Signs of High Spatial Intelligence In Children

Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Editorial Team

The concept of multiple intelligence[1] was first introduced by H. Gardner. One of these intelligence is spatial intelligence. 

Spatial intelligence is the ability to perceive and process three-dimensional visual data. It examines our conceptions of spatially related constructions in our conscious and subconscious minds. Imagine it like an aptitude to comprehend and envision abstract and real designs.

Spatial intelligence enhances the awareness of surroundings and environments. It is a basic intelligence that acts as a bedstone for many other spatial abilities. Within our experience, it informs us on how we can generalize about spatial constructs.

Spatial intelligence has evolutionary importance for any organism whose survival depends on navigating three-dimensional space. Children and adolescents need spatial aptness to participate in the constructive activities needed at home and school.  

For example, when we move from one point to another, we use our spatial thinking[2] to make our way on the road and travel through landmarks. In our daily lives, there are multiple instances, when we complete the activities without being aware of them. We do that through spatial thinking.

Let’s discuss the science behind spatial intelligence and how it is developed and utilized throughout our lives. 

Elements of Spatial Intelligence

Based on the theory of multiple intelligence, in 1994, research (Maier) introduced the five key elements of spatial intelligence after realizing the need to understand spatial abilities in different individuals. Those five elements are spatial perception, spatial orientation, spatial relation, mental rotation, and visualization. These key elements give us important insights into how we can improve the instructions in mathematics to promote spatial intelligence. 

Formal training on each of the five elements of spatial intelligence gives one the ability to solve various types of spatial-related problems in today’s world. Let’s go through the five elements of spatial intelligence and understand how understanding each of them can benefit children.

1. Spatial perception

Spatial perception is the ability to locate an object on the vertical or horizontal axis. 

The tests involving spatial perception often distract the subject with unimportant information and require them to figure out the exact locations. The relation between the subject and object may change in these tests, however, the relation between different objects remains constant.

For example, between four different men climbing up their ladders to get to the rooftop from four different sides of the building, find out which two among the four are at the same level. 

2. Spatial orientation 

Spatial orientation gives one the ability to reorient themselves in a mental or physical space. Since the mental processes are dynamic in nature, the tests on spatial orientation require subjects to find their orientation under different circumstances. Unlike spatial perception, the subject’s orientation in the task is of great importance.

For example, while navigating your location in a 3D map from point A to B, a test may require you to reorient yourself to find out the direction of point B.

3. Spatial relation

Spatial relation helps us find the relation and configuration between different objects in a given space. The tasks related to spatial relation examine your ability to identify objects in different positions and their relationship with one another if any. 

Mental processes related to spatial relations are static; however, the subject’s location for a given task is relevant. 

For example, while riding around an obstacle course on a bicycle, find out similar types of obstacles and group them together. 

4. Mental rotation 

Mental rotation shows us how to accurately rotate a 2D or 3D object in our minds. 

Skills about mental rotation come in handy in many daily situations like while working on graphic software such as Photoshop. The tests on mental rotation do not consider the subject’s location, however, the mental processes involved in them are dynamic. 

For example, compare four different cubes and find out which two among them are similar in dimensions without physically touching the cubes. 

5. Visualization

Spatial visualization is the ability to recognize the movements in different configurations as well as predict their future arrangements. 

The tests on visualization require dynamic mental processes. The relation between the different objects in the tests is continuously changing. However, the subject remains static and speculates the future configuration based on the present data. 

For example; mentally manipulate a set of 3D objects in a puzzle and check if they fit together to form a perfect sphere. 

Through understanding the five elements, we realize the ubiquitous nature of spatial intelligence and how it is connected to our daily activities in a practical manner. 

Now let’s try to understand what could be the signs of high spatial intelligence in growing children. Could we point them out in children between their daily affairs? 

Signs of high spatial intelligence

An individual with spatial intelligence has the ability to mentally process visual images with high efficiency. 

Here are three glaring signs of high spatial intelligence in children:

1. Visualization

The ability to mentally imagine visual imagery to represent an object is called visualization. Studies[3] have concluded that visual-spatial skills are an early sign of creativity in children. A spatially intelligent child is good with visualization, which also makes them good at puzzles and building games.

