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Diversity in spatial activities and parent spatial talk utterance length predict growth in preschoolers’ spatial skills

Fox, Danielle (2024) Diversity in spatial activities and parent spatial talk utterance length predict growth in preschoolers’ spatial skills. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Spatial cognition refers to a range of abilities related to visualizing, manipulating, and transforming objects and spaces. Previous research has shown that greater spatial cognition in childhood uniquely predicts later math skills and is linked to greater educational and occupational outcomes, especially in STEM fields. Additional research has shown that engaging in spatially related activities and play (e.g., puzzles, block building) positively influences spatial thinking and reasoning in children and adults, and increased exposure to spatial language is positively correlated with children’s spatial word comprehension and performance on mental rotation and mapping tasks. In this study, we investigated potential origins of variability in preschool-aged children’s spatial cognition (N=113, mean age=4 years 4 months) by examining how various measures of children’s daily spatial activities as well as parental spatial language input during different activities with their child predicted growth in children’s spatial skills from 4 to 5 years of age. More diversity in daily spatial activities was associated with greater growth in children’s spatial skills. Moreover, parents who used longer spatial talk utterances during a spatial activity with their child had children with more growth in spatial skills, even when controlling for overall utterance length and verbosity. Finally, the diversity of spatial activities and parents’ spatial utterance lengths were both unique predictors of growth in children’s spatial skills suggesting that parental reports of spatial activities and direct observations of parents’ spatial language input capture different and meaningful aspects of the home learning environment that supports children’s spatial skill development.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLibertus,
Committee MemberVotruba-Drzal,
Committee MemberRottman,
Date: 8 May 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 7 April 2022
Approval Date: 8 May 2024
Submission Date: 29 March 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 59
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: early childhood, spatial skills, spatial talk, spatial activities
Date Deposited: 08 May 2024 17:31
Last Modified: 08 May 2024 17:31


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