Part 1 of The Basic Language Concepts Your Child Needs and How to Teach Them at Home



Good evening, everyone. Speech-language pathologist/momma here. I’m busy. You’re busy. We are all busy – we’re parents. If you have children, it’s easy to get sidetracked and some days we’re just in survival mode making sure the kids get fed and don’t smell.

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Some people say that “having two or three children is no harder than having one.” I don’t know how many nannies those people had helping them out, because I’m yet to agree. And I just have two. The more kids you have, the harder it is to find time to cater to the second one’s early cognitive development like you did the first. Sometimes we just forget. I’m not proud to admit it, either as a mother or speech-language pathologist, but I realized several months ago that I have not “worked” on my second child’s language as much as I did the first. It seems like I asked her to point to her toes or something like that, and she had no clue what I was talking about. I distinctly remember my first being able to do that at that age because I made it a point to TEACH them to her. Which brings me to today’s point: why your child needs to know basic language concepts.

Why Is It Important to Know Basic Concepts?

The following statement came from I thought they worded it so beautifully, I had to use it.

Basic concepts are the building blocks that children need to be successful in any environment – at home, at school, at the park, in social situations, etc.  Basic concepts are words that all children need to understand in order to participate in everyday activities.  These activities include following directions, participating the the classroom, playing with siblings,  talking with friends and family, etc.  Basic concepts are also critical for academic success – reading, writing, math, the sciences, history… The list goes on and on!


What Are the Basic Concepts of Language?

They are being able to demonstrate knowledge of and (depending on age and/or current developmental level) say them aloud…

body parts
textures (soft, hard, smooth, bumpy)
spatial concepts (in, out, under, over, top, bottom, beside, behind)
following directions
quantities (little, a lot, more)
size (big, small, biggest, smallest)
sequences (first, next, last)
emotions (happy, sad, mad)

FYI: I usually include developmental milestones in my post that relate to the topic. I am not doing that this time because there is a wide range of opinions regarding when children can demonstrate certain basic concepts and I do not want to mislead anyone. However, MY personal opinion is that typically developing children have the ability to demonstrate all the above basic concepts by age 2-3. Some of the basic concepts, like pointing to body parts and specific colors when asked, can be mastered shortly after the 1st birthday, or even before. If your child can not demonstrate knowledge of the basic concepts at this time, do NOT get scared – just get started :)!


Start Small and Simple and Work Your Way Up from There

When teaching a new skill, there is a general process that is followed. Instead of asking you all to read the same idea over and over for each basic concept, I’m going to provide you all with a step by step process that can be applied to everything here. The second half of this post will be ways you can use everyday activities to teach your child the basic concepts covered in Part 1.

First Things First – See What They Know So YOU Know What to Help Your Child With

Review the basic concepts above and test your child to see what they know. Some examples of how to “test” what they know are…

Body Parts – ask them to “point to your belly” for example. If they do not know what the word “point” means, see if they look in the direction of the body parts you ask your child to point to.

Colors – get some blocks or Play Doh out and set 2-3 different colors in front of your child. Ask them where “red” is, “blue,” and so on.

Spatial Concepts – get a teddy bear and a box and ask your child to put the teddy bear “under the box,” “on top of the box,” “behind the box,” etc.

The Teaching Process

First and foremost, be patient. Things that seem so simple to us as adults, weren’t at one time.

Write down simple, small goals. Have a game plan and change it as your child learns. Suppose your child does not know their colors and body parts, a beginning goal would be, “Allyson will be able to identify red and blue and point to her belly, eyes, and nose 2 weeks from today.”

Introduce and teach in baby steps. When you begin teaching a basic concept, introduce only 2 or 3 parts of the concept at a time; for example, begin with only 2 or 3 colors. 

Ask your child to do it, then do hand over hand. When teaching new concepts or new parts of a concept, introduce it, then ask your child to “point to your toes.” Immediately after you give the direction, put your hand over theirs and guide their hand to their toes (hand over hand).

Choices. Hold up two differently colored objects and ask your child which one they want. When you say “Do you want the red one?” hold it up higher or shake the blue object when you say “Do you want the blue one?” Do hand over hand if necessary in the beginning.

Modify the goals. As “Allyson” learns more colors, the goal would need to be modified to “Allyson will know red, blue, orange, green, and white and will be able to point to all her body parts when asked.”

Test their “targets” frequently. Whatever goal you made for them, test their progress frequently. You need to know if your child is benefiting from the way they are being taught. REMEMBER: start simple. When you ask them to point to the “happy face,” only put 2-3 pictures out in front of them. Rule of thumb is: the more choices, the more complex the task.

If your child is not learning as much as you had hoped, re-evaluate your goals and how much you are asking of your child. Simplify your goals and/or reduce the number of basic concepts you are trying to teach at a time. Also, we are all different types of learners. Some children learn by doing and some by watching, or a combination of both. Do trial and error to see what type of teaching works best for your child.

