Children, and adults, interact with their surroundings every day. Whether we have to go somewhere, reach for some object, drive a bike, or even write, we need to have spatial awareness.
Have you noticed that your kid often bumps into things? ”They’re quite clumsy,” you tell yourself.
Or maybe he or she gets confused when you ask them where their favorite toy is? Perhaps you have noticed that your child has a hard time climbing or playing on their own on the playground? If so, he might have a spatial awareness difficulty.
Hopefully, by understanding more about spatial awareness; how it develops, and how to improve it, you’ll be on your way to solve this problem.
What is spatial awareness
Spatial awareness is a cognitive skill that most children learn at an early age without any apparent struggle. It seems pretty basic. Nevertheless, some children need help to acquire it.
This thinking skill helps children understand objects in their environment; the relationship between objects in regards to their positions.
Every child is unique in their own way. The spatial awareness problem isn’t rare or uncommon.
Also, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child’s development isn’t right. It’s absolutely natural for children to learn at their own pace, and some children simply acquire the spatial concept later than others.
How to recognize poor spatial awareness in kids then?
You may notice the difficulty when you’re warning your child of approaching potential danger.
For example, you’re telling your kid “watch out behind you”, his friend is about to hit his bicycle from behind. Your kid should have an immediate understanding of where his friend’s bike is in relation to his body and within space, to be able to move to safety instantly.
In case your child doesn’t instantly decipher ”behind,” he won’t know where to move to avoid the crash with his friend’s bicycle. He may even freeze and stand in shock, or look around, but he doesn’t understand from where the danger is coming.
Other ways to identify a Spatial Awareness problem.
Of course, maybe that was an accident. Another way you can identify the spatial awareness problem: if you direct your kid to find something, and he fails to understand the position of that object in space.
For instance, you tell your child that his favorite toy is behind the toy box in the living room. He wants to find it, but he just stays without any action and stares at a blank. Your child understands the words “toy box” and “living room,” but he doesn’t understand “behind” and “in.”
Children with spatial concept difficulties don’t recognize the critical directional words as an indicator to where something is in a given space.
Still not sure?
Here are the final indicators to settle the issue:
• Troubles in giving the location of something they see, feel, or hear.
• Problems with navigating through their surroundings.
• Issues with estimating distances to objects– when walking or reaching for objects.
• Having trouble with following directions.
• Mixing up directions, left with right or up with down.
• In later childhood; difficulty with reading, writing, or mathematics.
• Reduced perception of personal space, resulting in either standing too close or too far away from persons and objects.
• Poor coordination when catching or throwing objects.
• Can’t get dressed on their own.
You also might intuitively just know that your child has a spatial awareness problem.
Poor spatial awareness isn’t all bad
Having said that, poor spatial awareness isn’t all about downsides.
One of the benefits of this problem is that kids tend to have powerful auditory memory skills. These kids have a great memory, and they memorize everything they hear.
This is especially noticeable when teachers use multisensory teaching methods in the classroom.
Kids with spatial awareness issues actually outperform other children in verbal skills. They also have exceptional verbal and non-verbal reasoning abilities.
Reasons for poor spatial awareness
Some health conditions may impact spatial awareness development, including:
• partial or total blindness
• autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• cerebral palsy(CP)
Besides medical conditions, there are numerous other reasons. Possibly your child became ill during a critical phase of development and missed out on the opportunity to acquire this skill.
Another reason could be too much screen time, or that your kid hasn’t had enough chance to explore and learn this skill with his own experience for some other reason.
Importance of good spatial awareness for kids
Spatial awareness is important because it allows your child to be conscious of things in his surroundings and his position relative to them.
The foremost important benefit of good spatial awareness is the ability to be safe.
Spatial awareness is related to many other activities, and it’s essential for other reasons as well:
With good spatial awareness, your kid will be able to give context to the place of objects. For instance, he or she will know what behind the door or in front of the door means.
This skill will help your child identify how people or objects move through the scene. It will help him navigate through the environment.
Spatial awareness has an impact on social functions such as the maintenance of personal space.
• Reading and writing
Spatial awareness is necessary for understanding the structure of sentences and grammar. It’s essential for writing as well, so children understand where to begin the sentence.
Some of the mathematical concepts require spatial awareness. For example, this skill is essential for geometry and ordering or arranging numbers.
Spacial awareness is strongly tied with the concept named proprioception.
Proprioception is a fancy term that refers to the perception of your body and limbs in your environment.
When children aim to grab a toy, they use proprioception to gauge how much to stretch in order to reach the desired object. Spatial awareness is vital for estimating the distance between yourself and the desired object.
How is spatial awareness initially learned?
Most of the children acquire this skill while they are still babies, without any help from adults.
The baby who is just learning to grab a toy is learning this skill with a hit-or-miss method. The baby learns where his limbs are in space and how far he needs to extend to reach the toy.
Every attempt a baby takes to reach an object, adds more information to his brain about the number of required muscles to stretch, and the distance that needs to be covered to reach that object.
From Learning to Mastery
The baby then gathers information over time for similar objects and situations until spatial awareness is entirely mastered. Later, the baby knows instantly how far is the desired object, and his able to reach it immediately.
Spatial awareness is acquired through mastering concepts of distance and learning the boundaries of physical limitations. The baby then distinguishes between the distances that his arms can reach and those his arms can’t.
The baby begins to realize that a faraway object looks smaller and closer objects look larger. While growing up, the baby gathers experience and acknowledges the proximity of objects and people in relation to his physical self.
Children master the movement of their limbs with greater precision over time and understand their personal space along with that.
Ways to develop spatial awareness for kids
Luckily, the therapy to increase spatial awareness in children is quite fun, and children actually love it! You can perform the following activities with your child and improve their spatial awareness:
• Discuss locations
For example, leave your child’s favorite toy on the chair, then ask him where the toy is. Let him know the toy is on the chair, and then ask him where the chair is (in the living room). Talk about prepositions, what: under, behind, on top of, etc., mean.
• Talk about distances
Discuss how far or close things are in your surroundings. You can measure the distance with footsteps.
• Teach shapes and sizes
Talk about different shapes and sizes of objects your child uses every day.
• Explore directions
Give simple directions, such as “show your right hand”, or “walk forward and turn left after the tree”. Also, you can hide a toy and give directions to your child so that he can find it.
• Play games
Many games can enhance a child’s spatial awareness. Play with Building blocks, Puzzles, and include games like “Simon says” and “ I spy”.
• Get active
Always encourage your kid to play outside, take him to the playground so he can practice his spatial awareness on various kinds of equipment. Sports-related activities also improve spatial awareness.
This great video by Zero to three will show you how to do it.
It’s definitely a good idea to include your child’s teachers, besides your doctor. They will be able to assist you and direct you toward getting your child the therapy he needs to develop perception both in and out of the classroom.
When we say spatial awareness, we think about the ability to be aware of our environment and our ability to determine our position in relation to objects.
This skill is vital for everyday activities and includes the perception of location, distance, and personal space. Even though most children comprehend this skill at an early age, some of them need some help.
You can always work with your kid, develop, and improve this skill. Spatial awareness in children can be enhanced by speaking about the location, distance, and size of objects. Activities like constructing blocks or playing games like “Simon Says” may be very beneficial.
Even adults with poor spatial awareness can improve this skill by taking up new hobbies, such as photography, learning a new language, staying active, or solving puzzles.