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


Spatial learning provides the foundation for a wide range of reasoning skills in everyday life, such as following directions and assembling furniture. It is also widely used in mathematics and science learning, and in technological innovation, from designing new products to understanding graphical depictions of complex systems. For example, geoscientists visualize the processes that affect the formation of the Earth, and engineers anticipate how forces will affect the design of a bridge. Scientists also use spatial models and diagrams, such as the periodic table, to reflect systematic regularities in the physical world.

Fortunately, substantial with construction toys, blocks and jigsaw puzzles is very important. Parents and teachers naturally use spatial language as they guide such play, and that language in turn helps children notice and reason about the spatial world. As children progress through the school system, learning to read maps, diagrams and graphs is a key challenge. Spatial reasoning is also involved in safety, as the article on bike safety illustrates.

For some kinds of spatial thinking, boys seem to do better than girls, at least on the average. (Individual girls may be great!) For this reason, parents and teachers need to support girls more in spatial learning, remembering that this kind of thinking is malleable and skills can be improved.