Nora S. Newcombe, Ph.D.
Nora S. Newcombe, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology and James H. Glackin Distinguished Faculty Fellow
Temple University

LearnNow: What Does “Spatial Thinking” Mean?

I finally figured out what “critical thinking” means, and now I’ve encountered a new term: “spatial thinking.” What is “spatial thinking,” and why is it important for my child?

This is a great question, and I can understand the confusion! Spatial thinking is “seeing in the mind’s eye.” We can picture the locations of objects, their shapes, their relations to each other and the paths they take as they move. All of us think spatially in many everyday situations: when we consider rearranging the furniture in a room, when we assemble a bookcase using a diagram or when we relate a map to the road ahead of us. We also use spatial thinking to describe non-spatial situations, such as when we talk about being close to a goal or describe someone as an insider. Spatial thinking is associated with skill and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as art, graphic design and architecture. Can we educate children in a way that would maximize their potential in this domain? Yes! There is mounting evidence that spatial thinking can increase when children play with puzzles or blocks, or hear their parents use spatial language.

To learn more about “spatial thinking,” see these two articles: Puzzle Smart and Spatial, Meet STEM. I hope this helps!