Spatial Awareness in Children

Spatial Awareness

Spatial Awareness in Children

Life is complicated and busy. Seldom do we take the opportunity to break down the elements involved in a child’s development. Sometimes, however, we need to slow things down to better care for our children. Spatial awareness is something that a child starts acquiring from birth. Maybe, if we as parents, understood more about it, we could better assist the child in the development of their spatial awareness. So, let’s get started!!

What is Spatial Awareness?

Before a child can begin to understand the concepts of distance, time, speed or depth, they must first learn to understand how other things within their environment, affect their ability to move. This could be something as simple as learning personal space or knowing at what point to kick to make contact with a ball or on a grander scale, learn left from right and up from down. The development of proper spatial awareness involves an understanding of how the human body moves and the basic functions of its parts.

Babies lack spatial awareness and this is the biggest cause for why they walk into things, bump their heads, and roll off objects. To an infant, there is no such thing as space and dimension. These are acquired through spatial awareness.

“Spatial concepts such as a sense of distance are learned through movement and exploration which is the most effective way for children to gain body awareness and an understanding of spatial relationships. It simultaneously develops muscle strength, coordination, self-confidence, and thinking skills. Spatial awareness can be defined as “an awareness of the body in space, and the child’s relationship to the objects in the space.” This can include spatial orientation, which is the skill that allows them to understand and execute requests for them to “line up at the door” or “put their backs to the wall.” Spatial awareness is also linguistic. The understanding of the positional words people use to define themselves in space is essential to spatial awareness. As children learn positional vocabulary and use it with their bodies, they develop spatial awareness. This is how children begin to develop an understanding of direction, distance, and location. This article discusses how children learn about themselves and their bodies in relationship to the people and objects all around them from birth to kindergarten. Suggested ways on how to develop children’s spatial awareness skills at each stage of early childhood are also presented,” as quoted from Poole, Carla; Miller, Susan A.; Church, Ellen Booth Early Childhood Today, v20 n6 p25-30 Apr 2006

Tools for Increasing Spatial Awareness in Children

Read a book to your child. Even an infant will benefit from spatial awareness picture books. Below is a list of a few books to get your child on the path to spatial awareness.

  • YELLOW BALL, by Molly Bang (Ages 1-3)
  • UP, DOWN, AND AROUND, by Katherine Ayers and Nadine Bernard Westcott (Ages 2-4)
  • ROSIE’S WALK, Pat Hutchins Macmillan (Ages 2-5)
  • SHRINKING MOUSE, Pat Hutchins (Ages 2-6)
  • BIG BUG, by Henry Cole (Ages 2-6)
  • YOU ARE NOT SMALL, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (Ages 2-6)
  • KATY AND THE BIG SNOW, by Virginia Lee Burton (Ages 4-7)
  • ABOVE AND BELOW, IN AND OUT, and NEAR AND FAR, by Tami Johnson

Play an action game

Getting the child thinking and moving is a great way to teach spatial awareness!

Practice makes perfect!

Utilize those directional and positional words and have the child practice performing those actions.

  • On – Off
  • Right – Left
  • Up – Down
  • East – West
  • North – South
  • In – Out
  • Above – Beside – Below
  • Beginning – Middle – End
  • Front – Back
  • Top – Bottom
  • Inside – Around – Outside
  • Before – After
  • Right side up – Upside down
  • Under – Over
  • Near – Far
  • High – Low
  • Forward – Through – Backward
  • Here – There
  • Follow – Lead


  • Place a medium size empty cardboard box in the floor. Instruct the child to:
    • Stand beside, to the right, to the left, in front of, behind, near, far
  • String a rope through the room. Instruct the child to:
    • Walk to the beginning, end, to the right, left, forward, backward, on top of
  • Place a small open box in the floor. Get a small action figure. Instruct the child to place the figure:
    • On top of, under, near, far, inside, outside, beside, here, there, over

As you can see, we use directional/positional words many, many times a day without thinking about it. Children, on the other hand, need to think about these directions. Practicing, using these skills, will boost your child’s spatial awareness. This will help the child in school when being instructed to stand in line, follow directions, and move about the room while participating in activities.

Spatial awareness will also help the child at home. The instructions we provide in the home use many directional/positional words. “Get off the chair.” “Get in the bed.” “That shoe goes on your left foot.” “This goes in your bottom drawer.” If the child’s spatial awareness is not yet fully developed, the “bottom” will be no different from the “top”. We must teach these things before they can be learned.

Author: Belinda Davis ©2017