Preschool Skill: Following directions for preschoolers with picture of mom showing her preschooler how to make a sandwich
Following directions for preschoolers

Preschool Skill: Following Directions for Preschoolers

Following directions for preschoolers is an essential skill for preschoolers to learn before going into kindergarten. Kindergarten is a whole new world in terms of schoolwork, worksheets, tests, assessments, and scheduling. Children will be given directions constantly and will be expected to be able to follow instructions exactly.

What if your child will be homeschooling for kindergarten? Following directions is still a crucial skill, as veteran homeschooling moms know. We know that in addition to following directions in homeschool, the key to a well-run household is every family member staying on task and following the directions that mom or dad has given to them.

Why is it important for preschoolers to follow directions?

For children to function in everyday life, they must know how to follow instructions. Everyday life includes home, school or homeschool, church, Sunday School, extracurricular activities, sports, stores, playdates…basically everywhere. They need to be able to complete tasks efficiently and effectively. And it’s our job as parents to help them to develop the skills they need to be able to do that with ease.

In addition, following directions can keep kids safe. What’s the number one instruction you give to your kids as soon as they know how to use a phone? In an emergency, dial 911. The ability to follow this one instruction can save lives.

Make eye contact with your preschooler as you give him or her instructions to follow.

What do preschoolers need in order to follow directions?

Before being able to follow directions, preschoolers need some basic things. Let’s take a look to see what those are.

  1. Ability to hear – Children need the ability to hear the instructions given to them. If you suspect that your child is having trouble hearing, take them to your pediatrician to get their hearing evaluated. If they can’t hear your directions, there is no way for them to follow them!
  2. Language comprehension – Your preschooler needs to be able to comprehend what you are telling them. Don’t use vocabulary that they are not familiar with. I actually saw this in action this week. My 6-year old’s gymnastic teacher told the beginner’s class to keep their stomach muscles “tight” while practicing back hand springs. I could tell by looking at my daughter’s face that she had no idea what “tight” muscles meant. Sure enough, after class, I asked her if she knew and she said she didn’t. So that was a wasted class time because my daughter didn’t understand the vocabulary in the instructions.
  3. Attention span – Your preschooler will be able to concentrate and pay attention to your instructions all the way through. Then he will need to be able to keep his attention on the task that he has been instructed to do until he finishes it.
  4. Memory – Preschoolers should be able to store the directions in her memory until she can perform the task and while she is doing the task.
  5. Follow 1-, 2-, and 3-step directions – Young toddler should be able to follow 1-step instructions. Then move on to 2-step. Finally, preschoolers should be able to follow 3-step instructions.

Why doesn’t my preschooler follow directions well?

If your preschooler isn’t following directions well, the most common issue is that they just need practice. Preschoolers today are distracted by a lot. More than likely, activities to help your child focus will help his or her ability to follow directions.

As we mentioned earlier, if you suspect your child is not hearing your instructions clearly, don’t hesitate to mention it to his pediatrician. It might be something as simple as getting his ears cleaned from wax build up.

Another issue that could be happening is sleep apnea. My daughter actually has a hard time focusing because she has sleep apnea due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids. But when she gets them removed, she should go back to focusing like normal.

Activities to help your child practice following directions

  1. Simon Says – A childhood favorite, Simon Says is the perfect game to practice following directions. Remind your preschooler several times what phrase to listen for.
  2. Color-by-Number worksheets – These types of worksheets are fun for your child and really help children pay attention to what they are coloring.
  3. 2-Step Direction Games from Home Speech Home – This is an excellent activity to practice following 2-step directions. Once they have mastered this, add in an extra step to make it 3-step directions.
  4. Relay Races – What a fun way to practice following directions for preschoolers in addition to practicing gross motor skills! Make each leg of the relay race a different activity so your preschooler willed to remember the order of the race.
  5. Do 3 Things Listening Game by Inspiration Laboratories – Simple and so effective!
  6. Drawing activities – This activity is simple to carry out. Just give your preschooler some paper and crayons. Give him simple instructions on what to draw. For example, tell her to draw a purple circle. Then go on to say other shapes or objects. To make it more difficult, do 2-step drawings like “draw a purple circle with a red dot in the middle”. Or “draw a cloud with rain coming out of it”.
  7. Listen, Think, React Activity – This activity will help your preschooler to practice actively listening to instructions. Make sure there are no distractions for your child. Give your child instructional statements such as “When I say the month you were born in, stand up.” Then list the months of the year. Or statements like “If your name begins with the letter I call out, raise your left hand.” Another example is “When I say your favorite color, hop on your right foot.”
  8. Cooking together – Cooking and following a recipe is a great way to practice following directions for preschoolers! Follow a simple recipe while cooking together. Read two directions out loud and see if he can remember the second instruction after you do the first.

Tips to help your preschooler to follow directions

  1. Make eye contact – When we get on our child’s level and look into their eyes, they are more likely to listen and commit to memory what we say. It also shows them that what we are saying is important and cues them to listen.
  2. Minimize distractions – Turn off the TV, video games, radio, etc.
  3. Use vocabulary that they can recognize easily – This isn’t the time to teach new words. Use familiar words.
  4. Number your instructions – Use ordinal numbers like “first”, “second” and words like “next”.
  5. Check for understanding – After instructing them, ask your preschooler to tell you back what you said.
  6. Use a calm tone of voice – This will help keep your child calm which will help him remember easier what you told him.
  7. Don’t punish – Let’s offer praise, not punishment! This is a time learning, training, and encouragement!
  8. Start with routines – Not sure where to start when practicing following directions? Start with bedtime and morning routines. Preschoolers are already familiar with the routines so it will make it easier to be successful. For example, you could say, “Brush your teeth then put your pajamas on. Then come tell me when that is done.”

I hope these tips have been helpful to you! Comment below and let me know any other tips you have for helping your preschooler to follow directions.

Want to know what I recommend to teach preschool at home?

Are you thinking of teaching your preschooler at home soon? Not sure what he or she will need to keep up with peers in private preschools? With my background in Early Childhood Education (preK through 3rd), I’ve taught in preschools and even taught preschool to my own 4 children, successfully preparing them for kindergarten while following developmentally appropriate practices. So sign up below to get this FREE 16-page guide to the top 10 essentials that I recommend you need to start teaching preschool while saving hundreds of dollars!

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