Visual discrimination

Visual discrimination involves the ability to perceive differences in visual images. Many parts of a preschool or kindergarten classroom use visual imagery for reading and writing, Mathematics, Social studies and science and Social interactions.


Children must be able to successfully distinguish between different letters in order to read and write words.


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).


Comfort with numbers and mathematical concepts relies foremost on the ability to distinguish between different number symbols.


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.


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.

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.


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 workstation.


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