My son has an erector set. He's a little young for the projects, but at the same time he is absolutely enthralled with it. So, we build the projects together, most of which have about twenty steps.
If you have ever worked on an erector set, you can understand how much it challenges your sense of spatial reasoning. Basically, you have pictures of the project which show you how the parts fit together. They can be quite complicated and in many cases they challenge your abilities to use your hands and tools together. I take the lead and his job is usually to help put in the screws, the pulleys, axles, etc. Occasionally, I push him to figure some of the steps out on his own.
Anyway, we were building a crane last week, which has a motor and pulleys- all sorts of stuff. At one point, right after I put a piece together and was moving on to another step, the seven year old says, "Dad, that's on wrong". I looked at the diagram for several seconds, trying to see what he was seeing and after a while I was convinced I had it right. He didn't press it and we went on.
Well, after another three or four steps, we realize that I had indeed put a particular plate on upside down. After scanning all the diagrams, I finally saw the mistake, which was wicked hard to figure out. It took a lot of squinting and head scratching to figure it out. But here is the rub- the mistake was exactly the thing my son was telling me about fifteen minutes beforehand and he had thrown out the comment so casually that it seemed trivial.
That is not the only time I have noticed this. The kid has this ability to see three dimensions in his head. He often draws city scapes from a bird's eye view, with the proper dimensions and perspectives. Me? I draw a stick man with giant hands and call it art. I don't know if I should feel proud, amazed, humbled or what, but it is definitely one of the great things about having kids. I can't wait until he wants to take the lawnmower apart.