Visual Spatial Minds in Motion

Currently in the US, we are missing a huge intricate piece that is necessary in a child’s development…visual-spatial skill building.  It can happen so naturally in the classroom and provide not only growth mathematically but in literacy as well.  To some, I think they see it as too much of a play-based activity or stress the academic rigor over these skills.  Systematically, we do not see these skills being taught in our schools.  Parents also vary widely in the amount of spatial language they use with children.  Funny thing is that if they included them in everyday instruction scores would naturally grow and there would be less need for intervention or frustration in young ones.  Instead, you would have “the Big League” effect in which students become team players in their learning process and discover how to explain their visual spatial understanding not only with their hands or on paper but with their words.  It’s a home run skill that will make a world of difference in a child’s development. Research shows it also strongly predicts who will pursue STEM careers and future creativity and innovation fields more than math scores.

Visual spatial skills also lends itself to allow students to naturally begin to practice the 6 C’s of learning which are essential to one’s success in school and life.  They learn Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Confidence.    It is a conscious decision a teacher must make to take on the visual spatial journey but one that will open doors for all kinds of learning for a child both academically and socially and emotionally as well.   When a child begins to strengthen their visual spatial skills their metacognition kicks in high gear and they begin to ask themselves and others thoughtful, investigative questions such as:

What do you see?    What do you notice?   What do you wonder?    

What do you know? What are you thinking?

This pictures created by a four year old holds a lot of mystery but can be interpreted in many ways.  Ask yourself the questions above as you glance at this image.


Children need to be agents of their learning, embrace it and take ownership.  Many wonder what this might look like in a classroom and the VISUAL 🙂 is magical.  Here is a quick zoom lens into a classroom that embraces visual spatial learning skills:

  • Child-directed
  • Hands on, exploratory and playful
  • Strong spatial language and be able to describe positioning
  • Daily activities
  • Understand mental rotation
  • Include kids in professional development
  • Labels it as Math

Plato states, “we can learn more about a person in one hour of play than a year of conversation.”  What is more beautiful is that play is so natural for children, so why are we putting up walls in the classroom that leave play-based learning for the playground?

We need to make students AGENTS in their learning and allow them to teach us and others as well.  These play-based, visual spatial activities will allow children to show empathy and truly be productive agents in their learning environment.  BEGIN today!  Please look weekly for new visual spatial activities you can incorporate in your classroom on my Instagram posts @allhandsondeskplay.  

It is important to start with setting a learning trajectory for your students that is attainable and see where it takes you!  Most importantly, you must have fun doing it as well…because “if love comes first knowledge is sure to follow”.  


The Day after Groundhog Day – Quality vs. Quantity

Developing high standards and rigor for students should not be defined by quantity but quality.  When looking at the quality of a student’s work, a test can not measure that nor endless worksheets.  If at the end of day if all you have to show for your lesson is a post-it note but your students understand the lesson AND are also enthusiastically engaged..YOU DID IT!  To up that one step more, you know you have hit “rockstar status” when they want do not want to stop…at this moment you have soared beyond the stars! Parents will often comment to classroom teachers that their child is not being “challenged” in the every day classroom but I truly believe that is not the case.  The problems lies in how the lessons are approached.  For many children choice is critical to buy in.  Even as adults, we know we love and depend on choice and feel suffocated by restrictions…so why do we do it to children?  Children desire to know the “why” to what they are doing and see it’s purpose.

As a GT teacher in an elementary school, my job is to tickle the brains of young students and make them think more deeply and take our lessons outward with social emotional development intertwined in.  Often I find I can not get students to stop working on projects in my room or halt their enthusiastic creations!  My classroom allows for this but I feel ALL classrooms should have this flexibility.  I will share a lesson today that I completed last year with first grade students in celebration for Groundhog Day.  It was rich in depth and each student was actively engaged from beginning to end.  This lesson could be done in a classroom but also at home as a fun after school lesson with a parent.

Last February 3rd, we began a discussion about the outcome of the groundhog’s viewing of his shadow.  Surprisingly, these magical traditions are slowly losing their wonder as many of my students did not know about Groundhog Day!  I wish we could have had an alarm rewind with Chevy Chase!  To my happiness though, those vibrant minds jumped right in as I begin to share about it and they were hooked.  Fictional minds are so easily activated at a young age and come alive.  

We began by reading “Groundhog Gets a Say” by .  As we read, we noted and listed not only the groundhog’s strengths but also his weaknesses.  The list was quite impressive!  After the student’s went back to their seats and reflected about their own strengths and weaknesses inside and outside of school.  I asked them to also star what they felt was their biggest weakness and kept their curiosity perked to wonder why I asked this!  

The next class they came back and I told them they were going to help their groundhog find a “new groove” or in real terms a new occupation to do outside his shadowing spotting day. The students took into consideration both the groundhog’s skills and their own and decided on what he or she would do. In addition, their great weakness became the groundhog’s superpower.  I think it is essential for all students to see a weakness as a gift and one to nurture.  As they began to write we also took time to get to know their groundhogs personally.  They molded them from air dry clay, designed their wardrobes and named each one.  You could see such a spark in each of them and their personalities also come out in their groundhogs.  One child even asked, “how many outfits can I make for my groundhog…2 or 3?”  She might be a future fashion designer!  

