Spatial Awarenss, Objects in Space, and Gendered-Play

Children learn spatial awareness through moving and manipulating objects in space, including their own bodies

Playful learning and intentional, play-based learning experiences are the foundational cornerstones for whole-person development and supporting humans to thrive. Our role as adults in the lives of young children is to empower them to build the skills, knowledge, experience, and self-concept to share their strengths-based contributions with the world. We are nourishing and nurturing children into their capacities as creative and critical thinkers equipped with the Yes-Brain/growth mindset mentality to imagine previously un-imagined possibilities.

Our classrooms, from infant- kindergarten and all the rooms inbetween, are set up with maniupulatives supporting open-ended building, constructing,and discovery opportunities to give children plenty of experience moving objects in space. Movement time (i.e. Circle time, music, and big-body free play) as well as outdoor play time invite children’s own bodies to move through space. Besides their own bodies, children are given opportunities to move large and small objects through space as well, from propelling on a piece of riding equipment to carrying child-size chairs to the table in preparation for mealtime. 

As an interesting note, opportunities to develop spatial awareness through play are often embedded in gender-directed play. Children grow within a social context that is inextricable from broader social and cultural context around us. For decades, toy manufacturers directed children socialized as either boys or girls to play with toys intentionally marketed to groups of children based on gender – think back for a moment to your own childhood experiences engaging with spatial-awareness toys like Legos, trucks, or bikes! 

Every time we (adults) struggle to correctly line up a credit card strip to a card reader, we can be inspired to accept an invitation to build a magnatile tower alongside a child as an opportunity to continue practicing spatial awareness skills as adults. Both research and experience recognize that many of us socialized as females didn’t necessarily grow up encouraged to build legos or move through space in the same way as those socialized as boys. Each of us grown into adults outside of a vacuum, within a social context influenced by many complex and systemic factors. It is critical that ALL children are provided with playful learning opportunities to develop spatial awareness, which requires an awareness of some of the cultural forces and factors influencing which groups of children engage with which types of learning experiences. 

For further consideration, here are a few additional resources on our intentional role in supporting open-ended (non-gendered play) as an integral component of whole-child development.

Tate and the Pink Coat: Exploring Gender and Enacting Anti-Bias Principles | NAEYC

The educator’s role in supporting non-gendered play in early childhood education settings | Children’s Research Network (

Gender Identity and Expression in the Early Childhood Classroom: Influences on Development Within Sociocultural Contexts (Voices) | NAEYC

Related Images: