Child's Ability With Shapes Translates To Better Math Skills
A child's spatial knowledge and ability to fit shapes together into recognizable objects has an impact on how well they can do math and understand numbers.
A toddler's ability to manipulate shapes has been linked previously to a better ability to grasp concepts such as geometry. The new research from University of Chicago shows that this relationship extends further than simply shapes, and extends to arithmetic as well.
"We found that children's spatial skills at the beginning of first and second grades predicted improvements in linear number line knowledge over the course of the school year," said lead author of the paper Elizabeth Gunderson, a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar.
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Grasping spatial relationships is important because it elicits the way the brain processes information. Numbers exist in relationship to each other, and tasks like subtraction and addition require a person to recognize the "space" between two or more numbers. Only then can one arrive at the difference or the sum.
"These results suggest that improving children's spatial thinking at a young age may not only help foster skills specific to spatial reasoning but also improve symbolic numerical representations," said co-author Susan Levine, a leading authority on spatial and mathematical learning.
The study assessed 152 first and second-graders by asking them to identify numbers on an unmarked line starting at 0 and ending at 1,000. Kids who scored well on a spatial knowledge test at the beginning of the school year scored the highest. Spatial knowledge is malleable, according to the researchers, and the scientists hope that by putting more emphasis on teaching this simple task at an early age, children will be better equipped for tasks later in life.
"Improving children's spatial skills may have positive impacts on their future success in science, technology, engineering or mathematics disciplines, not only by improving spatial thinking but also by enhancing the numerical skills that are critical for achievement in all STEM fields," Gunderson said.