As a parent, teacher or early childhood professional, your job is to teach new skills that will move your child forward in their development and independence. You also teach new skills to reduce frustration, promote self-esteem, and to replace behaviour that may not be the most acceptable. An example of this is the child who screams in order to get help from a caregiver when asked to put on his shoes. This child may need to be taught either to ask for help, or to actually learn the skill of tying shoe laces.
What is the best way to teach these new skills? While all children are not the same, we know that many children need support in the following areas when learning a new skill:
- Organizing the steps
- Sequencing the steps
- Mastering the steps
- Gaining motivation to master the steps
- Generalizing the new skill to new people, places, and conditions
Organization and Sequencing through Task Analysis
Though some children quickly learn skills through observing and imitating others, many children need the new skill broken to be down into smaller steps and to be allowed time to master each step in the sequence. The breaking down of complex skills into smaller components is called Task Analysis. Anything we do can be broken down into smaller steps. The number of steps depends on the needs of the child.
Let’s look at an example. At lunch time, Simithy doesn’t like to wait for you to serve the other children and then spoon feed her. She often cries and throws her bowl. You decide that it would be helpful to teach her to use a spoon to feed herself. A task analysis is completed and five steps in the spoon-feeding chain are identified.
- pick up the spoon
- put spoon into the food in the bowl
- scoop food onto the spoon
- lift spoonful of food from the bowl
- put the food into the mouth
Five steps may be perfect for Simithy, but if she has some motor difficulties, she might need much smaller steps. For example:
- reach for the spoon
- grasp the spoon
- pick up the spoon, etc.
The way to find out how many steps are needed is to first break the skill you want to teach into smaller steps. Next, test your list with your child to see what steps he already can do and which may be too big a leap. You don’t need to worry about teaching the steps he already knows. The steps that are really difficult for him, may need to be broken down further.
Once you have a task breakdown that is workable and yet flexible enough to change as you get a better sense of your child’s learning style, then you are almost ready to get started. First you’ll want to learn more about a couple of proven teaching techniques such as Chaining and Shaping.