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What Do Spatially Gifted Children Do?

by Maggie McCormick, studioD

Though there is no specific test for spatial giftedness, patterns often emerge in abilities testing. Many spatially gifted children will show high scores in subtests relating to block design or similarities. Often called visual-spatial learners, these children don't always fit the mold of academic success, but do find their own way to stand out.

Build Things and Take Them Apart

Spatially gifted children tend to gravitate toward toys that allow them to build things, according to an article in Gifted Child Today. Classic blocks, stackable blocks, connectible blocks and log-type blocks are all open-ended activities that he might enjoy playing. Often, he will be able to build complex structures without the aid of step-by-step instructions. In fact, instructions may hinder his ability to build. On the flip side, he might also enjoy taking things apart to see how they work. Fortunately, his talents usually allow him to put the object back together in the proper order when he is finished.

Think in Pictures

According to an article in The New Zealand Association for Gifted Children's "Tall Poppies" magazine, spatially gifted children tend to think in pictures rather than words. These pictures can be static, or like a movie. This can make it difficult for the child to express ideas through words, either spoken or written, as she has to "translate" the pictures in her head into words that others can understand. Likewise, it is difficult for the child to learn from a lecture, because she must translate the speaker's words into pictures.

Understand the Whole

Spatially gifted children tend to understand whole concepts more quickly than they can understand individual steps. For example, they might understand abstract mathematical concepts, yet struggle to do simple addition. They can sometimes arrive at the answer without thinking through all the steps or "showing their work," which can frustrate teachers. In many cases, once a spatially gifted child understands where information is leading them to, they can easily grasp the in-between steps. For example, if you were teaching him how to make an origami flower, it would be best to start by showing a finished example and then move on to the specific steps, although he might know how to make the flower without learning your steps.

Struggle in School

Sadly, it is common for spatially gifted children to underachieve in school, according to a study in the American Educational Research Journal. Most schools teach subject matter in a sequential way, which visual-spatial learners find hard to understand. A gifted spatial child may also have learning disabilities that she compensates for with her intelligence, making her seem just average, when she could use with both extra intellectual stimulation and support for the disability. Spatially gifted children learn better when they have visual elements to learn from and when they understand the concept as a whole.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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