3 year old boy with 3-fingers touching the top section on an iPad.

Spatial Tech Standards 1: Directional Terms

Spatial Tech Standards are unique to students who are blind or low vision; learn how to teach these foundational skills to young students!

Updated 12/22/22; originally published 4/7/21

This series is designed to show how a tablet (in this case an iPad, but the same is true with any tablet) can be used to systematically teach critical educational skills that bleed over into all subjects. These foundation skills should be specifically taught and introduced early – starting with preschoolers! These skills lay the groundwork to support tech skills for students who are blind and low vision that align with the National Technology Standards. (See post  Tech Standards: Why Teach Digital Concepts Early?) Keep in mind that Students LEARN to access Technology until 3rd grade and then USE TECHNOLOGY to access learning.

This series will introduce digital spatial concepts starting with age-appropriate skills for preschoolers (directional terms) and will cover the pre-requisite spatial concepts that BLV students must fully understand to be successful with coding concepts, O&M routes, spreadsheets, higher math, and more. Let’s start at the beginning with directional terms for preschool children.

Toddlers naturally learn functional positional terms such as “up” when they want to be picked up and “down” when they want down. Common directional words that toddlers and preschoolers hear daily are: In, on, over, under, behind, below, above, next to, near, far, and the list goes on! When seeking a desired object, students with vision quickly learn to look in the direction that a parent is pointing; however, BLV students learn to follow verbal directions with directional terms. Because directional words have critical meaning, BLV preschoolers typically learn left and right before their sighted peers; these sighted peers typically are not consistent with left and right until kindergarten. Preschool standards include a wide range of directional and positional terms. Since we are interested in digital directional terms, we will focus on these 7 directional terms: top, middle, bottom, left, center, right, and corner.

Note: The terms ‘middle’ and ‘center’ are often interchangeable, especially when working with young students. Technically, there is a difference:

In technical fields such as engineering or architecture, there is a difference:

Tactile Activities

As educators, you are already doing spatial activities with your students. Here are a few ideas to show the systematic progression of teaching spatial concepts to young students who are blind or low vision.

As always, students should first be introduced to spatial concepts using manipulatives. Activities might include “hide and seek” type game. Place a toy or object in specific places on a book shelf. Example: Ask the student to find the toy truck on the top shelf. Where was the truck? (Always have the student verbalize where the object was located – using a complete sentence if age-appropriate!) Then ask the student to “hide” the toy by placing the toy in a specific place. As the student progresses, give a two-part direction. Example: Ask the student to find the toy truck that is on the top shelf on the left. If the student needs more prompts or you want to change the game and not give the student a clue as to where (or what) the object is, give “hot/cold” type directions – as the student moves closer to the desired object, repeat your spatial term but say it faster or louder when he is closer and slower/softer when he is farther away. Example: If the desired object is to the left of the student, say “left . . . left . . . left” slowly and as he moves closer, say “left” faster! Remember, you can give additional directions such as “up” or even initial direction of “corner”!

Once the student has mastered finding and placing real objects in areas around the room, move to 2-dimensional activities. Example: Find the star (tactile sticker) on a page.  Place the square sticker at the bottom of the page. Magnetic boards or Velcro boards also work well for these activities!

Preschool and kindergarten classrooms often have students complete worksheets with spatial terms. In this post, ProCreate App 2: Activities, Worksheets, and Books post, a TVI shares how she created worksheets for students who require a tactile format and for students who need large print/uncluttered worksheets. Download and use her worksheets from this post!

Note: If you create spatial worksheets, please share them on Paths to Technology – let’s build our Tactile Images/Worksheets Resource Library!

Image1: Cat cut and paste visual worksheet with cat images and blank boxes underneath on the first page and spatial words on the second page.

Image 2: Simple black line drawing of dog above a firetruck  – ideal for PIAF machine (image enhancer machine).

