Author Archives: Aileen Rizo

Learning from Others – Nora Newcombe (Part 2)

In my last blog I introduced an expert researcher in the field of spatial reasoning, Dr. Nora Newcombe, and discussed the opportunity I had to interview her. Below are summaries of four of Dr. Newcombe’s articles that directly connect to our work and learning at the preschool level.

Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills

This study investigates and confirms the connection between children’s experiences in playful spatial activities and their spatial reasoning ability. Spatial ability was determined by using the Block Design subtest and general intelligence was determined by using the Full-scale IQ score. Parents were surveyed to gather data on children’s frequency in play with certain categories of toys and games. Controlling for ability and seeking to use a diverse sample, some interesting trends emerged. Gender differences are noted as boys outperformed girls in skills but also reported higher frequency with spatial-type activities. Children in higher socio-economic groups also outperformed children from lower socio-economic groups.(1)

Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills

The following three topics are the main focus of this research. The first is analyzing the spatial skills of 3 year olds which was accomplished by the design of a new test called Test Of Spatial Assembly (TOSA) using DUPLO LEGOs. The second is correlating the connection of spatial skills and mathematical ability. While these two areas are taught in isolation both share many overlapping skills. The final topic is the relation of spatial skills with that of gender, socio-economic status, and parental use of spatial language. Differences in this area were  especially noted between lower and high socioeconomic status corresponding to similar results for mathematics skills.(2)

Supporting Preschoolers’ Acquisition of Geometric Knowledge Through Guided Play

Geometric content is an important aspect of early learning mathematics. This research investigated the extent of impact that free play, guided play, and didactic instruction experiences may have around shape knowledge. Children ages 4 and 5 were exposed one of these types of experiences followed by a task. Results indicated that children in the guided play experiences revealed the greatest growth and retention of their shape knowledge. In contrast the didactic instruction seem to ingrain misconceptions instead of the geometric shape conceptions that were intended. Similarly, in free play children that engaged with mathematical material did not take opportunities to explore shape attributes or make any desired geometric connections.(3)

The Relation Between Spatial Thinking and Proportional Reasoning in Preschoolers

Continuing the work of other research that connects the importance of spatial reasoning to mathematical skills, this study seeks to investigate the correlation between mapping experiences and proportional reasoning. Focusing first on the topic of scaling, children 4 to 5 years of age were asked to locate an area on maps of various sizes. In the second experience, children were asked to estimate amounts of juice and water. Results indicate a correlation between a child’s ability to perform accurately in various scaling circumstances and his/her ability to accurately reason about proportional situations.(4)



1. Jirout, J., & Newcombe, N. (2015). Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills: Evidence From a Large, Representative U.S. Sample. Psychological Science, 26(3), 302-310.

2. Verdine, Brian N., Golinkoff, Roberta M., Hirsh-Pasek, Kathryn, Newcombe, Nora S., Filipowicz, Andrew T., & Chang, Alicia. (2014). Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Development, 85(3), 1062-1076.

3. Fisher, K., Hirsh‐Pasek, K., Newcombe, N., & Golinkoff, R. (2013). Taking Shape: Supporting Preschoolers’ Acquisition of Geometric Knowledge Through Guided Play. Child Development, 84(6), 1872-1878.

4. Möhring, Newcombe, & Frick. (2015). The relation between spatial thinking and proportional reasoning in preschoolers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,132, 213-220.


Learning from Others – Dr. Nora Newcombe

Spatial reasoning can be described as a skill that helps us move through our physical environment. While this skill seems like one that intuitively develops over time, research indicates that one can improve their spatial skills with practice. Spatial reasoning has also been linked to not only mathematical ability but to success in any of… Continue Reading

In Their Voices (Part 5)

Lisa Marquez is a morning teacher for a 3 to 4 year old class in Reedley, California. She has been a teacher for 10 years; however, this is her first year with Head Start. Lisa began working in education by being involved in a K-5 after school program. When she completed her Bachelor of Arts… Continue Reading

In Their Own Words

As the Early Math team moves forward in our work with preschool teachers, we are in the process of collecting data not only on the children’s mathematics development, but also the teacher’s growth in pedagogy and content. In an effort to document these changes we are in the process of completing midyear teacher interviews. While… Continue Reading

A Community Effort

Newly released test scores in California revealed that only 32 percent of students in Fresno County met or exceeded math standards. This is only a 2 percent increase compared to last year. While this might sound discouraging, it should prompt all of us as stakeholders in education to take notice. It’s easy to step on… Continue Reading

The Metamorphosis of Teachers

Perhaps you have heard it said that the greatest influence in a classroom is not the equipment, or the curriculum, but the teacher. My work in preschool makes me believe this even more. In a single observation session I’ve seen a teacher be the mentor, the comforter, the organizer, the encourager, the innovator, and the… Continue Reading

The Potential of Curiosity

Defined as “a strong desire to know or learn something,” curiosity seems to be an important component of constructing new knowledge and, when joined with play, can create powerful learning experiences. Among the early math team, we are finding that it is often the simplest of materials that can elicit both of these characteristics. The… Continue Reading

Listening to Their Stories

As my other colleagues have mentioned, it was a privilege to present to over 300 preschool teachers last month. Even though we each prepared our individual sessions, it was truly a collaborative effort. My specific presentation was on the topic of mathematical play, but I was also encouraged to share a portion of my own… Continue Reading

Jelly Bean Math

As I watched my children play at the park one day this summer, my attention quickly focused on a small voice saying, “one, two, three, four, five…” I looked over and observed a game of hide-and-seek in progress. Even my youngest is self-­motivated to recite the number sequence more accurately when she is playing. This,… Continue Reading

Let the Math Shine Through

My youngest daughter is 2 ½ years old and she has yet to discover just how much her mother loves mathematics. The other day, as she worked on a puzzle of shapes, she held up one of the shapes and said, “diamond.” I wrinkled my nose as I corrected her with the correct term, “rhombus.”… Continue Reading