Spatial reasoning — the skills that a creative child might display when taking apart a bike and putting it back together, or when designing and building structures in Minecraft — was recently cited in a Vanderbilt University study as being a better predictor of future creativity and innovation than traditional math or verbal skills.
Spatial reasoning skills are measured by one’s ability to visualize and manipulate two- and three-dimensional objects, and are seen as being related directly to achievements in technology, engineering, math, and science. However, the New York Times recently reported that these spatial reasoning skills are often not identified as areas of aptitude in children. As a result, they may not be taught, valued, or assessed in an academic setting.
Nonetheless, recent studies indicate that spatial reasoning skills are strongly correlated to mathematical abilities and to success in many technical fields. This suggests that parents might want to pay more attention to a child’s creative skills while playing with such everyday items as Legos, a dollhouse, construction toys, or even video games that require visualization and mental rotation skills. In general, spatial reasoning skills are frequently associated with higher levels of academic achievement and creativity.
There is substantial research to suggest that many video games — including action games such as Medal of Honor and puzzle games such as Tetris — can help children to develop these spatial reasoning skills. A variety of other games such as Super Hexagon and Lumines also show great promise in practicing and developing these skills.
The promise of using video games to improve spatial reasoning skills was articulated in an insightful post by Annie Murphy Paul, entitled, “Why Girls Should Play More Video Games”. Murphy Paul proposes that girls play more video games to improve spatial reasoning skills, thereby increasing the numbers of women in science and technology jobs. Because schools do not actively teach spatial reasoning skills — focusing on reading and math instead — Murphy Paul encourages parents to make a point to prioritize the teaching of spatial reasoning skills at home via video games and other activities.
So, the takeaway is this: if you want your child to achieve academically, encourage activities that practice spatial reasoning at home. These could include something a simple as playing a game of chess, or building a castle together using LEGOs, to teaming up to solve puzzles together in Portal 2, or crafting your own virtual worlds in games like Minecraft, The BlockHeads and Eden — World Builder.