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How to Teach Your Child to Follow Written Directions

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From Our House to Yours

Learning to Follow Written Directions… A Skill to Teach

In Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) younger guides, the parent does the reading and the leading. However, as children mature, they gradually begin to take on more independence. Beginning in Preparing Hearts for His Glory (PHFHG), children begin reading a portion of their history and their science, as well as their books for Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR). Along with reading books independently, comes reading directions to complete assigned follow-up work independently. HOD’s guides make it easy for both parent and child to know which work is to be independently done by putting the letter “I” in each box of plans that is to be done independently. Learning to follow written directions is a new skill. Just as children had to be taught to read, they must also be taught to follow written directions. But how? Well, let’s see!

Tip #1: The child needs to have the guide in hand to read the directions.

The child must have the guide in hand to read the written directions. The plans for the “I” boxes are written to the student. Beginning with PHFHG, the guide begins to function as a student planner. Children are to take the guide in hand and read the written directions for the “I” boxes themselves. This seems obvious, but it is a transition for us as homeschool moms to share our guide. We have been used to it just being ours. However, we only need to imagine how we would personally feel if the tables were turned. We would not want someone orally giving us multiple directions one time for a new skill to be learned and then walking away, leaving us with no written directions to help. Truly, for success in independence, the child needs to have the guide in hand to read and refer to the directions.

Tip #2: Read the directions once out loud without pausing and then have the child gather the book(s) and supplies.  

Begin by reading the directions for the “I” box out loud, with the child following along with the guide open on the table or counter. I like to stand over the shoulder of the child as I read the directions. This shows I will be leaving soon. I read the directions one time all the way through without pausing. This helps the child begin to ‘see’ the project from start to finish. After reading, I have the child get any book(s) or supplies needed. The guide should be referenced for this. If a child misses some supplies, I point to the words in the guide, drawing the child’s attention back to the written directions. (More help will be needed with this step at the start of the year, but this will get easier as they know their books and supplies well.)

Tip #3: Read the directions aloud a second time and have the child point or act out each written step. 

Next, I read the directions aloud a second time, having the child point or act out each step. For example, for PHFHG’s first “I” science box of plans, as I say, “Read Arctic Tundra p. 3-5,” the child opens the book to p. 3. (I often have a pile of sticky notes on the table, so as pages are found the child can mark them and not have to locate them again later.) When I say, “At the top the paper, copy Genesis 8:22 in cursive,” the child finds Genesis 8:22 in the Bible and acts out writing the verse in cursive at the TOP of the paper. As I say, “Beneath the verse, draw or trace the map from p. 48 of Arctic Tundra,” the child opens to p. 48 and acts out drawing or tracing the map BENEATH the verse.

When I say, “Color the tundra blue,” the child use a blue crayon or pencil to mimic coloring. As I say, “Copy the first sentence on p. 48 next to your picture,” the child finds the first sentence at acts out writing the sentence NEXT TO the picture. Finally, as I say, “Look on a globe to see where tundra is found,” the child gestures toward the globe. I then ask if the child has any further questions and answer them. This is also my last chance to share any further tips like, A good notebook page uses up most of the space and is balanced. So, please don’t draw your map itty-bitty and write your words really huge. Thanks!

Tip #4: Walk away.

You have now done all the training you should have to do. It is time to walk away. In fact, I make it a point to leave the room. This shows the “I” independent work has begun. The child has the needed books/supplies and has the guide in hand to follow the written directions one by one in order. Likewise, the child has visualized the assignment from start to finish, so the finished product is clearer. Finally, the child has briefly ‘practiced’ each step with each resource, so each step has been visualized. It’s time to walk away.

Tip #5: Now, the child transitions to independently doing these steps.

After about a month of moving through tips #1 through #4 for each “I” box of the plans, it is now the child’s turn to independently work through these steps. I usually oversee this to begin with, watching to see if the child began by reading the directions all the way through, then got the book(s)/supplies, and then briefly thought through each individual step in order. I then ask if the child has any questions, give any quick tips, and walk away.

Tip #6: If a step is missed, direct the child to the written directions in the guide.

The child will inadvertently miss a step from time to time. If this happens, direct the child to the written directions in the guide and say something like, “I think you missed a step.”  Or, if the child is very frustrated at realizing the project didn’t turn out (as was the case when my child used salt instead of sugar in a recipe), I might just point to the step in the guide and say what went wrong. Then, we can give grace! Children will make mistakes. We can then help them fix it the best we can, or (as in the case of the ‘salt cookies’), toss them out, gently remind our children that this is why it is important to follow directions, and move on.

Tip #7: Take time to celebrate progress. 

This final step is easy, but it is also easy to forget! When you see your child did a good job of following written directions independently for an “I” assignment, take time to celebrate! Everyone needs encouragement! It can be as simple as saying, “Wow! You did such a good job of following directions today!” Or, “You have come so far in following directions – way to go! I’m so proud of you!” Somehow, progress should be noted. This encourages children to keep trying and helps them know that following written directions is an important skill to be recognized. Give these seven tips a try! If you have an older child, you can move through them faster. I am hopeful you will begin to see real progress, as they have worked wonders for me with my own children!

In Christ,


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Suanna Sears

    Thanks for these tips. I have a few kids who have a hard time following the directions, seemingly no matter how many times I try to help them know how to do it. Do you have any tips for helping a child who reads the whole box, but starts with the last step, even when they can tell me the things they need to do in order?

    1. You are welcome for the tips, and good question, Suanna! It helped my son for me to underline each basic step in the HOD guide. Then, he would do them in order, one by one, as he read through the directions. At first, I also had him put a tiny checkmark at the end of each underlined part as he completed it. This helped him understand that following directions is a lot like reading – left to right, top to bottom! Hope this helps!

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