Today I’ll be discussing how to help little ones follow directions. This is extremely important for a child’s comprehension, school readiness, and almost every aspect of their future.

How to Use Gestures

Comprehension and new vocabulary for children is always supported by visual cues. And when it comes to following directions, gestures and other hand motions are particularly helpful. A direction we might give a child as young as one-years-old is “Give me ____.” Most of us may already include a hand gesture with this direction, but what about others?

Other Examples

Pointing is a consistent gesture that can be used to help children follow directions. If the direction you give includes an object, go ahead and point to that object so they can learn that word. For example, say “put your shoes on” while pointing to their shoes. Another example could be “wash your hands” while rubbing your hands together. For directions like these, we can mime the action for better comprehension. We do this naturally when we wave goodbye.

Other Visual Cues

Outside of gestures, we can aid comprehension with other visual cues. If it’s time for your child to clean up their toys, you can give the direction “clean up” while reaching for the toy bin. If you want your child to sit down at the table, walk over to the table, touch the chair, and say, “sit down please.”

What if They Need More Support?

In some cases your child might need more support. We can do this by physically walking them through the directions. So for example, if they’re not sure what you mean when you say “sit down at the table,” you can take their hand, guide them to the table, and then help them take a seat. While using these supports, it’s always helpful to repeat the directions a few times so they stick.

Repetition is Key

Children learn best through repetition, so in addition to repeating a direction in the moment, consider repeating that same direction over several days or weeks. You can check in on your child’s development by trying the same direction with less cues over time. For example, after a few weeks of practicing “clean up” where you grab the toy bin for them, try repeating the same direction and then waiting to see what your child does on their own.

Make it a Routine

Directions are so common throughout the day, and opportunities for practice arrive in nearly every daily routine. This includes getting ready in the morning (“go get your shoes on”) to preparing for dinner time (“give me your cup, please”). Try to find as many chances as you can to provide a language-rich environment for your child.