Increase the complexity of what you ask your child to do. As your child’s basic concept knowledge improves, ask more of them. In the beginning, you may ask your child to “give me the RED shoe” or “point to the bottom.” A more complex task would be asking your child to put the RED shoe ON the BOTTOM shelf. Another way of increasing the complexity is putting 4 different colored blocks in front of them and asking them to give you the “yellow” one.

Teaching Vocabulary

Some posts I published recently were about the importance of vocabulary and how to improve your child’s vocabulary. If you did not read them, please read Is Your Child Having Difficulty Communicating? It May Be Due to a Limited Vocabulary Bank
in order to understand the MASSIVE impact vocabulary has on comprehension and communication, or the lack thereof. If you don’t want to read it right now, let me summarize the importance of vocabulary: if your child does not know the meaning of a word (vocabulary), they will not be able to do what is asked of them. The cool thing about vocabulary is that the more basic concepts your child learns, the greater their vocabulary bank is. To see how you can improve your child’s vocabulary at home, please read How to Expand Your Child’s Vocabulary to Improve Their Communication

Activities for Teaching Colors

Talk and describe. Thankfully, colors are all around us. While you are walking with your child, point out different colors. It’s fall now; the perfect time for talking about the different colors of leaves.

Books. Pick a book that is all about colors (Eric Carle has some good ones), or just look at any book. Talk about the colors of the characters’ clothes, color of animals, etc.

Coloring. Even if your child is unable to hold a crayon yet, you can do hand over hand (holding your hand over their’s in order to move their hand) and talk about the colors you are using.

Stick with what your child says. If your child says “red” or “I want red,” but they are LOOKING at the blue one, give them the red one while you say, “Oh, you want the RED one? Here’s the red one.”

Melissa and Doug. I’m a big fan of this line of toys because they are generally solidly built toys and each toys offer many different learning opportunities. Their ” bead sequencing set,” for example, is a great resource for teaching colors, in addition to learning sequencing. My 22 month old and I were just using them this morning.

Activities for Teaching Body Parts

Point and say. Use your “mommy” voice (you know, the one we all used to roll our eyes at before we had kids) and point to your child’s nose, ears, mouth, head, belly, legs, etc. while you say, “There’s your belly” or “Where’s your belly?!” while you pat your baby’s belly.

Books. Point to your child’s arm, for example, and then point to a picture of an arm. This introduce and promote body part recognition by introducing it in different contexts. There are tons of books that promote early childhood development.

Potato Head. Say each part while you and your child put them on. Take it a step farther by putting the eyes where an arm should belong. Then immediately say, “No no! Silly me! That’s not an arm! Those are eyes!” If your child is doing well with recognizing body parts, put a part in the wrong place and see if your child catches it.

Draw pictures and talk about each part as you draw it.

Draw partial pictures. For example, draw a face with a mouth, but no eyes. Wait and see if your child points at the picture or asks for eyes.


Activities for Teaching Textures

Use toys. Your child’s toys will offer an array of different textures. Talk about the textures as you move your child’s hand over the different textures. “The side of a block is smooth, but the top is bumpy.”

Cook together. Talk about the soft flour, the bumpy sugar, and the smooth butter.

Books. Yes! Books again. There are several early development books that have different textures in them.

Pinterest. Pinterest is a treasure trove for finding sensory activities for all ages. One I like is sensory tubs for toddlers.

Touch and talk. Take a walk outside and talk about how things feel while you and your child touch them.

Activities for Teaching Spatial Concepts

FYI: I recommend starting with “on” and “under” first, then moving onto “beside, behind, over, and through.”

Narrate while you play. Talk about what you and your child are doing with the toys; for example, say, “I am going to put the elephant next to the giraffe.” Another example is, “You are putting the RED block ON TOP of the yellow one.” You can always throw other basic concept teaching targets on there.

Play hide and seek. When you find your child, say, “You were hiding UNDER the table!” or “You found me BEHIND the door!” Having a blah day and don’t feel like hiding? Hide a toy and challenge your child to find it. Then you could say, “You found the teddy bear ON the pillow.”

Guessing Game. Get several toys and let your child see them all. Then cover all the toys up but one (a teddy bear, for example); the covered objects will be the mystery objects. Set the mystery object on top of the teddy bear while hiding it under a cloth. Ask your child to guess what is ON TOP of the teddy bear. Once they do, get another mystery object and put it under the teddy bear and repeat the question.

Ask them to get something for you. For example, if you are playing blocks together, you could say, “Please give me the block that is BESIDE the couch.” If they give you the wrong block, do hand over hand, and then have them find something that’s “beside” again.

Put away clothes. Hand your child some clothes or toys and ask them to put them in the TOP drawer or the BOTTOM drawer. Use hand over hand if necessary until they can do it independently.

