Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Joanne Lee

Advisor Role

Thesis Advisor


Early spatial abilities are related to a number of positive academic outcomes such as success in geometry and chemistry domains in later adulthood (Delgado & Prieto, 2004; Stieff, 2007). Further, more advanced spatial abilities in early adolescence predicts engagement and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations in later adulthood (Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001). There is a wealth of research that links spatial abilities to overall mathematics achievement in both adults (e.g., Casey, Nuttall, Pezaris, & Benbow, 1995) and children (e.g., Holmes, Adams, & Hamilton, 2008).

Adult input positively impacts children’s subsequent spatial and mathematical development. Parental use of spatial language when children are 14-46 months old predicts children’s own use of spatial language, which, in turn, leads to better performance on spatial tasks (Pruden, Levine, & Huttenlocher, 2011).

Currently, research has focused on young children’s spatial input and their mathematical development in home or lab settings. Few studies have explored the spatial input children receive at child care centres, despite evidence that this type of care in Canada is increasing (Bushnik, 2006). This is especially important, given evidence that suggests spatial input in the home is limited, particularly for children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families (e.g., Verdine et al., 2013).

The objectives of the present study were (i) to examine the types and frequency of spatial language that early childhood educators (ECEs) naturally engage in during circle times, (ii) to investigate whether spatial language input predicts children’s mathematical knowledge, and (iii) to evaluate the differences in spatial language input between ECEs from child care centres serving low and high SES families (as measured by highest maternal educational level). Twelve ECEs participated in the study. Seventy 3- and 4-year-old children’s mathematical abilities were pre- and post-tested with: The Test of Early Mathematics Ability (Ginsburg & Baroody, 2003) and the Give-N-Task (Lee & Sarnecka, 2011). The circle times in six classrooms were video recorded over an eight-week period and were transcribed and coded for the frequency and types of categories of spatial talk in which the ECEs typically engaged. Results revealed that ECEs did not spend a substantial portion of time engaging in spatial input, and as such, the amount of spatial input by ECEs was minimally related to preschooler’s mathematical competence. Furthermore, the ECEs serving high and low SES families did not differ in the amount or types of spatial language in which they engaged. The present study sheds insight on the amount of spatial input children are receiving in childcare and has implications for educational practices.

Convocation Year


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