The Development of Early Spatial Thinking

Carla Abad, Florida International University


The different spatial experiences in the lives of young boys and girls may partly explain sex differences in spatial skills (Baenninger & Newcombe, 1995; Nazareth et al., 2013; Newcombe, Bandura & Taylor, 1983). While several studies have examined the influence of spatial activities on the development of spatial skills (e.g., Nazareth et al., 2013) there currently exists no widely used comprehensive measure to assess children’s concurrent participation in spatial activities and engagement with spatial toys. Study 1 of the current dissertation filled this gap in the field of spatial research through the creation of the Spatial Activity Questionnaire, a comprehensive survey designed to assess children’s involvement in spatial activities and engagement with spatial toys of diverse gender-typed content. The toys and activities 295 children were reported to have access to and engage with were explored to assess patterns of play with spatial and gender-stereotyped toys and activities. A sample of 76 children between 4 and 6 years of age and their primary caregivers participated in studies 2, 3, and 4 to explore the toys and activities young children have access to and play with (study 2), the link between play and mental rotation (study 3), and the relation between play, gender stereotypes, and mental rotation skills (study 4). Findings reveal great variability in the toys and activities children have access to and play with, with sex difference suggesting girls play with low-spatial and stereotypically feminine toys and activities more than boys while boys play with highly-spatial and stereotypically masculine toys and activities more than girls. Adding to the exiting literature suggesting the inconsistency of sex differences in early mental rotation skills, our results suggest no sex differences in children’s mental rotation ability. Furthermore, no relations were discovered between children’s play, gender stereotypes, and mental rotation ability. These findings point to the need to further explore the influence of play on when and how sex differences in mental rotation ability develop in order to promote fun and easy ways to support spatial learning in young boys and girls.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Abad, Carla, "The Development of Early Spatial Thinking" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10976045.