Follow the leader: How fun activities can help your child follow directions

Learning to follow directions can be a major milestone in a child’s academic and social development, and it’s certainly an important skill for survival in the adult world.

The ability to follow directions requires language comprehension, reasoning, sustained concentration and working memory along with the capacity for updating information as changes occur. And while some children struggle with such skills due to learning disabilities, even children without such challenges can have a hard time mastering directions. That can lead to difficulty completing school assignments, a problem that may in turn contribute to behavioral issues, according to a recent article on Childdevelopment.com.

Some trouble signs to look for? A child should be able to follow a three-pronged directive (i.e. “Point to the cat, dog and mouse”) by age 3 or 4, and then master increasingly complex directives as he ages. He might be struggling if he frequently asks for repeated instructions; seems to misinterpret info; appears distracted; looks at the instructor blankly; avoids the task; tries to distract the instructor; looks to peers for help or just plain fails to get the task done.

In many cases, direction-following skills in young children can be brought up to speed through enjoyable activities that motivate careful listening in fun ways. Such activities might include participation in Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, building challenges with LEGO Bricks, I Spy, Follow the Leader, obstacle courses, art activities or sports, as long as they’re led by patient instructors who understand step-by-step teaching methods.

Building with LEGO Bricks has long been considered helpful in fostering inventiveness, experimentation and design. And when presented as a guided activity with specific perameters, it can also enable the logic needed to follow directions.

“Structured block play is what happens when a child tries to recreate a construction by consulting a model or blueprint,” notes psychologist Gwen Dewar on Parentingscience.com. “It’s more constrained, but it calls on a particular skill set that is crucial for many tasks. Kids must analyze what they see, perceive the parts that make up the whole and figure out how the parts relate to each other. We learn by doing.”

What can you do to encourage a child to focus on following instructions in everyday life? The Childdevelopment.com article offers these tips:

  • Establish eye contact with the child when imparting instructions.
  • State directions as simply as possible, preferably one step at a time.
  • Ask the child to repeat your instructions back to you before proceeding.
  • Use the terms “first” and “then,” as in, “First get your LEGOs from the bin, then choose 10 rectangular pieces.”
  • Optimize visual aids or act out directions whenever possible.
  • Encourage the child to politely ask for clarification as often as needed.
  • Avoid responding to children with sarcasm or condescension, even when you’re frustrated.

Sign up for a Bricks 4 Kidz session to help strengthen your child’s direction-following skills through targeted LEGO Bricks building sessions.

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