Development of spatial reasoning in young children
Cummins-Sebree, Sarah Elizabeth
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Spatial reasoning is the ability to know how objects are distributed and can move through space. Researchers who study this development have disagreed on when these skills are evident, possibly due to differing task presentations and behavioral requirements in these studies. This study was designed to test which of two theories provides a better explanation of the development of spatial reasoning in young children: the core knowledge hypothesis and an ecological approach. I presented 24-, 34-, and 44- month-old children a single task that required different behavioral responses based on a three-process (recognition, production, and prediction) spatial reasoning model grounded in Gibsonian ecological theory. In this task, I presented a box containing 1-3 vertical and diagonal translucent tubes leading to opaque containers to the children. Children were required to give three different behavioral responses: a) find a dropped ball after it had fallen through a tube (recognition), b) put a ball into the tube that led to a selected container (production), and c) indicate the end-point of a ball before it was dropped into a tube (prediction). Older children chose correctly more often than younger children for all tasks. No main effect for task presentation order was found (i.e., being able to produce the actions did not lead to better predictive performance). Multiple interactions indicated that differences in performance across tasks were due in part to age, gender, task presentation order, and the number of tubes presented. In addition, children who used a finger to trace the path of a tube in at least one trial during testing made more correct prediction choices than those who never traced tube paths. These findings suggest that producing strategic actions during these tasks facilitates the development of spatial reasoning in young children.