Using GIS to Help and Understand Factors Affecting Child Development


The use of GIS in child development has ranged from studying various social and environmental factors in how children develop to using GIS directly where they learn to better understand spatial thinking as children become adults. The use of spatial technologies has been shown to have strong positive impact on improving geospatial relational thinking among high school-aged students.[1] In this case, teens were shown to be better able to understand the role that space plays in features such as community water systems and water distribution. One tool, called EduGIS, which is a web atlas, was found to benefit students’ understanding on spatial properties.

Regarding children social development, a range of socio-economic factors such as income, family structure, and other factors have been found to be important. This often has a strong spatial component, as evidence from urban environments has shown that children develop very differently often depending on the neighborhoods they are raised. One study showed using a spatial regression method that children at young ages were more likely to be maltreated simply by living in specific, often poorer neighborhoods.[2] In another example, child survival rates in India have been shown to have stark contrast based on regions in which children were born. Nutrition appears to be strongly associated with given regions where under five year old child mortality in India is adversely affected.[3]

Qualitative GIS has been used to demonstrate that perceptions of neighborhoods and their spatial layout affects physical activity among children, where space that does not encourage outdoor play and walking was found to be where child obesity is likely to be high.[4] Risk of using spaces, including play places that might seem risky or attract unwanted behavior such as crime, has a detrimental effect on loss of children activity and potential obesity.

While spatial tools can be used to enhance late childhood/early adult learning and development of spatial understanding, spatial tools also allow the understanding of how children develop, including their physical and social development, based on spatial priorities.

Children learning GIS as part of Esri's camp offered during the annual Esri User Conference in San Diego. Source: SDCC, July 2014.

Children learning GIS as part of Esri’s camp offered during the annual Esri User Conference in San Diego. Source: SDCC, July 2014.


[1] For more on how GIS technologies are used in teen development of spatial thinking, see:  Favier, T.T. & van der Schee, J.A. (2014) The effects of geography lessons with geospatial technologies on the development of high school students’ relational thinking. Computers & Education. [Online] 76225–236. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.04.004.

[2] For more on the relationship between child treatments and spatial factors demonstrated using spatial regressions, see:  Freisthler, B., Bruce, E. & Needell, B. (2007) Understanding the Geospatial Relationship of Neighborhood Characteristics and Rates of Maltreatment for Black, Hispanic, and White Children. Social Work. [Online] 52 (1), 7–16. Available from: doi:10.1093/sw/52.1.7.

[3] For more on child mortality in India and spatial factors, see:  Singh, A., Pathak, P.K., Chauhan, R.K. & Pan, W. (2011) Infant and Child Mortality in India in the Last Two Decades: A Geospatial Analysis Zulfiqar A. Bhutta (ed.). PLoS ONE. [Online] 6 (11), e26856. Available from: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026856.

[4] For more on using GIS for perceptions of space and its utility for play and walking in children, see:  Wridt, P. (2010) A Qualitative GIS Approach to Mapping Urban Neighborhoods with Children to Promote Physical Activity and Child-Friendly Community Planning. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design. [Online] 37 (1), 129–147. Available from: doi:10.1068/b35002.



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