That’s part of a little song we sing at morning circle. And it is also one of the major problems I encounter with new students each year. Following directions is a key component of education, from now through college, yet adults don’t often give the skill enough serious consideration. Perhaps because we want our children to be independent and creative, we don’t always stress following directions and paying attention to how things are supposed to be done. I believe that is a mistake and I spend a great deal of time in kindergarten making sure students follow directions correctly.
Following directions involves four steps:
- Listening- This is the stage where most students fail. They may be accustomed to constant noise (television), may not be required to listen to their parents, or they may not yet understand that they will be expected to perform a task. It takes some students months to grasp the true meaning of “look, listen, learn”.
- Processing- I have found over the last ten years that children are being given less and less time to actually process information and think before an adult or an electronic device steps in and explains something or does something for them. Waiting for a child to process information and make a decision might take a little time, but it is well worth the effort if it results in skill and confidence.
- Understanding- It is important with young children that you use consistent vocabulary when giving directions, and that you follow a repetitive process for the basics of any task. You can’t rattle off confusing terms or ask them to do something new in the middle of a lesson. It is also important to give instructions both verbally and visually. Children process information in different ways. I have difficulty just listening to instructions and have much more success if I can see an example. For this reason I always demonstrate as much as possible and provide finished examples of projects. (I don’t color or paint my art or craft pieces because I do not want students to copy my color choices.) We use a process in our class- Color/Cut/Glue- and it is posted on our board as a reminder. I also ask children to repeat directions back to me to check for understanding.
- Applying- Children need to complete tasks in order to develop skills and confidence. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed parents telling children how to do the simplest things, such as opening a milk carton, yet they continue to do it for them for months and months. Children have to fail and practice and fail and practice. We can’t be afraid of the “fail” part. It is just a fact of life that we aren’t born with every skill we require, nor are we born with the same level of skill as everyone else. I never could play sports well- I lacked speed, coordination, and competiveness. But I still played, because it was required of everyone in school. I applied what I was taught and did the best I could.
Teaching our young children to follow directions gives them a solid foundation for the assignments and tests that are ahead of them in higher grades. And it doesn’t negate their individual talents or strengths. They still have numerous opportunities for independence and creativity.