The importance of following directions

Here’s the scene: You are at home and you ask Johnny to put his books away in his room, get his shoes on and meet you by the front door. Five minutes goes by and still no sign of Johnny. You shout upstairs the directions you just gave him, “Johnny, did you put your books away? are you putting your shoes on? You were supposed to meet me at the door!” Finally, Johnny comes running down the stairs. Clearly Johnny got distracted, but what caused this problem? Could it be that Johnny is a kid that sometimes kids get distracted? Absolutely! But is there a larger problem here? Do you find this happening more often? You gave Johnny a sequence of multiple directions or steps that he needed to follow. Sometimes, children find it very difficult to follow multiple step directions in the order you gave them. So, what’s the big deal? Well despite having to constantly repeat yourself, many of these children may have some difficulty in school. For example, a teacher is up at the front of the classroom talking. The teacher asks the students to open their math books, turn to page 38, read the directions and complete only questions 3, 5 and 7. There are lots of steps in these directions! Not only does a child need to find the math book, find the right page, then remember which questions to answer, they have to do this while drowning out the sounds of other children talking, desks and chairs moving, and paper shuffling as the kids rush to find the page. So what can we do about a student who has difficulty with following multiple step directions? Well here are some things that I try with some of the children I teach:

  • Repeat after me!: When I give a child multiple step directions to follow, I always have them repeat it back to me so that I know they have understood me. For example, if you are going to tell Johnny to go upstairs, put his books away, put his shoes on then  meet you by the door, say to him “Now what did I just tell you to do?” If Johnny does not repeat the directions correctly, repeat them until he appropriately tells you step by step what he is supposed to do. This will ensure that you and him both understand what is supposed to be done in the order you asked.
  • Mental repetition: I often tell the children I teach to repeat the directions in their heads. In this example, Johnny would repeat what you told him while following the directions, “okay im supposed to put these books away first, and then after that I am going to put my shoes on.”
  • Write it down!: For children who continue to find multiple directions difficult, you may need to write down the steps they need to take. But doesn’t this take a lot of time?  It may, but remember, you are teaching your children valuable skills for taking care of themselves when they get older! Some children may need to rely on these notes, but at least you are helping them to become independent.  When am I supposed to find time to write all this stuff down? You can make one chart for each activity your child may be having difficulty with. Perhaps a chart in the bedroom that shows step by step directions to getting ready for bed. (1. put your pajamas on, 2. brush your teeth, 3. one bedtime story, 4. lights out). But what if my child can’t read? Use pictures of these actions! Even children who read often require a visual to help them see what to do next.
  • Team work: You should always think of your child’s teacher as a teammate, seeing as you both work hard to educate them and help them grow. If you know following directions in the classroom is difficult, ask the teacher to write down the directions on the board (even if all the children may not need them). This will assist your child (and maybe others too) in getting all the steps correctly and not fall behind.
It may seem like a lot of work, but these crucial skills are ones that will be used throughout your child’s life (during school, future jobs). The more time you put into it, the easier it will be for your child will be able to follow directions and decrease frustration!
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Teaching the /sh/ sound

The /sh/ is very similar to teaching the /s/ sound. To ensure this sound is made correctly, have your child make sure that their teeth are closed. Fsh soundor little kids you can say”chomp them down like an alligator!” For older kids I often say “pretend that your teeth are glued together). Have them slowly release air and then blow the air out harder as they practice. Another technique I like to use is having your child round their lips to help elicit the sound. There are many things you can do practice the sound including telling someone to be quiet “shhhhh” or reciting tongue twisters such as “Sally Sells Sea Shells.”


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Teaching the /s/ sound


The /s/ and /z/ sounds can be a difficult ones to articulate because they are continuous Happy Smile With White Teethsounds (sounds that can keep going).

When teaching children the /s/ sound, I always tell them to close their teeth. For little ones, I say “like an alligator chomping down.” When the teeth are closed, I tell them to slowly blow air out. Some children need consistent reminders to keep their teeth closed while blowing out the air. I’ve often found that telling children to smile while producing the sound definitely improves their ability to articulate the sound. Always remember to start with the sound in isolation. Then introduce it in the beginning of words, in the middle of words and at the end of words.

The /z/ sound is made in the same position that the /s/ is made however it is a voiced sound. This means that the vocal cords vibrate when producing it. Once your child masters the /s/ sound, you can introduce the /z/ sound by pushing air out more forcefully. You can also have the child touch their throat and have them feel the vibrations when making the sound.


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Teaching the /p/ and /b/ sounds

The /p/ and /b/ sounds are both bilabial sounds, meaning that they are made when both lips come together. Starting with the /b/ sound, model how the lips come together for your child. I also recommend using a mirror so that your child can see their lips coming together to form this sound. Sometimes, when my students are having a hard time with this, I make them put a tongue depressor or one of their fingers to their lips and blow out the sounds.


For the /p/ sound, a great technique I’ve used is having the child hold a tissue in front of his mouth and produce the sound. The tissue moves which makes it fun for the student as well as visual so they can see how the air is supposed to come out of their mouth.



