Bring 4th Your Spatial Abilities; They Are Everywhere

Packing for a trip is just like putting a puzzle together. You want a limited amount of luggage and you are turning, flipping, squeezing, and rotating items to make everything fit. Even more challenging is loading a luggage cart after a weekend long conference when you have luggage for 10 (really only 2 people, but feels like more) but also games, technology, and teacher supplies–and doing all this in a limited amount of time and space. Right then and there a funny thought came to me: “I am presenting on spatial patterns and yes, they are truly important and EVERYWHERE.”

My colleague Liz Gamino and I recently presented at CAAEYC’s Annual Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA. Liz’s presentation was on Learning Mathematics through Play and mine was on “Spatial Patterns: What Are They and Why Are They Important?”. The goals of this presentation were for the audience to gain a deeper understanding of what spatial patterns are, the importance of spatial patterns, and the many different ways spatial patterns can be introduced and incorporated into everyday classroom activities. In the presentation I made slides that individually describe auditory, kinesthetic, tactile and visual spatial patterns. (Click here for my slide deck and all resources.)

Throughout the entire presentation, participants shared ideas and asked questions about possible spatial patterns and/or their outcomes and goals for their students.

The teachers had questions about finger and dot patterns. I explained that when someone has an image in their mind, they are visualizing what that numeral means to them. This is what a numerical spatial pattern is. It is a pattern of a specific representation for a certain number. Numerical spatial patterns can serve as replacements when counting. We do this by connecting a pattern to a word – we may not be consciously doing any counting. We then watched a video of a local preschool student using spatial patterns on her fingers.

This is an important goal for early mathematics: developing flexible ways of thinking that enhance children’s concepts of numbers. For example, experiences in early mathematics can help children make connections among MANY of the different representations of “five”.

Children with this flexible understanding of “five” create replacements when they can’t perceptually touch, see, hear, or feel items to be counted.  If they can imagine 5 blocks, they can represent those by counting a “visualized” (in the mind) dot pattern they know, putting up five fingers and counting them, or by counting fingers as they raise them. I explained how this can become the bridge between counting things children can see and understanding number words as abstract concepts.

Experiences in preschool mathematics can help children make connections among many of the different representations of spatial patterns. To build number sense, children must come to know number words as rich concepts with as many representations as possible. Many times a child can re-present a numerical spatial pattern first, then count the elements. So in this way, having a pattern can give a child a visualized configuration to count.

For more information, you can read this blog post by my colleague Jason Chamberlain: “What is Five: Foster a Flexible Understanding of Number”.

Liz and I both had a wonderful time presenting at CAAEYC, met great educators, and learned a lot!