Updated: Jul 14, 2018
Last summer, I was on vacation in a spot I call Camp Paradise. It is located on 30 acres of forest and meadowland in Oregon. A short path through the trees leads us to the river, our afternoon swimming, bathing, and recreation site. Whether we number 8 or 28, we usually eat around the almost incessant fire due to an unlimited wood source. The scores of visitors who have experienced Camp Paradise agree that my designated name suits it perfectly. And this gets me to listening and noticing.
During this visit to Camp Paradise, I often rose before everyone else and made my way to the river or to a bench my brother made and placed at the edge of the forest, looking onto a meadow. There I would listen and notice, automatically doing what I’m considered an expert at.
Teaching listening and noticing strategies to children is part of my job. I even have an adorable poster showing Total Body Listening. I tell students that true total body listening is listening with our eyes, our ears, our minds, our bodies, and our hearts. I explain what I mean in a variety of multi-sensory ways.
At Camp Paradise, Total Body Listening was effortless. I readily absorbed the beautiful peculiarities of nature. I was the consumate Total Body Listener.
But when I returned home, I had a rude awakening. The comparison between what I did at Camp Paradise and at home woke me up to the fact that in my daily life I wasn’t nearly as proficient at truly listening as I had thought I was.
I caught myself yelling into another room instead of getting up, walking to the person, looking into their eyes, and saying what was on my mind.
Often enough I would welcome children into my office still staring at the computer screen or taking notes, and not using their names when saying hello. This addressing by name isn’t exactly listening, but it is noticing and acknowledging and helps bring their attention to me and my attention to them while showing my caring for them.
I don’t think they consciously noticed any of this. But I believe they noticed. When I had demonstrated poor listening by talking to them with my back turned, none of them liked it. They felt like they were alone or being ignored. They usually tried to get me to turn around and some got up to stand in front of me. Out of scores of students I have taught in this manner, not a single student didn’t care.
I knew this, and still I was inconsistent with my responses. It took my experience at Camp Paradise to spur me to be more rigorous, more conscious and more consistent about my listening and noticing–throughout my life.
In order for children to learn to listen, pay attention, and focus, or what I often call aim their brains, they must witness the behavior in us as well as practice it. Children absorb subconsciously all we model. Consequently, we need to be mindful of what say and do.
If we don’t listen with our eyes, our ears, our minds, our bodies, and our hearts we might impatiently tell our child to wash his hands without taking a moment to admire the walking stick he found on a hike and is excited to show us. When our child tells us about something she has seen or learned or accomplished, we could miss her eyes imploring us for a smile or an encouraging response. This means we could miss valuable opportunities to acknowledge, encouage, and nurture our children–something they yearn for.
Our modeling complete listening and noticing will help our children become better listeners and noticers.
If we give them our full attention, they will more likely give us their full attention. They will more likely follow directions as well as remember them. They will more likely learn easier, demonstrate more polite and caring behavior, and feel happier.
“Listen to understand, not to reply.”