Tap to Read ➤

How to Improve Spatial Awareness in Everyday Life

Smita Pandit Mar 16, 2020
The term 'spatial awareness' refers to the organized awareness of one's position in space in relation to two or more objects, as well as the relationship between the objects.

Did You Know?

Poor spatial awareness might be associated with developmental coordination disorders. Dyspraxia, Turner's syndrome, and Irlen syndrome are some of the conditions that might cause problems with depth perception or spatial awareness.
Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of the position of objects in relation to one's own position in space. It also involves the ability to judge the position of two or more objects in relation to each other. This ability allows one to react to changes in the position by judging the distance, rate of speed, comparative side, etc.
Newborns begin to develop a sense of awareness of themselves in relation to their surroundings between 1-3 months of age. Once they become aware of their hands, they begin to explore by moving them in front of their face, trying to grab things, and putting their hands into the mouth. They try to follow moving objects.
These are all developmental milestones related to spatial awareness. By the time infants are about six months of age, they explore their toys or objects by picking them, moving them from one hand to the other, and shaking them. Thus, being inquisitive and movement are integral to the development of sense of distance and space in toddlers.

Sensory Systems and Spatial Awareness

To be able to sense one's position with respect to the surroundings, the information from the senses must be integrated into the three-dimensional model of one's surroundings. This is provided by the vestibular system (structures in the inner ear that are responsible for the sense of motion, head and body position in space, and the direction of gravity).
The information from the eyes is carried to the brain, whereas the proprioceptors (sensory nerve endings that give information to the brain concerning movements and position of the body) help coordinate movement. If the interaction between the sensory systems is not achieved, the sense of spatial awareness is not well-developed.

Signs of Poor Spatial Awareness

Though children begin to develop an understanding of spatial awareness at an early stage, and it comes naturally to most of them, some children might need help in this regard. If this awareness of oneself in relation to one's surroundings is not developed during the early years, one will find it difficult to perform a wide range of activities.
One might make mistakes while performing the simplest of the tasks such as putting food in one's mouth, catching an object, playing games that involve running fast in different directions, etc. As a result, such a person will appear to be clumsy.
He/she might not be able to react quickly to changes in the environment due to a poor spatial orientation or inability to judge distance (how near or far the object is), speed, placement (object is over, under, or behind), or direction (object is towards the right or left).
First of all, parents need to know if there's a problem related to the child's sense of space, distance, or direction. A child with a lack of spatial awareness might show the following signs:
✦ Clumsiness
✦ Bumping into people
✦ Standing very near or too far from people they are interacting with
✦ Difficulty in distinguishing between right and left
✦ Lack of perspective and three-dimension in the environment
✦ Problems with judging heights, distances, and speeds
✦ Difficulty catching a ball
✦ Difficulty with stairs or escalators
✦ Over cautiousness when driving, overtaking, parking
✦ Difficulty walking in a straight line
✦ Running into doorways or furniture accidentally
✦ Difficulty with heights or ladders
✦ Knocking things over or dropping things easily
✦ Difficulty while participating in team games that require catching a ball, passing the ball to others, or games that require them to give or follow directions using positional language (over, under, in or out, left or right)

How to Develop Spatial Awareness

There are several different ways to improve spatial awareness in children. If parents suspect that their child has difficulty judging distance, speed, direction, and placement of objects, they can consult an occupational therapist. A diagnosis can be made on the basis of spatial awareness tests.
Thereafter, the occupational therapist can devise strategies, games, or activities for improving spatial awareness in toddlers. These include activities that help children become aware about space, distance, and speed. Parents can help improve spatial awareness in children in the following ways:
✦ Make sure that children play target games, wherein they are supposed to throw things into buckets or hoops. This will help them judge the distance.
✦ Let children play with balls or hoops of different sizes. Throw the ball at different distances and let them catch.

✦ Use directional or positional language with children. Use words such as above, below, under, over, in, or out. Help them understand which objects are closer and farther from where they are. Help them identify between right and left.
✦ Put the child's toys in a particular place. Give the directions and let the child find the toy. Ask the child to pick up an object that is lying on the right or left side, or an object lying under or over a shelf.

✦ Walk with them, and let them count their steps to measure the distance between two points.
✦ Use play equipment with climbing frames or space to crawl under.
✦ Let them dance to action songs, where they learn to move their hands and legs up, down, right, left, etc.

✦ Games such as Lego or marbles will also help.
The best way to improve spatial awareness in children is to let them explore their surroundings. Once a child is able to walk, let him/her walk towards things to understand the distance or the number of steps he/she needs to take to reach the object.
While playing or interacting with them, use directional language. With time, the child will understand the concept of distance, position, and speed, and will be able to comprehend how his/her location to things changes as he/she moves. It is advisable to consult an occupational therapist if the child is unable to develop an understanding of these concepts.