Parent Blog

Expanding Your Child’s Understanding and Use of Basic Concepts

Written by Niki Klein, M.S., CCC-SLP, TSSLD owner of Niki Klein Speech

Now that your child is using words to label familiar people, places, toys, and actions, it’s time to expand your child’s comprehension of and ability to use basic concepts. Basic concepts include terms that describe position, time, quantity, and comparisons.  They are necessary to understand to be able to follow directions, participate in routines, and engage in conversation with others. As a child gets older, he or she needs to be able to understand and use these concepts in order to be successful and perform well in reading, writing, and math.

When teaching a new concept, or any new word, it is essential that your child first understand it before you can expect him or her to use it correctly.  Also, it is important to keep it simple! When just starting out, use only the target concept/word (e.g., “in”, “red”, “same”). As your child becomes more familiar with the new word, then you can start to use it in a sentence. When teaching your child something new, make it fun! Kids learn best when information is presented in a novel and exciting way.  It is better to practice for a fun 5-10 minutes throughout the day than to try and work on something for an hour. Here are some tips and activity suggestions for teaching your child some basic concepts at home. (Please refer to the above chart for age-appropriate concept understanding/use)


Prepositions are words that describe the position of an object.  Some examples of early prepositions include: in, on, off, under, behind, in front of, etc. One of my favorite ways to teach prepositions is to play a hiding game! Grab a box with a lid (e.g., shoebox) that will fit one of your child’s favorite toys inside (e.g., teddy bear).  Tell your child you are going to play a fun hiding game. Face your child with the box and toy between you. Then hide the toy inside the box and tell your little one, “in!” You can then open the box, show your little one inside, point to the teddy and say “in!”. Then give your child the teddy and let him/her play with it for a little while independently.  If he or she does not spontaneously put the teddy in the box, gesture to put the teddy in and say “in!” You can also pull out some additional toys and take turns putting them “in” the box. After several times of playing this game you can ask your child, “where’s ___?” If your child does not automatically say “in”, wait 5-10 seconds before responding and model “in”.  This game can be adapted for teaching a ton of prepositions!


Early developing words that describe time include soon, later, wait, yesterday, tomorrow.  Although your little one can’t tell time yet, he or she can develop a sense of order through repeated routines. Keeping a regular schedule helps your child begin to anticipate what happens next and remember what happened earlier in the day, allowing him/her to more easily attach a label to an abstract concept. You can also incorporate a visual schedule to give your child a more concrete, clear idea of what the sequence and expectations are for the day or a specific activity. At the beginning of the day talk about things that will happen soon, later, or tomorrow.  At the end of the day, discuss things that happened before, earlier, and yesterday.

Equality and Attributes: Same/different, color, size

Throughout the day we are constantly observing and making choices about attribute concepts (e.g., same, different, color, size). Sorting activities are great for introducing and expanding your child’s understanding of these kinds of things. Start with letting your child explore similarities and differences between items on their own.  You can use things at home like blocks, buttons, socks, etc… Start with sorting color as it is easily recognized by young children. You can give your child “color mats” (e.g., colored construction paper, place mats, bowls, etc) to sort the items on. During play label colors for your child. Once your child is able to easily sort colors, start to pick up two items and use descriptions like “same” and “different”.   After playing this game several times, start with all the objects together and pick out just one. Ask your little one to find another object that is either the “same” or “different.” You can also pick two items up and ask, “are these the same?”

Reading daily to your child and engaging in open-ended play (e.g., playdough, puppets, dress up, blocks, etc.) also allows many opportunities to expose your child to and teach him or her about basic concepts. 

For more tips and ideas of how to expand your child’s understanding and use of basic concepts and general speech-language skills follow @nikikleinspeech on Instagram.

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