Tablets can help toddlers remember things in order

Spatial sequencing — or remembering where objects are in space — is important for developing math skills, but many preschoolers have hard time understanding some types of sequences. Cognitive scientists found that, with a tablet and some help from mom and dad, kids can get an early start.

Hand Elliot some blocks, and he’s ready to go. But when you ask him to remember the order of things, or sequence, on a tablet, it’s not easy.

Professor Francys Subiaul, a cognitive scientist with George Washington University, says Elliot’s not alone in that challenge.

“What we found was 3-year-olds were surprisingly bad at doing that, even though they were good at copying other kinds of sequences,” Subiaul says.

Think of spatial sequences or patterns like trying to punch in numbers on the ATM keypad with no visible numbers — just from the memory of which button is which number.

Subiaul split kids into groups and gave each different activities on tablets. He and the other researchers found the children who first practiced imitating spatial sequences with adults were best at imitating spatial sequences later.

“Just a 10-minute, very brief intervention significantly improved their spatial imitation performance,” Subiaul says.

Subiaul says tablets are a good way for kids to learn spatial patterns, but he says parents need to stay engaged during play. Ask kids questions about the games. Gave them describe what they’re doing and what they’ve learned.

If you are looking for apps to help kids learn spatial and early geometry skills, Common Sense Education has a website with some ideas to get you started.