Focusing on Spatial Reasoning in Kindergarten

Area(s) of Focus: math, kindergarten
Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten

Using playful pedagogy with open-ended tasks based on the resource Taking Shape, we saw our students develop greater spatial thinking abilities. We saw the gains reflected in further tasks, free play and everyday language.

Kindergarten students enter school with a great deal of spatial ability. They make sense of their environment by thinking spatially.  Our goal is to learn how to help our students access their spatial reasoning, and continue to develop through a variety of rich learning opportunities including guided play activities.  

We know that young students’ spatial reasoning is highly predictive of later mathematics success, and we are aware that spatial thinking can be developed through carefully crafted guided play opportunities. However, we are aware that we need to deepen our own understanding of how spatial reasoning develops and, therefore, the types of experiences that we should be providing our students with.

Through our project, we plan on designing/implementing open-ended tasks, with a focus on spatial reasoning, that can be approached by different students in a variety of ways. These open-ended tasks will be structured within a guided play model and will allow us opportunities to see the effect of our students’ spatial reasoning both within and beyond these tasks.

As a team, we are curious if our students will continue to use their spatial reasoning and spatial language beyond the tasks we provide them with. To determine this, we will need to carefully assess our students’ language before, during and after these open-ended tasks.

Through our work with our students, we want to share our findings, along with the resources and assessment materials that we will use/create.


Team Members

  • Susan Di Teodoro

    District School Board of Niagara

  • Kristia Penlington

    District School Board of Niagara

  • Mark Chubb

    District School Board of Niagara

  • Kristin Willms

    District School Board of Niagara

Professional Learning Goals

  • Learned more about what it means to develop spatial reasoning, and to purposefully plan for this development
  • Learned more about how to assess and track our students’ spatial reasoning and spatial language
  • Saw the effects that guided play can have on our students’ spatial reasoning and spatial language
  • Learned more about designing and implementing materials and/or assessment tools related to spatial reasoning and spatial language
  • Effectively used these materials and/or assessment tools and were able to implement easily

Activities and Resources

  1. We will learn more about how spatial reasoning develops through reading, discussing and developing our own spatial reasoning. The Paying Attention to Spatial Reasoning monograph, along with the resource Taking Shape, will help us with these goals.
  2. We will adapt a Play Observation Guide to meet the needs of our project as a source for our observations.
  3. Using the Play Observation Guide, we will be able to see the difference between our students’ spatial reasoning and spatial language during these guided tasks, and during our students’ free play.
  4. We will use various tools which we have been provided in order to create our own that will meet the needs of our project.
  5. We plan on videotaping our students to monitor their spatial language and spatial reasoning. Using a simple observation chart will help us notice and document student growth.

Unexpected Challenges

We appreciated the lessons learned from our experiences and encountered some challenges, such as:

  • We thought we would be only helping develop spatial skills but many were also developing counting skills.
  • Developing spatial reasoning didn’t happen in the few days that we have release time for (need many formal/informal experiences every day).
  • Viewing the learning for each student is complicated. We looked at each student’s learning across all four frames, and across several overall expectations from within the literacy and mathematics frame. Our goal was to help make this easier for us, but the more we noticed, the more we realized how interconnected the learning is, yet how individualized the learning is for each specific student.
  • Seeing students’ strengths from what they can do (asset model of thinking), as opposed to the traditional deficit model of thinking (finding gaps).

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Our research lead us to three key messages that guided our project and shaped the way we think about spatial thinking and learning:

  1. Spatial thinking is critical to mathematical thinking and achievement.
  2. Spatial thinking is malleable and can be improved through education and experience.
  3. Schools play an important role in fostering spatial reasoning.

(Spatial Reasoning Monograph, pages 3-5)

We wanted to research which overall and specific expectations that spatial reasoning impacted (See 4 Frames attachment). We discovered that spatial thinking helps to promote growth in all four areas of the kindergarten program – Belonging and Contributing, Self-Regulation and Well-Being, Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and Problem-Solving and Innovating. After learning experiences through guided play, game-based learning and thought-provoking challenges, our students began to demonstrate growth in the frame of Belonging and Contributing. We noted growth in students’ perseverance with tasks and further development in their growth mindset.

While students were engaged in tasks, we became more observant of the children during play. We began to look at their play through a spatial reasoning lens and observed their spatial language, communication skills, gestures and actions (e.g., manipulating blocks to place on their structure). Our classrooms became a playground for math where spatial reasoning could be seen and captured in every learning area (e.g., light table, white board, snack table, arts area). We documented these moments and encouraged our students to teach their peers during Sharing Time gatherings and this provided opportunity for the educators to name the math learning and further develop spatial language and vocabulary.


We are eager to share our research we have read, our products, and our own action research findings with our school board’s kindergarten and math teams. We have already had many opportunities to share our learning with our own professional learning communities within our schools, and in our family of schools’ network. Our area superintendent has asked us to share with other kindergarten teachers through centrally planned professional development and to share our findings with instructional coaches and administrators. We are also sharing the research we have read, our products, and our own action research at the regional and provincial levels, namely, we are sharing our journey at both OAME Golden Section (Niagara chapter) in April and the OAME Annual Conference 2017 in May.

We have also included the following handouts:

Project Evaluation

Symmetry Challenge See It, Build It, Check It Is It The Same? Translating 3D Figures
42% 46% 37% 62%
85% 92% 88% 92%

We gave our students a similar task at the beginning and end of our study, and were pleased to see the growth over the five months. Based on the tasks we gave, we saw growth between 30-51 per cent from each of the tasks.

Our own reflections on our learning as educators can’t be understated. Here are some of our reflections on our time learning together:

Kristen – What I have learned:

  • Activities that promote spatial thinking allow for multiple entry points for many children.
  • My belief that children are “competent and capable” was reaffirmed with many of these tasks.

Sue – What I have learned:

  • My students would often revisit their new learnings during play.
  • My team needs to be ready to identify new learning during play and document accordingly.

Kristy – What I have learned:

  • Many children had a change of mindset and began taking risks and persevering in daily tasks.
  • I was challenged by my own personal biases and misconceptions about learning (e.g., what students CAN versus CAN’T do).

Mark – What I have learned:

  • How capable and eager to learn our students really are! But they need many varied experiences.
  • Students want to be challenged, they enjoy thinking mathematically and have fun playing with their math.
  • The importance of us continuing to learn both pedagogy and content in all grades.

Resources Used

Moss, Joan, D. Bruce, Catherine, Caswell, Bee, Flynn, Tara and Hawes, Zachary. Taking Shape: Activities to Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking Grades K-2.

LNS Monograph, Paying Attention to Spatial Reasoning

Samara, Julie and H. Clements, Douglas. Teaching Math in the Primary Grades: The Learning Trajectories Approach.

Fisher, K.R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M. and Newcombe, N. Taking Shape: Supporting Preschoolers’ Acquisition of Geometric Knowledge Through Guided Play, 2013.

Munsch, Robert. The Paperbag Princess.

Wallace, A., White, M. and Stone, R. Geometry: Play Observation Guide, 2010.

Van de Walle, John A., Lovin, LouAnn H., Karp, Karen S. and Bay-Williams, Jennifer M. Teaching Student-Centred Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades Pre-K-2 (Volume I), 2nd Edition, 2014.        

Tara Flynn (critical friend) has offered to oversee our project and provide us with materials, guidance and feedback

Administrator support

Math manipulatives and classroom toys

Resources Created

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