Teaching Children About Following Directions

By Dr. Rick Bavaria


I was with first-graders recently. They made me joyful with their happy excitement at whatever their tireless teacher put in front of them.





Read a story?


One of their many activities was about following directions, a fundamental skill for all learning. This imaginative teacher had her children create a series of eight colorful pictures of themselves doing various activities. She gave careful directions for each step: “First, draw a picture of yourself with a red balloon in one hand and a chocolate ice cream cone in the other. Next, draw a kite, some fluffy clouds, and colorful flowers.” And so on. The kids practiced counting by numbering each section. They practiced following directions by listening carefully. When they finished, their eight-sectioned works of art went up on the bulletin board to thrilled, smiling faces of pride.

The simple act of following directions is at the heart of kids’ success in schools. You can’t “think outside the box” until you know what the box is! Try learning anything – algebra, guitar, soccer, technical wiring, reading a spreadsheet, parallel parking, or brain surgery – without following directions.

Teach your kids why following directions is important in school and in life. Here are some examples:


Taking tests.

Following directions exactly on a test can mean the difference between a good grade and a great one. “Oh, I added when I was supposed to subtract!”


Learning new skills.

Following directions allows kids to learn something new in a step-by-step way.


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Staying safe.

Following directions keeps us safe during emergencies and other times when listening can be life-saving.


Indulging a hobby.

Hobbies require following directions. Putting together models, building Lego creations, making a birdhouse, baking chocolate chip cookies.


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Performing a show or concert.

Putting on a play is all about following directions. (That’s why the boss is called the director.) So is playing a musical instrument for a concert. Or dancing in The Nutcracker. Or re-enacting an event from social studies.


Learning a new sport.

Following the directions of the coach will make kids skillful, confident, and respectful of accomplished athletes’ skills.


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Establishing your expectations.

When kids are following your directions, they’re learning what you expect of them. They can figure out where you’re leading them, and they know you mean business.


Establishing routines.

There’s nothing like following directions to set up routines for bedtime, study time, homework time, play time, and meal time. The directions become second nature and routine. The routines make the kids feel safe, knowing what comes next.


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Establishing values.

Kids also quickly figure out that you’re teaching them your values when you expect them to follow your directions about keeping their grades up, going to worship, saving some of their allowance for worthwhile causes, and playing fairly.


Keeping order at home.

Okay, relative order. They are kids, after all. Following directions about cleaning up after meals, doing household chores, taking care of pets, and being good role models for younger siblings helps keep the daily life at home on a more-or-less even keel.


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