How to Develop Spatial Awareness

Walking, driving, playing sports, reading a book... there are countless activities you wouldn't be able to do without spatial awareness.
How to Develop Spatial Awareness

Last update: 30 April, 2021

You need to develop spatial awareness as it’s crucial in your daily life, even if you don’t know what it is! Let’s go through a daily routine: you wake up in the morning and you know you’re lying in your bed. Then, you get up and walk down the hallway, dodging the radiator on the right wall with no problem. A simple, everyday scene like the above wouldn’t be possible without spatial awareness.

But let’s move on. After breakfast you get dressed, choose a small backpack, and leave the house. You head for the bakery, cross the street, turn left and enter the store. Not everyone has an equally developed spatial perception.

Surely you know someone who’s good at technical drawing or who has a particular talent for placing suitcases in the car before a trip. However, unless the person has had an injury or illness, we all have enough ability to function in the environment around us.

What is spatial awareness or perception?

Spatial awareness is a complex cognitive ability that allows us to be aware of ourselves and the relative position of objects in space. Therefore, it’s related to the way we perceive, identify, and process information from the environment.

Through the data we receive from the senses (especially sight), we create a mental representation of the environment that allows us to navigate through it. Various concepts come into play:

  • Location: the location of objects.
  • Distance: their position in relation to me.
  • Proprioception: where I am and how I should proceed in order to move through the environment.
A pile of suitcases.
Packing is a matter of spatial awareness in which some are better at than others.

Why is it important to develop it?

Spatial awareness is fundamental in daily life, as it allows us to relate and interact with other objects and people in the environment and to carry out the most basic and necessary activities.

Among other functions, thanks to spatial perception we can do the following:

  • Identify the size and shape of an object, see it in three dimensions and recognize it from different angles. We know its position in space, recognize whether it’s static or moving and how far away it is.
  • Read and write, understand the structure and grammar of texts.
  • Use mathematical concepts and perform numerical operations.
  • Maintain an appropriate social distance when interacting with other people.
  • Be aware of our body and how to use it to move around the environment.
  • Differentiate left and right, follow a route, do sports, dress, drive.

How can I develop spatial awareness?

This spatial awareness is an innate ability, but it has to develop throughout growth. It’s related to the right cerebral hemisphere and begins to manifest itself at a very early age.

As the baby interacts with its environment, it begins to build and understand basic concepts such as shape, size, depth and location. Thus, their spatial awareness is strengthened and different systems are developed:

  • The acquisition of the body schema is fundamental. The child begins to be aware of itself, their body and its parts. The proprioceptive sense allows them to receive information through receptors in the skin, muscles and joints. For example, when the child is wrapped in a blanket, given a massage or tries to reach and use their toys.
  • The vestibular system provides information about its position (whether they’re sitting or lying down), as well as whether they’re in motion or moving and at what speed.
  • Once the child knows their body and its different positions and functions, they begin to relate it to their external environment through the senses. They receive information about the objects and people around them. With the help of memory, they begin to plan their movements in the environment.

Examples of spatial perception

To better understand the importance of spatial perception, here are some everyday examples of its relevance:

  • When you visit a new city and want to know the main monuments, spatial perception allows you to interpret the map to reach the destination.
  • If you want to put a travel bag in the airplane compartment and it’s almost full, spatial awareness helps you identify the best position for it to fit.
  • It also lets you calculate angles and space when parking or finding an object inside the house by following instructions such as “it’s inside a bag, under the table, to the right of the sofa”.
A map and a toy plane
Understanding a map would be impossible without spatial perception, which makes it easier for us to navigate in unfamiliar cities and places.

People can develop spatial awareness

Although spatial awareness is an innate ability, there are different ways to enhance it. For example, putting together puzzles, playing chess or playing video games such as Tetris or Mindcraft.

Similarly, taking a mental tour of the rooms in your house or practicing drawing various objects from different perspectives can be useful. Like any other ability, the more you practice it, the more it’ll improve.

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  • Fernández, J. C., Mercado, F. & Sánchez, M. D. (2003). Teoría y práctica psicomotora de la orientación y localización espacial.
  • Gutierrez, A. (1991). Procesos y habilidades en visualización espacial. In Memorias del 3er Congreso Internacional sobre Investigación Matemática: Geometría (pp. 44-59).
  • Álvarez, N., de la Fuente, D., Gallego, M., & Gutiérrez, C. B. (s. f.). Percepción espacial. Recuperado marzo de 2021, de http://files.sensacion-y-percepcion.webnode.es/200000042-bdd20bfc9f/percepcionespacial.pdf