Math Helping Your Three-Year-Old Develop Important Spatial Skills

Spatial reasoning connects math to the physical world and includes skills like reading maps, understanding symmetry and building 3D objects. Research indicates that spatial reasoning skills correlate to early achievement in mathematics and "strongly predict" who will pursue STEM careers later in life. At age three, your child is beginning to build spatial vocabulary with words like: "above," "below," "next to," "inside," "outside" and "through." Toddlers spend most of their time exploring the world, and as they do, they develop their spatial skills.

Simple activities to help your child strengthen spatial sense:

Do Puzzles

One of the easiest ways to get your child to think about spatial relations at such a young age is to encourage playing with puzzles. By manipulating the pieces to make them fit into a space, your child is practicing using her spatial sense! For young children, start with large pieces that are chunky or have knobs for easy grabbing and distinct spaces to put the pieces. As your child becomes more accomplished, you can challenge her with floor puzzles that have 12 pieces or more. Use spatial words such as “edge” and “corner” as you work together.

PBS Parents Play & Learn

Designed specifically with parents in mind, this app provides more than a dozen math and literacy games that parents can play with their kids. Each game builds on the natural curiosity of children and is themed around a familiar location like the garden or grocery store.

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Build Block Towers

Block play is another great way to explore spatial relations. Work with your child to build towers, using terms like "top," "bottom" and "in between." Make a long train with blocks and use words like "next to," "in front of" and "behind." Challenge your child to match your own creative block design — then try to match his!

Practice Matching Shapes With a Block Blueprint

Your child can practice planning, measuring and engineering with this blueprint block activity.

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Create an Obstacle Course

Using chairs, tables, pillows and anything else you have, create an indoor obstacle course! Use spatial words such as "over," "under," "through" and "around" to explain the route. You will help your child learn how to navigate through space while increasing their spatial vocabulary.

Roarin Relay

It's time for a dinosaur relay race. In this game, your child can choose the correct size dinosaur to complete each stage of an obstacle course.

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Play House with Dolls

Playing with dolls, stuffed animals or action figures not only teachesimportant pretend play skills but also enhances your child’s spatial sense as they arrange furniture in rooms and place dolls in different positions. Use terms like "inside," "outside," "on," "over," "through" and "below" when you describe to your child what you see.

Planning and Building a Structure for a Favorite Toy

Building a structure for a stuffed animal or toy car can help your child develop spatial reasoning skills and better understand length and width.

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Learn with Bathtime Toys

A set of stacking cups can be a great tool to get your child interesting in manipulating objects. Learning how to nest the cups within each other takes spatial reasoning, as does learning how to stack them on the edge of the tub. Filling and emptying them with water helps children develop motor skills for spatial reasoning, too. It's good, clean fun!

Stack to the Sky

Bob and his friends are on the job! Your child can carefully choose and stack building parts to create a structure that meets a specified height requirement.

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Help Your Child Learn to Love Math with Curious George

Curious George is a little monkey who wants to explore and discover new things. Like George, children are always learning! And his interactions with patterns, measurements, and shapes can help your child begin to see math in the world around them.

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Activity Finder: Learn With Your Three-Year-Old

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