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  • Sarina Shirazee

Following instructions

There are so many factors involved with following instructions - hearing, understanding language, attention and concentration, and working memory. How many instructions can we expect children to follow at each age? ⠀

• 1-2 years: Simple 1 step instructions (e.g. “Pass me the cup”)⠀ • 2-3 years: 2 step instructions (e.g. “Go to your room & get your shoes”)⠀ • 3-4 years: 3 step instructions (e.g. “Colour in the cat, dog & monkey”)⠀ As a general rule of thumb, sticking with no more than 2-3 step instructions for school-aged kids can help decrease a lot of stress for everyone.⠀ Also note that with the above examples, the instructions are clear and concise. The less words, the better. A 3-4 year old is unlikely to be able to follow a 3 step instruction that sounds something like "Don't forget to put your shoes on before you go back inside through the far door and pack away the toys!" Even 5-6 year olds may struggle with the vocabulary and lack of natural order in these directions.⠀ Here are some other tips to keep in mind when giving a child instructions:⠀ • Gain attention first by tapping them on the arm or seeking eye contact - if you give an instruction from across the room or while a child is busy doing something else, you can't expect them to follow the instructions accurately or at all!⠀ • Break instructions into parts if they're having trouble, e.g. instead of “Go and get your lunch and your hat and go outside”, say “Get your lunch.” When the child has followed that, say “Now get your hat” then “Now you can go outside”.⠀ • Have the child repeat the instruction to ensure that they have understood what they need to do (e.g. “Go and get your bag then sit at the table. What do I want you to do?’)⠀ • Use ‘first/then’ language, e.g. “First get your jacket, then put on your shoes” or even simpler, "First jacket, then shoes", instead of "After you've put your jacket on you can put your shoes on". We cannot assume that children can transpose a direction into chronological order.⠀ • Ensure kids know it's okay to ask for instructions to be repeated. ⠀ • Use visual cues such as pictures and gestures.


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