Children’s Representations of Five Spatial Terms

AbstractThis study is an exploratory analysis of young children’s representation of five spatial terms: above, under, by, next to, and between. Children (n = 76) and adults (n = 11) indicated the spatial extent of a grid they thought the term indicated. Qualitative analyses were used to categorize responses as one of four types, separately for each word, and showed more agreement among adults than children. Furthermore, children who showed adult-like representations were generally older than those who showed unsystematic responses. Quantitative analyses, using a median split in age to create two groups of children, compared representational sizes and distances from the referent(s). For above, under, and between, adults had larger representations than children; the trend was reversed but not significant for by and next to. Furthermore, the size of representations was correlated for above and under but not for by and next to. Analyses of distances showed a predicted reversal in the vertical dimension of above and under that interacted with age. There were no differences across age groups or terms for by and next to, but between showed a decrease in horizontal distance over development. These results suggest that children may initially understand words differently than adults do.

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