Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

How will my daughter of 2yrs 5mths cope at pre-school when she will not follow directions at home?

I am increasingly worried about my daughter who is 2yrs 5mths. She is due to star nursery school in a couple of months but I am wondering if she is really ready. I am trying to get her to follow directions at home such getting ready to go outside or to get ready for a meal, but she just seems unable to do this without me standing over her. She rarely will co operate even though I go at lengths to explain why she needs to get her coat on, or wash her hands. It seems the more I try to explain to her the less she will co operate. I don’t like telling her to do things, so always try to ask and give her an explanation as to why I want her to co-operate. If she is unable to follow my explanations at home which I have time to do how will she cope at nursery school where they may not have so much time to explain things to her but will expect her to follow directions.

Is there anything I can do to make her follow directions better? It worries me that she won’t enjoy her nursery experience as I have not prepared her enough.

It is difficult to know quite how any child will react when they take the first big step outside home and go to nursery school. Getting your daughter prepared is an excellent idea but remember that your home situation is very different from a nursery school. When she is there she will be one of a class of children, all of whom will be following directions, so she is far more likely to co-operate. She won’t have the one to one parent -child struggle either so your worries may be ill founded.

To help her at home, and to prepare her for school where she will be expected to follow simple directions, break things down into easily understood sentences. Although it is good to explain things to young children their level of comprehension means they are not always able to process too much information at one time. Directions which are too vague or long winded will just go over her head and she will tune out your voice. If you ask her to “tidy up this mess” and then launch into a long explanation of why she needs to do so – she may fall over the toys; someone else may fall over them; a visitor is coming; the room needs hovering etc. etc. – you are just giving her too much information. She needs specific directions such as, “Please pick up all the Duplo bricks and put them in their basket”. The Duplo may be spread throughout the jumble but she will be able to focus on this one item fairly well and manage the task. Then move on to another task, such as placing all the books back on their shelf. This will make the job much easier for her and she will able to achieve a lot more than trying to tidy away a jumble of toys and games.

If you want her to get ready to go out ask her to fetch her outdoor shoes or wellies and then help her put them on. Next, suggest she gets her coat. If it is a cold day ask her to find her scarf. If you have organized her possessions in an easy way for her to find them she should be able to do these tasks. You may need to give her some information as to where they are kept but make this easy. Don’t tell her, “Your wellies are in the kitchen” but be specific; ” Your wellies are next to the cat dishes”. Then she will be able to follow your directions through. Tell her in a simple way why she needs her wellies,” We are going to the park so we may find puddles to jump in”; or her scarf, ” The wind is very cold today so it will keep you warm”. That is enough information for her to deal with to be able to follow the direction.

If she still finds it difficult to follow directions try using them when you are playing games with her. Without realising it she will be following them as she is having fun. Set up an obstacle course in your sitting room. Ask her to jump over a cushion, then to crawl through some chair legs, to walk round the sofa and sit on her chair. A simple game of Simon Says is also a fun way to follow directions. Make sure you encourage her with praise when she follows each one.

Keep explaining each direction, but don’t push the issue all the time. Sometimes directions may just need to be followed, “It’s bath time, please get undressed”. If she is reluctant to do this don’t launch into a lengthy explanation but make it fun. Suggest she gets undressed in a different way, “Take off one sock”, “Great”; “Now take off your skirt”, “Well done”; ” Off with the other sock” and so on. Again, she is likely to comply as it will seem as if she is having a game.

There are bound to be times when she will not comply but these should be few and far between if you make a conscious effort to give her manageable directions. At this age she will still need help at times but encouraging her to do things for herself is great. It will certainly stand her in good stead when she is at school.