Young children begin thinking spatially as early as the first time they play “dropsy” and their caregiver retrieves the fallen object and declares,
“Oh, did you drop your _______?”
What fun it is for the child to drop the same item again and again, exploring the depths of her caregiver’s patience. Exploring the concepts of “where?” and “how far?” are a very young child’s entrance into the world of spatial sense.
Children develop spatial thinking the skills associated with imagining objects in different positions as well as their movements – over a long period of time and are necessary building blocks in constructing logico-mathematical knowledge.
How do we support these emerging skills? As with all other mathematical concepts, the introduction of vocabulary is one sure way to begin and reinforce the ideas. When you present a puzzle for a young child to solve, be sure to support his attempts with spatial language such as; “try it upside-down,” “turn it over,” “move the piece up or down,” etc. You can also support these emerging concepts by playing games, presenting challenges, using math manipulatives, and in dramatic play.
Try hiding an important toy in the classroom and then give spatial clues so the children can search for it. Hide an object in the sand table and create a simple map that leads the children to the treasure. Play “hotter and colder” as children try to locate an item. Later, tangrams and more sophisticated puzzles will challenge the children’s thinking and support their growing spatial sense.