Do you know where your body is in space? Do you have children that are always bumping into each other, you, or things?
Spatial awareness is quite complicated, and it takes time for children to develop this, and some health conditions can have an impact on its development.
All movement happens in space, and children need to develop their inner and outer spaces, and some may need a little extra help along the way.
What is spatial awareness?
Spatial awareness is knowing where you are in relation to other objects and people. Spatial awareness helps us to think in two and three dimensions. This allows you to visualise objects from different perspectives and recognise them.
Good spatial awareness is when you can respond and change position which is actually a complex skill. Fortunately, this is developed from an early age, but help is needed to encourage and develop this skill.
The skills we are developing include:
Sensing one’s inner physical state of being (temperature, comfort level, arousal)
Sensing stimuli received from within the body (movement, position, weight, gravity, tension and effort)
Sensing stimuli received from outside the body (seeing, hearing, and touching the environment)
Franklin, Eric N. “Dance imagery for technique and performance”, pg 117.
Human Kinetics and Movement
When you are looking at movement in terms of human kinetics, you have space, plane, and the shape of the movement. This is where the body moves in space and its relationship to others. Here is a super quick breakdown of the movements we make without even thinking about it.
The size of the movement: small - near to the body, or large - far from the body.
Where the movement travels. This could be a high, medium or deep (low).
Where the movement is taking you. Certain directions will be due to the movements for example rising and sinking will take you high and low.
- Straight line
Does it take place in the space immediately around the body or does it extend in the room? This gives you the floor pattern – is it straight, angular, curved or twisted?
Relationship of body parts
Relationship of the parts of the body to each other in the movement.
Relationship to each other
Are you near, apart, approaching, parting, surrounding, besides, in front of or behind?
“All body movements occur in different planes and around different axes. A plane is an imaginary flat surface running through the body. An axis is an imaginary line at right angles to the plane, about which the body rotates or spins.”
BBC bitesize “Planes and axes of movement – Movement analysis in sport”.
So much to take in, and think about, when you are just walking across the room trying to avoid obstacles or each other.
The big question: how can we help our little ones with such an important aspect of development?
Don’t worry, as the key to promoting spatial awareness in children is to let them explore their surroundings but remember some may need some extra help.
As children start to crawl and then walk, they will hopefully be gaining an understanding of how many steps it takes to get to a specific object or location and how the object or location changes as they move.
Helping your little ones to develop spatial awareness
- Discuss the locations of where objects are for example where teddy is sleeping today. Use the positional language of where teddy is sleeping. Teddy is sleeping on top of, under, beside or inside the bed
- Measure distances together. Make a game of how many steps it takes to walk to the teddy or the width of the garden
- Blowing bubbles together. This is a wonderful way to talk about the movement and direction the bubbles are going in as they float and land
- For older children, create an obstacle course as there are so many ways for them to develop their spatial awareness as they step on, over, and balance on objects. Make sure your obstacle course has different levels and items to crawl under/over/through/behind and in front of
- Use your setting to demonstrate the concepts of spatial awareness to children. Ask them to find items that are under, on or in something. Point out items that are above your head on the floor or on the wall
- Sing action songs together for example “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” and the “Hokey Cokey”
- Why not role play being pirates with a treasure map? Together follow the instructions or images, depending on the age, to find the treasure. For some extra fun, walk the plank, or tip toe across a tightrope between pirate ships (masking tape works well for this) to avoid the sharks and a grumpy parrot. Get the children to walk on, inside and beside the lines
- Musical statues game. When the music stops, you direct which parts of their body have to be on the floor – bottoms are a great one to start with. Then you can develop it so that when the music stops, they could find a friend and stand elbow to elbow or tummy to tummy. You and the children decide
- Be different animals. Walk sideways like a crab, wiggle like a jellyfish, run like a tiger or stomp like an elephant – don’t forget the sound effects
Why is it important?
Spatial awareness allows us to be conscious of the things in our environment as well as our position relative to them. This ability is important for several reasons, such as:
- Location. Spatial awareness gives context to the location of an object. For example, knowing that a cup is on a table as opposed to under it
- Movement. Having spatial awareness can inform you of how people and objects move through the environment. This can help you navigate your surroundings
- Social. Spatial awareness can affect social functions like maintenance of personal space
- Reading and writing. A spatial understanding is needed for understanding sentence structure and grammar
- Mathematics. Some mathematical concepts also require spatial awareness. Examples include geometry and ordering or arranging numbers
Franklin, Eric N. Dance imagery for technique and performance, Human Kinetics, 2014
BBC Bitesize, Movement analysis in Sport, Physical Education: Applied anatomy and physiology. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/subjects/znyb4wx
Healthline Media, What’s important about spatial awareness?, https://www.healthline.com/health/spatial-awareness
About the author:
Gina’s background was originally ballet, but she has spent the last 27 years teaching movement and dance in mainstream, early years and SEND settings as well as dance schools.
Whilst teaching, Gina found the time to has create the ‘Hi-5’ dance programme to run alongside the Australian Children’s TV series and the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy for Hit Entertainment.
Her proudest achievement to date is her baby Littlemagictrain. She created this specifically to help children learn through make-believe, music and movement. One of the highlights has been seeing Littlemagictrain delivered by Butlin’s famous Redcoats with the gorgeous ‘Bonnie Bear’ on the Skyline stage.
Gina has qualifications of teaching movement and dance from the Royal Ballet School, Trinity College and Royal Academy of Dance.