How to follow directions


Strategies on teaching children how to follow directions is important for their learning and their safety!

Last summer, I was working in an outpatient setting. A patient struggled with impulsivity, following directions, and running in the parking lot to their car. His mom expressed concern for his safety. After seeing him a couple times, I came up with this strategy to help him follow directions. It made a HUGE difference. In the fall, I started implementing it with children I work with in the school setting. I noticed big benefits with those students as well! So, I decided to share my version with you all. If you’ve used or come up with something similar, I’d love to hear!

In this post, we will look at a strategy to help children follow directions better. In addition, you’ll have access to a FREE printable to go along with the strategy. Finally, we will see why the 5 steps in this strategy are so effective!

I call this strategy, “Give Me 5”.

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First, let’s look at the FREE printable to help children follow directions:

This is a one page Printable Pack that includes instructions for the Give Me 5 strategy and one page with 3 visuals. The 2 smaller visuals are the perfect size to print, laminate, and attach to a lanyard for quick access!

Next, let’s look at each step!

Start by saying, “Give Me 5” while showing the child the visual. As the adult points to each finger on the visual, the child touches their own finger for each step.

  1. Thumb: “Stop” – The child stops what he/she is doing when they see the stop sign.
  2. Index finger: “Blow out your candle” – The child pretends their index finger is a candle. They take a big breath in through their nose, then exhale through their mouth blowing on their finger pretending to blow out the candle.
  3. Middle finger: “Blow out your candle” – Repeat directions given for index finger.
  4. Ring finger: “Listen” – The adult gives a clear, simple, and concise direction. For example: “Put your paper in your backpack then sit down.”, “brush your teeth, pajamas, bed.”, “Hold my hand, look both ways, walk to the car.”, and “Name on paper, 5 math problems, recess.”
  5. Pinky: “Tell me” – Now the adult asks the child to verbally repeat the directions

The complexity and number of directions given varies on the age and ability of the child. The main thing is to start with a verb and keep it simple. There are a variety of ways to implement the Give Me 5 strategy. For students who have a difficult time transitioning back to class after therapy, I can say, “Go to the door and Give Me 5”. At the doorway, we complete the steps and the instructions might include, “walking feet, quiet voice, back to class”. Another situation Give Me 5 comes in handy is when a child seems overwhelmed by a task. Break down the activity by giving instructions like, “cut 3 shapes, glue 3 shapes, all done” or “name on paper, 5 math problems, recess”.

Finally, here’s WHY the steps help kids follow directions better:

As we know, multi-sensory strategies can be effective for learning! Give Me 5 provides a variety of input. For example: visual input (visual to look at), tactile (touching fingers), proprioception (blowing), auditory (listening and repeating instructions).

Step 2 and 3 ask the child to take a deep breath while blowing out the candle. Deep breaths can help you relax and calm down. This provides you with a better ability to prepare for the upcoming instructions. Here’s a great article on the benefits of deep breathing.

Step 5 asks the child to verbally repeat the directions given. In addition to letting you know if the child heard and understood you, verbal repetition has also been shown to help with memory and recall. In other words, the child should be able to remember the directions better! (source)

One more reason we know these steps can be effective is because there’s a visual, checking for understanding/listening is done, and directions are kept short. Follow this link for other effective strategies!

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