By: Kim Lorenzet, M.S. CCC/SLP
Each of us uses sequencing on a daily basis, in different ways, for a variety of tasks.
What are sequencing skills and why are they important?
Sequencing entails arranging consecutive steps in the appropriate order to create a desired outcome. One may use sequencing for something as simple as putting on a pair of socks or making a sandwich. Sequencing is also utilized during more involved tasks such as getting children ready for school and to their classrooms on time. Although these multi-step sequences are an essential part of one’s daily schedule through adulthood, the foundation for it all begins very early in a child’s development.
Development of Sequencing Skills
1-2-year-old children sequence through play and imitation. They begin to imitate stacking blocks in color order, linking toy trains, and using hand gestures during nursery rhymes. Without the emergence of sequencing skills, a toddler would not imitate the hand movements to fingerplays such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Combining sounds to form words and word combinations to form simple phrases also involve sequencing skills.
3-4-year-old children use sequencing to increase the complexity of simple play sequences (e.g., put play food in pot, stir with spoon, put on plate, give to teddy), anticipate what comes next in familiar picture stories, (e.g., The Three Little Pigs) and follow 1-2 step directions such as, “Go to the toy shelf and get the train.”
4-5-year-old children are beginning to use longer picture sequences and can put 4-6 story events in the correct order. They can answer questions about these stories and can identify steps that are out of order or missing from the story. This contributes to the emergence of word order for early literacy skills.
Elementary school children can put 8-10+ pictures in order for familiar and often unfamiliar tasks. They can verbalize the various steps to complete more involved tasks such as “washing the dog,” “making breakfast,” or “ordering a pizza.” They can re-tell a story by writing a book report or explain to their friend how to play a new game.
How Can We Help Develop Sequencing Skills?
We can encourage, develop, and often reinforce sequencing development in our day to day interactions with our children. It is very important to talk to your baby as early as possible. Use proper word order and limit “baby talk” so the child is exposed to proper word order. It is important to use real words so they can hear, process, and eventually imitate these words. If a baby says a sound, imitate the sound and wait for him/her to say it back. Then, imitate the sound and add a sound and wait. You may hear the baby imitate the sound order just like you!
You can practice sequencing with toddlers through singing songs, dancing and “finger play” songs. You can have them sing along. After this is accomplished, you can leave out a part of the song/movement, pausing to see if the child will fill it in.
Although it is recommended to read to your child from the time they are babies, the preschool years are a fabulous time to use literacy to address sequencing. Some recommended books that highlight sequencing skills are:
- The Napping House
- Room on the Broom
- Are you My Mother?
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- 3 Billy Goats Gruff
- If you Give a Mouse a Cookie
- The Mitten
- The Hat
- The Giving Tree
- Caps for Sale
- If the Shoe Fits
- What! Cried Granny
- There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
These books are repetitive in nature and highly predictable. Items or pictures can be gathered prior to reading the story and help with reading along and re-telling the story after it is finished.
For example, when reading The Mitten, use a knitted mitten and small plastic animals that correspond to those from the story. Have the child place each animal in the mitten as the story is read. After the first two animals are in the mitten, see if the child can tell you what animals were placed inside. As the story progresses, you can use words such as “first,” “next,” “then,” and “last.” When the story is completed, ask the child to empty the mitten. He/she can place the animals in the same order sequence as the book. Reading stories along with manipulatives often results in playing out the story with the toys.
This concept can be carried out in a variety of ways such as using refrigerator magnets depicting foods while reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar or using a variety of hats on a stuffed animal while reading Caps for Sale. Eventually, the objects will no longer be needed and the child will recall every item and order of the items from the story.
Elementary school-aged children are learning how to read longer texts and developing writing and oral presentation skills.
You can try writing or printing the months of the year. Place them on the floor and have your child read and collect each month to then place on the wall or on the refrigerator in the correct order. You can read a book together, reading a set number of pages each night. At the end of the page, help your child explain the main idea of that page, which you can then write down on a notecard. At the end of the week, mix up the note cards and see if the child can put them in the correct order, reading each one aloud.
Some examples of books for school-age children are:
- Paul Bunyon
- Third Grade Angels
- Fancy Nancy (variety of books)
- The Name Jar
- Cam Jannsen (variety of books)
There are many ways to help your child to improve their sequencing abilities. The skills they obtain now will serve as building blocks for the activities they will sequence in the future. To learn more about sequencing developmental milestones or if language therapy is right for your child, contact us today!