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How do children learn?

Photo: Quality interactions happen in everyday routines


Listening is an active process in which the brain makes sense of the information that’s heard. Like all children, deaf children using spoken language and learning through it need to be able to listen to be able to learn. It may take longer for your child to learn how to listen or they may need some extra help and support. Young children aren’t as good at listening as older children and adults, they know less about language so they aren’t as good at filling in the gaps if they miss information. Find out more about how you can create a good listening and communication environment at home

Some sounds are more difficult for deaf children to hear. If you’re worried about what your child can or can’t hear talk to your Teacher of the Deaf or audiologist.

MEDEL has produced some videos with ideas and activities you can use with your child

If you and your child use spoken language then many of your interactions will depend on your child being able to hear you. Communication and interaction take place all the time - not just at school or when your child is doing a shared learning activity. The more time your child spends using their hearing device the more spoken interactions they will hear. Remember children need to hear what you say and how you say it. For example, the way your voice rises when you ask a question.

Find out more about different hearing devices and looking after your child’s hearing device

Children are learning all the time; at home, in the car and out and about. They learn through ‘incidental learning’ which is where they pick up information around them through overhearing.

  • Turn off noisy equipment or shut the door. Turn off the TV if nobody is watching.
  • If your home has lots of hard surfaces such as a wooden floors you can put rugs down, cover tables with cloths and think about using cushions and carpets to stop echo.
  • Your child will hear best when you’re near them, so make sure you get close to your child so they can see your face.

Radio aids make the speaker’s voice louder and easier for a deaf child to hear, for example during a noisy family meal. They work even when the speaker is far away from the child or not facing them, for example, out and about or in the car. Radio aids can also transmit sound from a device such a laptop or the TV to your child’s hearing device. See more information on radio aids.

  • Encourage your child to give you their full attention before talking.
  • Pause after you’ve said something and wait for your child to respond.
  • Repeat new words lots of times and if possible, link them to an object or something which is similar that they will remember.
  • If everyone is together at home together, encourage turn-taking and ask everyone to signal before they speak.
  • Talk about the sounds that you hear and where they’re coming from.
  • Sing songs, move to music, repeat rhymes and share books together.

Quality interaction

Studies show that the way you interact and communicate with your child everyday are some of the most important factors in developing your child’s language, communication, learning, and relationships. Quality interactions happen in everyday routines, when you’re playing with child, during shared learning activities and in everyday chat and conversation.

  • showing affection and using physical contact and play to express feelings and making your child feel secure
  • showing interest in and commenting on the things your child is interested in
  • taking turns in conversation and encourage your child to do the same
  • using language, gesture, signs and facial expressions. All children need to be able to see and hear communication
  • praising and rewarding your child meaningfully
  • discussing feelings and points of view - yours, theirs and other people’s.


Children need language in order to learn but it doesn’t matter what language your child uses, spoken or signed. Your child will learn best through the language they’re most comfortable and fluent in and you’re most comfortable and fluent in. As your child moves through the education system, they may learn in a different language but still prefer to use their home language to interact and learn with you.

Parents Alessandro and Deborah talk about their twins Zack and Dylan, who are severely to profoundly deaf, learning in both English and Italian. Watch them describe how they developed their boys' speech and language in this video

  • looking at what your child is showing interest in and comment
  • pausing and leaving time for your child to respond when you’re talking or signing
  • having lots of conversations with your child while carrying out everyday activities
  • using different kinds of language with your child such as questions, comments, explanations
  • using language such as ‘I wonder’ or ‘what do you think she might do?’
  • explaining what you mean through repeating, using a different word or showing
  • repeating back and adding in extra information.
    As your child grows up language allows them to reason, think abstractly, and apply logic.
  • encouraging your child to use language to predict and draw conclusions
  • asking them about others points of view and whether they agree or disagree
  • supporting them to use language to explain, evaluate and problem solve.

Sharing books and reading

Sharing books with children from an early age supports both language development and later reading development. Reading can also help children to understand people’s intentions, beliefs and feelings. One of our family bloggers gave us her top tips on how she shares her love of reading with her daughter. You can read about their experiences here.

As they get older, children need to be good at reading in order to access information across all subject areas as well learning about the world. Your child will learn best when you read with them, not just to them. The Education Endowment Foundation has some top tips to keep older children reading which you can access here.

  • starting early - your child might not understand the words, but they will love cuddling up, hearing your voice, watching your signs, face and gestures and looking at the pictures
  • position yourself so your child can see you and the book
  • finding a time when you’re both ready to read– just a few minutes every day can make a huge difference
  • letting your child hold the book, turn the pages and interact with the pictures
  • draw attention to the words on the page even when your child is too young to read them
  • asking questions and talking about the story. Picture books can be a great way to explore feelings
  • having fun! Don’t be afraid to act out situations, use funny voices and pull silly faces.

As children get older you can help by:

  • encouraging your child to make time for reading among all their other activities
  • reading yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is but try to get your children to join in – if you’re cooking, could they read the recipe? If you’re watching TV, can they read the subtitles?
  • having a family bookshelf or a bookshelf in your child’s bedroom and encouraging book swaps
  • reading together - just because your child is older, it doesn’t mean you have to stop sharing stories.


Young children need you to respond to them and have fun with them in order to be able to take risks, experiment, feel close to you and learn. When you play you’re creating opportunities for this to happen. As children grow, preparing them for the demands of school and the wider society is key. Play helps children to connect learning and skills, apply their knowledge to different situations, and spark new ideas. There are lots of different things you can do - take a look at our playtime tips and ideas for suggestions.

  • creating a playful environment which engages your child’s interests
  • encouraging different kinds of play both outdoor play and indoor games.
  • following your child’s lead and let them tell you what to play
  • playing games which do and don’t have rules
  • providing children with a wide variety of materials, objects and toys which stimulate all their senses
  • allowing your child to take and manage risks in their play.
  • providing opportunities to play by themselves as well as with you, their siblings and friends.

As your child gets older you can help by:

  • continuing to encourage them to play and explore a wide variety of games and activities
  • playing games which practice maths or literacy skills in a fun way
  • taking time to explain the rules of a game. Your child may be reluctant to play because they’re worried they’ll get it wrong
  • supporting your child to spend time friends outside the home safely. This is an important part of growing up and learning.
  • encouraging your child to tell their friends how best to communicate with them and to say if they have missed information or need something to be repeated.

See more information about how to make sure that outside activities are accessible to deaf young people.