Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Shannon Pruden

First Advisor's Committee Title

committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Anthony Dick

Second Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Timothy Hayes

Third Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Jacqueline Lynch

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

committee member


spatial ability, home environment, mental rotation, spatial scaling

Date of Defense



Spatial thinking encompasses several related skills including understanding size, shape, translation and rotation of objects, and distance between objects. Individual differences in spatial thinking are important predictors of children’s math and science achievement, as well as later entry into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This dissertation proposes Relational Developmental Systems Theory as a lens to study spatial development. Informed by Relational Developmental Systems Theory, two empirical studies examined whether mothers’ characteristics affected their parenting practices, and in turn, their children’s spatial abilities (i.e., mental rotation, spatial scaling). First, in a sample of 165 mother-child dyads, mothers’ spatial ability was examined in relation to the home spatial environment that they provide, and children’s intrinsic and extrinsic spatial skills using structural equational modeling. Findings showed that mothers’ spatial ability, mothers’ toy choice, and the home intrinsic spatial environment did not significantly predict child spatial ability. Second, in a sample of 152 mothers of four- to six-year-old children, mothers’ interest in STEM and spatial anxiety were examined in relation to the frequency of mother-child spatial play in the home setting. Findings showed that mothers’ interest in STEM and general anxiety predicted mother-child spatial play, but not mothers’ intrinsic spatial anxiety. This study adds to the current literature by exploring how mothers’ characteristics, beyond spatial ability, relate to children’s early home spatial environment. Additionally, it studies the development of both intrinsic and extrinsic spatial skills in young children. This dissertation is a first step toward identifying parent characteristics and practices that can be targeted for intervention as a mechanism for improving children’s spatial ability. These findings suggest that mothers with low interest in STEM and/or high levels of general anxiety are prime candidates for participating in training in how to foster children’s spatial skills at home through play. Further, these findings call for future work that measures the home spatial environment as spatial language production or quality of parent spatial support, instead of frequency of spatial play, and explores whether, and how, child and father characteristics contribute to the home spatial environment in addition to mother characteristics.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).