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How to Teach Your Kids Positional Language with Activities and Games

Here are some fun ways to teach your kids positional language in a way they will remember.

What is Positional Language?

Positional language words refer to where things are positioned or where they appear in relation to other things.

We also call these “prepositions,” and you may have memorized a list of these words at some point in school.

Teaching your kids this positional vocabulary through games and activities will help them grasp the concepts and give them some early mathematics and geography skills.

Having an understanding of position in space and how things are positioned relative to each other is part of a child’s visual perception and cognitive development.

Racoon showing several positions related to a cardboard box

Examples of Positional Language

Some prepositions, such as “for” or “since,” are rather abstract concepts for young children so it’s best to use language games and activities to teach prepositions of place at first.

These kinds of positional language words are quite easy to illustrate with hands-on examples.

Positional words for kids to learn include the following:

  • above
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • beneath
  • beside
  • between
  • by
  • close (to)
  • down
  • far (from)
  • in
  • inside
  • near
  • next to
  • off
  • on
  • outside
  • over
  • through
  • under
  • up
  • with

How do You Teach Positional Language?

These are words we use and model all the time, but how do you teach positional language words to preschoolers in a direct way?

You have probably seen the type of worksheets where children attempt to circle the correct picture to show an understanding of phrases like “on the chair,” for instance.

Although this may seem like a good way to teach an idea, there are far better ways for children to learn these concepts. Kids are hands-on, learning with their bodies as they experience life. Because of this, games and other activities are the most meaningful for teaching children vocabulary of any kind.

Children need to experience placing something on a chair, drawing something on a chair, or sitting on the chair, themselves.

Fun Positional Language Activities and Games

You can teach positional language to preschool children through many different types of experiences. Choose from options such as games, listening activities (like sharing picture books), skits, songs, finger plays, and art.

Watch this video for a summary of the activities and games or read them below.

Positional Language Games

Interactive positional language games involve young children in the process of using language, while moving, touching, and experiencing positions. Choose from the following fun options.

Hide the Teddy Bear

Hide a teddy bear or other favourite toy somewhere in the room. Ask your child to look for it.

When they find the toy, they must explain in positional language where they found it, such as “under the table.” Children can take turns hiding the bear.

This game may also be played in reverse, with you stating aloud or showing a task card with a chosen positional word. Children must then follow the direction to place the teddy bear accordingly.

Girl hiding behind teddy bear

Barrier Drawing Game

In barrier games, children sit on the floor or at a table with some type of barrier between them so they cannot see each other’s papers or drawings.

Part of the drawings may already exist, such as an image of a snowman. You can also ask the children to each draw a snowman, to encourage their creativity.

To build background, begin with sharing a picture book that includes a snowman.

Then name various objects and where they should be placed, such as, “please draw a hat next to the snowman.”  Kids must follow directions and add a hat to their drawings in the correct position.

They can also take turns giving directions for drawing objects in named places in the pictures. At the end, remove the barrier so children can compare drawings.

Sally Says

This is another version of Simon Says, which avoids the aspect of players not doing something because Simon did not say to do so.

“Sally,” or the current leader’s name, gives the other players movement directions that include positional words. “Sally says put your hand on your head,” for example.

Include “left” and “right” for even more challenges. Children take turns playing the part of the leader.

Positional Language Songs

Music helps to form a connection between body and mind for learning. This makes music a strong choice to practise positional words with children. Check out the following kids’ favourites.

Grover Around

Share this vintage Sesame Street music video, “Grover Around,” with kids. With the help of a fun song and set of swinging doors, lovable Grover works very hard to make sure young viewers understand positional language words, “over,” “around,” “under,” and “through.”

In On Under Song

Join the English Vitamin Bubbles to encourage learning with music. Through animation, kids learn a catchy tune and practise positional words, “in,” “on,” and “under.”

The words appear in print on the screen, adding another dimension to the experience.

