Spatial Awareness in Toddlers – What is it and Activities to Improve

6 min read

Written by Smita Srivastava

Smita Srivastava

Spatial awareness in toddlers

Spatial awareness is being aware of the surrounding space. It involves mentally assessing distances, shapes, and dimensions. Spatial awareness is important for daily activities, problem-solving, and motor skills. It also contributes to the development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and balance. Puzzles, blocks, drawing, and physical activities can help improve spatial awareness in toddlers.

Spatial awareness is an essential cognitive capacity that helps us to move around and interact with the world, affecting our lives from an early age to adulthood. In this article we delve into details like- how exactly spatial awareness affects our life, and what all one can do to improve spatial awareness in toddlers.

In This Article

What is Spatial Awareness?

Spatial awareness is a complicated analytic ability that tells us where we are relative to objects around us and where objects are relative to each other. It’s understanding the concepts of direction, distance, and location, and it’s central to learning and performing countless tasks.

At What Age Do Toddlers Develop Spatial Awareness?

A toddler playing

An 18-month-old toddler has a basic understanding of spatial concepts, but spatial awareness develops from the very first day of life.

First, they learn that they have a body and that it comprises different parts (construction of the sensory system).

Then they learn where their body parts are in relation to each other.

Next, comes the understanding of the body’s movements.

Finally, the visual perception kicks in and the toddler starts observing things and objects around them and learns how to navigate through their surroundings (motor planning). They learn the concepts of direction, distance, and position.

[Read : Teaching Body Parts To Toddlers]

Signs of Spatial Awareness Problems in Toddlers

A kid writing

Spatial awareness starts developing through infancy. As your toddler grows, you see them navigate their surroundings while they do stuff like playing, walking etc. But just sometimes, you may notice that they are not able to manage this navigation properly. There are some signs which can indicate that your toddler has problems with spatial awareness-

  • Your toddler does not understand the concept of personal space and appropriate social distance
  • Bad at reading social cues. They don’t notice when people move away from them
  • Your tiny tot enjoys rough play but is unaware of the impact of their actions on others
  • They are in someone else’s room and completely unaware that they are eavesdropping
  • The little one is overbearing with physical affection
  • Your toddler doesn’t understand their friend’s reaction
  • They are too active and high spirited
  • Your toddler is everywhere, knocking things over and making a mess
  • Accidentally break things around them
  • The toddler struggles with writing. They either apply too much pressure and tear the paper, or apply too little pressure and not write anything at all
  • They seem to be awkward, and lack fluid body movements

What Causes Spatial Awareness Problems?

A toddler walking on grass

Spatial awareness issues may arise due to various reasons. Some of these are-

  • Difficulty in interpreting sensory information. This can make it difficult to understand spatial awareness and coordinate movements
  • Poor vision can affect a toddler’s interpretation of visual information. For toddlers it is difficult to judge the distance, depth, or position of objects relative to oneself
  • Impaired motor coordination or gross motor delays affect a toddler’s ability to move and interact with the environment. This can make it difficult to plan and execute movements effectively and can make spatial awareness difficult
  • Autism or ADHD can make it difficult for a toddler to have spatial awareness
  • Environmental impact i.e A toddler’s environment can shape their spatial awareness. Poor physical environments can limit spatial awareness skills.
  • Spatial awareness may be genetic. However, the specific genes involved and their precise impact on spatial perception are still being researched

How Can I Improve My Toddler’s Spatial Awareness?

A toddler playing in sand

If you feel your toddler is having issues with spatial awareness, there are some things you can try to help them out-

  • Encourage your little one to engage in active play like climbing, crawling, jumping, and balancing. This helps them better understand their body’s position in space
  • Offer multiple sensory activities like sand, water, clay, puzzles, blocks, etc. These experiences stimulate their senses and help them develop spatial concepts
  • Promote visual-motor skills by engaging your toddler in activities that promote hand-eye coordination and visual-motor integration. This can include drawing, coloring, cutting with scissors, playing catch, or kicking a ball
  • Play spatial awareness games like spatial reasoning and problem-solving, such as puzzles, memory games, and construction sets. These activities help your toddler develop mental mapping skills
  • Provide your tiny tot with materials like building blocks, for pretend play and building. These activities help them visualize and plan spatial arrangements
  • Engage in outdoor activities such as navigating playground equipment, riding a bike, or playing ball games. They interact with different terrains and physical obstacles through these activities
  • Give clear directions using words about the position. For example, use words like ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘in front of’, ‘behind’, etc. to describe the position of objects or their movements
  • Use spatial language in your routine conversations, describing the location and arrangement of objects, landmarks, or people around you. This helps your child learn spatial words and relationships
  • Be patient and supportive with your child and reinforce their efforts positively
  • Learning to play an instrument involves recognizing and interpreting patterns and repetitions in music. This process improves pattern recognition skills

[Read : When Can a Toddler Start to Catch a Ball?]

Activities to Improve Spatial Awareness in Toddlers

spatial awareness activities for toddlers

There are some activities as well, that you can try to improve your toddler’s spatial awareness. These are-

  • Hide an object and ask your toddler to find it by giving detailed instructions like- “It is behind the door.”
  • Make them watch a video or pictures with facial expressions and ask them to identify each expression shown
  • Assemble and disassemble things like jigsaw puzzles, building blocks, or miniature towers. Put it all together and once that’s done, try to take it apart and ask them to put it back by themselves
  • Filling and emptying activity like pouring water from one bucket to another, is a great exercise to develop a toddler’s spatial awareness
  • Stack and rearrange objects like ‘short’ and ‘long’ or roll the dough into a long bundle, then divide it into short and long pieces. Stacking the blocks from large to small or vice versa
  • Space sports like soccer, baseball, gymnastics, and dancing are great options (and even better, these activities keep toddlers active and fit). It also includes discovering it helps you master valuable spatial awareness skills 

Spatial awareness is a fundamental cognitive ability that affects various aspects of a toddler’s development. By providing opportunities for active play, sensory experiences, and engaging activities, parents and caregivers can help improve a toddler’s spatial awareness skills. Through patience, support, and incorporating spatial language into daily conversations, toddlers can develop a better understanding of their environment and enhance their problem-solving and motor skills. Investing in spatial awareness development from an early age is crucial for a toddler’s overall cognitive and physical growth.

[Read : Building Blocks For Babies]


1. What Disorder is a Lack of Spatial Awareness?

The disorder, known as spatial cognitive impairment, is often accompanied by a lack of spatial awareness. It is also known as spatial processing disorder, spatial movement disorder, or visuospatial disorder. People with this disorder may struggle to recognize spatial relationships, judge distances, and navigate.

2. Can Autism Affect Spatial Awareness?

Yes, autism can affect spatial awareness in some individuals. Spatial awareness difficulties are commonly observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a neuro developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior.

3. What is One Example of Childhood Spatial Awareness?

A baby grabbing a rattle or reaching out for a toy are example of childhood spatial awareness. By doing this the baby is learning to assess the distance between his body and the object and navigate by gauging that distance to reach out for the object. 

Read Also: Developing Social Skills In Your Toddler

Smita Srivastava, Bachelors (BA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Delhi University
Masters (MA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Kurukshetra University

With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.

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