This article may contain affiliate links.


I hate to “let the cat out of the bag” or “turn you off,” but I “smell a rat” and I would like to “spill the beans” and “bend over backwards” to let you know that there is, what I call, a Secret Society of Idioms.

You don’t have to pay for membership or take an oath to join, but if you receive an invitation to this society, you might have the key for entry. Many of children with various language isms have not received an invitation or, better yet, the key for entry into understanding idioms.

What is an Idiom?

What is an idiom?  It’s a set expression of two or more words that means something other than the literal meaning of its individual words. Idioms are very much like the phrases in quotations above.  We use idioms so much during the day that we don’t really think about it. We, as family or friends of individuals with various isms, need to consider these idioms throughout the day and use idioms as a teaching tool.

However, we have to provide this “invitation” with a key to open the door to this Secret Society of Idioms. Many children with language isms tend to be very concrete or visual thinkers.  You can imagine how the use of idioms can be confusing and sometimes downright strange.

Confusing Idioms

One day in my classroom, someone came in from outside and declared, “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” A student sprang out of his chair and ran to the window and stated, “I only see rain.”

Another mom shared that she was viewing a bakery counter full of goodies and told her son, “That cookie has your name written all over it.” The child looked curiously into the bakery window and turned to his mom and said, “I don’t see my name written on any of the cookies.”

I’ve asked students to “take a seat” only to turn around and see them carrying a chair instead of sitting down.

I am sure you can think of other examples of times when idioms or figures of speech have caused confusion in your child’s life. Sometimes, I have to google-search phrases that I have heard in order to understand the background or history of the saying.

Immersion Unlocks the Door

Some experts warn against using idioms when talking with children who are concrete thinkers. However, I believe that not exposing children to idioms can be a disservice to them. After all, children will be exposed to them at school and in the community.  We should take opportunities to use idioms and then provide the “key” by explaining them.

You might not want to start this at a preschool level.  However, whenever you feel your child is ready, use an idiom here and there and explain it at your child’s level. Some idioms are very easy to teach to a visual or concrete learner and some are more challenging. Start with idioms that are easier so that your child might like this game of learning something fun.  Consider it a secret language.

Ideas to Learn about Idioms

On the Web

I recently found a website that has a game called Paint by Idioms.  The child chooses a theme and then an idiom is listed. Several answers are given. If the child clicks on the correct answer, then a little bit of a cartoon character is colored. The child continues learning various idioms until the cartoon character is fully colored.


Idioms and their Origins offers 111 famous phrases.  Discover more in the widget below.


Another way to teach idioms is by obtaining books written specifically for children which explain idioms. You’d be surprised how many of those are readily available.  Below you will find a few of my favorites.

Order one or two of these book and bring it to the dinner able each night.  Select one idiom and discuss it as a family.  Parents, you may just discover a new idiom or three that you did not know about!

Back to Immersion

Personally, I think the optimal way is to immerse children in learning about idioms.  Have those close to your child simply use idioms as they normally would and just take a moment to explain why we use that saying.

For example, if your child can’t sit still, say, “You’ve got ants in your pants,” and then explain exactly what that means.

If your child has more questions about understanding the specific figure of speech, you may have to draw pictures to help him visualize the saying. Create an idiom notebook to have on hand for such occasions.

By teaching your child idioms you are providing him with the key to understanding idioms.  Teaching understanding will help your child in future conversations.  He will no longer feel left out of the “secret society” as he will have the key!