Generally, children use gesturing to convey the movements of objects and thoughts. The more they practice conveying their thoughts, the more they develop visual-spatial intelligence. 

Introducing tangram or jigsaw puzzles early on in children’s playtime could help them develop visualization. Reading them spatially rich books or teaching them to read maps could also help them in the same direction.

2. Excellent symbolic representation and problem-solving

Children often get lost in an activity without ever realizing how much they rely on their spatial intelligence. 

For example, a child interprets the orientation of mathematical symbols and makes sense of them by using spatial thinking. These children are good with symbolic representation. They could use mathematical symbols to solve more complex problems.

We may notice that someone with higher spatial intelligence finds it easier to understand and solve geometric equations. They are good at problem-solving. It is easier for them to manipulate 2D and 3D objects. Apart from that, they may also exhibit a natural inclination towards technology and engineering

3. Building and repairing

As an early sign, we may notice that a spatially gifted child builds and repairs inanimate projects at home. These children like to dismantle things and then reassemble tools and appliances. This interest may later lead them to pursue a technical field. 

Including spatial intelligence training in school, curriculum could act as a key to encouraging more children in STEM fields. As per Project Talent, there is a clear relationship between spatial intelligence in children and their preferred interests. 

Children on the far end of the spatial intelligence spectrum tend to pick interests where they can work with their hands, like physical engineering. Spatial intelligence is also a good predictive factor of success in school and professional life in adulthood. 

The research on spatial intelligence needs to connect with the practices in school and at home. This is how our children will understand the importance of spatial intelligence in our practical lives. 

Now, let’s explore the different areas where high spatial intelligence is relevant. 

Areas where high spatial intelligence benefits 

There are several career options for individuals with high spatial intelligence. An appropriately educated individual with spatial intelligence has an enhanced understanding of geometric propensities in science and mathematics

The ability to think spatially is useful across several areas of study including social, arts, and humanities. Our cognitive skills rely on our spatial abilities. For example, spatial thinking helps in interpreting the statistics graphs. Or while working with geometric figures. 

The higher the spatial intelligence, the higher the interest and success of an individual in STEM fields[4], such as physical sciences, mathematics, and computer engineering. Career options like theoretical physicists and mechanical engineers require high spatial intelligence. The other careers that could benefit from such skills are cryptographers and surveyors. 

Even geneticists and biochemists, due to their work at the molecular level of data, could profit from sound spatial intelligence. Apart from STEM fields, we have a category of artists that deals with directly representing the physical fields like photographers, painters, designers, and sculptors.  

Since spatial thinking has become an indispensable part of many practical applications and career options, it has become more important to include spatial thinking in schooling curricula. Comprehensive inclusion of spatial education seems quite necessary and should be a primary educational objective of schools. 

Spatial intelligence in schooling curriculum and its importance

Let’s take the example of Geography. 

Spatial thinking in Geography inquires the four domains; physical spaces, intellectual spaces, social spaces, and life spaces. Among the four domains, let’s try to understand the two; life spaces and social spaces; to realize why they are important. 

Life spaces include the concepts of movement, location, and scale. It also includes our ability to make plans and live in space. On the other hand, social spaces include the concepts of culturally relevant patterns such as neighborhoods and school zones. 

Spatial intelligence in Geography helps us in perceiving different types of spaces around us. In spite of its greater relevance in our practical lives, Geography in school is downplayed. The subject lacks a discussion on the importance of spatial thinking. The same applies to the concepts of geometry, algebra, and arts.  

This demonstrates the inefficient approach of our schooling system and its teaching methods. Not including the spatial intelligence component in the schooling curriculum could deprive us of the contribution of highly spatial-able students in the system, who have the potential to burst forth technical and scientific innovations. 

Given how many world problems we could solve through science and technology, missing any potential student is one too many. 

How could we make sure we have strategies and interventions in place to encourage highly spatial intelligent children in school? Let’s find out. 

Intervention strategies for children with poor spatial intelligence

Spatial thinking is universal. It literally takes into account every type of space that’s there, both mental and physical. Children require critical spatial skills and the ability to use those skills to solve problems. Learning spatial ability has a higher relevance in our lives. There are positive effects of using spatial skills in school to help children with their mathematical tasks. 

