“The young astronaut is jetting through the stars, chasing the comet, trying to guess which orbit it will follow. She aims to get one step ahead to warn the earthlings about their impending doom”
How often have your children watched an episode similar to this on the TV, or played a game, requiring them to “save the earth”. Have you ever thought about the type of skills required to be an astronaut, or for that matter a doctor, engineer, architect? Visual-spatial learnings supplement the traditional learnings from a textbook . The development of new technologies, such as imaging, computer graphics, data visualization and super-computing are where these skills come to the fore.
From the most specialised professional to the lowly box packer (who must decide if a certain box is large enough for the objects you want to put into it), visual-spatial abilities are required. Where do they come from? In the past, this ability was always viewed as a unique type of intelligence, people thought that you were just “born with it”. However, this is a skill that is made up of numerous sub-skills, such as visualisations, interpreting 3-D models, etc. which are interrelated. These skills develop throughout the Child’s life and can be learnt and improved upon. How can we help our children understand and learn these skills? Well, it all starts with the lowly map.
At the age of 3, children are ready to learn simple lessons about reading maps. The easiest way to start, is for them to interpret a map of their classroom or living room at home. The next level can be where the Child is given a partially drawn map and must insert things (door, chair), then to draw the maps themselves. The older Child can handle more complex maps, and they benefit from structured mapping activities, especially ones that require them to explain their choices.
Do mapping exercises improve a child’s general spatial skills and how? We are not clear on that fact yet, but we do know that using maps, requires you to practice spatial thinking. Maps come in all forms – the solar system, chemical formulas, building skyscrapers, etc. Remember, start with simple tasks, kids have trouble translating their first-person spatial knowledge into a bird’s-eye view – so starting younger, helps develop these important skills.