Inside: Learn how improving your spatial awareness can boost your cognitive skills, enhance athletic ability, and even improve your sense of direction. Unlocking the Power of Spatial Awareness: How Developing this Skill Can Improve Your Life in Surprising Ways. Read on!

Every day we move through life, our everyday surroundings without giving it much thought. There are things we pay closer attention to and some things we pass in our day we do not give a second glance.

However, even if we do not give this a second thought, we are still inherently aware of them and we make decisions about how to navigate our environment with them in it. This is our spatial awareness or also can be known as spatial perception or spatial reasoning.

1. What is Spatial Awareness?

Spatial awareness is a cognitive skill that allows individuals to understand and navigate the physical space around them. It is the ability to perceive the relationship between objects, people, and oneself in space. Spatial awareness is essential for various activities such as driving, playing sports, and even reading maps.

child on beach with arms outstretched feeling their spatial awareness
Spatial awareness is your awareness of your body in space.

Individuals with strong spatial awareness have a better sense of direction, are better at problem-solving, and have a stronger ability to visualize objects in their minds. Spatial awareness is a complex skill that involves the integration of several cognitive processes such as perception, attention, and memory.

Developing spatial awareness is crucial for individuals of all ages. Infants and young children develop spatial awareness through play and exploration, while adults can improve their spatial awareness through practice and training.

This involves knowing how to move the muscles or do the task needed for navigating an environment with spatial awareness. Numeracy for All gives the definition, “ Spatial reasoning is how we understand how things (including ourselves) move and interact in relation to the physical space around them.

It also involves understanding the relationships of objects as they change position.” While many areas of the brain are involved in spatial awareness, much of its function comes from the right side.

Understanding spatial awareness and its importance can help individuals enhance their cognitive abilities and improve their daily activities.

group of children standing close together
There are many fun activities you can do with kids to improve spatial awareness.

Spatial awareness is the ability to understand and interpret the physical space around us. It involves the perception of the size, shape, and orientation of objects, as well as the ability to navigate through physical space. Spatial awareness is an essential skill that we use every day, from driving a car to playing sports to pouring a cup of coffee.

At its core, spatial awareness is about understanding the concepts of direction, distance, and location. It is the ability to locate objects in space and understand their relationship to one another. It also involves the ability to mentally manipulate objects in space, such as rotating them or imagining them from different angles.

Spatial awareness is a complex cognitive skill that develops over time. Infants start developing spatial awareness from birth, with the ability to recognize their mother’s face and distinguish it from other faces. As children grow and develop, their spatial awareness becomes more sophisticated, allowing them to navigate their environment with greater ease and accuracy.

2. Why is Spatial Awareness Important?

Spatial awareness is a vital cognitive skill that allows us to understand the position of objects and ourselves in space. It helps us navigate our surroundings, move through them safely, and interact with the world around us. Spatial awareness is important for many everyday tasks, including driving, playing sports, and even pouring a glass of water.

Research suggests that spatial awareness is also critical for academic success. Children with strong spatial skills tend to perform better in math and science, as well as in reading and writing. Spatial awareness helps us understand geometric concepts, visualize problems, and make connections between different ideas.

pile of maps
With technology, not many people rely on maps anymore. But spatial awareness skills are required to read maps effectively.

Furthermore, spatial awareness is essential for many careers, including engineering, architecture, and design. In these fields, professionals must be able to visualize complex structures and spaces, understand how objects relate to each other, and create accurate representations of their ideas.

3. Spatial Awareness Chart

LOCATIONWhere is the object? Over, under, beside, between, near, far, close by, too far, within reachVisualizing where something is before going to look for it, visualizing how much will fit in a backpack or suitcase
MOVEMENTHow are objects and people moving around you in your environment in regard to your movement or lack of it?
SOCIALPersonal space, boundaries in various situations, other people’s personal space
READING AND WRITINGSentence structure, order, grammarHandwriting spacing with words in sentences
MATHEMATICSNumber arrangement, order, geometry

4. How to Improve Spatial Awareness

Some children can exhibit difficulties with spatial awareness. It can fall within the scope of visual impairment, Autism, dyspraxia, cerebral palsy, and Turner Syndrome, to name a few. There are signs to look for in children that are suspected to have spatial awareness deficits.

Does the child have difficulty with:

  • Pinpointing something regarded with the senses (where is that smell, where is that sound, etc.
  • navigating their environment as far as being too close or too far away to do a task, reaching for something
  • directions on how to get somewhere, left, right, up, down, or later on following a map
  • standing too close or too far away
  • coordination, clumsiness

It’s important to note that like everything else our kids experience, spatial awareness is an area where they can have scattered skills. They may excel in one area of spatial awareness, but really struggle in another area.

There are ways we teach little ones from a very young age to increase their spatial recognition skills.

We can use words to associate and have the child answer questions using visual imagery. For example, “is the toy in my hand or on the floor” and the answer for them is to say, “the toy is in your hand”.

Or, “where is the frog book”, “the frog book is in my room on the shelf”, “look at the bird”, “the bird is high up in that tree”.

Another tool is teaching them to gesture, imitate or visualize. Encourage them to close their eyes and express to you where something is, or what it looks like.

