Occupational Therapy

Learning A Skill

To learn new skills, children need to have the opportunity to repeat activities regularly, in a stress-free environment. Using strategies like backward chaining can also help a child acquire a skill.

Children learn best through play and fun experiences - this is especially true in the early years. Helping children solve challenges that come up will help them grow their motor and problem-solving skills.

Dive Deeper

Backward Chaining

When teaching a new skill we often start at the beginning. This can be challenging for children sometimes as they get frustrated. You can give your child a sense of achievement by using the backward chaining technique. Backward chaining is particularly useful when learning self-care skills like dressing.

What is Backward Chaining?

You start by breaking the task down into small steps. You teach your child the last step first, working backwards from the goal.

You complete all the steps except the last one. You get your child to practice the final step. They will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once your child can do the last step you complete all the steps except for the last two. You teach your child the second from last step and they then complete the last step themselves. Even more success! Keep going until you are teaching them they whole sequence.


Sequencing is the carrying out of two or more movements in the right order, in a smooth, coordinated manner.

Sequencing Top Tips

  • Ensure you have your child's attention before giving them the instruction
  • Give the instruction slowly and in a loud, clear voice
  • Ask your child to repeat back instruction - a way of improving memory skill
  • If your child is having difficulties carrying out the instruction, show them what to do. For example you complete the sequence first and then they copy you.

Learning Motor Tasks

Use these strategies and tips to support children and young people who find it challenging to think of an idea, organise and plan, and then sequence and carry out unfamiliar and complex body movements in a coordinated manner.

Tips When Learning New Things

Go at your child’s pace

If your child is not ready or willing to learn a skill, it will be much harder to teach. Teach one step at a time making sure they always have some success, no matter how small.

Praise all efforts

Often a child will put in a huge amount of effort and still not complete a task successfully. It is important to praise the effort rather than the result.


Allow your child to watch the task be completed first. This will give them a visual demonstration and more time to learn how to do the activity.


Practice new tasks in the same place with the same materials each time. Slowly start to generalise the new skill in different contexts when the task becomes automatic.


Repeat the same task for several days or even weeks. Provide activities that allow for direct repetitive training of specific skills of your child’s interest, e.g. catching or throwing a ball.

Clear short instructions

Give one instruction at a time and allow time to process.

How You Can Help Children Develop Their Skills

You can help children you work with build on these skills by giving them lots of chances to practice. Below are some of the skills they will gain over their first few years and ideas of activities to do together. This will help to build and develop these skills by giving plenty of opportunities to practice them.

Who Can Help?

Children's Occupational Therapists work with children from birth to 18 (or 19 if attending Complex Need schools). If your child or young person is under the Occupational Therapy teams, you can speak to them about any questions you may have.

If you think your child requires specialist support, please speak to their GP.

If you have any questions about your child or young person's general health or development, you can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

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