How to Teach the Before & After Concept to Preschoolers

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Sequencing enables people to think critically about stories, events and ideas. Without an understanding of "before" and "after," a child cannot grasp that her behavior causes something to happen, nor can she develop the ability to make predictions or form connections between ideas. Critical basic skills, such as reading comprehension that requires the reader to follow a sequence of events to understand the story being told, rely on a solid understanding of "before" and "after." Teaching these ideas can be accomplished as part of your existing curriculum or as independent lesson plans.

Preschool Science

  • Before and after concepts easily lend themselves to preschool science lessons. For example, a seed must be planted "before" grass can grow, and ice melts "after" it is placed in the sun. Emphasize what happens just before your observation in any science lesson you teach. Encourage your students to think about how water must have been put into the ice tray to form the ice cubes that you are now melting or make a plan for what will happen after the ice has been in the sun.

Story Sequences

  • Use story cards to help your preschoolers develop good sequencing skills. Make a set of cards that can be used for several stories. Include a picture or drawing of a boy, girl, woman and man and several cards depicting different actions that commonly occur in stories, such as going to bed and washing hands. Challenge the kids to lay two action cards under one of the character cards with the first event card placed to the left of the second event. Once this is done, encourage students to make up stories about out-of-sequence scenarios, such as how the girl might react if her brother washed his hands after he went to sleep.

Before/After Circle Games

  • Traditional circle games such as duck-duck-goose can be easily modified to teach before and after concepts. Seat the children in a circle on the floor with one child left standing as the tagger. Instruct the tagger to touch each child's head and say something that would happen before something else, such as "bake cookies." After tagging several children, the tagger should say the corresponding "after" idea, such as "eat them," at which point the chase begins as with duck-duck-goose. Hot potato can be similarly adapted. Children holding the potato are "safe" when you state "before" events, such as hand washing or cooking, and "out" when you describe an "after" event such as "'goes to bed."

Treasure Hunts

  • Treasure hunts provide an active tool for learning and can be adapted to many lesson plans. A before/after treasure hunt can be quickly assembled before school or while your class is outside playing. Place a picture of someone doing something, such as sleeping, on the board. Place a "before" basket to the left of the picture and an "after" basket to the right. Hide pictures that would happen before or after that scene around the room. Instruct your class to look around the room for pictures. Once they have found them, sit together and decide as a group which pictures happen before the target scene and which ones happen after. Place the cards in the appropriate baskets or sequence them together to form a story.

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