Are you feeling frustrated because your child has only just begun working on her term paper, which is due tomorrow, despite having had the assignment for over a month? Does your teen believe he can start packing his backpack for a weekend ski trip just as the Uber arrives to take you all to the airport? Is your fifth grader completing all his math work in his head, only to lose points for "not showing his work"? Are you frustrated that your first grader can read above grade level but still struggles to recall the month that follows March?
When children present with these difficulties, it is important to consider that weak sequencing may be at the root of the problem.
Temporal-sequential ordering, or sequencing, refers to our cognitive processes for managing information and activities that are made up of individual pieces arranged linearly in a specific order. It is what we engage in when planning a project or acquiring a new skill. If you have ever questioned the significance of sequences, have you ever tried following a new recipe but mistakenly changed the order of the steps?
Children who struggle with sequences often have trouble breaking complex tasks into steps, and then procrastinate because each task seems overwhelming. They just don’t know how or where to start.
Sequencing is important for developing a sense of time, remembering the steps in a math procedure, mastering routines, making a logical argument, and anticipating the likely outcome of a decision.
If you ask someone to tell you the months, and they ask, “In order?” chances are they have a sequencing problem. The good news is that with computers, other digital tools, and now, artificial intelligence, there are many strategies available for supporting sequencing difficulties. In fact, one of my favorites is the horizontal “To Do List” or timeline. Traditional vertical “To Do Lists” can be challenging, even anxiety-provoking, for people with weak sequencing, because the list tells you what needs to be done but not how, when, and how long you need to work on each item.
By using a horizontal timeline, not only can someone with sequencing challenges see what needs to be done, but when/how long they should focus on that task.