The Development of Children's Spatial Knowledge: Implications for Geographic Education

Jodie M. Plumert


One of the many challenges facing the education system today is providing children with a better understanding of geography. Increasingly, cartographers and educators have turned to developmental psychologists for information about how children's spatial cognitive development influences their ability to understand and learn about the spatial relations on maps. Central to the process of learning and remembering spatial relations is the ability to organize locations within some kind of spatial structure. Recently, the role that hierarchical organization plays in remembering and reasoning about locations has received increasing attention within the field of cognitive psychology. Studies have shown that both children and adults alike tend to organize locations into regions with nested levels of detail. For example, the location of a toothbrush might be remembered as on the second shelf in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom upstairs, or the location of Iowa City might be known as in the state of Iowa in the Midwest region of the United States. There are, however, limitations in children's ability to make use of hierarchical spatial structures; this has important implications for cartographic education. As a result, younger children may require more visual aids and explicit organizational frameworks when learning and communicating information about locations. The ideas and suggestions presented here about the relations between children's spatial cognitive development and their understanding of geography are aimed at fostering further collaboration between cartographers and developmental psychologists.


education; cognition; children; knowledge

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