Five Little Ducks

Often a preschool favourite, an animated version of Five Little Ducks reinforces the positional words, “over” and “far.” As a bonus, children also practise counting 1-5, forwards and backwards.

Picture of 5 little ducks around a pond

Positional Language Cut and Stick

Kids love glue sticks and scissors, so use that inclination for cut and stick positional language fun. You can find many printable cut and stick activities for positional language words online.

Here are some project ideas that you can do with recycled materials, a printer, and quality children’s literature.

Snips from Magazines and Catalogs

Offer saved magazines and catalogues to children for cutting. Ask them to snip out pictures of specific things, such as a toy, snack, person, pet, and furniture.

Give them each an illustrated background sheet to colour, possibly picturing a room, or have them each draw their own pictures of rooms. Then direct them to glue their objects in certain positions: “Please stick your toy on the floor,” for example.

It’s in the Book!

Many picture books contain aspects related to positional words. You can find many lists of these books online.

One such book is A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes. Any book you find that contains a focus on at least a few positional language words can work, however.

Make copies of a rather plain page from your chosen book for scenery and a sense of place. Design and copy a page of characters or objects based on your book for the children to cut.

Either ask them to glue in positions as instructed by the story or get them to place the cut objects/characters on the page in certain positions that you choose.

For example, to go along with A Parade of Elephants, give kids a sheet with five elephants to colour, cut, and stick in stated positions (up, down, over, under, in, and out) on a background. Here’s a link to a video of Kevin Henkes reading his book!

Where’s the Worm?

From your paper scraps box, retrieve multiple colours for paper apples and rainbow worms of target colours. Model for your kids how to cut a large apple and smaller, multi-coloured worms.

Direct them to glue the apples near the centre of large paper sheets. Then ask them to stick the “red worm above the apple,” for instance, following suit with all the other worms.

Positional Language Finger Plays

Fingerplays include movement, rhyme, and chanting or singing. Because of the movement aspect, positional language words are often a part of these enjoyable activities.

Young boy reciting a finger rhyme

The following are some preschool favourites.

Eensy Weensy Spider

Teach your kids about “up” and “down” with this cute finger play based on a modern nursery rhyme. Alternate versions may use “itsy bitsy” or “incy wincy,” but the positional words remain the same. Here are the words and directions if you choose not to use the video:

The eensy weensy spider
Climbed up the water spout. (Crawl fingers up)
Down came the rain (Wiggle fingers down)
And washed the spider out. (Brush hands to side)

Out came the sun (Circle arms above head)
And dried up all the rain.
And the eensy weensy spider (Crawl fingers up again)
Climbed up the spout again.

Wiggle Worms

Children use fingers or short strips of brown yarn for the “worms.” This fingerplay contains many positional language words and is great for reinforcing the concept of rhyme, as well.

Wiggle your worms up, then wiggle them down.
Wiggle your worms around and around.

Wiggle them high, wiggle them low.
Wiggle them fast, wiggle them slow.

Wiggle them over the tops of your toes.
Wiggle them under the tip of your nose.

Wiggle them up your arm to the top
Wiggle them down to your fingers and stop.

Wiggle your worm ‘cross the top of your head,
Then put your worm back in his own little bed.                                                                                

by Jean Warren

This is My Turtle

Here is a simple finger play for youngsters to practise “in” and “out.” They are often intrigued by turtles and sharing a picture book about these reptiles is also a fun addition.

This is my turtle.
(Make a fist, extend thumb)

He lives in a shell.
(Hide thumb in fist)

He likes his home very well.

He pokes his head out when he wants to eat.
(Poke thumb out of fist)

And pulls it back in when he wants to sleep.
(Pull thumb back into a fist)

You can find books at the library about fingerplays, such as Hand Rhymes by Marc Brown, or try some of these fingerplays too.

Consider the activities you normally do during a day with preschoolers. You can find many natural opportunities to talk about and reinforce positional language words, such as waiting in lines, cleaning up, playing outdoors, and generally having fun!

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