Learning positional words and terms like over, under, beside, in front of, behind, between, etc. is an important preschool skill for children ages two to four. Not only do children develop spatial awareness – where an object exists in space in relation to them - by practicing this skill they are also learning the fundamentals of early math.
Teaching positional words begins when a child is a toddler during everyday experiences. “Where is the ball? There it is under the chair!” Children begin to absorb and process this vocabulary at a very early age, even if they cannot yet express the term themselves. Early exposure to terms like up and down begins in infancy. On top, under, and behind are naturally added on as parents begin helping toddlers find objects they are looking for, and across, between, and in the middle are more advanced concepts that most three-year-olds can grasp.
The initial process of teaching positional words must occur with real objects in the child’s environment. While worksheets are great for assessing and reinforcing an older preschooler’s knowledge, children are concrete learners – meaning new concepts simply don’t make sense to them unless they can touch and manipulate something to learn. The best way to teach positional words is through practice. Five minutes, a toy, and a container (box, bowl, or basket) are all you need.
“Put the ball in the basket.”
“Put the ball beside the basket.”
“Put the ball on the floor.”
“Put the ball behind the basket.”
Remember to speak clearly and emphasize the positional word. If your child struggles or puts the toy in the wrong place, smile and show them where you want it, emphasizing the word again. “Behind. See? The ball is behind the basket. Now you try.” Use lots of praise and smiles so that your child will want to play this game with you again. Keep it short – about five minutes for a two-year old, and ten minutes or as long as interest holds for an older child. Feel free to repeat the game throughout the day as your child is interested.
With an older preschooler you can advance the positional word concepts even more by introducing the words right and left. My wife plays a “game” with our five-year-old as they put away laundry. The dresser in our bedroom has nine drawers arranged in three rows side-by-side. She gives our son directions such as “Put Daddy’s socks in the top middle drawer. Put my pants in the bottom left drawer.” Although I don’t particularly like playing this game (Nolan hates laundry), our son loves it. He doesn’t realize he is not only processing a three-step direction (another early math skill), he is learning spatial awareness as he holds out his left hand, trying to locate the correct drawer using two positional words.
Once your older preschooler (three to five years) is successful with basic positional words, he/she can demonstrate their skills with a worksheet. Kidcareshop on Kidcarescout.com has fun, engaging activities that can be used to reinforce and assess what your child knows. Check out our “Genie’s PositionalWords” packet to have fun with your child while they show off all they’ve learned.
Learning positional words begins early, but you can get your child ahead of the game with just five minutes, a basket, and your smile. Let’s do some laundry!
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