In spite of its importance, spatial education is commonly excluded from schooling curricula Often it is not encouraged by parents and teachers to provide formalized instructions to nurture spatial education’s potential

For example, a child who needs to learn the principles of geometry is not given a formal introduction to the basic concepts of spatial thinking. Of course, the importance of spatial intelligence goes beyond its implications in geometry. This gap between what’s required in early education and what’s available needs to be filled. 

Here are a few intervention strategies that could bridge the gap by taking into account the natural abilities of individuals from several different types of settings with professional training and expertise. 

1. Introducing construction toys

Introducing construction toys like building blocks or other types of solid shapes at an early age can act as a powerful learning tool. It helps children with spatial reasoning and engineering skills. Regularly encouraging kids to engage in cooperative building projects and building tasks could strengthen their spatial thinking. Studies[5] suggest that block building directly correlates to higher mathematical achievement in later life. 

2. Teaching Spatial Vocabulary

The more diverse the spatial vocabulary of a child, the easier it is for children to mentally process and construct in 3D. Research[6] supports that spatial intelligence is related to a diverse spatial vocabulary. The same study also suggests that spatial skills contribute about an additional 27 percent of the variability in math scores. Children who have a vocabulary with more spatial words (like between, around, middle, across) find it easier to reproduce more spatial constructions with blocks. 

3. Modular Construction 

Modular Construction was first devised by PH Maier. Since children like to get involved in experimental activities, the modular construction system by Maier is preferred over other techniques. In this activity, children make solid figures by combining polygons and planes.

From here, they start combining these solid figures to create more complex structures like buildings and towers. This encourages children to engage in creative working with material. Teachers and parents could make use of computer software to teach modular construction. 

4. Additional Instructions 

Children with high spatial intelligence could use an accelerated curriculum on mathematics with advanced material on algebra and geometry. This would calibrate their education with their talents and intellectual strengths. At the end of the day, we want children to be satisfied with their learning at school and at home. Keeping this approach also gives them a platform to make the right choices related to their higher education and profession when they are adults.  

Our reformed education goals for schools should lie around providing additional opportunities and experiences to optimally develop spatial intelligence in young minds. 

The objective is not to bombard them with information but rather to help them grow a quality understanding of how spatial thinking and intelligence come together. The given strategies could demonstrate to children their spatial abilities to interact with abstract concepts and finally convert them into real-life functional characteristics.

5. Additional Insights

Spatial intelligence is the means of interacting and understanding the physical world. In the modern world, with high mobility and competition, spatial intelligence is priceless. We first need to educate parents and teachers about the importance of spatial intelligence. This will enable them to acquire the awareness and skills required to instruct young children on many available opportunities in the spatial intelligence field. 

As a teacher or parent, find opportunities to talk about spatial intelligence to your children. Guide them to explore multiple facets of it in a variety of contexts. First, introduce children to the nuts and bolts of spatial intelligence before expecting them to conceptualize the meaning behind spatial thinking and spaces. There are even methods of spatial training to help children with dyscalculia.  

There is nothing that can conceptualize the broad topic of spatial intelligence. A lot of components of intelligence and thinking come together to set our children towards spatial cognition.  


We have examined the science behind spatial conceptions that relate spatial thinking with intelligence. We understood that many functions of the brain interact with each other to produce a complex set of thoughts and behaviors that help us perceive and process physical and abstract spaces.  

We explored how the use of spatial intelligence is present everywhere. We have learned how spatial intelligence can be improved over time with appropriate strategies and interventions. As parents and teachers, we need to consistently try to understand how the human mind works and thinks. And how we can use that information to improve the spatial intelligence of our children. 


  1. Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4.
  2. Spatial Thinking | The Learner’s Guide to Geospatial Analysis. (n.d.).
  3. Quenqua, D. (2013, July 16). Study finds spatial skill is early sign of creativity. The New York Times.
  4. Uttal, D. H., Miller, D. I., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). Exploring and Enhancing Spatial Thinking. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(5), 367–373.
  5. Dewar, G. (2023). Spatial intelligence: What is it, and how can we enhance it? PARENTING SCIENCE.
  6. Verdine, B. N., Irwin, C. M., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2014). Contributions of executive function and spatial skills to preschool mathematics achievement. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 126, 37–51.

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