Cat cut and paste worksheet with cat images and blank boxes underneath on the first page and spatial words on the second page. Simple black line drawing of dog and firetruck images - ideal for PIAF machine.

Toddler/Preschool Directional Terms Activity: Baby Musical Hands App

In a recent course based on the ABC’s of iOS: A VoiceOver Manual for Toddlers and Beyond, participating TVIs were intentionally and systematically introducing the directional terms to very young students (2 years and older) as they explored and interacted with apps on the iPad. The most basic level app is the Explore Level; students can touch anywhere on the screen, using any number of fingers/body parts, and hold for any amount of time. My favorite Explore Level app to introduce digital directional terms is the Baby Musical Hands app. In this app, there is a red row at the top of the screen, a yellow row in the middle and blue row at the bottom. Touch the red area to hear drum sounds, the yellow area to hear piano notes and the blue area for guitar notes. Each row has 5 squares running left to right. As you touch across (left to right) on the yellow and blue rows, the sound in each square has a higher pitch. Each drum square has a different sound/pitch (snare drum, base drum, cymbals, etc.).

Initially, the goal of Baby Musical Hands is for the young child to simply interact with and enjoy the cause and effect sounds. This simple game can be used to build independent play/interaction on the iPad – a critical skills as many young BLV students wait to be prompted every step of the way. Encourage the child to explore all over the screen in order to hear the different sounds. Try dragging a finger – in a straight line – across the screen, staying within the same row (instrument). As the student explores, name where he is touching using directional terms. Model this as well (touch the top of the screen and say, “The drum is at the top”. Ask the student to find the drum. Mirror what the student plays – touching the same squares in the same rhythm while verbalizing what you are doing. Play a 2 or 3 note rhythm and ask the student to repeat it. Hum or sing the notes. Introduce the concept of a corner. Encourage the student to remember where his favorite sounds are physically located on the screen.

Note: When working with young toddlers, the initial goal is just to introduce the terms to the students – with no expectation that the student will fully understand the spatial concept. However, these really young kids often pick up spatial terms surprisingly quick!

[Image: 4 year old Karson is using three fingers to tap on the red row (top, middle) in the Baby Musical Hands app.]

4 year old Karson sitting at a table with three fingers tapping the red row at the top, middle of the iPad screen in the Baby Musical Hands app.

Baby Musical Hands app in the App Store

Baby Musical Hands app in Google Play

Remember, the power of a touch screen is that you know exactly WHERE you are on the screen!

Baby Musical Hands Goals

When specifically taught, Baby Musical Hands app can be used to teach these goals:

Practicing Directional Terms

For students who understand directional terms, embed these terms into additional iPad (touch screen) lessons.

Students can practice using directional terms within almost any app. Here are some examples of favorite apps for young students who are blind or low vision:

When introducing a student to find and select an app on the Home screen, tell the student generally where the app is located (top, middle bottom of screen) and teach the student to begin looking for that app in that area instead of flicking or dragging through all the apps on the screen. Example: If the app is at the left side of the screen, specifically teach the student to drag down along the left edge of the column instead of using numerous right swipes.

Remember the goals for Baby Musical Hands? Keep these goals in mind, as they should be applied to all apps and tech lessons for young students!

Applying Directional Terms to Core Subjects

Are directional terms important to core subjects like reading, writing and math? Absolutely! Pre-braille skills include understanding the spatial relationships of the 6 dots in a braille cell. Examples: Dot 1 is the top left dot in the braille cell. Reading requires starting at the top left and moving to the right. When learning to count, young children often move manipulatives from a group on the left to the group on the right (or top/bottom). Understanding directional terms is the first step of understanding spatial skills required for learning rows, columns, grids, tables, etc. See other posts in this series for the next step!


Additional Post in This Series

Spatial Tech Standards 2: Rows

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By Diane Brauner

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Photo of 3 rows of toys and photo of iPad Home Screen with tactile row overlay. Text

Spatial Tech Standards 2: Rows

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