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How Does Spatial Awareness Build Mathematical Minds

June 22, 2020 | Nathan Johnson

Young children naturally love to explore geometric and spatial aspects of the world around them. There are so many ways to encourage such exploration…

There are many levels of geometric thinking. Research suggests that to move through these levels, children must be exposed to many experiences and participate in numerous activities. Progress is often very slow. And activities like Unit Blocks, Pattern Blocks, etc contribute to this variety of experiences.

In a 1986 study by Pierre Van Hiele and Dina van Hiele-Geldof’s, in which they present levels of geometric thinking, it states that many preschool children stay within level zero, but in the Nest we see that three, four, and five year olds are quite capable of in depth work in level two!

Level 0: Children learn to recognize geometric figures such as squares and circles by their holistic physical appearance. For example, at the beginning of the year, we liken the shapes of blocks to objects around the room — a rectangle block looks like a table, a circular block looks like a clock. Children at this level do not think about the attributes or properties of shapes.

Level 1: Children begin to learn isolated characteristics or attributes of the forms. In Pattern Blocks, they see that though both a square and a rhombus have four sides, but the angle of the corners changes the shape.

Level 2: Children establish relationships between the attributes of a form. In unit blocks, children learn that two Unit Blocks make a double, four Unit Blocks make a quad, and that half of a unit block can make a short rod, a triangle, or a square.

As we walk and drive around shapes are everywhere we go, especially in the city! It is always a good time to ask your child what shapes they see and how they are fitting together. When you are out, make sure take along pen and paper and draw what you see. When you get home, find time to build what you saw. In this way you can help teach your child that we are all mathematicians!

Nathan Johnson

Art Teacher, PK-3rd Grade; Teacher, Rivers Class

Nathan Johnson graduated in 2004 from Lenoir-Rhyne University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art Education, focusing on Illustration, Art History, and Puppetry.

Newly licensed to teach, Mr. Johnson headed up to Nova Scotia and did something completely different for ten years: working with L’Arche, an international organization with the mission of advocating for and assisting adults with developmental differences through ecumenical Christian community life. As a Mustard Seed graduate himself (Class of 1995), the idea of Christian community was nothing new, but to actually share a home and daily life with a group of differently-abled adults was nothing short of transformative.

When God led Mr. Johnson back to teaching, he knew exactly where he wanted to go. Back at his alma mater since 2014, Mr. Johnson has passionately committed his career to preserving the dignity and wonder of childhood. As children are more and more burdened with technology and privilege, he believes that in order for children to learn and grow, they must be given freedom within structure, choices with guidance, while being encouraged to play and get dirty, and above all, for each child to be taught that he or she is a beloved child of God.

When not in the classroom, Mr. Johnson can be found kayaking in the Hudson, camping in Nova Scotia, at a game night with his colleagues, wandering around New York City, making faces in the mirror, or spending time with his 11 nieces and nephews.

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