Understanding Visual Discrimination In a Matter of Minutes

visual discrimination

Have you ever heard someone mention the phrase visual discrimination? Prior to becoming a preschool teacher, I was unfamiliar with this term and its meaning. As I continued to learn more about it, I discovered that I was actually more familiar with the term than I had realized. I bet you will find that you are more familiar with it, as well.

For instance, can you think of a child in your preschool classroom who confuses letters -b and -d or -p and -q? Perhaps your own child writes his or her numbers and letters backwards. Let’s not forget about those children who do not yet understand the difference between numbers and letters.

Sometimes examples such as these can cause parents and teachers to worry that the child might by struggling with dyslexia. The good news is that most children are completely fine. It takes time and maturity for young children to correct these common points of confusion. They are still developing their visual discrimination skills.

In this post, I am going to address all things related to visual discrimination. It is my hope to give you a better understanding of the term. I also hope to provide you with ideas of how you can help your preschooler develop strong visual discrimination skills. After all, these important skills will carry them through their school-age years.

What is Visual Discrimination?

Before we can begin helping young children develop their visual discrimination skills, we must first understand the meaning of the term. Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize the details in images around us. This includes identifying similarities and differences in size, shape, color, and the orientation of objects.

We can help children develop this skill by providing activities that encourage them to focus on specific details. Simple matching games and books such as “Where’s Waldo” and “I Spy” are a few great tools we can use to encourage young children to focus more on details.

Why is Visual Discrimination Important?

Visual discrimination is important for many different reasons. When young children are starting to identify the letters in the alphabet, they must rely heavily upon these skills to help them notice the differences between each letter. The same applies as children are learning to identify numbers.

At some point in their schooling, most children begin to self-correct mistakes when they accidentally write numbers or letters backwards. It also becomes easier for children to tell the difference between trickier letters like lowercase -b and -d.

Most children’s visual discrimination skills improve naturally as they grow. However, we as teachers and preschool parents can provide our children with specific activities to increase the speed of this process. Making a conscious effort to plan two or three activities per week can make a huge, positive impact on the development of a child’s visual discrimination skills.

Visual Discrimination and Reading

One of the main reasons we need to expose young children to activities that encourage strong visual discrimination skills is because visual discrimination plays a large role in a child’s ability to learn to read.

Initially, children begin reading by learning to blend the letter sounds in short words. In order to blend those sounds, the child must first be able to look closely at each letter to determine the sound it makes. This requires the use of visual discrimination skills.

As they continue building upon their reading skills, children begin to recognize common letter combinations like -sh, -th, and -ch. Visual discrimination skills help children notice and find these letter combinations within words. Eventually, children will learn to use those letter combination sounds to decipher larger words.

Visual Discrimination and Math

Just like reading, visual discrimination plays a large part in a child’s ability to understand math. Think about all the different symbols we use in math. If children have not been taught from a young age how to look closely at details, they could easily mistake an addition sign for a subtraction sign or vice versa.

With that in mind, it is quite common for preschoolers to overlook addition and subtraction symbols, so do not be alarmed if your preschooler confuses math symbols when completing simple equations. If this happens, encourage your child to take his or her time and look at the problem again.

Encouraging the Development of Visual Discrimination Skills

There are many simple ways parents and teachers can encourage the development of visual discrimination skills. Planning such activities does not have to be an elaborate process. Try to look for teaching opportunities throughout your daily routine.

As you are driving with your preschooler, point out the different signs to familiar restaurants, or ask your child to help you find three stop signs on the drive home. Exposure to environmental print is great for young children. Even though younger children cannot yet read, over time, most children will begin to recognize these restaurant signs simply by the shapes and colors observed.

Preschool teachers can expose their students to environmental print by hanging posters of restaurant signs around the classroom or block center. Teachers can also create an environmental print booklet with real photos for students to look at independently.

Here are some more activities you can do with your preschooler to encourage the development of visual discrimination skills:

  • Play Memory
  • Invite your preschooler help sort the silverware from the clean dishwasher basket
  • Play simple matching games with pictures
  • Sort shapes using everyday objects
  • Sort coins by type
  • Do a scavenger hunt
  • Complete spot-the-differences activities
  • Search for letters or numbers in the world around us
  • Practice matching socks
  • Read books like “I Spy” and ”Where’s Waldo?” together

How do Poor Visual Discrimination Skills Affect Children?

Younger children with poor visual discrimination skills may struggle with simple tasks such as matching socks, sorting silverware from the dishwasher into the correct section of the drawer, or noticing subtle differences between objects.

School age children who are struggling with visual discrimination skills may confuse letters such as -b and -d. They may also write letters or numbers backwards or struggle completing spot-the-differences worksheets. While reading, students may accidentally read the word “cat” as “car.” Additionally, some students may have difficulties with reading a map or looking up words in a dictionary.

Completing activities that encourage strong visual discrimination skills can be wonderful for helping children of all ages. Over time, and with a little extra help, most children begin to self-correct some of these issues independently.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Has a Visual Processing Disorder

If you suspect your child might be dealing with a visual processing disorder, contact your pediatrician for further evaluation. Your pediatrician can refer your child to an occupational therapist or another medical professional who is trained to help in this area. They might also be able to provide you with a list of interventions you could try using at home with your child.