Following Directions


The ability to listen and follow directions well is one of the most important skills a child needs to learn. For a baby or toddler, understanding the word, "No" means more than just being obedient, it is the beginning of learning how to listen and follow directions. This basic skill is a foundation of success for preschoolers to professionals. A child who follows directions will have success in school, just as the builder who follows the architects' plans will successfully complete a project and the chef who follows the recipe will serve a delicious dish.

Most kids want to follow directions and behave in a way that they can feel good about. As they grow, children desire to develop their own identity and their own skills. Although it is sometimes hard to let go of doing things for your child, it is important for her sense of confidence and self worth that she learns to complete tasks on her own. At times it may seem simpler, more efficient, and less frustrating to just do it yourself, but by following these simple tips to help your child follow directions you can prepare them for preschool and life ahead.

Be Specific. Make sure you have your child's attention and then clearly state your directions. A general statement such as "clean up your mess" is often too vague for a young child. They will have more success with directions such as, "put your toys in the closet and your cup in the sink."

Take it in steps. Breaking down your directions into steps, as in the example above, will help children understand processes. A three year old can usually complete a one or two-step task. A four year old can usually progress to completing a two or three step task. A child who is preparing to enter kindergarten should be given tasks with three to five steps. For example, a three year old could be told to " put on your pajamas and pick out your bedtime story." A five year old could handle a more complex set of directions such as, " Put on your pajamas and then put your dirty clothes in the hamper. Brush your teeth and choose your bedtime story."

Ask them to repeat the directions. Before your child sets off to accomplish his tasks, ask him to tell you the things he needs to do. That way, you can be sure he understands and remembers the instructions.

Keep your cool. Be prepared to calmly re-state your directions and re-direct your child back on task if he becomes distracted. If you stay calm, it is likely that your child will follow suit. Emotions can be contagious and calmness and patience can rub off just as easily as anger and frustration can.

Give plenty of praise. Children want to be proud of themselves' and want their parents to be proud of them also. Giving positive feedback to your child as he or she successfully follows your directions tells her that you respect her and that you are confident in her abilities.

Practice. Everyday tasks such as getting dressed or setting the table are readily available ways for youngsters to practice their listening and following directions skills. You can also do some fun activities that promote listening and following directions skills such as art projects, cooking activities or a simple scavenger hunt around the house.

Sources: Mailbox magazine

Cooking activities such as baking cookies teaches children early math, science and language skills. As you prepare foods together, talk about what happens to a food as you add ingredients or how the food changes when it's cooked to reinforce the children's learning.

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