Teaching Basic Concepts

As the school year is in full swing, and children attending in-person or virtual classes, we thought it would be fitting to talk about some basic concepts that children need in order to participate in academic tasks and classroom instruction.

What are basic concepts? Basic concepts are words that describe five different concept classifications:
1. location (i.e., up/down)
2. number (i.e., more/less)
3. descriptions (i.e., big/little)
4. time (i.e., old/young)
5. feelings (i.e., happy/sad)

Children’s understanding of basic concepts is important for early school success. Many basic concepts are acquired by listening to adults, following directions, and participating in reading activities. Comprehending and using basic concepts help children understand what they hear and read, and allows allow them to express themselves more effectively when they communicate or write.

What basic concepts should my child know?

Here is a summary of basic concept milestones that children develop to use and understand throughout their early childhood years:

1-2 years• Follows simple spatial directions, such as in and on  • Understands another  • Uses simple directional terms, such as up and down  • Uses two or three prepositions, such as on, in, or under
2-3 years• Understands number concepts of one and two  • Understands size differences, such as big/little  • Understands in, off, on, under, out of, together, away from  • Begins to understand time concepts of soon, later, wait  • Begins to use adjectives for color and size
3-4 years• Follows quantity directions empty, a lot  • Follows equality directions same, both  • Understands next to, beside, between  • Identifies colors  • Matches objects  • Points to object that is different from others  • Uses position concepts behind, in front, around
4-5 years• Understands comparative and superlative adjectives, such as big, bigger, biggest  • Understands time concepts yesterday, today, tomorrow, first, then, next, days of the week, last week, next week • Understands different, nearest, through, thin, whole  • Identifies positional concepts first, middle, last
5-6 years • Understands opposite concepts, such as big/little, over/under  • Understands left/right  • Understands number concepts up to 20  • Answers “How are things the same/different?”  • Uses adjectives for describing  • Uses comparative adjectives, such as loud, louder  • Uses yesterday and tomorrow • Uses adverb concepts backward and forward  • Uses prepositions through, nearest, corner, middle  • Names ordinal numbers, such as first, second, third
AutismInfo (www.autisminfo.com/milestones.htm#B); the Child Development Institute (www.childdevelopmentinfo.com); Nicolosi, Harryman, & Kresheck (2006); and Touhy, Brown, & Mercer-Moseley (2001)

How can I teach basic concepts?

Model! Model! Model! Demonstrate early basic concepts through play. Match the words to the play, for example “block goes on!”

basic concepts

It’s story time! Many childhood books and stories teach early developing concepts. If the concepts are not stated directly within the text, the illustrations lend themselves to teaching a variety of concepts. Start by examining the illustrations together and describing what you see, for example, “Where is the cat? It’s on the bed.” Then, talk about what is off the bed, for example “Those socks are off the bed!”. When you’re done reading, go around the room and find things that are on something and things that are off something.

basic concepts

“I spy with my little eye…” Use some early developing concepts in your clues. For example, “I spy something that is empty.” This is a fun game play with the entire family and on long car trips!

Basic concepts are an important building block to early school and reading success. Continue to develop your child’s excitement and knowledge of basic concepts through motivating activities!

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