Can Children Map Read at the Age of Four?

Children start to develop the basic skills that underlie map reading from the age of four – according to new research from the University of East Anglia. A new study reveals that they become able to use a scale model to find things in the real world. The study involved 175 two to five-year-olds and is the largest of its kind. The team say that this new spatial ability potentially lays the foundations for maths and science skills.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Doherty, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “We wanted to find out when children can use scale models or maps to learn things about the world." The researchers played a hiding game with the children between the ages of two and five years old. The game included showing the children a sticker hidden in a model of a room, and then they had to look for another sticker in the same place in another model of the room.

“This means that children start to develop the basic skills that underly map reading from the age of four. Based on these findings we predict children can read simple maps from around the age of four. Extending our methods to maps would help resolve a controversial developmental question,” he added.

The study resolves a debate about whether understanding models is a representational ability or a spatial one. Previous research had claimed that understanding models showed an understanding of representation. But the UEA team found that it is about understanding spatial layout, and that complex concepts like representation were not involved. “This tells us that map-reading may be cognitively simpler than previously thought,” added Dr Doherty.

StepUp Note

The StepUp program includes daily practice with spatial learning, as children learn to coordinate body movement through visual space. A useful part of many spatial learning activities is that they include self-evaluation: a child knows whether the block tower keeps standing or falls down; they know if a certain piece will fit here or there in a puzzle; they can see whether two things on opposite sides of the scale weigh the same or not. Self-evaluation helps children develop the useful brain habits of independent learners.

Reposted from University of East Anglia

Note by Nancy W Rowe M.S., CCC/A



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