Spatial reasoning is a set of skills critical for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning yet is generally de-emphasized in early childhood mathematics. To understand how to support early childhood educators (ECEs) in teaching spatial reasoning through mathematics, this multiphase qualitative study explored how spatial reasoning can be defined, its representation in education standards, and ECEs’ related teaching practices. The first two phases used content analysis to define spatial reasoning as a conceptual framework and identify how well it is represented in broadly adopted kindergarten through Grade 2 (K-2) education standards. The third phase used exploratory case study methods to learn how 13 ECEs in the United States teach spatial reasoning through mathematics and how their curriculum usage expectations support or constrain their teaching practices.

This study’s resulting conceptual framework defined 40 spatial reasoning skills proposed by Davis et al. (2015). Based on those definitions, spatial reasoning was found to be implicitly represented in the K-2 Common Core State Standards for Mathematics frequently; however, only nine spatial reasoning skills were explicitly represented. Case study findings indicated ECEs teach spatial reasoning skills through mathematics and other content areas, but practices differed between ECEs who worked in schools with mandated curriculum usage expectations and those with greater instructional decision-making autonomy. Ideally, ECEs would teach spatial reasoning through lessons targeting explicitly related standards. Limitations and implications are discussed, with directions for future research, including the need to further refine the framework with input from researchers and ECEs.

Degree Date

Spring 5-13-2023

Document Type


Degree Name



Teaching and Learning


Annie Wilhelm

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

Available for download on Tuesday, April 25, 2028