The Project on Language and Spatial Development at Florida International University (FIU) is dedicated to exploring how children develop and learn about their world. We conduct cutting-edge research on the development of language and spatial abilities with children between the ages of 7 months and 5 years.

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Language and Spatial Development Overview

How do children learn their first words? Remarkable progress has been made in the last few decades in answering this age-old question. Yet, much of our understanding of the mechanisms underlying early word learning has come from research focusing on names for objects—nouns (Pruden, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2005; Pruden, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff & Hennon, 2006). A comprehensive theory of word and language learning will, however, require that we understand the development of other types of words, including spatial terms (i.e., motion verbs, spatial prepositions and dimensional adjectives; e.g., “running,” “under,” and “big”). Spatial terms not only allow us to describe the relations between objects (e.g., “The fork is between the knife and spoon” and “Bella is taller than the table”), they also allow us to describe everyday actions and events (e.g., “Johnny skipped into the bathroom during halftime”). Though spatial terms appear in the vocabularies of very young children, less is known about how children come to acquire these words.

Our research examines those factors that influence and improve children’s early spatial language learning, including cognitive factors (i.e., the role of children’s underlying conceptual knowledge and the role of analogical similarity), biological factors (i.e., the role of sex differences), and environmental factors (i.e., the role of family socioeconomic status and parental language input). An understanding of these factors is not only critical to developing a comprehensive theory of word learning, but also informs us of the ways in which we can improve children’s spatial language and spatial cognition. Fostering growth in children’s spatial language and spatial cognition is important as research shows that those who perform well on spatial tasks are more likely to major in and choose careers in disciplines related to Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM disciplines).

How do infants and children make sense of the spatial world in which they live?

When do infants have the knowledge needed to learn a spatial term? How do they acquire this knowledge? Our research begins to address this question by focusing on what children need to know before they can produce their first spatial terms such as “over,” “around,” “climb,” and “jump.” To acquire a spatial lexicon, infants must be able to notice the events that spatial words label. We use state-of-the-art technology, eyetracking, to examine what infants and children know about their spatial world.

When do children acquire their first spatial words? What factors affect the development of the spatial vocabulary?

Little research is available to answer even the most basic questions about the development of spatial language. For example, when do children acquire a spatial lexicon? What is the nature of its development and are there wide individual differences in development? We begin to answer these questions by first describing the development of children’s spatial language in both their home environments and their early classroom education programs.

Research Collaborators and Laboratory Affiliations

Collaboration is such an important component of science---no researcher can hope to understand all aspects of the problems under study without the collaborative efforts of other experts in the field. Our list of collaborators and affiliates below comprises the many components that allow the Project on Language and Spatial Development to conduct exciting research that informs educational policy and intervention. We thank them for their efforts in this exciting endeavor!


Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University, Temple Infant and Child Labs

Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, The University of Delaware, UD Child's Play, Learning & Development Lab

Dr. Susan Levine, The University of Chicago, UC Cognitive Development Lab

Dr. Priya Shimp, Mills College Mills College Language Development Lab

Dr. Mandy Maguire, The University of Texas at Dallas, UTD Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab

Dr. Sarah Roseberry, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at The University of Washington

Dr. Tilbe Goksun, Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, Language and Cognition Lab

Dr. Lulu Song, Brooklyn College

Dr. Angela Laird, Physics Department at Florida International University, Laird Lab

Dr. Eric Brewe, Physics Education at Florida International University, Physics Education Research Group

Dr. Jami Furr, Clinical Science Program at Florida International University, MINT lab & Brave Bunch

Dr. Bethany Reeb-Sutherland, Developmental Science Program at Florida International University, Brain and Behavioral Development Lab

Dr. Daniel Bagner, Clinical Science Program at Florida International University, Early Childhood Behavior Lab