This study longitudinally investigated developmental changes in the frame of reference used by children in their gestures and speech. Fifteen children, between 4 and 6 years of age, were asked once a year to describe their route home from their nursery school. When the children were 4 years old, they tended to produce gestures that directly and continuously indicated their actual route in a large gesture space. In contrast, as 6-year-olds, their gestures were segmented and did not match the actual route. Instead, at age 6, the children seemed to create a virtual space in front of themselves to symbolically describe their route. These results indicate that the use of frames of reference develops across the preschool years, shifting from an actual environmental to an abstract environmental frame of reference. Factors underlying the development of frame of reference, including verbal encoding skills and experience, are discussed.
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