Spatial Skills in Homeschool Preschool

In a homeschool preschool, there is tremendous flexibility in the curriculum. This presents an opportunity for homeschool parents to add curriculum that is difficult to find in the traditional preschool setting. When I started to think about the curriculum for my son, I wanted to have a curriculum that emphasized laying the foundation of learning rather than focusing on particular subjects. It wasn’t long before I came upon “spatial skills” as an important part of our homeschool preschool curriculum.

What is Spatial Intelligence?

Spatial Intelligence is related to the ability for mentally generating, rotating and transforming visual images.Along with quantitative and verbal ability, spatial ability is among the 3 abilities necessary for deep learning of a variety of subjects that will lead to work place success. People with strong spatial abilities tend to excel in STEM subjects.
Currently, spatial intelligence is not adequately measured in various IQ tests that are available. In traditional school curriculums, spatial education is rarely included in the curriculum. Many spatial intelligent people find an outlet for their particular skill only in post secondary education.2What is the difference between girls and boys regarding spatial intelligence?
Boys tend to excel in spatial abilities early on while girls tend to excel in the verbal abilities early on. The varying speed of development of the hippocampus region of the brain explains the biological connection in the spatial abilities of boys versus girls.3According to data collected from Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth talent search, children who excelled in quantitative and verbal abilities do not necessarily excel in spatial ability.1Are advanced spatial skills inborn or can they be improved?
The good news about spatial abilities is that these skills can be easily improved.4 A person who possesses more than average spatial skills do not necessarily have an edge over someone who has learned the skill. Similarly, girls tend to improve their spatial skills even though boys may have an edge from earlier development of spatial skills.

How to improve spatial skills?

Preschool is in fact the perfect place to improve spatial skills. Montessori preschool schools and Waldorf preschools often emphasize the use of hands in their curriculum. Manipulating objects as you learn about them is one way to incorporate spatial education into the curriculum. The emphasis of movement in Waldorf education is also another way that allows for spatial skills to be practiced. People with superior spatial abilities often demonstrate an affinity to building things with their hands.

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10 Ways to Incorporate Spatial Skills Into Homeschool Preschool

Playing with Puzzles

Puzzle play is a great way to develop spatial skills in a preschooler.6 When parents use directional phrases to help the child play, the child learns the directional relationships between the puzzle pieces. The multiple tries it takes to get the pieces into the correct place helps the child learn to rotate the pieces and picture how the pieces would fit together.

Playing with Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are essentially jigsaw puzzle pieces but without the jagged edges where the pieces might fit together. They come in different kinds of geometric shapes.  As an early preschooler, handling them in block play: stacking them, sorting the shapes, naming the shapes helps the child learn about the shapes individually. As the preschooler progresses, putting the blocks into a pattern of “flower’, “star”, “dog” etc.. helps the preschooler identify shapes in everyday objects. The object is deconstructed into shapes. The process of construction helps the preschooler orient the positioning of the blocks, identify the shapes, rotate the shapes and eventually arrives at the larger picture.

Tracing & Drawing

Drawing contains multiple parts: tracing, coloring, stamping and drawing free form figures. A preschooler will possess the skills to trace, color and stamp. Coloring a shape helps the preschooler see the structure of the shape more clearly. Tracing the outline of a shape helps the preschooler see the contours of the shape. Stamping will allow the preschooler to create shapes that the preschooler do not have the fine motor skills to create quickly. With each object drawn on paper, the preschooler can imprint the picture of the revised page, until finally a big picture comes together with multiple shapes.

Playing with Blocks, Dominos

Playing with blocks and stacking dominos helps with 3D visualization of the objects.When stacking blocks, there’s always different ways to look at the structure that’s built. Have you ever seen a preschooler move around that tall tower he or she’s building. The preschooler is viewing the structure from different angles. When a piece needs to be balanced without falling, the preschooler has to put the piece into the correct positioning in the entire picture. This gives the preschooler the chance to rotate the shape and think about how it all fits together.

Playground Play and Obstacle Course

What does playground play and gross motor activities have to do with spatial skills? Well, the first way that babies and young children are exposed to spatial relationships in the world are through their bodies. They use their vestibular system (affects balance and movement) to gain spatial awareness of their bodies.
According to Montessori Education, early preschooler go through a sensitive period when their vestibular system is especially sensitive. It is during this sensitive period, many spatial words are learned and early spatial awareness is established.

Storytelling

In the later preschool years, when children are able to verbally identify most of their activities, story telling can be a great way to internalize spatial relationships. In describing the events of the day, the preschooler will use many directional words to explain what happened:  “I played blocks next to the teacher.”; “Jenny slides down the big slide with me.”; “The princess was far away from the castle.”

Crafting

Crafting is another way to play with 2D shapes. It is much like block play or pattern block play where pieces are put together to make a larger picture. It helps children visualize a larger image from having small pieces of different shapes fit together.

Imaginative Car Play or Dollhouse Play

In conjunction with gross motor skill development, there’s nothing like seeing yourself either as a car or a doll in a small space. Being able to orient yourself in that space to perform play actions allows the preschooler to internalize all the spatial positionings: table next to the chair, stop sign on the left of the road etc.. It’s really putting a lot of the spatial awareness learned through gross motor skills into context for the child.

Explore Nature or Neighborhood with a Map

Map learning is great for an old preschooler. A simple map consisting of a few destinations on a hiking path is a great way to orient the preschooler in space. The environment is no longer just the immediate surroundings. The environment is a much bigger abstract space that the preschooler can not immediately see. By moving along the destinations of the map, the image of the map gets imprinted into the preschooler’s mind.

Construction Play with Legos or Magnetic Tiles

Construction play with Legos or Magnetic tiles is another way to visualize objects in 3D. With more complex blocks, elaborate structures can be built. The act of building them allows the preschooler to practice using spatial words, seeing different rotations of the structure and identifying shapes in the process.

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For More Activities Resources:

Homeschool Preschool Board on Pinterest
Montessori Activities Board on Pinterest
Waldorf Parenting Boarding on Pinterest

References for this article:

  1. Recognizing Spatial Intelligence
  2. Identifying and Supporting Spatial Intelligence in Young Children
  3. Sex differences in spatial cognition: Evolution, hormones, and the brain
  4. Picture This: Increasing Math and Science Learning By Improving Spatial Thinking
  5. Encouraging Maternal Guidance of Preschoolers’ Spatial Thinking During Block Play
  6. Early Puzzle Play: A predictor of preschooler’s spatial transformation skill

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10 Ways to incorporate spatial awareness activities into our homeschool preschool curriculum to set the foundation for learning STEM subjects later on.

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