Basic Relationship Concepts Lead to Understanding Dimensions in Time, Space and Amount


A child's understanding of basic relationship concepts helps her organize her physical and mental experiences. Basic relationship concepts belong to a specific group of words that establishes a child's relationship with the physical world.

These are words some call direction words, or opposites.

They are much more than that.


They include aspects of sight, hearing and touch. Some are concrete, others abstract. Some require an understanding of perspective. Some, understood at one level, may baffle us when applied in another dimension.

For example, your preschooler may understand and function with the opposites,

top and bottom...

on a vertical plane.

Given a stack of three blocks, your child may be able to take the block at the top and place it at the bottom of the stack.

On the other hand, your child may not be able to use top and bottom on the horizontal plane on a page that has outlines of cars and toys on it.

Left, right, in, out, through, more, less, next to, between, beside, first, last, never, skip, always are but a few examples of basic concepts. There are many more.

These relationship concepts are the sense that an entering first grader who has little...or no experience...with these terms...will experience gaps in his or her preparation for learning.






It is essential that your child gain experiences with these specific words. They must be experiences...

that are real...

that are age appropriate...

that relate the concept to your child...

that include your child's environment...

that include pictures and photographs...

that are on a printed page...


the first day of kindergarten, if possible. If that time has passed, then definitely during the kindergarten year.

A quick explanation won't do!


A quick explanation won't close the gap in meaning and understanding! Nor will a one-time experience in an exercise.

Only repeated experiences with concepts used in instructional language will develop the depth and breadth needed to succeed in school.

I once had a Kindergarten teacher enrolled in a professional upgrading course I was teaching. She was a seasoned teacher.

In mid-October, she voiced the opinion that her current kindergarteners demonstrated serious, experiential, background deficiencies. It was the worst class of her career.

I suggested that she use a deliberate, basic relationship concept teaching strategy. My recommendation included materials she might use...that she spend no more than ten minutes, daily, at the task.

When the course ended in mid-April, I asked her how her students had progressed. She stated that this same group became

THE BEST GROUP, ........EVER  .... of her career!

What made the difference?


Initially, her group of students used the words...but they were only words. They really didn't understand them.

Usage does not equal understanding!


Do you wonder why your child doesn't follow through on your requests? Little children want to please. They can do so only to the level of their understanding of the words used in the directives we give them.

Frustration aside, do you ever wonder why your significant other can't find where things are...even when told plain language? What follows is a scenario that requires you to stop what you are doing to play "fetch."

You are getting ready for a special night out!

He says, (it's usually a HE who asks) "Hon! Where are my good socks?"

You say, "They are on the left hand side of the middle drawer, under your everyday socks."

He looks. Can't find them. He asks, again.

You tell him again.

He still can't find them.

With the third request you stop. Go upstairs. Open the middle drawer. There they are. Exactly where you told him they would be.

It's more than a "guy" thing! Little boys need repeated experience, at all levels, to understand the basic concepts used.

They need this much more than little girls do.

Does this explain, in part, why men hate to stop to ask for directions?

As the joke goes...They can't follow them!

One basic concept is easy enough to follow. When you have to process more than one concept...or a string of them...simultaneously...
the processing and understanding levels increase in difficulty.

This is so...despite the fact that the words used can be read, easily, by a good second grader.

What were the terms used to locate the socks: on, left, side, middle, under. Five of them.

Basic Concepts befuddle many of us.


When they are in a legal document, our lack of understanding forces us to pay a lawyer $400 an tell us what it means in plain English!

Perhaps this insight will explain why your house-warming guests arrive late...even with the help of a detailed map. And...aren't the excuses pretty much the same? "Joe turned left instead of right. He went a block too far and got hopelessly lost when he tried to backtrack. Of course, he refused to stop to ask for directions!"

In the classroom, the reality is that many of the basic relationship concepts are taught as sight words...words we learn to recognize instantly. Far too often, they are taught without meaning.


Because everybody uses them!

If they use them...

they know them!



From the first day of kindergarten, children are expected to understand basic relationship concepts...particularly those used in giving and following directions. It is assumed that kindergarten children understand them and use them appropriately.

