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Turning tablet time into lessons on patterns with toddlers

Making tablet time educational
Posted at 2:37 PM, Feb 20, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spatial sequencing, or remembering where objects are located in space, is important for developing math skills, especially geometry. But for preschoolers, some types of sequences are not easily learned. Cognitive scientists have found that with a tablet and some help from mom and dad, kids can get an early start.

Hand Elliot some blocks and he’s ready to go. He’s good with shapes, orientation and spatial skills. But when you ask him to remember the order where different things are located, or sequence, on a tablet, it’s not easy. Elliot’s not alone.

“What we found was three-year-olds were surprisingly bad at doing that even though they were good at copying other kinds of sequences,” detailed Francys Subiaul, PhD, a cognitive scientist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Think of spatial sequences or patterns this way: it’s like trying to punch in numbers on the ATM keypad with no visible numbers, just from the memory of their location.

Professor Subiaul and collaborators at Georgetown split kids into groups and gave each different activities on tablets. They found the children who first practiced imitating spatial sequences with adults, were best at imitating spatial sequences later.

“Just a ten minute very brief intervention significantly improved their spatial imitation performance,” Subiaul told Ivanhoe.

Subiaul said tablets are a good way for kids to learn spatial patterns, but he says parents need to stay engaged during play. Ask kids questions about the games. Have them describe what they’re doing and what they’ve learned. Adult imitation and interaction can build skills for future math success.

For parents looking for educational apps to help kids learn spatial and early geometry skills, Common Sense Education has a website with some ideas to get you started. Click here for more information.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.