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What are visual-spatial skills?

happy little girl eating fruit

Key Points:

  1. Independent feeding involves more than just muscular strength; it heavily relies on a child’s visual-spatial ability to process the location of food and utensils in relation to the body.
  2. Between 3 and 4 years old, children develop visual-spatial abilities crucial for independent feeding, and parents can support this by providing finger foods and child-sized utensils.

Pouring liquids on their own using both hands, or cutting their food and feeding themselves using a fork involves much more than just having the required muscular strength and hand and finger coordination to hold a cup or pick up utensils. Beyond the physical skills, achieving independent feeding relies heavily on the visual-spatial ability of a child to process where the food and feeding utensils are in relation to the body, particularly the hands and mouth, and the coordination of movements needed to eat.


Between 3 and 4 years of age, kids are continuously developing their capacity to organize the information of what they see, interpret it according to the context of the environment and compare it with previous experiences, and integrate it efficiently in the body movements.

If your child is still young, you will notice how, in the beginning, they might err when evaluating how much force is needed to hold a fork in the hand, and either drop it alongside the food or have such a firm hold on it that moving becomes hard. Your kid might be very intent on eating independently, have a pretty good grasp of the spoon, and nonetheless miss their mouth!

Considering the complex task your little one is undertaking, you can help them early on by offering finger foods to try and exercise their hand-eye coordination. Have child-sized utensils and training cups or attachable bowls if possible. But most importantly, encourage your child to try and be as independent as possible and be very supportive and encouraging when you see they’re getting frustrated.

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