Take a good look! (Tips for honing visual discrimination skills)

Children can observe their surroundings in many ways. They can take a quick glance, they can look for obvious visual cues, or they can look carefully at the details. While every situation does not call for careful scrutiny, it is important that children are able to notice small details in visual messages. This ability is called visual discrimination and is essential for success in every academic area.

Think about the prospect of learning to read. A child must first know each letter and the associated letter sound. But to know each letter, he must be able to distinguish between a B, P, and R, for example, or understand and identify the differences between an A and V. Small but significant differences in letters and numbers require children to notice subtle characteristics in the visual messages their brain receives. As with all other skills, this can be accomplished through exposure and practice.

Of course, to engage a child’s interest so that he will be willing to practice, activities must be fun. And they can be! Children enjoy learning and will take on any challenge if it is appropriate and interesting. Appropriate challenges are those that can be mastered without undue frustration.

  • Play “I Spy” with your child. This classic game is a gem because it can be played anywhere and for as long as you like. Also, the difficulty can be easily adjusted to meet your child’s skill level.
  • Introduce your child to some compare and contrast worksheets. The advanced worksheets, in particular, will require your child’s careful scrutiny.
  • Challenging visual discrimination worksheets

  • Play a version of the Matching Game. Instead of requiring your child to remember where a specific picture is, he can take a large group of cards and look for the matches. By looking at a number of cards at the same time, your child will be forced to look for details in the pictures he is searching for.
  • Take several photographs in sequence and develop each picture. There will be slight difference between the shots as people move or other objects come into the frame. Ask your child to find the differences. Make a list to see how many he can find.
  • Make your own “Difference Detective” visual discrimination game with index cards cut in half. Use a bold marker to draw the same simple picture or shape on three index cards and then draw almost the same shape (make a minor change) on the fourth card. Place the cards in front of your child and ask him be a detective and take away the card that is different. Then ask him to tell you why he chose that card. Make many different cards to keep the game interesting.
  • Make a variation of “Difference Detective” game using the letters of the alphabet. You can use the letter cards from the uppercase/lowercase letters matching game! Place three of the same letter and one different letter in a row and ask your child to be a detective and find the letter that does not belong with the others. Let your child’s skill level determine the letters you choose. For instance, a child just learning to differentiate between letters will likely be successful if shown RRDR. A child with greater visual discrimination skills will enjoy the challenge of spotting the odd card in a group such as OQOO or CGGG.
  • Uppercase/lowercase memory game

  • You can also introduce numerals with this game by making three cards showing a specific number and making a fourth card with the number slightly altered. Perhaps you can put a dot in the middle of one of the loops in the 8 or draw a short line on the stem of the 7. Use your imagination and adjust the difficulty of the cards.
  • Play “Grocery Gopher” with your child at the grocery store. Describe the label of a box or can on a shelf in front of him and ask your little “gopher” to find that exact product. Again, this game can easily be adjusted to fit your child’s skill and comfort level.
  • Look at magazines or picture books with your child and ask him to point out specific details that you see. If you are looking at a magazine page, your child can mark with an X or circle the pictures or details in pictures that you ask him to find.

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