Children Latch On To Parents Vocabulary Of Spatial Words

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According to a new study, children who hear parents use words describing the size and shape of objects do better on tests of their spatial skills.

University of Chicago researchers found that 1- to 4-year-olds who heard and then spoke 45 additional spatial words that described sizes and shapes seen had a 23 percent increase in their scores on a non-verbal assessment of spatial thinking.

“Our results suggest that children’s talk about space early in development is a significant predictor of their later spatial thinking,” University of Chicago psychologist Susan Levine, an author of a paper published on the research in the current issue of Developmental Science, said in a press release.

The team videotaped children between ages 14 months and 46 months, along with their interactions with their primary caregivers.

The team videotaped the caregivers as they interacted with their children in 90 minute sessions at four-month intervals.

The study group included 52 children and 52 parents from an economically and ethnically diverse set of homes.

The team recorded words that were related to spatial concepts used by both children and their parents.

The team found a great variation in the number of spatial words used by parents.  Parents used an average of 167 words related to spatial concepts, but the range was very wide with parents using from 5 to 525 spatial words.

Children produced an average of 75 spatial related words and a range of 4 to 191 words during the study period.

The children who used more spatial terms were more likely to have caregivers who used those terms more often.

The team tested them for their spatial skills to see if they could mentally rotate objects, copy block designs or match analogous spatial relations.

They found that the children who were exposed to more spatial words as part of their everyday activities did better on tests than children who did not hear as many spatial words.

The researchers said that for every 45 additional spatial words children produced during their talk with their parents, researchers saw a 23 percent increase in test scores.  Children who spokes 45 more spatial words saw a 15 percent increase in separate test assessing their ability to mentally rotate shapes.

They said the increased use of spatial language may have prompted the children’s attention to the depicted spatial relations and improved their ability to solve spatial problems.

They also said that language knowledge may have reduced the mental load involved in transforming shapes on the mental rotation task.

The research was published in the current issue of Developmental Science.

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