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Basic Concepts - What Are They?

Another common question I get asked from parents is "what can I do to help right now?"  My goal is to blog many different ideas to help parents at home. 

(These suggestions and strategies should NOT be a replacement for speech and language therapy, but can be tried/used at home to increase your child's communication.)

What are basic concepts?

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! 

Now you ask, what are some of these basic concept words?
 (this list is not exhaustive)

• Basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink
• Directions - through, around, open, close
• Quantities - one, one more, less, more, most, few, many, some
• Sequences - first, next, after that, and finally, before, after,
• Shapes - circle, triangle, square, rectangle, diamond, oval, round
• Size - small, large, big, little, huge, tiny
• Social/Emotional States (feelings) - happy, sad, mad, angry, silly, surprised
• Textures - bumpy, rough, smooth, soft, prickly, hard
• Time - morning, afternoon, evening, late, early, today, tomorrow, week, month, year, day
• Spatial Relationships and Positions - on, off, in, out, under, in front, behind, top, bottom, up, down, inside, outside, high, low
Descriptions - loud, soft, hot, cold, fast, slow, new, old, empty, full, wet, dry

Now, why else are these "Basic Concepts" important?

What happens everyday at home and school?  Children are asked to do things!  Think about a typical morning at home.  It might look something like this.

"Good morning! Let's get up! Firstgo in and use the restroom, then brush your teeth, and after that we need to get dressed.  I put your red shirt and blue pants on the couch.  We have a busy day today!  Grandma is coming this afternoon! She is coming around 12:00 and we need to pick up the house!  Can you go get your newbrown boots and put them on the shelf in your closet? 

Okay, so I may be stretching it a little bit, but how many of the things to you say to your child in a quick conversation that include "basic concepts." In this home, the child would need to be able to follow 16 different basic concepts in a short 5 minute conversation!  Think about how many MORE basic concepts are used in playgroups, preschools, and elementary school.  Children's daily routines are filled with basic concepts.  Children need to be able to follow directions such as "sit on the blue square," "sit in a circle," "pick one green marker," "put on your jacket before we go out to play," etc.  

What Can You Do to Help?

It is important to know where to start.  Is your child using one or two words to communicate?  Are they not communicating verbally?  Or are they most often using sentences?  I often recommend that families slow it down and use simple language and short phrases or sentences.  If your child is having difficulty understanding and following directions, we need to take a step back and break up the amount of information we are giving them.  For example, if we want "Joey" to get dressed and brush his teeth, instead of giving him the direction all at once, we may make it a little simpler.  Instead of saying, "Joey, you need to get dressed, brush your teeth and then come to the table to eat breakfast," we could say "Joey, put shirt on.  Put pants on. Let's brush teeth." Adding to the steps after each one is finished.  

Other ways to teach basic concepts include:

Modeling descriptive words
Talk with your child about everything you see and hear!  In the grocery store, pick up the apple in the fruit section or have your child put it in the bag.  Direct their attention to what it looks like.  "Wow, this apple is red and round.  It looks like a circle.  Feel it.  It feels so smooth!"  While driving, talk about what you see and hear!  "Wow, did you hear that motorcycle?  It was loud!"  Look! Truck! It is big!"  Talk about the way things look and feel. 

Expand the way that you describe things
Vary the way you describe things.  It is important to expose children to a variety of words.  For example, if something is "small," you can use words like "little" or "tiny."  If something is "big" you can describe it by using the word huge. 

When talking about where things are or where your child can find something, try not to gesture, point, or look towards the item.  Use the basic concept words - over, under, on, in, and off.

Ask "wh" questions and encourage your child to ask questions!  "Wh" questions are questions that start with "what," "where," "when," "why," and "how."  Many times, these questions require a basic concept as a response.  For example, the question "what is it?" could lead to the answer "big blue ball.  The question "where is the ball?" could lead to the answer "under the table."  If your child is not yet answering "wh-questions" you can model the expected response for them.  This would look something like this:

Parent: "Joey, what's this?"
Joey: Doesn't answer
Parent: "Blue ball"

Play games
Playing games are a great way to teach "basic concepts."  Some ideas are listed below:

Candyland - talk about the colors, the number of spaces you were able to move, what the different candies would taste like

Guess Who - This is a game for older children, but a great way to work on describing words and asking questions.  Children can use questions like "does your person have brown hair?"  "Does your animal have four legs?"

Hide and Seek (with a twist) - Have your child pick a favorite toy.  You and him/her can take turns hiding the toy in the room you are in.  You can work on counting while the person who turn it is hides the toy.  Then the person who hid the toy can give clues.  "It's under something."  If your child does not know what "under" means, explore it with them.  You could say "let's look under the couch!  Is it under the couch? No!  Let's keep looking!  Is it under the chair? No!  Let's keep looking"

Memory - Have your child describe each picture that they turn over.  It can be as simple as "red ball" or as elaborate as "a doll with a short, pink and yellow dress"

Remember, Basic Concepts are everyday, common words that are critical to your child's speech and language development and academic success!  They are words that you can teach through modeling, talking, reading, playing games and even singing.  Start by incorporating a few of these words into your everyday language and use them often! 

Wiig, E. H. (2004). Wiig assessment of basic concepts®. Greenville, SC: Super Duper® Publications.

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