A listening adventure for you and your kids

As my 4-year-old son and I set off to explore the natural sounds of our neighborhood at night, I reminded myself to be more like a butterfly flitting behind him and less like a hovering helicopter. Nico and I were off on our first listening walk, and my first step was to loosen the reins.“Go for a night walk with a preschooler — but you have to let go of outcome,” acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, co-founder of Quiet Parks International, advised me months earlier.We had discussed enjoying the sounds of natural silence during the lockdown, and he mentioned that listening to the natural world with young kids was a way to experience it anew.“You want to be a true listener,” said Hempton, explaining that I should let my son lead us out into the evening and see where his curiosity went.I had just heard from a mother of one of my son’s day care classmates that her child had a doll named Nico whom she constantly admonished to “Focus!” So, learning from Hempton that my son might be a good natural listener was music to my ears.“Parents have adapted to a noise-polluted world by learning not to listen because noise is useless information,” he said, “So we actually teach our children, by example, not to listen.”But children, Hempton told me, are born listeners.