The study of space perception can be defined as the process by which we acquire knowledge through the senses of the position of objects and their relations in space to each other, their general surroundings and the perceiver. Though this is a complex process ; occurs in children gradually from birth. The developmental growth in space perception for the child initiates with what is known as
occurs during the first three or four months of the infant’s life and is connected to sucking. During this time infants look at objects that emit sounds, and appear to realize that they belong together.
is developed through the infant touching his or her own body. In
the infant follows moving objects with its eyes. At about four months the infant will look at an object held in front of him/her and reach and grasp for it. The visual and the tactile impressions begin to combine at this age towards an understanding of what shape is. Gradually the infant begins to learn that the same object may appear differently when it is seen from a variety of views at different distances. Throughout this process the infant sees that the shape he/she is looking at visually corresponds to the shape that he/she feels with his/her hands. The infant is approximately two before he/she begins to understand that objects have their own identity even when they are moved in space. Young children begin to name concepts of space such as in, out, above and below when they are about three. Yet, the objects are not yet perceived, as wholes since the child is experiencing the object(s) haptically. This can be interpreted to mean that the very young child remains almost passive when he has to identify objects from touch. The child’s grasping and handling is rather haphazard.
Between the ages of 4 through 7 the tactile experiences with an object can be translated visually. This happens when the child attempts to draw from tactile perceptions. The child’s drawing will reflect his/her ability to explore objects and recognize shapes from tactile experience. Initially rounded shapes are drawn followed by those shapes drawn with straight lines. One must be aware that this process develops quite slowly in the child. In addition children can match shapes more easily than they can draw them.
By the ages of 8 and 9 the child becomes aware of the body’s orientation to the horizontal and vertical coordinates of space. Objects such as buildings and trees can be perceived as upright forms as well as our bodies, due to the pull of gravity. Our ears contain the mechanisms that indicate when our head is not parallel to gravitational pull. It appears that the more active motor experience the child has the greater awareness he/she has of the horizontal and vertical condition of the environment. Active participation in such activities as walking, bicycling and other sports can develop this skill when contrasted with passive movement such as bus riding. The child is moving through a world that contains objects scaled generally for adults. This observation suggests that playgrounds need to be designed with the child’s sense of scale; a scale that provides spatial learning activities between the levels of toy playing and the larger adult scaled environment.
As the child of 8 to 9 is becoming more aware of depth and distance in space, he/she is also developing perceptions of body image, as attitudes towards their bodies and the bodies of other people. Research in the area of how children perceive the size of their bodies appears to show that children will overestimate or underestimate the size of their bodies in relation to what is culturally desirable. Many variables influence how the child perceives his/her body: sex differences, personality types, and emotional feelings of self-importance, success and power. Generally, the child, as well as the adult, functions within three dimensional boundaries that surround our bodies. For the child these boundaries are not fixed since their growth processes are not complete.
Children develop their awareness of distance and depth very slowly. Judgment of distance becomes clearer as the child has more experience with actually traversing the distance themselves. The child will gradually perceive the changes in; the appearances or objects as they move towards them or away from them. Older children through maturation, experience and training can usually perceive that objects gradually recede into the distance. The focusing of both eyes in what is known as binocular vision is necessary for accuracy in depth perception. Changes in the size of objects will cause them to appear smaller as they recede into the background. The texture of the surfaces of objects becomes more dense the further they are away from the viewer. As the older child becomes less self-centered and more aware of other viewpoints, what is known as linear perspective (parallel lines converging to a vanishing point at the horizon) can be understood. The horizon is relative to one’s point of view and the surrounding environment (urban, flat rural land, ocean, hills, mountains, etc.). Generally we look up towards objects that are distant, and down at near objects. Movement and the speed at which an object moves conveys depth. Objects which are closer appear to move more and faster than similar objects at greater distances. Shadows created as a result of a light source contribute to the impression of an object being in three dimensional space.
In any discussion of developmental growth in children it must be remembered that there are a multitude of variables affecting the learning process. The perception of spatial relationships is a complex learning process that does not complete itself in childhood; nor can it be isolated from other learning processes. It is discussed here for the purpose of guiding one in planning art activities that can improve the child’s awareness of space. This awareness of space is connected directly to our thoughts, feelings and imagination as we experience buildings in our environment.