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We recently withdrew my six year-old son from public school and began educating him at home. There are several reasons, both for him and his sister, but a big one is that he has a lot of difficulty with verbal learning, and teachers give a lot of verbal instructions.

We've read about different learning styles and incorporate them as much as possible, but everything we've read about learning styles talks about playing to the child's strengths, and nothing about developing their weaknesses. In order for our son to succeed in college and/or a job he's going to need to get a lot better at following verbal instructions.

What techniques can we use to help our son improve at verbal learning? How much time should we spend on that versus playing to his strengths?

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Can he follow short, specific verbal instructions, but has trouble when two or more steps are included? Can he follow complex instructions if you get his attention first? Can he follow written instructions? Does he have trouble hearing? –  KitFox Oct 14 '13 at 13:23
The length of the instruction doesn't matter much. We don't give him more than one step at a time anymore. He can hear fine, but it's like between his ears and his brain he substitutes his own idea of what he thought you meant to say. He will often quote our exact words then proceed to do the exact opposite. –  Karl Bielefeldt Oct 14 '13 at 15:01
He is still learning to read, so I don't really know about written instructions. He does a similar thing, though, where he reads part of a long word then substitutes his own judgment for the rest. –  Karl Bielefeldt Oct 14 '13 at 15:03

2 Answers 2

One huge things that a lot of parents I have in my mother group don't realise is that children have multiple phrases, sentences and words that are new to them every day.

Sometimes this may be a little confusing and sometimes instructions can be confused with others as they may be smart, yes, but their IQ does not determine their processing rate.

My tip would be to:

  • Stick with the simple tasks before introducing the new ones - "clean up your bedroom" and "walk forward two steps"

    • Use game play to your advantage - Print out photo's of different animal, pursue with playing a game, if he stands on the right one on each instruction then he gets a point. Once he hits 5 he will get a reward, and increase the reward mark bit by bit each round. Be persistent. An example of this question is "stand on the cow" "hop 2 times on the sheep"

    • Be creative - involve heaps of different methods of game play that incorporate thing building technique. Like colouring, craft activities etc.

But just remember, he is only 6. You will only need to work on it little by little. Don't push it, but be persistent. His brain is still developing, so there is still room for improvement.

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It sounds to me like there may be a couple different problems here.

  1. He doesn't do well with voiced instructions.
  2. He doesn't understand certain words or phrases, or has trouble turning a collection of words into a coherent message.

I think improving on #2 will help with #1.

Write down the steps for something and follow him through them. Have him read a step and then relay to you what he thinks it means (not repeat the words of the step verbatim), or show you what he thinks it means. If it's not what you told him, break down the sentence and see what word(s) is/are giving him trouble, or if it's the sentence as a whole that isn't making sense to him. From there, you can work on teaching him the words and the sentence structure and see if his direction-following improves. Also, try to make sure you're using small words as often as possible. While it's good to improve his vocabulary, giving directions isn't necessarily the time to do that. Once you've explained what your directions meant, have him do it. This will help reinforce the meaning.

From there, you can also see if his verbal-direction-following has improved. If, as he gets older, you find that he still has issues with verbal instructions, teach him good note-taking habits (perhaps even shorthand), and get a voice recorder (so he can re-listen to lectures).

Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do to grow the weaker learning styles. (That's not to say you can't do anything, but just keep in mind that a person's stronger way of learning is nearly always going to be superior.) It's simply how our brains are wired. The best thing you can do is teach him tools that make use of several learning styles and allow him to turn a given learning style (such as a lecture) into one that he does better with (notes), and how to leverage both (and even other learning styles) to get the most out of something. Also, teach him to not be afraid to speak up for himself. Being able to say "hold on, can you repeat that while I jot it down?" is at least as important as being able to remember verbal instructions, and most people are willing to accommodate such a request if asked nicely.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. -- Confucius

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