Abstract A cognitive developmental study examined the effects of visuo-spatial ability (V-SA) and verbal ability (VA) on wayfinding performance in young and older children. The age groups used corresponded to the pre-operational and concrete operational Piagetian stages of cognitive development. In addition to completing a battery of tests measuring V-SA and VA, children undertook a wayfinding task in a forward and reverse direction. High V-SA children exhibited superior wayfinding skills to low V-SA children. In contrast, VA failed to influence wayfinding performance. Further analysis revealed that the effects of V-SA were only reliable in young children, suggesting that older children develop additional representational abilities that are neither visuo-spatial nor verbal in nature. Applications of these findings are discussed in terms of their implications for environmental design and planning.