Can you develop spatial reasoning?
By Chris Pearse
15 Jul
Chris Pearse, author of several Galore Park Verbal Reasoning 11+ revision books, discusses the increasing use of spatial reasoning questions in 11+ exams and what activities children can do to build this skill.

Perhaps before we attempt to answer the title of this blog, it might be useful to understand firstly what spatial reasoning is and secondly how spatial reasoning can relate to our everyday lives. 

Spatial reasoning is defined as the skillls needed to see objects in three dimensions.  It is being able to visualise spatial images in our minds and mentally manipulating them, often based on the partial clues given. Someone with good spatial abilities might also be good at thinking about how objects will look when rotated. Have you ever considered what everyday tasks you carry out that require good spatial reasoning skills?
  • Parking your car in a parking lot
  • Using a map to navigate a location
  • Sports require you to think spatially, for example, if trying to predict where a ball is going to land or how it will spin/change direction
  • Going shopping will involve figuring out how to pack your shopping in a bag or box, so everything fits.
So, spatial reasoning can occupy many daily tasks.  Throughout our childhood we were often exposed to puzzles and games that would have developed our spatial reasoning. Using building blocks to form a simple structure involves rotation and considering how items fit together. Completing jigsaw puzzles and tangrams help children improve their spatial skills.

The very popular video game of ‘Tetris’ is another medium that helps pupils rotate shapes and see how they fit together. Modern games like ‘MindCraft’ can develop problem solving and geometry skills. In this game pupils quickly learn what is possible with six faces of a cube and how to stack blocks.  There is no doubt that there is a strong association between puzzle solving and spatial intelligence. 
Interestingly, developing spatial reasoning can often revolve around the associated terminology. Pupils need the language to describe how shapes, objects and people relate to each other in our daily spaces. A student needs to explain how shapes rotate or how a shape folds and the vocabulary is required to develop this understanding. Simple words like: diagonal, across, opposite, underneath, on top of, the bottom of, outside or rotated, need to be embedded into the development of good spatial skills.

Specific approaches have been shown to help pupils visually with certain 11+ spatial questions. These include, making cubes from paper to help with cubes and nets questions. Drawing the images on the cube and folding it up can help a student see how the faces relate to each other. When answering 3D rotation or 3D composite questions it can be useful to use blocks to construct the items and see them in different planes (views). 

In conclusion, we realise spatial reasoning starts to be tested at an early age through playing games like Lego, completing jigsaw puzzles and using building blocks. These activities will develop our spatial skills. Using the correctly modelled language in parallel will support their reasoning. Furthermore, practical activities to support completing 11+ questions also help pupils visualise how a shape is formed or rotated, and these should be encouraged. Our students will have a variety of careers later in life and many will involve good spatial awareness. To name just a few: Landscape Architects, Graphic designers, Photographers, Physicists or Air traffic controllers. The debate will continue if spatial reasoning can be taught or if this is an innate ability. Nonetheless, spatial reasoning is becoming more important in the 11+ environment.

In the 11+ tests there could be question types that test your 3D and spatial awareness. Using authentic practice exam papers recently produced by Galore Park will give your child the perfect resource to develop their non-verbal reasoning and spatial reasoning skills.

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