By Lizelle van Niekerk.
For all the activities above, we need to judge the distance, position, and dimension of other objects in relation to ourselves. We mentally assess the possible combinations of positions and, choose the one that best suits our needs. Every day, we move through and interact with our surroundings when we walk, dress, or even draw, write and read. Spatial awareness is very important to accomplish this.
Spatial awareness refers to your ability to be aware of objects in space and your body’s position in relation to them. It is the knowledge of how much space the body occupies and how to use the body in space. Children learn that they have their own personal space as well as the general space available around them and the restricted space in which they may move. They also learn that their body can take on different shapes as it assumes different positions, can travel at different levels in relation to the ground, and can follow various pathways as it moves through space. It is important and useful for people of all ages, as we are constantly using this ability. It is one of the perceptual motor skills that children develop to be able to interact with the environment by combining the use of the senses with motor skills.
It may be difficult for a child with spatial awareness difficulties to master the act of writing. A writer needs to –
A child with spatial awareness difficulties may be confused by the teacher’s writing instructions (e.g., hold the front end of the pencil between the third and second finger of the right hand while allowing the end of the pencil to rest in the crook between the thumb and index finger). Poor spatial awareness can lead to difficulties in mathematics due to the abstract nature of the subject, particularly with the concepts of space, shapes, area, time, and volume. By the same token, a child with poor spatial awareness skills may have trouble in gym class and playing games that require equipment (e.g., balls, bats, and goal boxes). They may appear clumsy, bumping into things. Playing ball games may be difficult for children who have difficulty judging the speed and distance of an oncoming ball. They may have difficulty judging where to stand on the field or in relation to other players.
A good example of spatial awareness and how it is developed is demonstrated by an infant who is learning to reach out and grab a toy. By 12 months, a toddler has a basic understanding of spatial concepts, but spatial awareness actually begins to develop the day they’re born. First, they learn that they have a body and that their body has different parts (building their sensory system). They develop an understanding of where their body parts are in relation to each other and how much force is required for different tasks (proprioceptive sense). Initially, for a very young child, spatial awareness is based on location. As the child reaches for a toy, he learns how far to stretch the muscles in his arms to reach the object. Proprioception is developed as a child becomes aware of where his limbs are in space. As the child reaches for the object a second time, he begins to recognize how far he must stretch his arms to reach the toy. They become aware of their body being still or moving in different directions and at different speeds (vestibular system). They make sense of what they hear and see (auditory and visual perception) and learn to navigate within their environment (motor planning), while learning the concepts of (1) location, (2) direction, (3) sequence, and (4) distance.
Spatial perception may be affected in some developmental disorders like autism, Asperger’s, and cerebral palsy, as well as others. In these cases, the problem lies in the lack of understanding of their own body and the difficulty of interpreting their own body as a whole. Only thereafter can they interpret their body within the environment. A lack of spatial awareness is described as “being such that you can’t feel where your body is”.
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