spoon on the table.

”Listening to stories or poems is fun and it teaches children to be able to sit quietly for a short time.

Ask questions

Sometimes it is a good idea to ask questions about the story or poem, like: “Did you enjoy the poem/story? Did it make you feel happy or sad?

Why do you think did it made you feel like that? Can you remember what happened to the little cat?

What would you do if you were the cat? Would your story end the same way or different?”

Teach your children rhymes or ask them to recite rhymes they’ve learnt at school. This is also very good for memory training.

Remember: Be a good example for your children regarding your speech, language and listening ability. 

“Example is not part of training, Example IS training.” - Albert Schweitzer

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