Activities for Following Directions

This ranges from very simple, such as “point to the dog” to complex, such as, “Go to your room, get the red ball and 2 pairs of shoes that are old.” Today’s following direction focus is mainly on teaching your child how to follow simple directions. Stay tuned for a post on how to teach more complex directions; directions your child would hear if they are in school/at an older age, for example.

Something Important to Think About Is…

A child can more easily follow directions if they have a somewhat solid grasp on basic language concepts in general. For example, it will be hard for your child to “go to their room and get a red block,” if they do not know their colors. The following is another example: “Put the cereal on the bottom shelf.” Do they know what “bottom” means? If your child struggles with the other basic concepts, do NOT LET THIS DETER you from working on following directions. The main way to teach basic concepts is through exposure – they’ll get it! If they don’t know what “red” or “bottom” is, do hand over hand or just show them. Another reason for you to focus on improving your child’s ability to follow directions is you can’t give a direction without it containing basic concepts, so you’re for sure going to eventually address them all, even if it is unintentional. If you are consistent with your exposure and techniques, they’re going to get it!

Repeat, emphasize, and use gestures. If you want your child to “point to the dog” and they do not seem to understand what you’re asking them to do, repeat the phrase, put emphasis on the words “point” and “dog,” then you point. If your child still does not perform the action when you repeat it a third time, do hand over hand.

Guide them or do hand over hand. “Hand over hand” is where you place your hand over your child’s and guide their hand. If it’s a whole body movement activity, it’s still the same concept; you would guide their body in order to help them perform and understand your request.

Remember to the teaching process: start out small and gradually build the complexity. When you first begin teaching directions, keep it simple. It’s best to use concepts that they already know. Do they know what the “dog” is or “Daddy?” If so, ask them to “point to the dog” or “wave at Daddy.” Another example is “pick up the blocks.” Over time, increase the complexity of the directions. I’m going to that in a future post – stay tuned for it!

Crafts. If your child is old enough to do simple crafts, this is a great way to teach following directions, as well as incorporate several of the other basic concepts. For example, Halloween is coming up and you all might want to make a jack-o-lantern with orange, yellow, and green construction paper. If you ask your child to draw a circle (shapes) on the orange (colors) paper, and then cut it out (vocabulary), you’ve hit a lot right there. Even if you have to point everything out and do it step by step, they’re learning!

Interactive t.v. shows. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Team Umizoomi are the first that come to mind. Throughout the show they’ll ask a question, pause to wait for the answer, and then give the answer. Sit with your child, model doing what the characters requested. If you make this part of your daily routine, your child will soon begin doing the same because it’s fun when a grownup does what the t.v. tells them to. If you have read some of my posts, you already know that I do not promote watching t.v. or playing certain IPAD games as a way of improving a child’s speech or language skills. However, it is a part of many childrens’ lives, mine included.

Activities for Teaching Quantities

Again, I’m not including developmental milestones for this post due to the wide range of opinions I ran across, but this is a concept that children generally learn around 4 or 5. It definitely does not hurt anything to go ahead and introduce them though.

Cooking. If you all are making cookies, for example, fill the measuring cup up with some flour, but not the entire amount the recipe calls for. Let your child pour it in the bowl or watch you while you do it. Immediately after say, “We need MORE flour,” and proceed to pour more flour in the bowl.

Change your mind. While you are playing with your child, let’s say “blocks” for simplicity purposes, ask them to hand you a block. Then say, “I want MORE. Will you give me MORE?” When they give you more, then say, “Mmmmm, noooo, this is TOO MANY. I want LESS. Will you take these blocks back?”

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Sandbox. Ask your child to put “more” in your sand pail or “that’s TOO MUCH! I need LESS.”

Use favorite foods and foods they don’t like as much. Suppose your child really likes M&Ms, but does not care much for sour gummy worms. Give them 2 or 3 M&Ms and wait for them to ask for “more.” If they are not talking yet, ask them if they want more and you know your child well enough to know if they do or not. Then give them a lot of sour gummy worms. If they indicate they do not like all those gummy worms, say, “Oh, you don’t want that MUCH? You want LESS? If your child is not talking yet and you want to give them a way to communicate until they DO start talking, please read How to Teach Your Nonverbal Child to Communicate Without Using Words

Folks, as always, thank you for reading. Are you working on any of the basic concepts with your child? I hope everyone finds something in here that is helpful. If you do not see something that relates to your child, please leave a comment below or email me at and I will do my best to create a post, no names mentioned of course, that will hopefully help your child.

Related Posts

How to Expand Your Child’s Vocabulary to Improve Their Communication

Is Your Child Having Difficulty Communicating? It May Be Due to a Limited Vocabulary Bank.

Everyday Activities to do at Home to Help Your Child Start Talking

What Does It Mean if My Child Has A Language Delay or Disorder?

How to Teach Your Nonverbal Child to Communicate Without Using Words

How to Improve Your Child’s Speech at Home Using Everyday Activities




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