by Lindsay W. Brown
July 29, 2010
“When all else fails, read the instructions.” How many times have you said that to yourself? Children often become frustrated by following directions, too. Teaching your child to follow simple directions before she starts school will help her learn in every subject in school, including reading and writing.
Imagine a classroom with one teacher and 20-plus students who can’t get their coats off and hang them up. “Parents often think it’s quicker if they do it for their child, but encouraging self-help skills are really important for helping your child adjust to school,” says one teacher.
Continuing the series on basic skills children need to be successful readers and writers by third grade, Learning Link’s early childhood team has included a goal that all DeKalb County children enter kindergarten with the ability to follow simple directions. This basic skill will not only help your child in school, but can also improve your family’s life at home.
A first step to learning to follow directions successfully is to help your child learn to focus and listen carefully. The best way to do this is simple–read to your child every day. The more animated you are as you read, the better you’ll focus your child’s attention on what she’s hearing. Ask thinking questions, like “why do you think that happened?” And “what do you think might happen next?” Listen to her responses.
There are many ways parents and caregivers can help their children learn to follow directions. Think about activities that involve crafts, cooking and building things. Ask for your child’s help:
- Baking cookies, following a recipe.
- Setting the table for dinner, starting with plates, then moving on to utensils and napkins.
- Gathering items needed for a family outing. For example, packing snacks and beach towels for a trip to the pool.
- Folding a piece of paper into a hat.
The more ‘real’ the opportunities are, the more your child will understand the purpose and importance of directions, the process of following directions, and the consequences of not following directions. Ask your child what would happen if you baked cookies and didn’t add the sugar (or chocolate chips, for example, if that’s your child’s favorite ingredient). If you don’t follow the directions, you may have a cookie that doesn’t taste like a cookie!
It’s easy and fun to make a game of teaching your child to follow directions. Play “Follow the Leader” or “Hide the Penny”. In “Hide the Penny,” instead of hiding yourself as in “Hide and
Seek”, you’ll hide something small, like a penny, for your child to find. Begin by having him close his eyes until you have hidden the penny. Give simple but very specific directions to guide your child in finding the object, such as (1) walk three steps forward; (2) turn toward the window; and (3) look up on the second shelf.
At first, allow your child to finish each step before moving on to the next steps. But he’ll learn quickly and once he’s gotten the idea, challenge his memory and listening skills by giving more than one direction at a time, like “walk three steps forward, then turn toward the window.”
After playing this game a few times, let your child hide the object for you to find. In the beginning it may be difficult for him to give specific instructions, but as long as you don’t ignore his mistakes, he’ll improve quickly. Be sure to follow his instructions exactly, so that he can learn from his mistakes. If your child told you to look ‘beside’ a cup but really meant for you to look ‘behind’ it, he’ll quickly understand when he sees what you did that he used the incorrect word. Give your child suggestions as needed.
Remember, playing is important in the lives of healthy children, and as children play, they’re learning. Regardless of your child’s age, grade or abilities, the real world skill of following directions will help your children be successful in school and throughout their lives.
For more information about Learning Link, an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, or a four-page booklet of low- and no-cost learning resources available in DeKalb County, go to www.dekalblearninglink.org and click on ‘Community and Parent Resources’, then ‘Early Childhood’, or call Judy Sorg at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 260-925-0311.