Executive Functions and School Skills: Following Directions

“Why don’t they listen?”

“How come they can’t follow directions?”

Parents at home and teachers in the classroom get frustrated when kids seem unable to listen or follow directions. But being able to listen to directions and then perform the described task is not always easy, especially for kids with executive function disorders and learning differences.

But executive functions and school success go hand in hand. Being able to accurately process information and then generate a to-do list or execute a task requires a number of thinking skills and a lot of practice. A great way to practice these skills is with video games, almost all of which put multiple executive functions to the test. Explore our extensive list of games and apps that can help kids develop the skills required for listening and following directions, including self-awareness, focus, organization, time management, working memory, and planning.

Whether it’s something as minor as being told to make the bed or as major as forgetting a due date for a big project, some things just seem to go in one ear and out the other. It’s easy to get frustrated if you’re fed up with your child or student not listening, but it’s important to note that kids with ADHD and other learning difference and executive function disorders may not be 100% in control of what they can remember and recall.

Remember, no solution is a quick fix. As with medications, sometimes you have to have a trial period where you try something new and see how it works for you and your child/student(s). These strategies or accommodations may be helpful to students even if they don’t have learning differences or ADHD. Set aside some time to practice using different strategies stick to it for at least two weeks before trying something new.

You probably want to learn more about the relation between executive functions and school and how to help your kids to listen and be more self-sufficient. Here are some resources and tips for getting kids to follow directions in the classroom:

  • Help students develop and track short term goals. Check in with them for progress. Apps like HabitRPG and CALENDAR app can help them with organization and accountability
  • Review directions, let them ask questions, and ask them questions before letting them have independent time to work
  • Provide a copy of expectations for an assignment. Tape it to their desk or e-mail it to them so they always have a copy they can’t lose!
  • Catch them being good! Offer praise like, “Suzy, I really liked how you remembered to keep your desk clean today. I noticed you using spare time to get organized and that was great!”
  • Provide uncluttered, simple rubrics or expectations
  • Reword rules or expectations in simpler language. Make a visual aid for rules, directions, expectations.
  • Highlight or stress important words or phrases
  • Help the students create a timeline for a longer project. Hold them to the due dates!

Resources and tips for getting kids to follow directions at home:

  • Try a checklist of daily expectations for chores and tasks around the house. Make homework a part of this list. Establish that the list must be completed before a reward like screen time. At first, check everything over with your kid — whether you’re looking for a clean room or checking to see if their homework is complete. Keep up with it so they are held responsible. Once the routine is established and they’ve proven themselves responsible, you can check less frequently.
  • Sit down with your child and create a cartoon or photo timeline of what they think they need to do in order to: pack for vacation, get ready in the morning, etc. Hang this where they will see it and be reminded.
  • Catch them being good! Don’t just focus on what they forgot to do. Praise them for remembering to do something even if it’s just a little, daily routine like getting the mail or feeding the dog.

Remember, be patient with yourself as well as with your child or student. You’re trying your hardest and it’s likely that they are, too.


Featured image: Flickr user WoodleyWonderWorks

Related Posts

3 thoughts on “Executive Functions and School Skills: Following Directions

  1. This idea of planning is very interesting to me, would a daily planner for classwork and extracurricular activities be effective in situations like these, with phone reminders in order to help them remember to check a planner or calendar? Is there an app for that?

  2. My son is in 8th grade and his school uses planners for each student. It is a great tool if the child actually fills it out everyday. I have to remind him to fill it out and even to write ” nothing” in a subject even if there is no work to do. It might trigger his memory about something significant, not to just skip over or ignore it. I’d be interested in an app too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Create Your Free Account

All membership plans come with full access to our entire suite of tools learning guides, and resources. Here are a few of the ones we think you’ll like the most:

  • Personalized learning profiles for up to 5 children.
  • Access to our complete library of technology learning guides.
  • A personalized stream of advice, articles, and recommendations.
  • And of course, lots, lots more…

Already have an account? Login →



Don't have an account? Sign up now! →

Forgot Your Password?