Five Playful Ways to Work on Listening and Following Directions

I recently got an email from a parent who was wondering how she could work on her son’s listening skills. As I was responding to her email I realized that I should do a post on this! There are many FUN ways that you can work on your child’s listening skills and I have five playful ways for you to do so! These can be used with preschoolers through school age….you just need to adjust the difficulty level to match your child’s ability level, and then slowly increase the difficulty level.

Simon Says

You know this age-old game, right? Someone is “Simon” and he tells everyone what to do by saying “Simon says….” However if he tells you what to do without saying “Simon says” prior to the directions but you do it anyway…you’re out!

This game is all about having to listen and follow directions. But for kids who might already struggle with this skill, there are a few recommendations I have to make this game fun and motivating for your child:

  • Rather than “Simon says” I recommend you change it up to a more motivating character. Does your child love superheroes? Play “Spiderman Says!” Does your child love princesses? Play “Cinderella Says!” If it around the holidays, you can do “The Scarecrow Says,” “The Mummy Says,” “The Turkey Says,” “The Snowman Says,” “Santa Says” etc. Be creative! You could even have the person who is “it” dress up like the character! This will not only give your child the opportunity to listen and follow directions but this will also give him the opportunity to give directions to others!
  • Only give directions your child can understand. Start simple. Jump. Turn around. Blink your eyes. Once he can follow simple one step directives, start to make them a little harder with two items of information like jump two times or turn around three times. You can then add three part directives like Jump three times then turn around. And so on. If your child is struggling, step back a step.
  • When starting out you may want to give the directions and then show him what you want him to do. For example, tell him “Jump” and then physically jump. This will give him a visual. This is helpful as you start in crease the complexity of the directions.

Red Light, Green Light

Another classic game, this is a great game to work on following directions. Here are some tips for using this game to work on your child’s listening skills:

  • Once your child gets the hang of the concepts of green-means-go and red-means-stop, add in another color “light” to the mix! They did this in a class my nephew took…I think it was Purple Light means you jump like a bunny! How fun is that!? just some ideas off the top of my head: Yellow Light for crawling, Orange light for turning around, Blue light for clapping…you get the idea.
  • A tip to help him understand the directions at first: Make signs with the colors you will use in the game with pictures of the motor movements on them. So if you did purple-is-hop-like-a-bunny you can make a round purple “light” and put a picture of a bunny on it as a visual reminder. Then slowly take the signs away and have your child play JUST by listening.

I Spy

This is like the gold-star car trip game! One person finds an object within view and begins to describe it one attribute at a time. “I spy something blue. I spy something with four wheels. I spy something that goes vroom vroom!” {Sidenote…apparently “vroom” is not a word. What a pity since my 21 month old uses it constantly 😉 } Anyway…the other players must listen to all the attributes and figure out what the item is. This game can even be done items not in view (like a backwards 20 Questions) but I would not recommend this with young children or any child that has difficulties with listening comprehension. Here are my tips for using I Spy with your child:

  • Start SIMPLE. To teach the  game, you may want to take three items and place them in front of you and your child to play the first few times, to help your child grasp the game and give him a smaller playing field, if you will. In fact you may need to play this way for a while depending on your child’s age and ability level. Eventually you can play in a small room, outside, in the car, etc.
  • To help your little one stay organized and remember the information he is being given, write down each attribute after you say it (even when it is HIS turn, write it down also). Then go back and review the attributes each time with him (do the same when it is your turn to guess so he is continually hearing the attributes over and over).

Obstacle Courses

I’ve written about obstacle courses before. Children usually LOVE them and they combine gross motor learning with language learning (providing a multi-sensory learning experience). Though I have a ton of info on my obstacle course post (be sure to check it out) here are a few recommendations on using them to target listening skills:

  • Again, start SIMPLE. Set up maybe only a 3-5 part course at first and then increase it as your child’s skills develop.
  • To target listening, you can two things. First, you can give him directions on exactly how to go through the obstacle course. This works best if at least a couple different steps can be manipulated differently. For example, one step could be a small table. But does he go under, over, or around the table? He will have to listen to find out! You could set up a station with blocks and tell him he needs to build a 5 block tower. Maybe a step with a hoola hoop that he could either jump in or actually try to hoola. Make sense?
  • Another way to incorporate listening is to have one step of the course be just that: following directions before he can go on. It can be like a “simon says” step where he has to follow whatever directions you give, and then he can keep going.

Follow the Leader

Wait….follow the leader? This is a visual game isn’t it? How can this work on listening? Well…yes this is more of a visual following-directions-game. However for little ones who are really struggling with listening this kind of game might be where you want to start. Even though we often talk about areas of development separately…speech development, gross motor development, cognitive development…they are all intertwined and work together. For example, with little ones on the autism spectrum one of the first things we might target is actually gross motor imitation. Yes…even in speech therapy. Why? Because this is an important cognitive skill that helps to lay the foundation for communication. Children learn to imitate motor movements before they learn to talk and they need to be able to imitate to learn.

