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Foundation: Spatial Relationships

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing understanding of how things move and fit in space

8 months

18 months

36 months

At around eight months of age, children move their bodies, explore the size and shape of objects, and observe people and objects as they move through space.

At around 18 months of age, children use trial and error to discover how things move and fit in space. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 81)

At around 36 months of age, children can predict how things will fit and move in space without having to try out every possible solution, and show understanding of words used to describe size and locations in space.

For example, the child may:

  • Use vision or hearing to track the path of someone walking by. (5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 64; birth–8 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Watch a ball roll away after accidentally knocking it. (5.5–8 mos., Parks 2004, 64)

  • Hold one stacking cup in each hand. (6.5–7.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 50)

  • Put toys into a clear container, dump them out, and then fill the container up again. (8 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 21)

For example, the child may:

  • Go around the back of a chair to get the toy car that rolled behind it instead of trying to follow the car’s path by squeezing underneath the chair. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004 67; 8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Use two hands to pick up a big truck, but only one hand to pick up a small one. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 81)

  • Put a smaller nesting cup inside a larger cup after trying it the other way around. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 81)

  • Choose a large cookie off the plate instead of a smaller one. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 81)

  • Put the child-sized hat on his head and the larger hat on the infant care teacher’s head. (12–18 mos.; Parks 2004, 81)

  • Stack three nesting cups inside one another, after trying some combinations that do not work. (12–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 82)

  • Put one or two pegs into the pegboard. (14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 62)

  • Roll a ball back and forth with the infant care teacher. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 38)

  • Fit pieces into a puzzle board. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 39)

  • Try to fit a piece into the shape sorter and, when it does not fit, turn it until it fits. (12–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 82)

For example, the child may:

  • Hand the big truck to a peer who asks for the big one. (Scaled score of 10 for 28:16–30:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 95)

  • Use words such as big and little. (25–30 mos.; Parks 2004, 82; 36 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 73)

  • Put together a puzzle with three to four separate pieces. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 308; 30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 68)

  • Get the serving spoon off the tray when the infant care teacher asks for the big spoon, even though there are small spoons on the tray. (30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 83)

  • Stack rings onto a post with the biggest ring on the bottom and the smallest ring on the top, without much trial and error. (30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 83; 24–36 mos.; Engaging Young Children 2004, 44)

  • Point to a peer’s stick when the infant care teacher asks which stick is longer. (33–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 83; 24–36 mos.; Engaging Young Children 2004, 53)

  • Understand requests that include simple prepositions; for example, “Please put your cup on the table” or “Please get your blanket out of your back pack.” (By 36 mos.; Coplan 1993, 2; by 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 24–36 mos.; Engaging Young Children 2004)

  • Move around an obstacle when going from one place to another. (24–36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 303)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Look at her own hand. (Scaled score of 9 for 4:06–4:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 53)

  • Reach for a nearby toy and try to grasp it. (4.5–5.5 mos.; Parks 2004; scaled score of 10 for 4:16–4:25 mos.; Bayley 2006, 54)

  • Explore toys with hands and mouth. (3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Roll a car back and forth on the floor. (6–11 mos.; Parks 2004, 26)

  • Dump toys out of a container. (9–11 mos.; Parks 2004, 64)

  • Turn a toy to explore all sides to figure out how it works. (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

  • Throw or drop a spoon or cup from the table and watch as it falls. (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

  • Take rings off a stacking ring toy. (10–11 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

  • Move over and between cushions and pillows on the floor. (8–12 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 234)

  • Crawl down a few carpeted stairs. (Around 12 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 234)

  • See a ball roll under the couch and then reach under the couch. (12–13 mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

  • Stack one block on top of another one. (12–16 mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

  • Put one or two rings back onto the post of a stacking ring toy. (13–15 mos.; Parks 2004, 66)

  • Put the circle piece of a puzzle into the round opening, after trying the triangle opening and the square opening. (Scaled score of 10 for 15:16–16:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 63)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Complete a puzzle of three separate cut-out pieces, such as a circle, square, and triangle. (Scaled score of 10 for 19:16–20:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 66)

  • Fit many pegs into a pegboard. (Scaled score of 10 for 21:16–22:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 68)

  • Turn a book right-side up after realizing that it is upside down. (18–24 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Fit four nesting cups in the correct order, even if it takes a couple of tries. (19–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 82)

  • Assemble a two-piece puzzle; for example, a picture of a flower cut into two pieces. (Scaled score of 10 for 23:16–24:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 69)

Next Foundation: Problem Solving

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Questions:   Child Development Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
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