Study Shows Teaching Children Spatial Terms Improves Spacial Thinking

In recent years, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning has received a lot of attention as more 21st century jobs require employees to have strong STEM skill knowledge. This increasing need to provide students with more skills in STEM subjects to be ready for the changing world of work has many parents, educators, and policy makers questioning how to add more STEM programs in schools where time and budgets are short.

A new study shows, children can start refining their STEM skills as early as preschool:

Preschool children who hear parents describe the size and shape of objects and then use those words themselves perform better on tests of their spatial skills.

(Science Daily)

This is the first study to show the knowledge of spatial words predict children’s spatial thinking later in life. These findings are significant to the advancement of STEM learning and to further support the need to expose children to words related to STEM concepts early in life.

Researchers found for every 45 additional spatial words children used in “spontaneous talk with their parents, they saw, on average, a 23 percent increase in their scores on the spatial analogies task and a 15 percent increase in their performance on the mental rotation task.” This increase in spatial words also proved to improve children’s overall vocabulary.

“In view of findings that show spatial thinking is an important predictor of STEM achievment and careers, it is importnat to explore the kinds of early inputs that are related to spatial thinking,” said psychologist Susan Levine.

You can read more about how this study was conducted at Science Daily. Will this study’s findings change how you approach teaching shapes and their features to young children?



Big, Little, Tall and Tiny: Learning Spatial Terms Improves Children’s Spatial Skills.” 9 November 2011. Science Daily. Accessed on 23 November 2011.

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