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  • Writer's pictureEliza

Now and Next Strategy

Sometimes called the Now/Next or First/Then technique. This is an easily applied strategy aimed at building an understanding of action and consequence. Often also used a tool to manage behaviour and motivate a person towards a goal. This is effective in its simplicity but also open to abuses and so it is important to be very clear about how you intend to use the strategy and how respectful it is.

Let me give an example from my day in the classroom. It is winter and a pretty cold one at that. Being EYFS we still try to get outside as much as we can. Its good for us all in many ways and we often find that behaviours which normally trigger and challenge us inside are somehow less of an issue outside.

One particular little one was desperate to go outside. They rushed to the door and looked out eagerly. I understood that look on that particular little one all too well. Outside was now the fixation and getting there was impulse number 1. Them - door - outside! Here I enter from stage left and feed the line no-one in that state of mind wanted to hear "Its cold outside so you will need your coat." Coat? Coat! The reaction was strong. A big, loud "No" followed (along with some other choice words I shall not repeat here.) I saw my error as practitioner. This child could just about follow single step instructions but add in anything more and it got confused. I, to this little ones mind, had just said "drag yourself away from the door which leads to where you want to be and walk all the way back through the classroom into the cloakroom to put on your coat which lets face it probably hasn't been hung up and could be any number of places and then put it on wrangle with the zip and then probably get distracted by another thing and then ... oh what was I trying to do?" Wow what an effort, what a lot of steps and regulation to deny the impulse to run out of the door.

I reframed quickly: "First coat on, then outside."

"Oh ok." came the response. It had been made clear. The request was the same but the consequence was the impulse. You can satisfy this impulse by getting your coat on. You can achieve your goal and here is how to get there. Simple and relevant.

It isn't always like that. Sometimes you may use pictures on a first and next board. Sometimes Makaton signs or hand signals. Sometimes we refer to our visual timetable. The concept is easily applied to a range of situations. The key is it links the task to the wanted outcome.

A few ways in which it can be used to support children:

  • Using at transition times to simply explain what is happening now and what we are transitioning to. The hope is that this reduces anxiety around unknowns.

  • A visual Now/Next board can support children who have a tough time processing verbal information.

  • It reduces the words down to a minimum. This is especially helpful for anyone with processing challenges.

  • They can eventually be used by the individual to help them to organise their activities. It is an early planning tool and a chance for children to take ownership of their time.

  • It can help to focus on only now and next rather than carrying the burden of what is happening over the course of an entire day. It reduces the cognitive load by planning in small steps. Chunking is a similar approach.

While this tool has many positive uses there are however a couple of instances of first/next boards which I feel a little uncomfortable with. Let me explain:

  1. Sometimes Now and Next is used to manipulate behaviour or bribe. Now you do some Literacy work and then you can play on the IPad. You do this thing for me and then I will give you something shiny. It isn't supporting the child towards achieving their goals and this isn't teaching them natural consequences. This is bribery. It is effective in the short term and often schools use it because it makes life easier and gets quick compliance. Like many behaviour manipulation techniques it isn't respectful. It tricks the child into compliance. It teaches them that adults make them do something they don't like and they get a reward for it.

  2. As with many of these tools, they can create dependence. As with all of these strategies we begin by modelling and supporting but always wish to empower independence. First and Next is a great technique for children and adults to use to motivate themselves. I often say to myself 'first wash the dishes then sit down.' It helps me to achieve my goal of a clean house (sometimes!). Adults working with children need to be very clear that using this strategy is not to make their lives easier but to provide a long term strategy a person can use themselves. Children need to be encouraged to take ownership and eventually use the strategy themselves or they can become stuck, depending on an adult to plan sequences for them. This is disabling.

As with all of the things we do, it is crucial to have a good grasp on that question "why do I do this?" and "what are the short term and long term impacts for me and the child?"

I hope the strategy supports you and your child and you take the time to consider how this can be most effectively implemented.

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