Reaching a Destination Without GPS

The Global Positioning System, more commonly known as GPS, has greatly reduced driving time and increased the confidence of travelers. Using a large unfolded map to determine step-by-step directions to a destination has become an almost entirely extinct method of navigation. I wonder how many children under the age of 12 actually have utilized or even seen a roadmap. I also wonder how young children will be able to estimate actual distance when they are often playing games on their electronic devices or simply following GPS instructions.

The skills that refer to the capacity to view objects in three dimensions and draw conclusions about those objects from limited information are known as spatial reasoning. A person with good spatial reasoning may also be able to envision a rotated object. Why is this so important? There is often a strong connection between visual and spatial reasoning and intelligence. Spatial reasoning is used in a variety of ways and will be necessary for future careers that our children will pursue: landscape and building architect, tile contractor, building contractor, interior decorator, graphic designer, photographer, physicist, astronomer, programmer, marketing consultant, air traffic controller, artist, chef, engineer, fashion designer, filmmaker, machinist, pilot, and surgeon. These are just a few careers that require excellent visual and spatial intelligence. For additional information regarding children and spatial reasoning, check out the April 9, 2018 blog post written by my colleague, Aileen Rizo. She interviewed renown researcher Nora Newcombe on the topic of spatial reasoning.

The staff at both of our pilot Head Start programs learned about the importance of spatial reasoning through our bi-monthly professional learning session. One of those dedicated teachers, Nora Alvarez, shares below her “aha!” moments about her own learning, as well as her students’ experiences. Nora will have been with Head Start for 30 years as of September 30th of this year, and has been a teacher for the past 28 years.

Thank you, Mrs. Alvarez, for teaching children to learn through play, “doing the math,” and going on a treasure hunt with your children to increase spatial reasoning skills and preparing them for the future. You have truly made a positive impact on the hundreds of children and their families for the past 30 years.

In Their Own Voices by Nora Alvarez, Veteran Head Start Teacher

My greatest joy that comes from teaching is knowing that I can make a positive difference in the lives of not just the children but their entire family. I am also learning to become a better person and teacher, as it is a symbiotic relationship; the children also positively impact me.

I love to see the uniqueness in every child, especially when they realize that they have gained new knowledge. Their entire face lights up when they master putting together a puzzle, riding a tricycle, independently writing their name, and pouring their own milk at lunch for the first time. Wow, I can just go on forever listing all the things they learn for the first time in their one year in preschool.

My knowledge has increased significantly since attending the AIMS professional learning session on spatial reasoning. We progressed from working in pairs to create Duplo structures to going on an egg hunt on a tarp that had be partitioned off into 40 8×5 squares. After it was first modeled for us, a partner had to give us specific directions to go forward, count the number of steps, turn and face another direction until we navigated to our spring basket. We then introduced the “treasure hunt” activity to the children in my classroom. It was not as easy as one would think. The children wanted to count the total number of steps to a specific shape and not account for stops and turns. We modeled facing one direction and count the number of steps, to stop, turn, face a different direction then count the next set of steps to reach the “treasure.”

The children love this game and were so engaged. This game teaches so many concepts such as learning shapes, waiting patiently for their turn, and of course, spatial reasoning.

Spatial reasoning, as in all learning, can be experienced through play both at home or in a classroom. Parents can give direction to “find the treasure” in a child’s bedroom by telling them to face the door and take four steps, turn towards the window and take five steps, then turn towards the bed and take two steps.

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