Basic Concepts and Language Development

Basic Concepts and Language Development

Basic concepts are a critical part of language development. They provide the foundation of a child’s education. Generally, basic concepts are a part of academic development through literacy and math, and they are also a high-frequency component of conversation.  Children are exposed to basic concepts everywhere. They are processing them through listening to parents or guardians in conversation, looking at books and toys, and seeing them everywhere in their environments!

Children at different stages learning basic concepts.

Examples of Basic Concepts

Within the home and classroom environments, parents and teachers provide instructions to children regularly for everyday tasks, transitions, activities, and general classroom routines. As such, they help children develop their expressive vocabulary and interact with the world more readily. These instructions are all examples of basic concepts. 

Additionally, there are several different categories of basic concepts. For example, at home, a guardian preparing their child for a fun, themed day at school may say, “Get your shoes on. Make sure they are two different shoes because today is supposed to be wacky Wednesday. If you can’t reach them beside the shelf, please just wait for me to grab them for you. They should be near the door.” This direction included several concept categories, including spatial (on, near, beside), time (Wednesday, wait), and comparison (different). 

Also, when transitioning to recess at school, a teacher may provide directions, “First stand up, push your little chair in, get your coats on, and last, line up at the blue door!” This is a 4-step direction, including at least five different basic concept categories: direction (up), time (first, last), size (little), spatial (on), color (blue).

Basic Concept Development Milestones

According to the LinguiSystems Milestones Guide (2008), concept development milestones by age consist of the following:



1-2 years

Direction: down, up

Quantity: another

Spatial: in, on, under

2-3 years

Adjectives: color, size

Categories: same, not the same

Quantity: one, many

Spatial: off, out of, together, away

Size: big, little

Time: soon, later, wait

3-4 years

Adjectives: colors

Comparison: both, same, different

Quantity: a lot, empty

Spatial: around, behind, beside, between, in front, next to

4-5 years

Adjectives: comparative and superlative (ex: small, smaller, smallest), different, thin, whole

Position: first, middle, last

Spatial: near, through

Time: yesterday, today, tomorrow, first, then, next, last week, next week, days of the week 

(LinguiSystems, 2008).

How you Can Help

Basic concepts can be targeted through everyday tasks and daily routines. Here are some simple teaching methods you can use with the child in your life:

  • Pair opposites through music and play. For “up and down”, you can practice songs such as Wheels on the Bus (“The people on the bus go…. up and down!). Or, during a play routine, you can use little figures or stuffed animals to make the animals jump up and down. If you do not have a toy, you can even use your body or help your child move their body to jump up and down!
  • Provide synonyms to concepts. A helpful strategy is to use exaggerated expressions. For example, you can use an ‘ELEPHANT’ voice to talk about BIG and LARGE and HUMONGOUS and use a ‘BABY’ voice to speak quietly for small and tiny and little.
  • Play spatial and direction games with props. With a ball, you can be silly and put a ball ON your head or NEXT TO your body. With Simon Says, you can say put your hands IN FRONT of your belly or BEHIND your back. 
  • Narrate during everyday routines to describe where things are. Instead of just pointing to feet, you can say, “Look! Your feet are UNDER The table! I can’t see them because they are hiding UNDER the table!”
  • Incorporate descriptive vocabulary by labeling and describing objects. In the grocery store, you can say, “Ooh, look at the apples! Do you like the RED apples that are red like a firetruck or the GREEN apples that are green like grass?”. On an outdoor walk, you can point to various vehicles and describe them, “Look! It’s a BLACK car! There goes a fast RED truck! The delivery truck is BROWN!”

All of these examples will help set your child up for success with basic concepts later in life–as they prepare for kindergarten and beyond!

About the Author

Ali Navia is an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist who provides speech therapy services to children and families throughout Philadelphia. Ali is experienced in working with all populations, from early intervention to skilled nursing facilities. She primarily works with children with developmental language delays and various diagnoses. Additionally, Ali enjoys creating individualized resources for each child’s learning style and interests to make communication fun, meaningful, and engaging. She is passionate about helping families optimize their child’s ability to communicate. She is experienced in supervising younger clinicians seeking certification in SLP. Ali is PROMPT-trained, PECS Level 1-trained and SOS feeding-trained.

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