So…if your little one is having a hard time listening and following directions, you may want to actually back up and just work on gross motor imitation like in Follow the Leader. You also can play follow the leader but incorporate verbalizations that need to be imitated…like saying words, phrases or singing songs. Plus…it’s fun 😉

So now I want to hear from you…what playful ways do YOU use to work on listening skills with your little ones or students?


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  1. says

    Great ideas! WE too play Simon says and Red light, green light at my house to work on these skills. I never thought to include characters for Simon says! That is brilliant! My boys are all into super heroes, so this will work great! Thanks for sharing! You are one smart gal and your blog is amazing!
    Trina recently posted..September HappeningsMy Profile

    • Katie says

      Oh Trina you are too kind! Yes try having them play “spiderman says” and watch their faces light up :) So fun!

  2. Lynn Simard-McMurray says

    Thanks.. this just came up in my weekly pinterest. My exact cry to God last night.. and question in my groups board.

    • Katie says

      Lynn I’m so happy to hear Pinterest brought us together :) I hope you find my site useful and I hope to do more posts on listening and following directions soon…but if you haven’t yet check out my post on barrier games (if your littles are at least 3-4 year old). Welcome!

  3. says

    I found this post on Pinterest, and it is exactly what I needed to hear. My 3 year old and I have been at odds for a while, and I have been at wit’s end trying to make him mind me. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this. We play I Spy, but I never thought of Simon Says or Red Light/Green Light. Extra super bonus points for suggesting cartoon characters instead! My 3 year old is OBSESSED with Spiderman of late. I hope this is the ticket I’m looking for. It’s certainly worth a try! Thank you for your creativity!

    • Katie says

      Hi Heather! I am so happy to hear you find these ideas useful! And let me tell you, three is the new 13. I have a three year old and I was JUST telling a friend of mine how I felt like I became a totally different karen at three (not one I liked, either). Another thing that had helped in our house behavior wise is making other things into games when we can, like cleaning up. Making it seem “fun” rather than a chore helps. Good luck and let me know how it goes! Have fun with Spiderman Says :)

  4. LaKaye says

    These are great and fun tips. I never know what to do when my nieces and nephew come to play. Now I have a great list of fun and educational games!

  5. says

    Great stuff!! Another great ‘oldie but goodie’; Person-Place-Thing. Our family plays while waiting for restaurants, longer drives, and etc. You can adjust to simple common objects for the younger……historical people and places for the older. Whatever you select, this helps your children’s listening skills and auditory memory; as they must remember information, from their guesses, but others. Oh, and good turn-taking practice!!

    From a friendly School Psychologist

  6. says

    These are fabulous ideas which are used in classrooms, but I love that these ideas were the answers to a parent question. I’ll be recommending this post to my parents, especially over the holiday break. Thanks

  7. Katrina says

    Thank you so much for this post. I love the ideas of games to teach listening skills. This is just what I was looking for!

  8. says

    My twins just started pre-k and have spent A LOT of time in time out because of not listening. I am so grateful for this list of fun ways to learn listening skills! We will defenitely play all of them this weekend! Thanks so much!!!

  9. Jenny Clarke says

    The “Silly game” – give your child according to age/development some instructions to do which are plain silly! Such as – touch the top of your head 3 times, put your big toe on the pot plant and sing happy birthday. They must wait for all instructions before starting. Really challenges children – you can simplify, add less steps or do it with them and remember to laugh a lot! They will want to challenge you back so join in too!


  1. […] Send home easy and doable homework for the children to do at home. Keep it simple. If the kids are working on articulation, send home cards or wordlists and ask that they practice only 3-5 minutes a day. That’s it. I have a list of games that can be played with cards and I send the list home and encourage they play one game a day. I try to keep the “homework” not so “homework like.” This is a way to involve parents and get the kids to make much faster progress. If the children are working on language concepts, send home ways they can work on the skills in real life situations. For example if a child is working on following directions I may suggest they work on this at home by playing games like I outline in THIS POST.) […]

  2. […] Day 14 – Practice listening/following directions.  This is something we’ve had to really work on with my son.  This blogger has a cute card game with ideas.  Another simple game that you could make would be to have your child roll a dice.  Each number corresponds with a set of directions of your choosing (make sure your child identifies the number that they roll).  Your kiddo gets a point for following the directions correctly.  If you have more than one, whoever gets the most points wins!  This blogger has more great listening ideas. […]

  3. […] • Listen, follow and complete two to three step directions. Practice these skills at home with something simple as cleaning up after supper: “please put your plate and cutlery on the counter when you are done eating. Then make sure to wipe up any crumbs.” There are also a lot of great activities to reinforce listening to directions skills. A great website to look at is […]