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Abstract

In this paper we examine the relations between parent spatial language input, children’s own production of spatial language, and children’s later spatial abilities. Using a longitudinal study design, we coded the use of spatial language (i.e. words describing the spatial features and properties of objects; e.g. big, tall, circle, curvy, edge) from child age 14 to 46 months in a diverse sample of 52 parent–child dyads interacting in their home settings. These same children were given three non-verbal spatial tasks, items from a Spatial Transformation task (Levine et al., 1999), the Block Design subtest from the WPPSI-III (Wechsler, 2002), and items on the Spatial Analogies subtest from Primary Test of Cognitive Skills (Huttenlocher & Levine, 1990) at 54 months of age. We find that parents vary widely in the amount of spatial language they use with their children during everyday interactions. This variability in spatial language input, in turn, predicts the amount of spatial language children produce, controlling for overall parent language input. Furthermore, children who produce more spatial language are more likely to perform better on spatial problem solving tasks at a later age.