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Teaching the /h/ sound

The /h/ sound is made by constricting the vocal cords yet is still unvoiced! Have your child open mouth h soundopen wide and push air out. You can play around by having them change the shape of their lips to create different sounds.

For children who release air from their nose during production of the sound, you can hold a mirror under their nose to create a “visual” to see if they are correctly making the sound.


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Teaching the /n/ sound

The /n/ sound is made when the top of the tongue meets the alveolar ridge(the top of the n soundmouth directly behind the teeth). Model the sound for your child and explain to them where they are supposed to put their tongue. Have your child initially hold out the /n/ sound. Then begin to incorporate vowels after the sound is produced “na, no, ni.” If your child continues to have a hard time creating the sound, you can use a tongue depressor or a toothbrush to gently touch the area behind their teeth as a reminder of where their tongue is supposed to be.


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Teaching the /t/ and /d/ sound

The /t /and /d/ sounds can be taught together because they are made in the same area of the mouth. The /t/ and /d/ sound are both made on the alveolar ridge. This is the area on the roof of your mouth directly behind the teeth. The /t/ sound is unvoiced and the /d/ sound is speechtherapistvoiced (meaning that your vocal cords vibrate when you produce the sound). Feel for yourself! Place your hands on your throat and say both sounds one after the other.

For the sounds to be made appropriately, the tongue must come up to meet the alveolar ridge. You can demonstrate to your child where the sound is made by using a toothbrush, or a tongue depressor. I love to use FunDepressors as it really motivates my students! fundepressors

Once your child knows where to put their tongue, have them try to produce the /d/ sound first (since that is the sound that developmentally comes first in children). Remember to start with the sound in isolation. Once they have mastered the sound in isolation, move onto words that begin with /d/ such as duck and dip. Then move onto words  where the /d/ sound is found in the middle position (daddy, udder). Once completed, move onto words that have the /d/ sound at the end (bad, sad, mad). Follow the same pattern for the /t/ sound.


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Teaching the /m/ sound

The m sound is also a bilabial sound as it is made with both lips coming together. I often model this sound by saying “mmm, I’m so hungry” and having my students try and copy me. A mirror can assist with this. There are several fun ways to teach the /m/ sound. Below are just a few:

1. Using chapstick!


Putting chapstick on your child’s lips is a great way for them to feel where the sound should be produced. This is also great for children with sensory concerns. Use whatever type will help motivate your child, including flavored and smelly ones! Maybe “Mango” or “marshmallow” to encourage the use of /m/. After applying on lips, have your child rub their lips together while vocalizing the sound.

Kids Blocks Spelling Mum As Symbol for Motherhood And Parenting

2. Use your finger:

Have your child place their finger over their mouths to ensure that their lips are fully closed.   You can both pretend to give your finger a kiss to elicit the “mwah” sound.


3. Closing their lips

Gently and quickly close your child’s lips with your first two fingers while they are trying to make the sound.

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Summer Regression- how to avoid it!

Regression is when someone or something goes back to its original state. In this instance, we are talking about a child’s loss of skills or a dip in progress. As a speech pathologist, I see this quite often. Kids tend to relax over the summer, go on vacation, play lots of video games and overall do less academic work. Parents often ask me, “what can I do to help my child’s language over the summer?” I have listed some of my suggestions below:

  • Make sure to visit the library often! Set up a schedule with your child and try to make trips to the library exciting. Many libraries have summer reading programs but if your local library doesn’t, you can easily create a book list or set a goal to read a certain amount of books by the end of the summer. If the goal is reached, a prize or medal can be rewarded to your child to increase confidence and sense of accomplishment. Make sure you ask your child questions about the book to increase literacy skills, sequencing skills and reading comprehension skills.
  • Stick to a schedule! Many children are given a lot of freedom during the summer but many kids need structure like the school day! Start each morning by discussing the plans for the day. If there is a lot of free time, make sure that “screen time” (video games, computer games, tv, movies) is kept to a minimum. Some children may also require a visual to help them understand the sequence of events throughout the day. The extra time you put into it as a parent could make a big difference come September!
  • Make every outing a good one! Whether you are going to the grocery store or running errands, make sure you keep your kids talking! Ask lots of questions and encourage independence in your child! (ex: Johnny, where are the pears? Or Johnny can you grab the red shampoo? Find the lotion that says Jergens, what letter will that start with?)
  • Make sure you ask your child’s teacher what else you can do to support your child during the summer and avoid regression!

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How to teach the /k/ and /g/ sounds

The sounds /k/ and /g/ are both made when the back of the tongue raises up to meet the top of your mouth, temporarily stopping all airflow. These sounds are usually mastered by 3.5 years of age.

1. I often use a tongue depressor or Popsicle stick to touch the back of a client’s tongue and the roof of their mouth where both meet during the /k/ and /g/. If you try this with your child, do this carefully as to not elicit the gag reflex.
2. Have your child lay down or lay their head back. By doing so, the back of their tongue is in a better position to touch the roof of the mouth. 




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