By Craig Valency, MA, CSCS
Whether staring at the TV, computer, smart phone, or ipad, kids today live in a visual dominant world. Gone are the days when kids were outside for hours on end, either in nature or even the dreaded urban jungle.
Back in the pre-electronics age, vision was just one of many senses kids needed to explore, play effectively, avoid danger, and stay safe. Kid’s senses were fine-tuned to listen for oncoming cars, or to hear their teammate direct them amid the constant din of background noise. They could quickly re-orient themselves after rolling down a hill, and could sense just the right amount of pressure to apply when pushing, pulling, or swinging objects or other people.
Auditory awareness or hearing, has really been the biggest loser in this new visual paradigm.
So as a parent, teacher, trainer, or coach why should you care?
Well, think about how many times you have to say a child’s name to get their attention. How often do kids get knocked on their butt’s as they don’t hear a bicycle or other kids barreling toward them? Kids always seem distracted and unable to focus. This has huge implications for behavior, learning, and performance on a recreational, as well as elite level.
To solve the problem, we need to give them their ears back! Specifically, the right ear. Yes, the right ear! This is the ear that directly connects to the left hemisphere of the brain’s language centers. It also picks up the higher pitched sounds of the consonant letters that allow kids to hear speech through background noise or music.
So how do you train kids to have better right ears? Easy, start by having them close their eyes and listen to the sounds around them. Stomp around the room and have them point to where the sound is coming from. Make a bunch of unique sounds, dropping a book or pen, or bouncing a ball, and have them identify them. Make no sound at all and have them pick out anything they hear. Then have them tell you, or a partner, what it is and where it is coming from.
Once they go through this auditory boot camp, it’s time to get those right ears turned on. Simply have them cover up their left ears and play Simon Says, do reaction agility switch drills, or do the eyes closed listening drills discussed above.
Stand on their right side calling out movement commands, while other kids are on their left side making distracting noises, or just play loud music while calling out commands on their right side. Once their right ear becomes more attuned to these commands, you can then begin calling out commands from in front, behind or even the left side with distracting sounds coming from any part of the room.
Once kids find their right ears, you (and the kids) will be amazed at how quickly they start to tune in to the sounds that matter, improving their behavior, learning, performance and safety.
Are you doing the RIGHT thing when it comes to kid’s ears? If so, we’d love to hear from you. If not, we’d love you to share any ideas you have on how to adapt a game or activity you currently use to improve auditory awareness.