Back in 2014, Elizabeth wrote a post about helping a child to understand the prepositions in, on and under. (I can’t believe it was that long ago!!) You can find that post here. Once your child is able to understand and use these in sentences, you may want to move on to other position words. The process for teaching them is very similar to what is described in that post, but there are some slight differences.
Usually when working on speech and language targets, I suggest that people sit opposite the child to encourage eye contact. Teaching behind and in front is an exception to this! Imagine you have a box in front of you. “Behind the box” is going to be in a different place depending on which side of it you are sitting. This is very confusing so make sure that your behind is the same as their behind!! (There’s a sentence that sounds interesting out of context!)
Also, start by using places that have a clear front and back to make it easier. For example, a doll’s house or even your sofa at home if you don’t mind things being put behind it! It is likely to be easier for a child to understand how “behind the house” is different from “in front of the house” than it is with an item which could go any way round such as a box or table. You can move on to the harder ones later.
Teach these words one at a time. I usually start with behind.
- First of all, use a range of objects of toys (Lego minifigures often go down well but do make sure they don’t get so well-hidden that you can’t find them again!) Tell the child that you are going to play a hiding game. Tell them where to put each one. Eg “put Batman behind the house” or “put Elsa behind the wardrobe”. As they pull each one out again say “oh look, he was behind the house”… If your child finds this difficult, you could try putting lots of things behind the child first of all.
- Once they are able to do this consistently, mix them up between in, on, under and behind. Remember – they should already have a secure understanding of in, on and under before you do this, so although they have to listen carefully to which word you are saying, only one of the concepts should be new.
- Once they are able to do this as well, then you are ready to start encouraging them to use the word “behind” as well. You can play a similar game but encourage them to give instructions to you as well. Alternatively, you could hide some items ahead of time and see if your child can find them, and tell you where they were. Most young children love this game!
Here are a few other ideas to help with understanding and using prepositions.
- Play hide and seek with your child. Hopefully you have at least one thing in the house that they can hide behind (a door, a shower curtain….) See if your child can hide in the places that you suggest. See if they can suggest somewhere for you to hide too!
- Get them to help you clean! There are lots of opportunities to go behind things – “what’s behind the sofa” etc.
- When looking at books, talk about where the people in the pictures are. “oh look, the duck is behind the tree” etc.
- Go for a walk. Look behind various items as you go to see what you can find – behind the tree, behind the bench, behind the gate etc.
Once your child has a secure knowledge of behind, go through the same steps again to teach in front and then next to. You can also do other position words in the same way – between, near etc.