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Listening and Following Directions

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Q: My son just received his report card. He was convinced he was doing great in kindergarten. That was almost true: Almost every measured skill was marked "Good progress" except "listen to and follow directions," which was marked "lack of progress." He was very disappointed and cried all morning. I haven't spoken to the teacher yet, but I don't understand, either. How can my son do well on tests and make good progress in general without being able to listen and follow directions?

A: Listening and following directions are important skills that span several areas of child development. For example, they are essential in the ability to learn in a group, to follow along in a lesson, and to understand the information being given. Since your son is doing fine in his educational work, it appears that he is using his listening skills well for that purpose.

The other area of child development that these skills appear is in the area of social/emotional development. For example, listening and following directions skills are needed for a child to monitor his own behavior in class. It is not unusual for a child to be able to follow directions for an academic activity but not be able to follow the directions needed for good classroom behavior. Young children are naturally active and exuberant. Perhaps one of the hardest things they need to learn in kindergarten is when it is appropriate to show it!

Your son's teacher may have particular expectations for behavior that the report card is reflecting. Ask her about the situations in which your son is "not progressing." If the problem is in following classroom rules, ask what you can do at home to help. Remember, kindergarten is a time for children to learn the social skills that they'll use throughout future schooling. It's not too late to address now if you all work as a team.

After talking with his teacher, brainstorm ways to work on this with your son. Be careful to be supportive. Acknowledge his skills and ask him to suggest ways he can learn to listen and follow directions at the appropriate times. When you, the teacher, and your son all work together, your son will feel your love and support.

About the Author

Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.

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