Numerous studies provide evidence that spatial skills are strong predictors of children’s future academic performance. Wang and colleagues conducted a longitudinal study to further explore which type of spatial skill of kindergarteners contributed to predicting math and Chinese reading performance in second grade. Three types of spatial skills were included in the study. Spatial perception is a basic spatial skill involving ability to distinguish shapes from other shapes. In contrast, spatial visualization and mental rotation are higher-level spatial skills which involve complicated multi-step cognitive processing.
This study is part of a longitudinal research project started in 2014 to investigate the quality of early childhood education in Guangdong province in China. The data used in this study were collected in 2016 (K3) and in 2018 (second grade). A sample of 182 children (mean age in 2016 = 6.3; 93 girls) was randomly selected from an economically mid-level city. Math achievement in second grade was assessed by Math Achievement Test (MAT) and Mathematical Equation Test (MET). A Chinese Character Recognition Task was used to assess Chinese reading skills for students in both kindergarten and primary school. All spatial skills were assessed in K3. Spatial perception ability was measured by asking students to identify a figure which presented a different orientation from 4 other figures. Spatial visualization was measured by a subtest of spatial relations in which children were asked to identify shapes needed to form a complete shape. Mental rotation ability was tested by the ice cone task. In the test, children were required to distinguish whether each pair of ice cones was the same. One of the ice cones of each pair was rotated in a different degree with a variation of 3 colors (blue, red, and green). After controlling for vocabulary, working memory, behavior regulation skills, and family SES of students in kindergarten, the analysis results were found as below.
- Spatial perception skill significantly predicted MAT (ES =+0.18) and MET (ES = +0.19) achievement but not Chinese character recognition (ES = -0.04) two years later.
- Spatial visualization ability in kindergarten significantly predicted all three scores in grade 2: MAT (ES = +0.14), MET (ES = +0.15) and Chinese reading skill (ES = +0.17).
- Mental rotation did not predict any of those three tests results 2 years later: MAT (ES = -0.04), MET (ES = -0.15) and Chinese reading skill (ES = -0.06).
Among the three types of spatial ability, both spatial perception and spatial visualization in kindergarten contributed significantly to children’s math skills in second grade, but only spatial visualization predicted Chinese character recognition ability. Spatial visualization involves maintaining spatial information in working memory, manipulating spatial images, and applying multi-step spatial processing to reason. Such skills would help generate mental representations to spatially structured Chinese characters learned in primary school. For example, the word 脆 is composed of 月 and 危.
Source: Wang, S., Hu, B. Y., & Zhang, X. (2021). Kindergarteners’ spatial skills and their reading and math achievement in second grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 57, 156–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2021.06.002