Listen Up

I was very happy this past weekend to find that two of my granddaughters, too young yet to be reading independently, are such good listeners they can recite their favourite books by heart. I particularly enjoyed joining in with Audrey’s rendition of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, although I don’t know that she approved of my doing it with a Kelvinside accent. Two year olds often prefer a vanilla delivery.

Listening is a dying art, especially for children growing up in homes with several TV sets. Watching is an entirely different skill. It’s hard to imagine them rushing to tune in to the radio as my generation did in the Fifties, eager for the next episode of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth. There was no spin-off DVD. You had to imagine the scene for yourself.

On Sunday I was also relieved to find something I agreed with in an otherwise annoyingly religion-lite sermon delivered by an Anglican vicar. He said we’re failing to be story-tellers. We may read to our children and allow them to watch selected movies, but they rarely get to hear an adult telling a story extempore. His point being that in Christ’s time it was the only way stories were told and passed on. On a hillside, on a lake shore, in a crowded Temple courtyard. Okay, sometimes it probably did get a bit garbled  –  Blessed are the Cheesemakers and all that  – but everyone was a listener then.

The vicar said he had a plan, to get volunteers, especially older members of the parish, to go into the local schools and tell their stories.  Not the kind of stories that generate a mini-industry of action figures and lunch boxes. Just plain old Mrs Ledbetter, for instance, talking about when she was a Land Army Girl in World War 2. A laudable idea, I think you’ll agree.

Listening takes practice. If we continue to neglect it our ears may shrink. And you know what’ll happen then?  Our hats will fall over our eyes. Which is not a good look.



  1. Verity on August 2, 2012 at 8:10 am

    I remember a regular feature of primary school – we continued being read to up until the end of class 4 just for the sake of being read to, and then in class 5 we had to do work based on the books that were read to us. Some of the books that we read – particularly the ones from Class 4 are still favourite childhood books, which I’ve bought copies of since – Swallows and Amazons, the Carbonel series (we only read the first two at school, I remember borrowing the third one from the teacher because I was so desperate to read it and then being thrilled a few years later when I found it in a bookshop). I wasn’t so keen on the Waterbabies though.

    It’s strange how childrens books can stick with you – I still have some I can’t bear to part with – my set of Drina Books (which ebay has allowed me to finally get matching!), the Sadlers Wells series (which I still haven’t got all of) and the Chalet School (which I have two copies of some of now – as I’ve got all my old paperbacks, and am collecting reprints of the full hardback text too…

    I was always read to by my parents too – well up until the point where I was reading the book in my head faster than they could out loud and I do think it does set children up for listening and reading for life.

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