Girl in gymnastics tunnel mat

How does participating in gymnastics lead to success in math class and driving safely?

The common bond is spatial awareness.

Spatial awareness is the “awareness of the body in space and the child’s relationship to the objects in the space.” This includes understanding terms like over, under or requests like “line up at the door” or “sit in a circle.”

As an adult, you use spatial awareness everyday to:

  • estimate whether a pair of shorts will fit your child;
  • estimate whether or not you will be able to get all the shopping in the freezer;
  • recognize that a circle is two-dimensional and a sphere is three-dimensional;
  • work out how you can rearrange the furniture;
  • work out whether or not you can get your car into a parking space.

For children, spatial awareness can make all the difference in the classroom. For example, math class can be very difficult for a child with less developed spatial awareness. Many concepts are too abstract, especially when shapes, areas, volume and space are involved. And in other classes, written work may appear sloppy and the child has trouble structuring and organizing his work.

These challenges extend into other activities and social situations where children with poor spatial awareness are seen as clumsy. Due to visual perception difficulties, they may stand too far or too close to others or with the objects they are interacting. PE class, team sports and other activities are challenging, especially those requiring apparatus like ball games, hockey and racquet sports.

As they get older, judging a safe distance between themselves and the car in front is difficult or understanding where they are on the road in relation to the other cars.

Most children develop spatial awareness by exploring their world. As they begin to roll, crawl and walk, their spatial awareness is developing. Climbing, jumping, swinging, sliding and dancing are also important factors for spatial awareness.

For many children spatial awareness comes naturally. Yet, parents can still help develop this very important skill.

Check out any recreational gymnastics class and you will see children climbing over and under, swinging and exploring their world through PLAY. They learn to judge distance and placement by jumping into and onto apparatus.

Each game they PLAY involves the body and increases their awareness of their arms and legs in relation to themselves and others. Through each movement and fundamental skill they learn, their coordination and use of space improves.

And this all happens under the guidance and care of certified gymnastics coaches. These coaches are trained to safely teach the seven fundamental movement skills in an environment that is perfect for exploring and using apparatus.

Gymnastics classes include all of the fundamental skills, which reinforce the elements of movement including spatial awareness. Children learn levels, force, time and rhythm and in set formations.

So how does gymnastics help with math and driving? These skills, along with numerous other everyday activities, rely on spatial awareness. And as a foundation sport, gymnastics helps develop this skill and help lead to success in navigating through life.

Find a PLAY Gymnastics BC club

Occupational Therapy for Children: Spatial Awareness
eHow: How to Train Spatial Awareness, Michael Davidson
How to for Teachers: Spatial Awareness – Where am I in Space?, Heather Collins
Yahoo Voices: How to Improve Spatial Awareness in Children

Additional resources
Spatial Awareness – it sets players apart from their rivals
Sample PLAY Gymnastics classes
Spatial awareness behind the drum kit

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