Spatial Relations

Apr 1 / KoolMinds Online
No, we're not talking about how aliens and planets relate to each other in outer space, although that sounds kind of fun. This month we are focusing on the topic of Visual-Spatial Awareness, which is one of the 10-key cognitive skills we focus on in our Cognitive Skills program. 

Have you ever watched a toddler try to fit a square block into a round hole? Either they try their hardest to make it work, move it around, rotate it or maybe even try to force it in out of frustration OR they learn that shape just doesn't fit in that spot and move on to another shape or block that will work. This process can be painstaking to watch but we have to let it play out, right? What looks like play is really a big step in developing their Visual Spatial Awareness. 

What is Visual Spatial Awareness?

Visual Spatial awareness is the ability to visually perceive two or more objects in relation to each other and to yourself.

For example, think about the task of writing something down on a piece of paper. What seems simple is actually pretty complex when you dig into it. Holding your pencil properly, angling it to the paper just right so that you can make a mark, where on the paper to start writing, how much space you have, how big or small to write, where to start writing, forming a straight line, how to form the letters, the spacing between words, the spacing between lines... all of these factors work together like a puzzle and require Visual Spatial processing skills to complete the task.  All of that without even factoring in grammar and spelling! 

Why is it Important?
The skill of understanding space and relationships is crucial to accomplish daily tasks at school and home.  It can also be how we recognize space and the positions and shapes of objects in that given space. This is the skill we use in determining where we are in relation to our physical and emotional world. Frequently, low positioning will cause an inaccurate perception of one’s relationship with others. The skill of size is the skill we use in understanding volume. When perception is too large, tasks may be seen as overwhelming. When perception is too small, tasks may be left to the last minute when completion is impossible.

Difficulty perceiving distances or spatial relationships can have a negative effect on daily living, motor skills, body awareness, problem-solving and overall academic performance. 

"Go to the front of the line."
"Start at the top."
"That dog looks a little scary. Get behind me please."
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Ignoring warning signs now can also lead to challenges later in life with driving, situational awareness, public safety or work performance. This is especially true in the age of distractions when there is always something more interesting to look at. With a phone in our hand a portion of our attention is elsewhere so having the ability to navigate the world around us is even more vital. 

What to Look For

Chances are if your child struggles with Visual-Spatial Awareness, there's no need to look for clues because it's apparent every day. One example might be the tendency to spill.  Do you know someone like that? Yeah, me too. 

Here are some other signs and symptoms: 
  • Trouble navigating their environment or reading a map
  • Using not enough or too much pressure on objects
  • Standing too close to other people
  • Playing too roughly with peers 
  • Struggle with skipping, jump roping, riding a bike, tying their shoes, etc. 
  • "Running out of room" on written assignments
  • Bumps into things often, seems clumsy 
  • Struggles with steps in sequence (First this, then that, then this...)

Improving Visual Spatial Awareness

It doesn't have to be boring to work on Visual Spatial Awareness.
     Here are some fun ways to improve these skills at home!  

Build an Obstacle Course

Using common household items you can build an obstacle course that will provide hours of fun and activity. Whether in the backyard or the living room, letting your kids tackle the various challenges will challenge their bodies and minds to navigate their space and build valuable cognitive skills. Not to mention, the benefits of physical activity!  

For older students, try a ropes course as a family. 

Create & Build Together

Using puzzles, blocks, legos or any kind of kit with guided instructions is a great way to build this skill. Research has shown that parents who participated in guided block play with their children had significantly higher proportions of spatial talk. Guided block play consisted of playing with the blocks along with guided instructions for how to build different structures. 

Using Verbal Descriptions

When interacting with your child, try to use descriptive language. Give them many chances to hear descriptions of their location or object placement in relation to each other. 
"Let's step over the log" or "The salt is in the middle of the table." Not only is that just helpful in general, but you're allowing them to make connections in their mind based on what they're hearing and seeing for themselves.   
Want to know more about our Cognitive Skills program and how it can help? 
Use the links below to learn more or schedule an assessment with a local office!