Visual spatial skills are crucial to a child’s academic and social development.
But they’re often under-developed in schools, and usually aren’t the primary focus at home, with increasing rates of inactivity and screen time.
That’s why, today, we’ll be breaking down exactly what visual spatial skills are, why they’re so important, and how you can help your kids develop the spatial intelligence they need to unlock their full potential.
So, what are visual spatial skills?
Visual spatial skills refer to how we understand and process the relationship between different objects and space — it’s about looking at an object and thinking about how it relates to a particular area.
A great example of this in action is when us adults drive our cars.
Out on the road, we have to constantly monitor how our cars (the object) are navigating different spaces (roads, crossings) in order to keep us safe. If we didn’t use our spatial skills when driving, we’d be in pretty big trouble.
Thankfully, your child shouldn’t be driving anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t already using visual spatial skills in their everyday life.
In math, particularly, kids have to observe how numbers and symbols (the visual objects) are organized on a page (the space they exist within) to answer different sums. They also have to use spatial intelligence to understand topics like measuring, shapes, and patterns.
Away from the classroom, visual spatial skills help children right from the beginning with things like learning how to walk, playing with toys, reading books, and putting pen to paper.
You see, when we break it down, spatial intelligence is one of the most important skills a child needs. But how can you develop and improve your kid’s spatial awareness? Read on to find out.
How to improve visual spatial skills in your kids
Now you know what visual spatial skills are — and why they’re so important to a young person’s development — let’s go ahead and break down how you can improve them across your child’s early years.
Developing visual spatial skills in preschoolers (0-5 years old)
At this stage, kids always learn best by playing.
A good way of incorporating spatial intelligence into the fun and games is by starting with shapes and pattern matching activities.
For example, you could create a pattern with colored cards, and ask your child to re-create that same pattern using their own cards. This will teach them how to build patterns with shapes and color, which will help to develop their spatial awareness more broadly.
You could also cut out different shapes (circles, triangles, squares) and ask your child to match the cut-out to its original place. This, again, will help to develop their visual spatial skills, reinforcing how different objects can fit into different spaces.
Jigsaw puzzles (which you can download here) are also a great way of showing your child how shapes can form a larger picture when pieced together, which will, over time, teach them how to navigate smaller, more intricate parts of bigger areas.
Developing visual spatial skills in elementary children (5-10 years old)
Between the ages of 5-10 years old, you want to really elevate the way you teach spatial awareness. Having fun and playing games is still key to this, but you should aim to be a little more explicit in how they relate to space.
Building blocks, for example, provide a very clear demonstration of how objects and shapes can work together in multiple ways. And as children rotate, position and piece together blocks to form new shapes, their spatial skills should significantly develop.
Lego is a good example of how to keep building blocks relevant beyond just the first few years. There are some really interesting and elaborate concepts your children can build, which should keep them invested in shape-related fun, right up to ten years old and beyond.
Aside from playing, language is also very important at this interim stage.
You should aim to use space related vocabulary as much as you can, like ‘over’, ‘through’, ‘above’ and ‘around’. This will slowly teach your child how objects and shapes can interact with one another, and give them the language to recognize and identify that.
Developing visual spatial skills in middle and high school children (10+ years old)
When children head into middle and high school, the options really open up for how they can develop their spatial intelligence.
Sport, for example, offers a great opportunity to expand on a lot of the skills you’ve already taught your kids, but take them to that next level.
Soccer, basketball, tennis and even swimming, will each put your kids’ visual spatial skills to the test, as they learn how to navigate space in a more strategic and considered way.
Advanced board games, like chess, will also teach your children how to use and grow their spatial awareness, alongside other skills like problem solving, competitiveness and analytical thinking.
And if your child would rather play video games… for once, this might not be such a bad idea. Working through challenging obstacles and complex virtual worlds is a surprisingly effective way of improving a child’s spatial intelligence.
That said, activities like drawing, and getting out in the real world for map-led expeditions, will also achieve great results. So, maybe you shouldn’t go so easy on those video games, after all.
The bottomline here is that developing your child’s visual spatial skills can come in many forms, particularly as they get older and head into middle and high school. Take advantage of those opportunities, and your child will be all the better for it.
A step in the right direction…
Improving your child’s visual spatial skills isn’t as tricky as it might first sound. Incorporate shapes into playtime, support your child as they learn, and you’re already heading in the right direction.
Keep this in mind, and don’t worry too much about whether you’re doing something right or wrong; any space or shape-related task will be beneficial to your child’s development.
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