Spatial awareness is the ability to understand your body’s position in relation to your surroundings. It can have an impact on everything from picking up a book to navigating social settings.

Every day, we move through and interact with our surroundings. In order to accomplish this, spatial awareness is very important. But 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.

So why exactly is spatial awareness important? How can you recognize potential spatial awareness problems? Continue reading as we dive deeper into these topics and more.

Spatial awareness allows us to be conscious of the things in our environment as well as our position relative to them. This ability is important for several reasons, such as:

  • Location. Spatial awareness gives context to the location of an object. For example, knowing that a cup is on a table as opposed to under it.
  • Movement. Having spatial awareness can inform you of how people and objects move through the environment. This can help you navigate your surroundings.
  • Social. Spatial awareness can affect social functions like maintenance of personal space.
  • Reading and writing. A spatial understanding is needed for understanding sentence structure and grammar.
  • Mathematics. Some mathematical concepts also require spatial awareness. Examples include geometry and ordering or arranging numbers.

Spatial awareness also goes hand-in-hand with another concept called proprioception. Proprioception refers to your awareness of your body and limbs in your surrounding space.

For example, when you reach across a table to grab a pencil, you use proprioception to know how much to move the muscles in your arm in order to make that motion. You also use spatial awareness to gauge the distance between yourself and the pencil.

Indications that someone may have a deficit in spatial awareness include:

  • difficulties pinpointing the location of something they see, hear, or feel
  • issues navigating through their environment when walking or driving
  • problems gauging distance from an object, such as when walking, driving, or reaching for things
  • trouble following a route or reading a map
  • confusion over directions like left versus right and up versus down
  • difficulty with reading, writing, or mathematics
  • poor recognition of personal space, which may result in either standing too close or too far away from others
  • problems with coordination, which can include things like appearing clumsy, having trouble throwing or catching objects, or having difficulty getting dressed

Most children develop spatial awareness at a very young age. For example, a baby may track the movements of a parent as they walk through a room or a small child may begin to manipulate and organize toys.

Some children may have trouble developing spatial awareness. There are some health conditions that may impact this development, including:

Multiple areas of the brain are involved in spatial awareness. Interestingly, functions related to spatial awareness are controlled mostly by the right side of the brain.

Damage to these areas can also impact spatial awareness. This can happen at any point in your lifetime and can occur due to things like:

So how can you work to promote spatial awareness in children? Try some of the following:

  • Talk about locations. An example of this is leaving a toy on a table and talking about where the toy is in relation to the table (on the table), then talking about where the table is (in the dining room).
  • Discuss distance. Talk about how far or how close things are from your child’s current location. Measuring distances, such as through using steps, may also be helpful.
  • Teach shapes and sizes. Point out the shapes and sizes of objects. Examples include: “Your plate is a circle” or “This block is larger than that block.”
  • Explore directions. Try giving your child simple directions, such as “wave your left hand” or “walk forward and turn right at the bush.” You can also hide a toy and give them directions on where to find it.
  • Play games. Various games and activities can help a child learn spatial awareness. Examples include playing with blocks, completing puzzles, and games like “Simon Says” and “I Spy”.
  • Get active. Consider going to a playground and encouraging your child to play on the various kinds of equipment. Additionally, sports-related activities such as playing catch may also be beneficial.

While we’ve discussed what you can do to promote spatial awareness skills in children, is there anything that you can do as an adult to help improve spatial awareness? Try out these suggestions below:

  • Pick up a new hobby. Some hobbies help promote spatial awareness, such as photography and drawing.
  • Try video games. Focus on games where you manipulate and move objects. For example, an older study found that playing Tetris improved spatial skills in older adolescents.
  • Take time to play. As in children, various games or activities may help improve spatial awareness, such as putting together puzzles, trying out visual memory games, and playing chess.
  • Stay active. Exercise is good at any age. A 2014 study found that resistance exercise might help improve spatial awareness in older adults.

Spatial awareness refers to being aware of your surroundings and your position relative to them. It’s important for a number of reasons, including knowing about location, distance, and personal space.

Children typically develop spatial awareness at a young age. However, some health conditions may impact this. Damage to areas of the brain associated with spatial awareness can also lead to problems with spatial awareness.

You can promote spatial awareness in children by talking about the location, distance, and size of objects. Activities like building with blocks or playing games like “Simon Says” may also be helpful.

Adults can also work to improve spatial awareness by staying active, taking up hobbies like photography, or doing puzzles.