9 Tricks To Improve Your Child’s Spatial Skills
1. Encourage active, physical exploration.
Experiments confirm that children perform better at spatial reasoning tasks when we permit them to explore and handle objects (Frick and Wang 2014; Slone et al 2018; Moore and Johnson 2020).
2. Seize everyday opportunities for spatial thinking and spatial talk.
Ask questions like these
● Which way does the sheet fit on the bed?
● Does the left shoelace go over or under—and which one is left?
● Will the groceries fit in one bag?
● Which shapes do I get if I cut my sandwich the other way—and will it still fit in the toaster?
Such questions get kids thinking about spatial relationships. And it also introduces them to essential vocabulary—words like “under” and “over,” “triangle” and “cube.” Learning such words can help children reason about spatial properties, and it may accelerate the development of spatial skills.
3. Provide kids with tools for building structures, and boost enthusiasm by getting involved yourself.
An array of evidence suggests that children develop better spatial skills when they build structures with blocks and other construction toys.
4. Introduce construction games that challenge kids to “match the design.”
Studies hint that a particular form of block play, called structured block play, may be especially valuable. This is when kids are shown the “blueprints” for a structure, and given a set of blocks to recreate it.
In experiments, 8-year-old children showed measurable improvements in their mental rotation abilities after just five, 30-minute play sessions.
Post-training, these kids also showed changes in brain activity, suggesting that that structured block play had changed the way they processed spatial information (Newman et al 2016). You can create your sessions of structured block play at home with wooden blocks or interlocking plastic blocks (like Lego or Mega Bloks).
5. Teach kids how to sketch shapes and diagrams
Teachers have long known that sketching can be an excellent way to learn. When we generate our illustrations of a structure, system, or concept, we come to understand it more deeply. True for learning scientific concepts, and it’s true for spatial concepts too. It’s much easier for kids to learn about shapes if they have practised drawing these shapes themselves! And the benefits of drawing continue throughout life.
6. Encourage children to use and create maps.
Maps of the familiar spaces that kids inhabit daily. For instance, experiments confirm that 4-year-olds can learn to interpret a map of their living room floor plan. They can use the map to show another person where, in the real room, they have hidden a toy (Shusterman et al 2008; Vasilyeva and Huttenlocher 2004).
7. Try Origami
Have you ever thought through the steps required to construct a box from a flat piece of cardboard? Or tried to predict how a paper object would look after folding one of its faces?
People who are good at such tasks—folding in the mind’s eye—have strong spatial skills. But what’s especially interesting is that “mental folding” ability predicts a student’s performance in STEM fields.
8. Expose kids to tangrams and other spatial puzzles.
Puzzle-solving ability and spatial intelligence are linked.
In an observational study, researchers tracked the behaviour of toddlers from the age of two and then tested the children’s spatial abilities when they were four and a half. The more frequently kids played with puzzles, the more likely they were to finish the study with high test scores (Levine et al 2011).
9. Encourage kids to use gestures when solving spatial problems.
Adults and children tend to solve problems more readily when they are allowed to gesture.
For example, in one experiment, people were better at performing mental rotation tasks when they were encouraged to use their hands (Chu and Kita 2011). And in another study, 5-year-olds who spontaneously gestured during spatial problem-solving were more like to get the right answer (Ehrlich et al 2006).
If you start a program of spatial skills training, don’t be discouraged if kids don’t show improvements right away. It may take 6 sessions or more before you notice a difference.