Spatial awareness and writing

Loop is nie ewe natuurlik vir almal nie
October 27, 2022
November 30, 2022

By Lizelle van Niekerk.

Often, as a mom, I feel frustrated that my child can’t see things that are right in front of him. He seems to be unaware that he is standing in somebody’s way. At times I have to pull him out of the way. He often walks into people, walls, chairs, doors, etc. When he is riding his bicycle, he can’t stay in his lane or jump the curb when he wants to stop. He struggles to organise his belongings in his room, on the shelves, or even in his schoolbag and workbooks. It takes a lot of motivation from him and patience from me to get the task done.

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.

What exactly is spatial awareness?

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 –

  • know where he is
  • know where the paper and pencil is in relation to his body
  • measure the distance between the pencil and paper
  • know the difference between right and left
  • know how much pressure to apply to the pencil to make a legible mark.

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.

Development of spatial awareness

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”.

The following Mind Moves are helpful:

Mind Moves Foot Massage:

Mind Moves Massage:

Mind Moves Mouse Pad March:

 Playful activities to develop spatial awareness:

  • Begin with very simple instructions, e.g. “kick your leg,” “wave your hand” or “shake your head”.
  • Then progress to motor instructions, e.g., “touch your elbow”.
  • Then progress to more difficult instructions, e.g., “touch your right knee”.
  • Play games that reinforce body awareness, such as Simon Says or Follow the Leader.
  • Ask learners to touch different body parts to other body parts, such as: “touch your left hand to your right ear”, “touch your right elbow with your left thumb”, etc.
  • Ask the child to draw a picture of him or herself. Name the body parts as they are drawn.
  • Create obstacle courses for the child to navigate by going over, under, around, and in between objects.
  • Complete heavy work activities such as pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy objects. This will help to reinforce where the joints and muscles are in space.
  • Wheelbarrow walks: Hold the legs of the child in your hands while his body and arms are straight and his weight rests on his hands. Pretend to push the “wheelbarrow” along a winding path in the garden to promote contraction of muscles surrounding a joint.
  • All children need opportunities to play with blocks and puzzles. You can use block play and puzzle activities to teach the concept of spatial awareness to young children. Use spatial awareness vocabulary as your child plays: above, below, in front of, next to, rectangle (all shapes), rhombus, edge, corner, face, and side. For example, “The block that is red is above the block that is blue.”


Anon.  (2022) “Spatial awareness”. Available at: (Accessed October 22, 2022).

Anon. (2019), “What is spatial awareness and how does it develop?”, Available at (Accessed June 14, 2022).

Anon. (2018) “Why is body awareness important?”, Available at:, (Accessed June 13, 2022).

Breznitz Shlomo. (2022) “What is spatial perception?”, Available at:, (Accessed: June 14, 2022).

De Jager M. (2016). Moves that mend the mind. 2nd Edition. Mind Moves Institute. Johannesburg

De Jager M. (2020). Gravity – a missing link in child development. Mind Moves Institute Publishing. Johannesburg

Epstein Varda. (2014) “Spatial Awareness Difficulties: Does Your Child Have This Problem?,” Available at:, (Accessed June 13, 2022).

Seladi Jill (2020). “What’s important about spatial awareness?” It is available at (Accessed June 14, 2022).

Tracy Trautner. (2019) “Spatial awareness with infants and toddlers”, Available at: June 14, 2022).



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