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What is spatial intelligence?

Spatial intelligence is one area in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. It is the capacity to visualize and transform objects in the mind’s eye. Think of your favorite object and try to visualize this object from different perspectives. What does it look like when you view it from the top? Side? Bottom? What will it look like when you rotate or flip it?

The word spatial comes from the Latin “spatium” which means “occupying space”. Spatial intelligence is the ability to understand the relative locations of objects in space and explain what happens when these objects are moved, rotated, or transformed. This ability is required in solving puzzles, navigating through places, and understanding charts and maps.  

Why is spatial ability important?

Recent studies provide evidence that spatial ability is important in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). One of the most important longitudinal studies that support the notion that spatial ability is key to success in STEAM disciplines is Project Talent. This project followed around 400000 people from their teenage (high school) years to today. Researchers found that people who scored high on spatial tests were much more likely to major in STEAM disciplines than those who scored lower, even after accounting for the fact that they tended to have higher verbal and mathematical scores as well.

Can spatial ability be improved?

Yes! Research shows that spatial intelligence is malleable, which means it is not a fixed ability. Although some people are better at spatial processing than others, the good news is that EVERYONE can improve.

Spatial skills (along with STEAM skills) can be boosted by using a wide variety of interventions that require spatial thinking. It is also important to note that it is never too early to familiarize a learner with spatial relations. Babies as young as 4 months have been found to demonstrate abilities related to mental rotation.

What activities can enhance spatial intelligence of children?

Here are some activities that you can do with your kids to enhance their spatial skills:

  • Read spatially challenging books with them. The pictures will help them improve their spatial visualization ability. 
  • Let them play with mechanical building toys, puzzles, and pattern blocks.
  • Teach using spatial words such as out, in, front, back, under, over, and around.
  • Encourage them to read and study maps. You can give them an incomplete map and tell them to find unmarked features and draw these features on their maps.

Are there gender differences in terms of spatial intelligence?

Yes, that’s according to many researchers exploring the field of spatial intelligence. Dr. Susan Levine, a professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, stated that boys already have an advantage over girls in their understanding of spatial relationships by age 4. This gender gap in spatial skills widens as the young boys and girls grow older. 

As educators, we need to enrich the learning environment to help kids who need extra encouragement to develop their spatial skills. By addressing the gender gap in spatial ability in kids, there is a great chance of reducing the gender gap in STEAM fields as well. 

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