Every parent can nod in agreement that a child's willingness to listen and follow directions -- or not -- can elicit much adult frustration and exasperation. The truth is that the art of following directions is a developmental skill that grows. Your child will mature from understanding the verbal command without connecting it to an action to carrying out two- to four-part actions with ease, according to Scholastic's article, "Ages & Stages: Learning to Follow Directions." Multi-step direction activities, whether daily routines or games, crafts and songs, can help your child grow in his ability to organize the commands he hears into a logical order, and jump into action to get it done.
Break It Down
Many times the task you want your child to complete requires several steps and parts to remember. If you rattle off a list of instructions, chances are, she will hear and understand only part of them, at best. Scholastic points out that her confusion increases if the instructions are out of order, such as, "Brush your teeth after you put your pajamas on and get into bed." Keep your directions simple, orderly and specific to help her better understand exactly what it is you expect her to do. Instead of "Do the dishes.” break it down into sub-steps and say, "Please clear all the plates from the table. Put them in the sink. Rinse off the food debris and load them into the dishwasher." The younger the child, the fewer directions you should give at once. Let your child complete one task such as, "Please get the salt and pepper shakers from the kitchen," before adding, "Now place them on the table." Get silly with your directions to make listening practice fun and full of laughs. For example, "Hop to the tree on one foot. Do three somersaults. Make a funny face and run to the kitchen table for lunch."
Michigan State University Extension's article, "Kindergarten Readiness: What You Can Do to Ensure Your Child’s Success," suggests that your child's daily routine provides multiple opportunities to practice following multi-step directions, such as getting dressed, grooming, cleaning up, doing chores and helping with meal preparation. Include your children in your daily activities from a young age, giving him short directions about what you want him to do as you go, such as, "Please get the lettuce from the refrigerator. Now get the salad bowl from the cupboard. Tear the lettuce into the bowl for the salad." As your child matures and is able to retain more direction steps at once, you can combine steps in one direction as appropriate. For example, "Please pick up all your toy cars and put them in the toy bin. Then make your bed."
Developmental levels and learning styles affect how your child best receives and responds appropriately to multi-step directions, asserts the University of Central Florida Technical Assistance and Training System in an article titled, "Helping Children Follow Directions at School." Verbal instructions work well for auditory learners, but for those who learn better visually, or in the case of young children who cannot yet read, picture directions can help. If your child is having trouble, remember to follow directions in a common routine such as bedtime. Try making a picture sequence for him to look at as he goes through the steps of selecting and putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, telling family goodnight, getting into bed and story time. Scholastic recommends creating picture recipes, as well, that allow a child to follow the steps to create something yummy without wading through a lot of tedious text.
Fun with Directions
With children, anytime you can make learning fun, it is a win-win relationship builder for parent and child alike. UCF-TATS' article, "Helping Children Follow Directions at Home" recommends, "Games, songs and music can also help children follow directions." Simon Says, relay games, follow-the-leader, copying rhythms, scavenger hunts and obstacle courses with navigation directions all create situations where your child has to listen, pay attention to details and remember what to do. Older kids may enjoy writing directions for someone to get somewhere. If she trades papers with a friend, each of them can test out how clear and easy to follow the instructions are. Party planning is another fun way for your child to practice following multi-step directions with attention to detail.
- Michigan State University Extension: Kindergarten Readiness: What You Can Do to Ensure Your Child’s Success
- University of Central Florida Technical Assistance and Training System: Helping Children Follow Directions at School
- University of Central Florida Technical Assistance and Training System: Helping Children Follow Directions at Home
- Scholastic, Inc.: Ages and Stages: Learning to Follow Directions
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images