Basic Concepts: Milestones & Tips for Kids

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams

Basic concepts are tools that enable a child to make sense of the world. They help the child to explore the world in a logical way and enhance the child’s ability to understand properties such as direction, location, position, number, quantity, sequence, attributes, dimension, size, similarities, differences etc.

The Importance of Basic Concepts

Basic concepts assist children in their ability to follow instructions. They also help the child to be more specific in its choice of words. They help children understand and follow instructions[i]. Basic concepts are also necessary for early success at school. They help the child to read and write better. They help the child to become better communicators.

Classification of Concepts

The objects and surroundings of a child can have various attributes and properties. Concepts too are of various types, depending on the attribute being referred to. They can be broadly be classified as 1. Spatial (location), 2. Temporal (time), 3. Quantitative (number), 4. Qualitative (description) and 5. Social-Emotional (feelings). In the early stages, children tend to learn many of these concepts in pairs[ii].

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Paired Concepts: Marked and Unmarked

In a paired concept for e.g., ‘thick’ and ‘thin’, one is a ‘Marked Concept’ while the other is an ‘Unmarked Concept’. The marked concept has more distinctive attributes and is usually grasped more easily by the child. For example, ‘thick’ is easier to illustrate visually and more easily understood by the child. Therefore in the above pair, ‘thick’ is the marked concept. The anti of the marked concept, that is usually understood later by the child, is known as unmarked concept. In the above example, ‘thin’ is the unmarked concept.

Research has shown that the marked concepts are receptive as well as expressive, and hence are easier to understand for a child as compared to the unmarked concepts which are only receptive. For example, the concept of ‘short’ is visually more difficult to illustrate and is only receptive. It will be easier for a child to understand the pair, if we first introduce ‘tall’ and introduce ‘short’ in relation to ‘tall’.

Watch Ira Explanatory Video on Big and Small Basic Concept
General Guideline

In a paired concept start with the marked concept and then move on to the unmarked concept while teaching your child.

The Right Age

The children usually start learning concepts from around the 2 year mark. A child with the right kind of exposure, is usually aware of the concepts listed below, by the age of five.

Paired Concepts: MARKED / UNMARKED

Parents should note that the focus must always be on the understanding and not speaking out the terms listed above. A child must have a firm grasp of the concepts receptively, even if the expressive ability lags a bit. In other words, the child should understand what they mean even if they are not using them while speaking, but not the other way around.

Building Blocks necessary for the development of Concepts

In order to develop a good understanding of concepts, a child needs to have certain basic and foundational abilities. These abilities are essential for acquiring a good understanding of concepts.

1. Listening

A child must have adequate listening capabilities and parents need to make sure that this important skill is well-developed.

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2. Attention and Concentration

The ability to sustain efforts and do tasks without distraction is a key skill. Children need this skill to hold on to their efforts until the completion of tasks. Read this blog to know more about tips on how to improve concentration in kids. An incomplete task usually implies incomplete adaptation of a concept in the child’s mind. 

3. Play Skills

Children by and large do not need prompting to engage in play related activities. These activities need not always be goal oriented. Play activities provide pleasure and enjoyment to the kid and also serve as great methods for teaching. Children volunteering for play activities is a step towards enhanced learning. Read this blog to understand the importance of play in early childhood

4. Receptive Language

Basic comprehension of language is important. The understanding of language begins much before expression. In the early stages of development, a child knows a lot more than what they can say. For example, he/she may not be able to speak the names of members of the extended family but can recognise them when asked. In fact, a child generally understands up to five times more than what he/she speaks.

Is your child having trouble understanding concepts?

If your child is facing difficulty in understanding the basic concepts, he/she may show certain symptoms in its daily routine [iii]:

1) Following instructions

A child with a lack of proper understanding of concepts will find it difficult to complete his/her tasks. The child may seem confused about the instructions and often leaves the task incomplete.

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2) Proper use of concepts 

The child may use incorrect concepts in his/her language, despite repeated corrections over many months. For example, “The ball is up the table” instead of, “The ball is on the table.”

3) Lack of Vocabulary 

Children who do not understand concepts may use vague statements to refer to objects, such as ‘this one’ or “that one’” or use pointing (non-verbal) gestures. Children with good conceptual understanding are precise in their expressions such as, “that big ball” or “this empty box”.

4) Drawing pictures

The inability to understand and interpret pictures can imply a poor imagination.

5) Puzzle Completion

The lack of imagination also leads to poor performance in puzzle solving. If basic concepts remain blurred in the child’s mind, the child may find it difficult to visualize scenarios and arrive at a solution.

6) Problem Solving

The child who has a poor understanding of concepts may face difficulties in identification of a problem, formation of strategies and the performance for solving it.

7) Literacy

The child may also display serious shortcomings in reading and writing. If the child does not understand what he/she is reading or writing, it may lose further interest and motivation, and lag behind in many aspects of cognitive development.

Tips to improve the child’s understanding of concepts

While a majority of children learn concepts through incidental learning, a structured teaching of the concepts helps in reinforcing the true and complete nature of these concepts. Incorporating concepts in the day-to-day language is helpful because children learn by listening to adults and by following instructions. Children who have difficulties in understanding concepts need repeated exposure in an intentional manner.

1. Modelling Grammar 

When the child speaks in an incorrect manner, correct them immediately. For example, if the child says “The one up the table”, we must correct it to “The one on the table.”

2. Physical Modelling

Before asking the child to carry out instructions, parents must act out the instructions so that the child may see and observe what the concept means.

3. Providing Step-by-Step Instructions

Providing a step-by-step description of an activity helps the child understand better. For instance, when the child is asked to put the toys in the box, it is helpful to break the activity down into multiple steps such as, “Pick up the toys”, “Go towards the toy box” and “Put the toys in the box”.

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4. Emphasize ambiguous terms

Parents should lay special emphasis on terms which have multiple usages or meanings. Repeated usage of such terms help children come to terms with the fact that there are multiple meanings of the same word. For example, “Turn on the lights” and “The ball is on the table”.

Suggested Activities for Parents

Here are a few activities to enhance the understanding of concepts in children:

1. Reading Storybooks

Storybooks are an efficient method to improve the visualization capability in children and have many other benefits. Read this blog to know tips about Reading Books for Kids

2. Playing Games and Following Instructions

Games and instructions teach the child about the practical uses of concepts. Games like ‘Hide and Seek’ or ‘Scavenger Hunt’ can be quite useful. Parents may drop hints such as “The teddy may be under the table!”. They may ask questions such as “Where were you hiding?” and encourage the child to provide specific answers such as, “Behind the curtain” or “In the cupboard”. This blog will give you ideas about baby games to play with your kids

3. Singing Songs

There are many preschool songs and rhymes such as, “If you are happy and you know it”, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall” or “Ring a Ring o’ roses”, that are related to basic concepts. Play-acting these songs and rhymes will help the child understand the meaning of these concepts, in an entertaining way.

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4. Real-life Objects

For young children or those having difficulties in understanding concepts, real-life objects work well. For example, using clothes to teach the concept of ‘wet/dry’ or showing cars on the road to teach the concept of ‘fast/slow’.

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