Many children find the temporal concepts of before and after hard. They are tricky as they change depending on where in the sentence they are, making the rules harder to learn. You will also often find it set as a target. So how can you teach a child before and after?
As before and after are tricky concepts, I would first check that they understand easier concepts such as first, next, last. Make sure they understand the order and sequence of activities. You could use sequencing picture of simple everyday activities such as brushing your teeth or getting a drink. If you don’t have sequencing cards you could always make your own by getting the child to complete the activities and taking photos of them doing it. Then you can talk about the pictures and see if the child can put them in the correct order. Use language such as ‘first’, ‘next’, ‘then’ and ‘last. You can test the child’s understanding by asking them to find the first step. You can also see if they can use this sort of language to talk about the pictures as they sequence them.
When you are ready to move onto before and after, start with the easiest structure. This is before in the middle of a sentence! It is easier because you do the instructions in the order you hear them. I tend to use simple actions, like you would in a Simon Says game. For example, “touch your nose before you clap your hands”. You could just give these instructions, or if the child needs visual support you could use pictures as well. If appropriate, you can encourage the child to give you instructions as well. You then have the opportunity to get an instruction wrong and see if the child realises! Most children love playing teacher and telling you that you are wrong. It’s also a great way to check their understanding.
Then you can move onto the harder instruction – before at the beginning of the sentence. This is harder as it changes the order you have to complete the actions in. So if you say “Before you clap your hands, touch your knees” you actually have to touch your knees first and then clap your hands. If the child is able to read, you can write two sentences, one with before at the beginning and one with before in the middle. You can then talk about which action you do first and second depending on where the before is. You can always draw pictures to go with your sentences if the child cant read yet. The idea is to give a visual representation for the order of the actions.
Otherwise you just have to explain and keep practising! Once the child understands this order, you can jumble in instructions with before in the middle and at the beginning and make sure they can correctly follow both.
Now, just to be confusing, after works the other way around to before! So the easier structure is after at the beginning of the sentence, as then you complete the actions in the order you hear them. For example “After you blink your eyes, clap your hands” – means that you blink first and clap your hands second. Always try and keep practice fun. I often use a game appropriate for the child’s age e.g. Pop up Pirate, Jenga, Connect Four or some of the fantastic wooden games from The Works! (Thank you Helen for finding these. My favourite at the moment is the Balancing Cactus).
Then you can introduce after in the middle of the sentence, which changes the order of the activities. So if you say “touch your ear after you stick out your tongue”, you have to stick out your tongue first and then touch your ear. Once the child is secure with this you can combine the two types of after instruction. Then, when they are secure with after, you can jumble up before and after instructions!
Once the child can follow these instructions within an activity when they are concentrating, you will need to help them generalise the skill. You can ask more functional questions such as, “What did you do before lunch?” or “What are you going to do after school?”.
When talking to the child, use the words before and after to talk about what they have been doing so they can hear the correct use of the words. “Do you remember before lunch we were playing a game with your brother.” or “If you want to, after we have finished shopping we can go to the park”.
Try and demonstrate the language at the level the child is currently working at. Using a harder structure than they currently understand will probably confuse them! I have often heard classroom instructions like “You can go and play after you have finished your work” and then the child gets in trouble for going and playing when they haven’t finished their work yet!
It’s always good to have a range of resources to hand. If you like using apps there are a few that target before and after instructions. There is the Auditory Workout app and also the Following Directions app. Both of these are described on our FREE handout Top 10 apps for 7-11 year olds.
What other activities do you use to practise before and after?