Early maths skills 2: spatial sense

3 - 4 years
Child stacking blocks

The development of early maths skills in preschoolers can help them to do better at maths at school. Here are some tips to help your preschooler develop one of the first early maths skills – spatial sense.

What is spatial sense?

Spatial sense is an understanding of shape, size, position, direction, and movement – being able to describe and classify the physical world we live in. Later on in school, this is referred to as ‘geometry.’ For little ones, spatial sense is mainly about their awareness of themselves in relation to the people and things around them.

What can you do?

Little kids naturally love to explore the geometry and spatial features of the world around them. You can help your little one develop their spatial sense with simple activities and games. Try these fun ideas:

  • Encourage your little one to use shapes in their art and craft activities. Try showing them how to fold a square piece of paper diagonally and to cut along the fold to make two triangles. You can also encourage them to make a picture using their cut out shapes.
  • Play with blocks and puzzles together – try sorting and stacking blocks by shape and size, and count how many of each kind you have.
  • Point out the different shapes you see in the world around you, such as triangles and octagons on road signs, or the pentagons on a soccer ball.
  • Ask your child to name shapes they know when they are playing. They might describe a ball (‘sphere’) as a circle or a box (‘cube’) as a square – but that’s ok! Knowing the basics of 2D shapes is an important step towards understanding 3D objects.
  • Try to use words that describe the spatial features of objects with your little one, such as their position (like ‘beside,’ ‘in front of,’ ‘next to’ and ‘above’), movement (like ‘around’, ‘through’, ‘across’ and ‘towards’), distance (like ‘near’, ‘far’, and ‘close to’). For example, ‘The bus stop is in front of the big building’ or ‘The pencil rolled under the table.’
  • Ask your child about their size in relation to other things. You might say ‘Are you taller or shorter than the chair?’ or ‘Do you think you could fit under the bench?’
  • Take your little one to the park and encourage them to climb ‘into’, ‘under’, ‘over’ and ‘around’ the play equipment — and talk about the movements they are making.
  • Encourage your child to play with boxes, cushions and blankets and build structures big enough to get inside, so they can experience their constructions from different spatial perspectives!
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Last modified
18 April 2020