If they can't, how is the problem viewed? For teachers, not following directions IS a big problem.

A case in point...

Take the basic relationship concepts top and bottom.

Your child may be able to place his socks in the top drawer and his T-shirts in the bottom drawer on laundry day.

In Kindergarten, he may be asked to write his name at the top of the page. Stumped!

Inadvertently, you may have said, "Write your name here," using your finger to show him where.

The teacher, intent on getting the written exercise underway, might do the same thing. She might even complain that she has to show him repeatedly...that he STILL doesn't know where the TOP of the page is.

Is that due to ability?     NO!

It simply means that the child hasn't experienced and understood how top works on a horizontal plane...using two-dimensional representation of real objects.

A red box and a blue box are the same in that they are boxes. They are different in terms of colour.

The child who doesn't understand the meaning of same and different won't be able to complete an exercise of that kind, successfully. Once again...lack of experience instead of lack of ability.

When children are asked how a mouse and an elephant are the same, the first response for many is, "They aren't the same!" Yet, they are mammals, they have hair, they have four legs, they sleep, they eat, they have eyes...and the list goes on.

The initial reaction is based on size. It's a clear demonstration of the level of experience, or thinking, of those children. Without question, those children will have difficulty classifying.

When teachers give instructions, they use basic relationship concept words, usually in multiples. Such is the nature of instructional language.


Children need to learn to develop problem-solving strategies to work through a set of instructions...

to comply with the teacher's request, successfully.

How many of us read through and understand the language used in the assembly of those awesome toys we buy for special occasions...that come in compact boxes? The ones we leave till Christmas Eve to assemble...after the children have gone to that the gift remains a surprise!

What if there were no pictures? Never mind the word for word translations from language X to English!!

Why teach words we use all the time? Because they are used whenever we tell someone...or are told...

what to...

when to...

why to...

where to...

how to...

who to....


In school, that's pretty much most of the time.

These words surround us in our work and in our leisure time activities, too.


The experiences must relate the concept to your child's body.

For example, "Touch the top of your foot. Touch the bottom of your foot."

The experiences must involve actual objects in your child's environment...both inside and outside of your home. "Touch the top of the drinking glass. Point to the bottom of the door. Where is the top of the basketball hoop? Point to it."

The experiences must include pictures from magazines, books, and photographs as two-dimensional representations of concrete objects.

Select clear imagery of the concept pairs you want to teach.

Basic relationship concepts involve sight, hearing, and touch. They may be associated with concrete objects or abstract ideas.

And, don't forget distance and perspective.

Baby rabbits are always in front of bigger rabbits to show they are small. If they are behind bigger rabbits, they may be further away, even though they are small, too!

How is sound associated with distance? The wafting sound of a band carried by a breeze implies being further away than the loud, in your face band, in a parade.

We take these ideas for granted. We can't expect young children to see what we see and hear what we hear.

We must teach them through a carefully crafted set of experiences!

The more these experiences explore the many levels of our usage and understanding of basic relationship concepts...

the better prepared YOUR child will be to build on those experiences.

That's the benefit YOUR help will provide in establishing the foundation of YOUR child's future.

A best way for basic relationship concepts to be understood is to present them in pairs...

as opposite...

or as logical extreme points on a continuum.

Hot and cold water is a case in point. If the water is taken above or below specific temperatures, there is a change in its physical properties.

Teach one set of basic concepts to a level of comfort BEFORE introducing a second set. That can take a few weeks...even with a bright child.

Slow...careful...deliberate work pays enormous dividends.

Not only will your child be comfortable with the thinking required to understand the set...your child will become very self-confident.

Whichever basic relationship concept set is chosen, it is important to work the set thoroughly...on as many levels as possible...while remaining age-appropriate.

Valid experiences that are mastered will set the stage for how your child is expected to think when the next basic concept set is introduced. The end result of that careful work is that the second set will be learned...

more easily...

in a shorter period of time.

The benefit won't only rest in your child. You'll feel pride in a job well done! You'll know that you have communicated, in a meaningful way, the VALUE you hold for education...a true expression of your love for your child.


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