In 2019, a nationwide study on fundamental skills in Switzerland discovered a link between children’s spatial awareness at the age of three and their mathematical ability in primary school. Other variables, such as socioeconomic position or linguistic competence, were ruled out by the researchers. It is unknown how spatial ability impacts arithmetic skills in youngsters, although the spatial notion of numbers may have a role.
“We know from past studies that adults think spatially when working with numbers — for example, represent small numbers to the left and large ones to the right,” explains Möhring. “But little research has been done on how spatial reasoning at an early age affects children’s learning and comprehension of mathematics later.”
The conclusions are based on data from 586 youngsters in Basel, Switzerland. The researchers administered a battery of activities to three-year-old toddlers in order to assess cognitive, socio-emotional, and spatial ability. They also investigated whether the rate of growth, specifically the quick development of spatial abilities, might predict future mathematical competence.
Previous research with a limited sample size had discovered a link, but Möhring and her colleagues were unable to replicate this in their own investigation. Three-year-old children who began with poor spatial ability improved quicker in future years, but still performed at a lower level in mathematics when they were seven. Despite their rapid development, these children had not yet entirely caught up with the children who had stronger beginning spatial reasoning skills when they started school.
“Parents often push their children in the area of language skills,” says Möhring. “Our results suggest how important it is to cultivate spatial reasoning at an early age as well.” There are simple ways to do this, such as using “spatial language” (larger, smaller, same, above, below) and toys — e.g. building blocks — that help improve spatial reasoning ability.
Developmental trajectories of children’s spatial skills: Influencing variables and associations with later mathematical thinking, Wenke Möhring, Andrew D.Ribner, Robin Segerer, Melissa E. Libertus, Tobias Kahla, Larissa Maria, Troescha, AlexanderGroba
Published: October 2021