You know what that looks like: you tell your 8 year old to take out the garbage, get into pajamas, and feed the dog, thinking it should take about twenty minutes until liftoff.
A half hour later, you see your son standing in the kitchen in his underwear giving the dog a good back scratch.
You’d be annoyed if you could – but you know he’s not misbehaving intentionally. But this isn’t the first time he’s gotten directions mixed up, sometimes with permanent consequences.
You’ve tried numerous workbooks for grade-schoolers that claim to teach your child to follow directions, but they didn’t help at all.
Is there anything you can do, or is your child doomed to be one of the hopelessly confused?
Why having trouble following directions is just the beginning.
Having trouble following directions is just the tip of the iceberg for most kids.
That’s because being able to follow directions means being proficient at perceiving and remembering the order of things, otherwise known as sequencing. Tying shoes, reciting the alphabet in order, understanding the difference between “before” and “after” or “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” all require good sequencing skills.
Some kinds of information are meant to be processed as one whole. Remembering what your great-aunt Matilda looks like is one example. Other kinds of information are purely sequential, such as phone numbers, the order of the months of the year, or keeping track of a story plot.
These are meant to be taken in one at a time, bit by bit, in order to be understood and remembered. A child who has trouble with sequencing (and their parents) will find themselves stymied in numerous areas – despite average (or better) intelligence.
Fortunately, sequencing is a skill that can be learned. Here are some things you can do to help the child who has sequencing issues:
Play the command card game.
Many books that teach children how to follow directions fail miserably. That’s because they don’t use real-life scenarios to teach sequencing. The command card game, while traditionally a Montessori game, is an excellent way of building your child’s sequencing skills.
To play it, write individual words on pieces of paper. Simple verbs like “jump” “hide” or “sing” are good choices. Fold the papers in half, and place them in a container. Let your child draw a slip, read it silently (or you can read it for them), and then put it down. They then perform the action on the slip.
Once your child is comfortable with the idea of the game (and kids generally love it), you can write two simple directions on a slip. “Open the door, and close it,” or “Find a chair and sit on it,” are good examples. Your child will get better at remembering what’s written on the slip, while having fun.
Create an obstacle course.
This is great for children who have trouble remembering motor sequences, like tying their shoes, or using cursive writing.
Instead of going ahead and giving that extra granola bar, hide it, and let your child find it before they can eat it. In the beginning use simple two- step motor sequences, like going under a chair and over a suitcase, in order to get the treat. As your child gets more proficient, add on additional things (remembering to keep the first steps the same) in order to challenge your child.
Let your child help you problem-solve.
When people are learning a new skill, especially a motor one, we often “talk” ourselves through it, telling ourselves which step comes next. You can help your child learn how to do this too.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve just made a batch of muffins that are just waiting to be eaten by your kindergartner. When your child asks you if they can have a muffin, ask them to tell you what you need to do in order to get it. Have them “talk” you through the process, givng them hints if need be. Then they can go through the process themselves in order to enjoy their snack.
An older child can help you make the muffins. When you finish, ask them to tell you what the steps of the recipe were. You can even have them write down the steps they took, draw pictures to go with the steps, and create an e-book using Scribbles, a free app. They can then share their creation with a grandparent or other family member.