Backwards Chaining

Oh my goodness me!

I only went and discovered a new thing!

I was talking to my friend today. She is a foster carer who specialises in caring for special needs children and children with disabilities. She was telling me about one of her children who is becoming really independent and has achieved some amazing things whilst in her care. I was quite proud of my foster child’s progress (he is nameless for confidentiality) and felt that I did well with my methods in helping him to progress however Ann shared that she uses a different technique to teach her children independence skills and I just loved this method. Right from the start I loved it!

Her approach is called “backward chaining” and it is something that she discovered in some foster carer training she did. Basically, when you are teaching a thing, you start at the end. So let’s think about how to cook a piece of toast:

  • take a piece of bread out of the bag
  • get a plate out of the cupboard
  • put it in the toaster
  • push down the toaster lever
  • wait until the toast is ready
  • take the toast out of the toaster and put it on the plate
  • get the butter out of the fridge and a knife out of the drawer
  • butter the toast with the knife
  • put the lid on the butter
  • get the jam out and take the lid off
  • put some jam on the toast
  • put the lid back on the jam
  • cut up the toast
  • enjoy

Now my method of teaching a child to make toast would be to start at the beginning. I would demonstrate, then the next time I would support and prompt, then the next time I would support and prompt less and the next less until the child could do it confidently on their own. With lots of praise and empathy and presence.

The trouble comes when the child has a learning difficulty, trauma or low self-esteem. Because YOU know they can do it, but maybe they don’t. Or maybe you think they remember but actually they forgot. Then they FAIL. And that’s fine because you are right there to reassure and empathise, step in and help. But what if you can prevent the fail entirely?

Backwards chaining is an ACE idea. Because the first thing you encourage your child to do is the last thing on the list. So you make the toast, butter, jam etc and you help the child to cut the toast in two and celebrate that achievement. When you have got the child confidently and independently cutting the toast, you get them putting the jam on then cutting the toast. Then putting the butter on, putting the jam on and cutting the toast until eventually they can do all the steps from start to end, The thing you avoid is having the child do steps one two and three and then they forget what’s next and the carer takes over. Or they get upset/overwhelmed and the carer takes over. It gives the child a sense of success and completion to teach in reverse and as we all know, finishing something is really satisfying and gives us a real sense of achievement.

This method means the child always completes the task. No sense of failure!

I just love this so much! I realise now that I have done it a little bit with my children in the past…an example is when you start their zip off then encourage them to pull it up the rest of the way…but I wish I had known about this YEARS ago so here it is for you:

Backwards chaining.

Love

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