When I was little, my parents decided to enroll me in soccer, and I’ll be honest, I was terrible at the sport. I was slow and clumsy and could not understand all the positions of the game. When the ball was kicked to me, I’d usually miss as I tried kicking it back to my teammate and I don’t think I ever scored one goal. However, as I practiced, I did get better and began developing a “touch” for the ball. The more my coach had me do drills in practice, the more I was able to figure out how hard to kick the ball and how to maneuver it with my feet. Passing became much easier as I figured out how hard or soft I needed to kick the ball to my teammate instead of shooting it right out of bounds. I even took a few shots at the goal (even though I missed), but at least I improved my aim and target rather than kicking the ball at an onside parent (oops!). Soon I was able to know exactly where the ball was in correlation with my feet as well as how close or how far my teammate was when I needed them. Although I never became a soccer super star, the sport did help me learn what we call Spatial Awareness.
I know, I might as well be speaking Chinese for many of you, but Spatial Awareness is something most of us develop naturally as kids without even thinking about it or realizing it is happening. In all reality, it is a little bit of an abstract concept, but very critical to a child’s learning development down the road. Spatial Awareness is the distance between you and the objects in your environment. So for me, it was the distance between me and the soccer ball or me and my teammate. As babies crawl and walk, they begin to learn more about their environment and the space they explore. The brain eventually “clicks” once they see an object and how it relates to their environment. For example, is the cup upside-down or right side up? Will the block fit into the hole? Will the puzzle piece fit into the space?
As I said, most of us develop Spatial Awareness naturally, but for some kids it is not only difficult, it is something they may not have developed at all, which causes challenges for them in the classroom. Kids who haven’t developed Spatial Awareness may have a hard time following directions or copying words from the blackboard onto paper. They may have trouble with the space between himself and the blackboard and then again when they try writing letters on the page (hence why their writing may be crooked or their letters are different sizes). It may also cause them to not understand the difference between letters like “b” and “d” or “m” and “n.” You may also find when your child does math that they crowd all their arithmetic problems to one side of the page.
For a Kindergartner, they may have difficulty pasting one piece of paper on another because the brain cannot line the two pieces of paper on top of each other. You can also see signs when children write with a pencil, how they follow a line of text, throw a ball (extremely hard or too soft), or how they keep their room at home. Some of these things are normal for your child’s age, but if your child does not show improvement as they get older, it may be a sign they have difficulty with the space in their environment.
Many parents tell us their child has difficulty socializing or building relationships with their friends at school because they don’t understand boundaries. They are unsure how close or how far to stand from them, especially in a crowd of people and often bumps into others or can’t figure out how much room they need to get around them. If your child experiences these challenges, they may also accidently overstep the curb when they cross the street or be tempted to move furniture around the house as a way to follow their inner drive to explore their space.
So what can we do at home to help our kids recognize the space around them even if they don’t have learning challenges? A great start is to get them playing with toys like building blocks, Tinkertoys or geometric shapes, which are much better for development than dolls or dress-ups. Incorporate any toys that help them use their senses to develop their gross and fine motor skills
As your child gets older, you will want to transition them to more of these types of activities.
Sign your kids up for sports like soccer and baseball. Even though my soccer days were short, they still helped me develop that Spatial Awareness I needed for the learning I would do in the classroom later on. It gave me the chance to work with team members and my coach always had us do drills with the ball that included crisscross patterns which were great for the brain and for Spatial Awareness. Baseball is another wonderful sport because it teaches children how hard and how far to throw the ball as they pass it to the different bases. Dance and gymnastics would be my pick for both boys and girls because it allows kids to move to music and learn different speeds and rhythms. This gives them the opportunity to explore their surroundings and the space around them.
There are many games you can do with your children at home to help them with Spatial Awareness. If you have not yet played the “I Spy” game with your kids, now is a good time to start. Ask them questions about objects in your house like “I spy with my little eye something that is square, has four legs and is where you sit to eat snacks.” They should guess the bar stool. Another activity is to ask them questions about how close or how far items are to them. For example, ask them if the TV is closer to them than the door or if the cat is farther away than the bike. Make these games more challenging as they get the hang of it. You can also hide objects in the house and ask your child to find them by following the directions you give them.
Now, don’t get carried away with this one. I’m not asking you to be a “mean” drill sergeant like we sometimes have to be when it comes to homework. If you have ever been in the military or know someone who is in the military, you are probably familiar with what they call Drill Downs. It means one place to another and they use terms like “right turn,” “left turn,” and “about turn.” Children with spatial issues tend to get right and left mixed up so this is a great exercise for improving their directions. At home, ask your child to take three steps to the left, then five steps to the right. Ask them to turn around or go up the stairs and down the stairs. They can also hop on one foot (make sure they hop on one foot and then the other).
I know we harp on this one a lot, but it’s incredibly important for children and the brain. Take your kids to the park or a jungle gym as much as you can. Equipment at the park is specially designed for kids to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Active kids means active minds.
It’s a good thing Legos are such a huge hit right now because they will do wonders for your child’s Spatial Awareness. Try to get the Lego kits that come with detailed model plans. The more they build and are forced to find pieces that fit with each other to create objects, the more it helps kids develop those problem solving skills needed for Spatial Awareness.
I’m sure all your children love listening to music, but when we want to open up the brain for higher learning, we have to kick it old school. Mozart and Bach are really the musical artists we should be playing for our children when they do their homework or are problem solving. I know this concept is abstract for most of our parents, but the result music has on the brain is incredible. As your child grows older, get them involved in playing a musical instrument. Music will help organize the brain and improves their spatial-temporal reasoning, also known as the “Mozart affect.”
Even if your child doesn’t have a learning challenge, it is still important for them to develop Spatial Awareness. These activities can be done at home with any child and should be done on a regular basis. If your child does struggle with severe Spatial Awareness issues, you may want to find a center that works with Occupational Therapists (OTs). OTs can help your child with specialized movement programs to create that awareness and open their world to higher learning.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs