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Changing Seasons and New Concepts: Same and Different and Before and After

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Fall is a great time to talk with young children about concepts that are important for them to learn. One is the idea of “change”—about leaves changing color and dropping from trees, mornings becoming cooler, and night arriving earlier. Children see changes but may not have a sense of the four seasons or that the seasons cycle every year. Another concept is before and after, which changes in the day can help define.

Same and different

Some trees stay green, but others change the color of their leaves and even lose those leaves. Taking a walk through the leaves and trees gives you many opportunities to notice that some stay the same but some are different because of the changing season.

Before and after

Before the sun goes down, let’s go for a walk. After it goes down, it will be dark outside and we’ll play inside.”

If a child has a limited vocabulary, you may need to use visual aids, such as photos of the trees in the summer and in the fall. You can help them sequence the seasons and add more photos for winter and spring. Talk about the sequence—before and after—and talk about the changes—same or different. Expand their vocabulary by adding examples of why something is different. (“The tree looks different because the leaves are gone.”) This game can be played at the table or during circle time and is limited only by your imagination and photos or objects that can be sorted.

There are many ways to expand on the concepts of same and different, such as using materials from home and the classroom and sorting them into two sets (Legos vs. wooden blocks, socks vs. T-shirts). Likewise there are many ways to talk about what comes before and what comes after. A visual schedule of the day is a convenient way to practice before and after and helps young children understand what activity will happen next. It will help the child to predict daily routines. Visual schedules again can be made with photos for home or for school. A home schedule for the morning may have a photo of waking up, getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and leaving home. A school schedule likewise may start with a photo of entering the classroom, followed by the next activity or routine. For children who have difficulty learning a sequence, make it simple and start with two or three photos. Once the child recognizes the early sequence, you can add more photos before and after.

Concepts such as same and different are abstract until you help a child identify what (color, shape, function, size) makes something the same as or different from something else. It can take repeated practice for children with learning concerns to grasp that same and different can apply to many characteristics. It’s best to start with what is happening in the child’s life and is visible in everyday activities. Then build upon the initial learning to help the child recognize that there are many ways of “sorting” items or pictures into same and different categories. Children gain a sense of mastery when they learn to sort.

Concepts of time also are challenging for young children. Again, most young children are not aware of ways to measure the passage of time (whether by clock or by season). They can learn the sequence of their day, however, if the routines are stable and recur each day. For example, children in some families learn that breakfast comes after dressing, while others learn that breakfast comes before dressing; likewise they learn that outdoor play at school comes after circle time and before snack time. Learning before and after helps children to understand schedules in their day and to predict what comes next. What a sense of confidence they have when they know before and after!

Susan Fowler

Susan Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a retired professor of special education at the University of Illinois. Susan’s doctorate was in developmental and child psychology and she was one of the pioneers in early childhood special education and developmental disabilities. She also is a parent of a young man with exceptionalities.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2022