These 5 basic concepts are essential for early school success!

By Sabina Pyne, Youthrive Speech Pathologist

Your child’s understanding of basic concepts is important for their success at school and it’s easy to help them develop these skills at home!

What are basic concepts?

Basic concepts are words that depict location (e.g. up/down), number (e.g. more/less), descriptions (e.g. big/little), time (e.g. old/young) and feelings (e.g. happy/sad). They can be taught outright to a child during their early years or can be learnt by listening to adults, following commands and participating in reading activities. Understanding and using basic concepts helps children learn to read and understand what they’ve read or written. They also help children to become more effective communicators.

Why are basic concepts important?

Upon entering Prep, children should understand concepts as pairs. Children should not only be able to understand the concepts, but they should be using them in their expressive language.  Basic concepts can also help build pre-reading and early mathematics skills, strengthen a child’s vocabulary and are building blocks of early schooling.

What basic concepts should my child know?

There are five classifications of concepts:

  1. Spatial (location)
  2. Temporal (time)
  3. Quantity (number)
  4. Quality (description)
  5. Socio-emotional (feelings)

Listed below are some of the basic concepts that a child should know between the ages of two and a half to five years old. They are listed by order of age, with the younger developing concepts listed first.

On/Off                         Same/Different                              Happy/Sad

Full/Empty                  Loud/Quiet                                    Old/Young

Sharp/Dull                   Tall/Short                                     In front of/Behind

Up/Down                     More/Less                                    Top/Bottom

Big/Little                      All/None                                        Front/Back

Thick/Thin                  Old/New                                         Long/Short

Hard/Soft                    Over/Under                                   Hot/Cold

Smooth/Rough           High/Low                                         Always/Never

Heavy/Light                Forward/Backward                        Above/Below


How can I teach my child basic concepts?

  1. Read to your child! – Children’s books and stories are filled with basic concepts and can teach early developing concepts.
  2. Play ‘I Spy’ – Use early developing concepts in your clues – For e.g. “I spy something empty” and encourage your child to use concepts when it’s their turn.
  3. Use barrier games – By using barrier games, you are able to give directions to your child. For e.g. you could say, “colour the big ball red and the little ball green”.
  4. Use real objects – This can be most useful for children who are having difficulty understanding and using basic concepts. Start with a box of objects and have your child follow directions with basic concepts. For e.g. “Put the spoon in the cup”. As they progress, have your child ask you to follow directions using concepts.


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