I have some images of our final pieces to share. The students were so very proud of their creations and each one was unique and also a reflection of the child.  It is a great lesson that not only encompasses writing, reading and visual arts but social-emotional lessons as well.  I know this year the groundhog did not see his shadow so get ready for an Early Spring and create your own groundhog occupation to keep him or her busy the whole year through!

Here are a few of them!  Meet…

Power2 (squared)

One of the biggest hurdles when teaching kids to learn is to keep their curiosity peaked and allow the wonder to stay alive.  Technology allows them to find any answer they need so the magic lies in making them want to discover more and take risks.  The Power of Yet should be alive in every classroom and allow children to understand that seeking “the almost” can be more powerful than the victory!  To hear children correct themselves when they find they can not do something from I CAN’T DO IT to I CAN’T DO IT…YET is magic!  To face failure and recover with curiosity will make them vibrant learners who seek the whys, the ifs and beautiful oops of life with joy.

One of my favorite 3-minute lessons to bring the Power of Yet to life is my Power2   (squared) lesson using  Tangrams.  This seven piece puzzle unlocks their minds to discover the true twists and turns of learning and how determination and teamwork changes outcomes.  Seven little shapes that will bring such excitement and laughter while enhancing not only a child’s mindset but spatial reasoning skills and fine motor skills as well.

Each child is asked to make a square using all seven tangram pieces in three minutes.  They know they will continue to have more chances the following day but to persevere through and try all possibilities.  You will see the students move them, manipulate them, make smaller squares with 3 or 2 but no one I have worked with has ever been successful on the first day.  When the timer goes, we discuss how it felt, what was difficult and how they feel knowing they were not successful.  The next class we revisit it again.  Three minutes later…no success but they know they are closer and more determined and you hear “YET” being echoed around the room.  Day 3 someone more than likely will “get it”.  I tell them to take it apart and do it again.  You can seeing they are burning to say…”but I won’t be able to do it again!  I can’t do it!”  BUT they try again! It is a 50/50 success!  They next day that person and few more get it and we offer a “helpful hint” to those struggling.  Kindness and collaboration makes the world a better place and helps everyone grow.  By Day 5 everyone can do the square and we practice it more as repetitions builds mastery.  Success for all is our goal and a strong growth mindset as we dive in deeper to learning with strong platform to spring from.

This lesson can be crossed into literacy and math extensions as well.  There is a magnificent story titled “Grandfather Tang’s Story” that tells a story of two mischievous fox fairies who learn rivalry between friends can be tragic but in the end kindness and love win.  Use this book as you explore the “Power of Yet” to allow children to become more familiar with the puzzle pieces and build as you read.  Tracing the various animals on paper as well helps them build strong fine motor dexterity.  After, students can create and write their very own Tangram story.  For another classroom, “free time” activity or STEAM bin, you can purchase the game “Tangram Race” on Amazon to help children build their visual dexterity.

I am giving one lucky person who likes, follows and comments on my page a free Tangram Race game!  You haven’t won YET but you might be a lucky winner on February 14th…feel the love!

Tangram Race – below are links to where you can purchase Tangram Race and many other fun Tangram activities. No age limit…just pure fun for all! Just click on the image and you will see ordering details.  


Play is not a word you hear echoed in the hallways or at professional development meetings in schools today but the words test scores, accountability and rigor can be heard in every building across our school districts.  Children are even beginning to use them naturally as well.  Where has play gone and can it co-exsit in a child’s everyday learning environment?  If I had an opportunity to answer, I would say, “YES!”

As adults, we forget how to play or, in the sense, forget how to enjoy the experience of play.  We would need to let go a bit and free our mind of the long list of must-dos and slow down and really tune into something or someone.  A young kindergartener at my school recently opened my eyes to really what is happening in our schools these days.  The student was in my classroom for a visit after not being “successful” in his classroom.  He walked into my room and his eyes lit up like giant saucers.  He said, “who’s room is this?  There are games and toys.  We don’t play at school, we learn!”  I responded, “It is my room and I have found a way to do both…play and learn at the same time. I love to play.”  He giggled and said, “You’re funny!  Adults don’t play and kids don’t either at school.  We can only play at recess!”  Later that afternoon, that kindergartner took his mother on the tour of the coolest room in school…my classroom.  Heartstring tug here!

The complexity of a child’s honesty and needs are so raw and we need to listen.  They are all crying to play and collaborate but in a unique and natural way.  Through play they learn how to get along with others, share, compromise, collaborate, and more.  Children need to move, experiment and make mistakes with laughter and curiosity.  Somehow they are now reading beyond their years in books they often can not comprehend and parents/education systems are hounding us to challenge them and focus on standardized testing to measure a child’s growth…only these tests do not in anyway measure their social and emotional growth.

We, as a society, can redefine play in schools. What it looks like at recess and in the classroom. Both are possible and will bring children together.  We need to teach them to fail, to challenge themselves and to be curious about the world.  Over the next few months I will be sharing lessons on how we can bring play back into teaching and see how it can lead to stronger resilient learners in the future.  Join me and share your ideas too!