Visual-Spatial Development in Children

Visual-spatial development is the ability to understand how objects relate to each other spatially, and is one of the seven types of intelligence described by psychologist Howard Gardner in his book, "Frames of Mind" that describes Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences 2. Included in Gardner's multiple intelligence theory are linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences 2. The visual-spatial intelligence is also called ''picture smart.'' People whose visual-spatial sense is well developed would include artists, engineers and architects, for example. Everybody possess this skill, just as everybody possesses the other types of intelligence, but in varying degrees.

Detriments of Weak Development

Weakness in the area of visual-spatial development means that the child may not be able to read body language or people’s facial expressions as well as others, as stated in an article by Robbyn Laufer, an occupational therapist and clinical director of Kids-Can, as cited on the Kids Enabled website. Lack of visual-spatial skills may also challenge the child academically. Spelling, organizational skills and math classes may be quite challenging. This is because the child does not fully comprehend or remember how letters, numbers or objects relate to each other, according to an article on spatial ability from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth 1.

Indications of Weak Development

Early indications that a youngster has weak visual-spatial development are if he experiences more problems than his peers do with coloring or putting together simple puzzles, according to Laufer's article. He may become exasperated with basic motor skills like tying his shoes or buttoning a shirt. Older children may experience frustration when trying to find a particular book in a crowded locker, have problems spacing their words correctly on a piece of notebook paper or they often get turned around on familiar streets. Other problems include confusion when doing a worksheet filled with problems, difficulty copying an assignment from a chalkboard or a continuously messy bedroom or play area.


You can help your child improve his visual-spatial development by giving him tools to help him succeed. Instruct him to use his finger as a spacer when writing on a sheet of paper. This makes the words easier to read for his teacher and others. Show him how to cover problems on a worksheet with a blank sheet of paper. This allows only one question or problem to show at a time. Help him keep his room organized by buying a shelving unit, or using different labeled baskets, drawers or cabinets to store his belongings.

Increasing Development

Encourage greater development of the child’s visual-spatial skills by purchasing computer games that involve manipulating objects around the screen in order to score. Encourage him to enroll in geometry or more math and science classes. Joining a chess or photography club, taking courses in sketching or ones that teaches computer skills are other effective ways to increase his development. Practicing visual memory games, working jigsaw puzzles or making origami are other entertaining pastimes that increase visual-spatial skills.