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Direction and position
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Direction and position: Teach toddlers 15 important concepts

Before age 5, children should learn concepts of direction and position at home. While their young minds absorb the world around them like a sponge, they should also be taught concepts of direction and position in everyday activities.

It is true that a lot of children learn these concepts naturally through observation. However, in many instances, children enter the school system struggling to understand simple instructions when they can’t tell the difference between before and after or left and right.

These concepts are crucial for preparing your child for learning the direction and position of letters, numbers, objects in crafts, and every life lesson in general. When teachers have to stop a lesson to teach direction and position, this slows the progress of your child academically. Don’t let your toddler be the one to keep back the class.

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This article offers tips for parents to teach their toddlers 15 important concepts of direction and position in the home. 

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15 crucial concepts of direction and position

1. Before and after

Teach before and after with letters, numbers, days, months and meals. Use charts, sing songs, and repeat the words before and after every chance you get. The concept should be understood as:

  • Letters – A comes before B and B comes after A
  • Numbers – 1 comes before 2 and 2 comes after 1
  • Days – Sunday comes before Monday and Monday comes after Sunday
  • Months – January comes before February and February comes after January
  • Meals – Breakfast comes before lunch and lunch comes after breakfast

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2. Up and down

The concept of up and down can be taught with objects that allow your child to look up and down. Say up and down at the beach, park, yard and playground every chance you get. Here are some things for you to teach the concept:

  • sky and sea
  • trees and plants
  • birds and fish
  • ladder and slide

3. In and out

Make teaching in and out fun with games that allow your child to understand the concept. Repeat in and out when referring to rooms, jugs and cups, bath time and food. Children can learn the concept of in and out daily with these activities:

  • entering and leaving a room
  • pouring juice out of a jug and into a cup
  • getting in and out of the tub
  • putting food in your mouth and taking out the spoon

4. Open and close

Use bed time as an opportunity to teach open and close. Say out loud the actions that involve open and close every night to your child. The concept would be understood when repeated. Say out loud when you open and close the:

  • bedroom door
  • toothpaste tube
  • bedtime storybook
  • eyes to wake and sleep

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5. Front and back

Children can identify front and back using their bodies and clothing on a daily basis. When it’s time to change clothes, you should repeat things that are at the front and back. Your words will be heard and the concept is learned quickly. Talk about things like:

  • face and back of head
  • chest and back of body
  • belly and bum
  • toes and heels
  • shin and calves
  • zip and tag of pants

6. In front of and behind

Teaching concepts of direction and position is a great way to introduce synonyms to your little one. Although in front of and behind have similar meanings to front and back, use the terms in appropriate contexts for your little one to understand the concepts properly. Repeat the terms in front of and behind when:

  • lining up toys
  • standing in a grocery line
  • looking for objects during a scavenger hunt
  • driving on the road and spotting other vehicles
  • describing the location of other persons in the room

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7. Above and below

Teach the concept of above and below using the bed, table and an umbrella. Speak about the things that are above and below these items continuously. Here are some things to talk about

  • light bulb and shoes in relation to the bed
  • chandelier and feet in relation to the table
  • dark clouds and your head in relation to the umbrella

8. Over and under

You can interchange above and below with synonyms over and under when teaching concepts of direction and position. The light bulb, chandelier and dark clouds are over things and the shoes, feet, and head are under them. You can even use these actions to demonstrate the concept:

  • pull the cover over your head and get under the cover
  • jump over the puddle and swim under the water
  • drive the car over the bridge while water runs under the bridge

9. Top and bottom

When packing away toys, books and groceries, you can teach top and bottom to your child. Use these opportunities to repeat the words top and bottom as you place items on the shelves. Dressing time is another great chance to teach it. Get your little one to say it with you so the concept can be practised like:

  • red toys go on top and blue ones at the bottom
  • cereal goes on top and canned peas at the bottom
  • small books go on top and big books at the bottom
  • t-shirts are called tops and pants are called bottoms

10. High and low

Teaching high and low is easy when you visit the playground regularly. Children understand the concept of high and low all too well when being pushed on a swing or playing on a slide. Even at home, they are told repeatedly to stop climbing so high and to get down low. You can use other situations to really drive home high and low by asking your toddler to:

  • identify whether birds and ants are high or low
  • raise your hands high up and low down
  • jump up high to hit a target
  • stoop down low to hide

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11. Left and right

Practise left and right as much as possible with your little one because there are adults who still struggle to tell the difference according to their direction and position. Teach your child to focus on his or her own hands and explain that everything falls either at the left or right side of their hands no matter their position. Use opportunities to teach left and right such as when:

  • crossing the street
  • identifying persons in a group photo
  • playing Simon says
  • doing crafts and sticking body parts on the left and right sides

12. Forward and backward

The concept of forward and backward is heavily used in school in all areas, so make sure that your child is ready for those instructions. Repeat the words forward and backward when doing things such as:

  • counting from 1 to 10 and 10 to 1
  • reversing out of the driveway and moving forward onto the street
  • instructing your child to pick up toys around the house
  • playing Simon says

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13. Near and far

Use the words near and far in your everyday speech so your child can grasp the concept easily. When you point in certain directions, take the opportunity to ask your toddler if an object or a person is near or far in relation to your position. You can do this when looking at:

  • ships in the distance and sandcastles on the shore
  • stars in the sky and learning toys in the home
  • cars far away that are driving toward you

14. Here and there

While you teach near and far, use the opportunity to introduce here and there at the same time. Near objects and people are here and when they are far, they are over there. Make sure to get your little one to tell you when something or someone is here and there also. Use these situations to teach here and there:

  • your home and the homes of the neighbours
  • toys in a box and the ones scattered in a room
  • when leaving one place to go to another
  • on a phone call, describe the weather here and ask how it is over there

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15. On and off

Another easy concept of direction and position to learn in everyday activities is on and off. Children are instructed daily to get things on and off of other things. Keep repeating the words on and off with activities that involve a surface such as:

  • getting on a chair
  • taking your feet off the couch
  • putting your feet on the ground
  • taking off your socks
  • putting on your clothes


Your child is an incredible listener and fast learner. Utilise these gifts as much as possible now and educate the little one with these important concepts of direction and position. Learning becomes easy for children who understand words relating to direction and position when following instructions in a classroom, on a football field and when crossing the street.

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