Why Work on Following Directions? 

Written by: Tara Gray, M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

The ability to follow directions is both an important functional skill and academic one. People, both children and adults alike, are constantly following directions throughout the day. 

Daily Life Directions

Functional directions are those that have a purpose in a child’s daily life. Children are given functional directions every day, usually by their parents or other caregivers: 

  • “Put on your shoes.” 
  • “Brush your teeth.”
  • “You could eat the ice cream first and then go ride your bike.”
  • “Put the doll away and go sit down for dinner.”
  • “Close the door.”
  • “Can you give me the sunglasses please?”
  • “Get your coat, put on your shoes, and get in the car.”

These directions can come in a variety of forms and have varying complexities. Some may come in the form of a question, some in the form of a command, and potentially in the form of a suggestion. The complexity can also have a wide range from one step, two step, three step, and beyond. It’s key for kids to understand these directions to aid in developing their independence with daily life skills, make routines run more smoothly, and in some instances to keep them safe.

Directions at School

The ability to follow these functional directives sets the stage for more academic-based directives once the child is in school. Children need to be able to follow many verbal directions in school starting in preschool:

  • “Time to clean up.”
  • “Go get your snack.” 
  • “Put on your coat, mittens, and boots.”
  • “Get off the slide.”
  • “Share the trucks with Jamie and Chloe.”

Once literacy skills are established, kids will also need to be able to follow written directions in school. These are important for math story problems, any written testing, or even instructions written on the whiteboard or at the top of an assignment.

  • “Complete the following sentences.”
  • “Complete the following subtraction problems and write your answers in the box.”
  • “Read each story problem and solve the problem. Show your work.”

Developing these skills make it possible to follow directions from bosses and managers in children’s future jobs and careers. The need to be able to follow direction accurately do not stop at childhood. 

What if following directions is difficult for my child?

Following directions is an important skill set. If your child is struggling to follow directions, it can help to break multi-step directions into smaller steps or provide visuals to aid them in understanding. However, this difficulty can also be indicative of a language disorder. It’s important to rule out any hearing loss and seek out speech and language pathology services. The speech-language pathologists (SLPs) here at Small Talk are available to help. If it determined this is an area of need for your child, your child’s SLP can provide you with strategies and tools to improve your child’s success with following directions.