Spatial ability is the comprehension and recall of the spatial relations between objects. Spatial skills and math skills are related to each other (see previous blog entry below). When you improve your child’s spatial skills, you generally improve their math skills as well. You don’t have to use high tech or expensive methods to help your kids’ spatial skills. Here are some easy ways to give your kids an edge:
Board Games give children a great visual in the form of the board itself, and there are many that exercise spatial skills. In clinical research, a game similar to Chutes & Ladders with consecutively numbered, linearly arranged, equal-size squares was shown to improve kids’ understanding of the number line. Skippity is an easy visual strategy game that anyone who knows how to “jump” in checkers can learn within 1 minute, and requires kids to visualize each move they are contemplating before acting. Robot Turtles helps kids understand the basics of programming displayed visually on a board. Creature Quest allows kids to visualize and understand the number line – including negative numbers – in a large, colorful graphic.
Children who play with puzzles develop better spatial skills. A recent study by the University of Chicago found puzzle play to be an important predictor of spatial skills even after controlling for differences in the parents’ education, and household income. When doing a jigsaw puzzle, children visualize where and how a particular piece will fit before they try it. The trial and error aspect reinforces their correct guesses and helps teach them why some of their guesses are wrong. Children are stimulated to learn by self-correction, and learn that persistence pays off. Some puzzles even combine logical thinking with art appreciation, for example, puzzles of famous paintings such as Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir.
Building Blocks & Construction Toys
Essential skills and ideas are practiced and built up through block play, including measurement, estimation, comparison, balance, and symmetry. Blocks and construction toys come in such a wide variety of types – from traditional wood square cubes to plastic bendable toys like Reptangles, Squigz Benders, or Joinks to variety boxes like Craft – Struction. Many Lego sets come with plans that are given in pictures, not words, so that children can create regardless of their reading or language skills. Kids sharpen their spatial skills by comparing what they’ve built with the diagram and correcting any inconsistencies.
Innovative STEM Toys
More complex than building blocks are new toys that are designed to address the growing interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math). Kids can learn by doing in the physical world, offline.
Thames and Kosmos Kids First Aircraft Engineer gives kids the kit and instructions to build 10 simple airplane models including a helicopter. Snap Circuits allows kids to create their own electronic games and gadgets. Goldiblox sets seek to inspire girls in particular with toys like their create your own Zipline Action Figure (including a doll that rides on the zipline).
Mazes are purely visual and teach kids to look before they leap. They can choose from strategies like starting at both ends and meeting in the middle. Printable mazes and toys that allow kids to create their own mazes are great ways for kids to practice spatial skills while having fun.
Geometric pattern coloring books help kids create their own patterns using color and careful attention to detail. Patterns of the Universe demonstrates 17 mathematical themes such as – Prime Numbers, Venn Diagrams, and Fractals.