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Toddlers and Following Directions

Toddlers and Following Directions
Toddlers and Following Directions

Our sweet little toddler is into the stage where she is really beginning to understand the instructions we give – and occasionally chooses to totally disobey them!  Her independence is growing and “listen” and “obey” are becoming very often used words in our home.  As a way to help reinforce these concepts in a positive, fun way, we’ve tried several different activities to encourage her understanding of following directions – and hopefully her obedience in the areas that really matter!

Active Books – We love Eric Carle’s “From Head to Toe” and “Baby Can Bounce” by Lynne Chapman as more ways to get Sophie to follow instructions.  She loves moving like the animals in “From Head to Toe” and completing all the actions in “Baby Can Bounce.”  Simple ways to make following instructions non-threatening and enjoyable!


Stop, Wait, and Go!  This is probably my daughter’s favorite game to play.  We do it with running and with playing instruments, but  it could be adapted for any activity.  If we are outside or burning off some energy inside, we say “go!” and Sophie starts running.  After a few seconds, we say “stop!” and she freezes.  We say “wait……..GO!” and she starts again.  She will constantly giggle her way through this one.

Dance and Freeze  Very similar to the last game, we put music on and dance in the living room.  I randomly stop the music and we “freeze” until the music starts again.

Active Instruction Songs  We have been spending a lot of time exploring shapes and I found this great song at The Give Way that my toddler loves!  I cut some shapes out of construction paper and we sing the following song:

(to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Hold your circle high,

Circles touch the ground,

Put your circle on your head,

Then we turn around!

(repeat with whatever shapes or items you would like)

“Pat-A-Cake”, “Happy and You Know It,””Hokey Pokey,” and “Open, Shut Them” are popular favorites that include following directions as well.

Blanket Time This was a suggestion that my friend shared from Michelle Duggar’s book as a way to help little ones learn boundaries.  We lay out a blanket and put several favorite toys and books on the blanket.  Then I set a timer (starting with one minute) and explain that we are going to see if we can stay on the blanket until we hear the “beeps”.  Then we play!  When the timer goes off, we cheer and get off the blanket.  Believe it or not, my toddler thought this was great fun!  We played for a total of ten minutes in up to three minute increments.  The idea is that eventually they can sit and play on the blanket without you and follow your request for them to stay and play in one place for several minutes.  I’m thinking this will be incredibly helpful when we bring a newborn home in a couple months.

“Simon Says” Style Games  Obviously a 20 month old is too little for the “tricky” version of “Simon Says,” but following instructions games are a big hit.  They also reinforce body parts or gross motor skills that your toddler is learning (and probably loving!).  We touch our head, touch your foot, tickle your tummy, touch the floor, turn around, jump, stretch – whatever I can come up with on the fly.  Anytime I stop, she almost always requests “more.”

Fun Following Instructions Tasks Give small tasks like “please put the ball in the cup” or “give Daddy a hug” that are fun and help your little one follow your instructions.  They are also huge vocabulary builders!  Add in some prepositions for even more vocabulary development: “put the shoes under the table,” “put the book by the doll.” Even “chores” like cleaning up toys or putting something in the trash can be exciting to toddlers and help reinforce the idea of listening to mommy and daddy.  As your child gets older, you can increase the instructions to two tasks:  “pick up the book and put it on the shelf”.

Though obviously obedience is a long-time lesson that will require many many years of practice (and lots of patience on our parts!) I do feel like these fun activities have helped to keep things light-hearted and fun in our home and hopefully helped avoid some of the inevitable toddler behavior challenges!

Written by Alicia

Naomi Wentworth

Sunday 23rd of February 2014

This is great and just what I need lately with one of my littles!

Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families

Friday 21st of February 2014

These are awesome ideas, I will have to give them a try.