Visual discrimination is the ability to identify differences in visual images. Many parts of a preschool or kindergarten classroom use visual imagery, including: 1) Reading and writing; 2) Mathematics; 3) Social studies and science; and 4) Social interactions.
To print free worksheets to help your child improve his visual discrimination skills, please view our collection of Visual Discrimination Worksheets including, worksheets to learn colors, color words worksheets and compare and contrast worksheets.
Role of Visual Discrimination in Reading and Writing
As discussed in detail in the section on Letter and Word Awareness, children must be able to successfully distinguish between different letters in order to read and write words. As Winnie the Pooh famously said, “To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.”
For example, if your child is unable to distinguish the letter “b” from the letter “p,” he will incorrectly read the word “bat” as “pat.” This will inevitably lead to frustration and self-doubt, as your child struggles to understand why the sentence does not make sense (which it likely will not since “bat” and “pat” are not interchangeable words).
Role of Visual Discrimination in Mathematics
Comfort with numbers and mathematical concepts relies foremost on the ability to distinguish between different number symbols. As with letters, numerous numerals are similar in formation, such as:
For example, many young children can respond appropriately when asked, “What is three plus one?” However, many of these same children could not complete a basic math worksheet where the same question is asked in writing, “3 + 1 = ?” This is because children with weak visual discrimination skills cannot properly distinguish between all of the numerals.
Double-digit numbers also pose a unique visual discrimination challenge for children. When facing a double-digit (or triple- or quadruple-digit) number, a child must not only identify the numerals correctly, but also process them in the correct order from left to right. For example, 18 and 81 represent very different amounts and 7:05 and 5:07 are very different times of the day (just ask a sleep-deprived parent!). Also, consider the visual similarity between the number 10 and the numbers 100 and 1000.
Role of Visual Discrimination in Social Studies and Science
Regardless of the type of school your child is or will be attending, all social studies and science classes introduce information with visual models and demonstrations. Often a teacher will model an activity for the class and then ask the children to replicate the activity at their own workstation. Or, children may be asked to make observations about the experiment by drawing a picture or writing descriptive sentences.
A child with weak visual discrimination skills will observe the demonstration but will be unable to replicate the work at his own desk or complete a worksheet asking follow up questions. Out of frustration, he may fool himself into thinking he is “not good at science.” When, in actuality, he may have a strong natural ability for science but simply lack well-developed visual discrimination skills.
Role of Visual Discrimination in Social Interactions
Visual discrimination skills also play an important role is facilitating smooth social interactions. Children must be able to interpret and understand subtleties in facial expressions and body language to interact comfortably with others.
Just think of how hard it would be for your child to remember the names of his classmates if everyone was a four foot tall girl with long brown hair and green eyes. Easily identifying and remembering the physical differences in each classmate, along with identifying and remembering the details of the classroom setting and routine, will allow your child to comfortably navigate the new school environment.
Tips for Accelerating Your Child’s Visual Discrimination Development
Visual discrimination skills are honed through practice. Particularly for young children, it may be necessary for you to work with your child to help him learn to identify differences and similarities among certain images.
For example, consider starting with comments such as, “The red car is much bigger than the blue car. But the blue car is much bigger than the yellow car.” Or, “It’s interesting how the letter T has one long line across the top and the letter F has two shorter lines on top and in the middle.” By pointing out these types of differences, you will alert your child to the fact that differences exist among all visual images.
When first working with your child, I recommend introducing two objects at a time. Making comparisons between two objects is far easier than making comparisons among numerous objects. Also, comparing objects is easier for a child than comparing images, as your child can hold objects and use physical clues (such as weight and texture) to aid his visual discrimination skills. Toy cars make the perfect objects to compare as they are inexpensive and often have many distinguishing characteristics such as a color, shape, style, and number of doors.
After your child has observed the two objects, ask him questions to help focus his observations. Consider questions such as, “Which one is bigger?” Or, “Which one is green?” As your child gets comfortable answering those questions, you can prompt your child to ask you a question about the objects. Having your child ask you a question will force him to first observe a difference or similarity and then use that information to form a relevant question.
Once your child is comfortable noting similarities and differences between two objects, play the same game using two pictures. Unlike objects he could hold, pictures will force your child to rely only on visual discrimination skills to note the similarities and differences.
Considering taking the pictures yourself of common items you have at home. For example, if you first played the game with two of your child’s toy cars, consider taking pictures of those same cars and having your child observe those pictures when answering questions about their visual characteristics. As your child gains comfort observing different pictures, increase the number of pictures you give your child each time.
Once in the classroom setting, your child will naturally apply his visual discrimination skills to all areas of learning, including Letter and Word Awareness, Math and Number Development, and Social and Emotional Development.
Learn More About What Will Be Expected of Your Child in School
When children begin preschool, they enter an unfamiliar classroom filled with unfamiliar people and materials. They must rely on strong visual discrimination skills to remember the location of their cubby and their friends’ names. In preschool, children must also utilize visual discrimination skills to observe the lessons being taught and learn subtle distinctions such as the difference between the letters L and J and the difference between the number 6 and 9. By kindergarten, children are expected to quickly learn the names of all new classmates and new materials. Kindergarten children are also expected to already know the differences between all 26 letters and 10 number symbols. In kindergarten, children are expected to utilize strong visual discrimination skills to observe more complex lessons and demonstrations and then use those observations to replicate a demonstration at their own work station.
Learn more about the specific visual discrimination skills your child will be expected to have at the beginning of preschool and at the beginning of kindergarten