5. Physical Activities for Spatial Awareness

One of the best ways to improve spatial awareness is through physical activities. Engaging in activities that require movement and coordination can help develop spatial reasoning skills. Here are some physical activities that can help improve spatial awareness:

  • Obstacle courses
  • Playing sports
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Blocks, Legos (especially having them tell a story about what they are building)
  • Playing games using maps to expose them to map reading
  • Creating origami
  • Learning Music
  • dancing
  • instruments
  • Puzzles
  • board games
  • Creating 3D objects 
puzzle pieces to add to a sensory bin
Completing puzzles can improve spatial awareness skills.

6. Mental Exercises

In addition to physical activities, there are also mental exercises that can help improve spatial awareness. These exercises involve using your imagination and visualizing objects in your mind. Here are some mental exercises that can help improve spatial awareness:

  • Playing memory games
  • Putting together puzzles
  • Visualizing objects in your mind and rotating them in different directions
  • Playing strategy games like chess or checkers
  • Practicing drawing or painting

7. Technology-based Training

Advancements in technology have made it possible to train spatial awareness using specialized software and apps. These programs can help improve spatial reasoning skills by providing visual and auditory feedback. Here are some technology-based training methods that can help improve spatial awareness:

Training MethodDescription
Virtual reality trainingUsing virtual reality headsets to simulate real-world scenarios and environments
Video game trainingPlaying video games that require spatial reasoning skills
Auditory trainingListening to audio cues and trying to locate the source of the sound
Brain training appsUsing apps specifically designed to improve spatial awareness and other cognitive skills

Improving spatial awareness takes time and practice. By engaging in physical activities, mental exercises, and technology-based training, you can develop your spatial reasoning skills and improve your overall spatial awareness.

8. Spatial Awareness in Different Fields

a. Sports

Developing spatial awareness can be critical in many sports. Athletes need to be able to track the position and movement of other players, anticipate where the ball or puck is going, and adjust their own position and movement accordingly.

For example, in basketball, players need to be able to quickly read the position of their teammates and opponents, and adjust their own position to set up a shot or make a pass.

In soccer, players need to be able to anticipate the movement of the ball and their opponents, and position themselves to intercept passes or take shots.

Training for spatial awareness in sports can involve drills that focus on visual tracking, reaction time, and decision-making.

For example, basketball players may practice dribbling and passing while keeping their eyes on a moving target, or soccer players may practice making quick decisions about where to position themselves based on the movement of the ball and other players.

Click the image to see a list of special needs sports programs.

b. Driving

Driving requires a high degree of spatial awareness, as drivers need to be able to judge the distance and speed of other vehicles, pedestrians, and obstacles. They also need to be able to navigate complex road systems and make quick decisions about which direction to go. Spatial awareness is particularly important for safe driving at high speeds, such as on highways or in racing.

Training for spatial awareness in driving can involve simulation exercises that replicate real-world driving situations. For example, a driver may practice navigating a virtual course while avoiding obstacles and making quick decisions about which lane to take.

c. Piloting

Pilots need to have excellent spatial awareness to safely navigate aircraft through the air and on the ground. They need to be able to judge distances, speeds, and angles, and make quick decisions based on changing conditions. Pilots also need to be able to read and interpret complex flight instruments and communicate effectively with other members of the flight crew.

Training for spatial awareness in piloting can involve simulations that replicate real-world flight conditions, including takeoffs, landings, and emergency procedures. Pilots may also practice spatial awareness exercises that involve judging distances and angles using visual cues.

d. Surgery

Spatial awareness is critical for surgeons, who need to be able to navigate complex anatomical structures and make precise incisions and movements. They also need to be able to judge the position and movement of surgical instruments and other tools and make quick decisions based on changing conditions.

Training for spatial awareness in surgery can involve simulations that replicate real-world surgical procedures, including virtual reality simulations that allow surgeons to practice complex procedures in a controlled environment.

Surgeons may also practice spatial awareness exercises that involve manipulating small objects or performing precise movements with their hands.

9. Spatial Awareness Disorders

Spatial awareness disorders can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to navigate their environment, complete everyday tasks, and interact with others. Here are some of the most common spatial awareness disorders:

a. Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that affects motor coordination and planning. People with dyspraxia may have difficulty with tasks that involve spatial awareness, such as tying shoelaces, using utensils, or navigating their environment.

Dyspraxia can also affect speech and language development, as well as social skills.

b. Apraxia

Apraxia is a motor disorder that affects the ability to plan and execute movements. People with apraxia may have difficulty with tasks that involve spatial awareness, such as dressing themselves or using tools. Apraxia can also affect speech and language development, as well as cognitive function.

c. Hemineglect

Hemineglect is a neurological disorder that affects the ability to perceive and attend to one side of the body or environment. People with hemineglect may have difficulty with tasks that involve spatial awareness, such as navigating their environment or completing tasks that require bilateral coordination.

Hemineglect can also affect attention, memory, and proprioception. It is important to note that spatial awareness disorders can vary in severity and presentation. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have a spatial awareness disorder, it is important to seek a professional evaluation and support.

With appropriate intervention and accommodations, individuals with spatial awareness disorders can learn to navigate their environment and complete everyday tasks more effectively.

Once again I want to thank Linda for assisting with this article.

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Linda Gilmartin is a high school special education teacher, an adjunct college professor for future teachers, Administrator of the social media group Transitioning Teens/Adults with Special Needs Life After High School, and Author of Transitioning Special Needs Teenagers and Adults