Sequencing is understanding how a series of objects, events, and time occur in a specific and logical order. It is understanding patterns, and patterns are everywhere! This is a very important concept for preschool children to develop, as it allows children to recognize patterns that make the world more understandable and predictable. It is the precursor to retelling stories, as children begin to understand that stories follow a sequence that include a beginning, middle, and an end. However, it is also a very abstract concept, and takes a lot of practice. Fortunately, there are a lot of natural, simple, and fun ways to teach sequencing!
Introduce sequencing words, and use them often. While most children by age four or so have a working understanding of words as first, second, third, next, in front of, after, and last, not all children have a firm grasp of the concept. Engaging children in language and discussion about their daily activities will help them to build their understanding of sequencing. Focus on these words in everyday conversation and situations. For instance, while waiting at the crosswalk, say to your child: “See the cars at the red light? The first car is blue, and the second car is green. The last car is red.” This emphasizes the concept of first, second, last and colors.
Construction play is a terrific source of sequencing. Describe what your child has built: “I see that you put a big block in back of the triangle. Look at how you also put a little block on top of that big block.”
Words indicating time are important too. For example, as your child is getting dressed to go outside, you might say, “‘First, put on your jacket. Next put on your hat and mittens. Then, we will be ready to go to the playground.”
Encourage your child to answer questions. Your child should be an anactive participant – “Nina, what do you want first, the scissors or the glue stick?” “Who was the first student at school today?” “What is the last thing left in the shopping bag?”
Use pretend play to help develop sequencing. Dramatic play helps children build communication skills. The story should have some level of logic, including events that lead to other events.
Puppet shows. Puppets are another great way of unfolding dramatic play, and some children are more comfortable storytelling in this way.
Play the robot game. This is a game that uses a lot of sequencing and communication skills. An adult or teacher is a “robot” that will follow directions given by a child very, very literally!
Ideally, there is a task the robot is supposed to do, such as make a jelly sandwich. The child has to give a command, and the robot will do it…even if the direction is incomplete! This will lead to hilarious situations such as, the child forgets to tell the robot to reach inside the bread bag, or open the top of the jelly jar, or that the jelly is supposed to be in the middle of the sandwich.
This game reinforces concepts of positioning, but also how to communicate instructions clearly and completely.
Use sequence words to describe the arrangement of items. Place four items in sequential order from left to right. Discuss how the items are arranged using sequencing words: first, second, third, last, next, and after. The large red square is first. The blue triangle is second. The yellow circle is after the blue triangle and the red triangle is last OR
The red square is first. The blue triangle is next to the square. The yellow circle is after the blue triangle and the red rectangle is last.
Have your child sequence toys and items according to your directions. Gather items to sequence. Make the activity fun! Have your child gather some of his/her favorite toys and items from around the house. Items should vary in color, shape, and/or size.
Place the blue ball first, and the bear second. Place the car third, next to the bear. Place the timer last.
Use sequence pictures. When your child has a strong understanding of sequencing objects, introduce a series of pictures or photographs that tell a story. Guide your child by asking what would happen first, second, next… Have your child arrange the pictures/photographs in the correct order. Then have him/her explain the order. Help your child self-correct misplaced pictures by asking, “Would that make sense?”
Bridge sequencing items to sequencing events of a story. For example, you might read and experiment with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Move from using cards to asking questions about a story.
Read the story to your child.
Ask your child, “What happened first in the story, next, and last?” OR
“What did Goldilocks do first – eat the porridge or fall asleep in Baby Bear’s bed?” If your child doesn’t know the answer, help your child find the answer in the story.
Try a question and answer match for analyzing story sequences. On separate sentence strips write sequencing questions: What happened first in the story? What happened next? What happened last?
On separate sentence strips write an answer for each question
Read the story to your child
Read the sentence strips with the sequencing questions
Read the sentences strips with the answers (out of order)
With your child select the correct answer for each question
Reread sections of the story if incorrect answers were selected.
Allow children to make experiments in sequencing. It may be tempting to “stomp out” any errors in the child’s sequencing, but listen to the child and try to understand how he or she is thinking about the process. Sometimes the thinking process is more important than the short answer.
Initiate conversations that discuss the sequence of your child’s day: “First we will eat our breakfast, and then we will go to the park.”
Be silly! Humor and silliness can go a long way in teaching young children.
Be sure to have conversations about sequencing, especially as vocabulary and reasoning skills improve. For instance, “What would happen if I went to the grocery store BEFORE getting dressed in the morning?”
Make the learning process FUN.
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