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12 Visual Perception Activities for Kids

Visual perception is an important skill that must be developed during the first years of a child’s life.

Here is a clear explanation of what it means, why it is so important for learning to read, write and do mathematics, and 12 simple games you can play at home so your child will learn while having fun!

What is Visual Perception?

Children interact with the world through their senses. The way they perceive things through their senses, together with their motor and cognitive processes, are known collectively as perceptual-motor skills.

Visual perception is the brain’s ability to understand and make sense of what the eyes see. The eyes send information to the brain, which needs to be correctly interpreted.

Apart from visual perception, children also need to develop

There are various aspects of visual perception which I will explain below.

What is an Example of Visual Perception?

An example of visual perception is when a child reads a word.

Let’s say the word is dog.

The child sees shapes and forms on the page but the brain has learned to decipher, recognize and even memorize some of these forms.

He notices that the forms and shapes are letters, he decides whether he is looking at a ‘b’ or a ‘d’ (letters that are often confused), and he perceives that the letters from a word that has meaning to him – dog.

If he is mature enough and has developed good visual perceptual skills, he will know the word is dog just by memory and not have to actively decode the word anymore.

Visual perception is not just the act of seeing something, but rather perceiving what it means to you.

Why is Visual Perception Important?

Children primarily learn and make sense of their world through their senses, such as hearing and seeing. A baby starts learning by making sense of what is seen before the other senses are integrated.

Visual perception is important for a child to learn if they are to be able to interpret and understand their environment. With enough stimulation, children develop this skill by about the age of 7.

School Readiness

young boy watching the blackboard in class

In order for children to achieve school readiness for formal schooling, the development of their visual perceptual skills is crucial.

Children must have well-developed visual skills in order to learn to:

  • read
  • write
  • do mathematics

Teaching a child to read and write is not just about looking at letters and memorizing them, but rather depends heavily on how well their visual perceptual ability has been built.

Activities such as memory games and puzzles are excellent pre-reading activities that are far more important during the preschool years than trying to rush the learning of letters and numbers.

What are the Types of Visual Perceptual Skills?

Here are some types of visual perception skills and their importance for learning:

  • Visual Discrimination – the brain’s ability to see similarities and differences (noticing differences in letters and numbers, especially those that look similar e.g. b and d, bad and dad, S and 5 etc.)
  • Visual Memory –the brain’s ability to remember what the eyes have seen (to recognise letters and numbers, remember sight words, and copy from the board in class.)
  • Sequential Memory – the brain’s ability to remember what it sees in sequence e.g. the sequence of letters in a word (spelling), copying the correct numbers in multiple-digit calculations (e.g. add 2 sets of 3-digit numbers), and remembering the order when working out calculations involving multiple digits.
  • Visual Comprehension – the brain’s ability to understand what has been seen and conceptualize it (to be able to solve problems and draw conclusions)
  • Perception of Shapes – the brain’s ability to distinguish between shapes of objects, regardless of the size and position (e.g. something far looks smaller than it is.)
  • Depth Perception – the brain’s ability to judge how far something is (important for all movement)
  • Figure-Ground Perception – the ability to focus on something and block out the background/irrelevant images (e.g. copying from the board). This also helps children keep their place when reading.
  • Visual Analysis and Synthesis – the brain’s ability to see a pattern as a unit, break it up into parts and put it back together again (children do this constantly while reading e.g. sounding out words.)
  • Visual Closure – the ability to recognize things by shape from seeing a part of them (e.g. common sight words). This prevents needing to decode the sight word each time a child sees it and increases overall fluency.

As you can see, so much more than just learning letters and numbers goes into learning to read, write and do mathematics.

Concentrating on developing your child’s visual perception will go a long way to school readiness and success in reading, writing, etc.

Here is a video explaining visual perception and how it affects a child’s ability at school:

How to Develop Your Child’s Visual Perceptual Skills

You may be wondering which activities are important for visual perception.

The best way to develop these skills is through play.

Young children don’t need worksheets or any formal activities but rather tons of play activities and games.

Here is a quick list of examples of activities children should be regularly engaged in to develop visual and motor perception.

In the next section, I’ve given examples of simple but effective visual games that can be played.

12 Visual Perception Activities and games for Children

The good news is that although the skills listed before sound complicated to teach, they are actually very easy to develop with simple games and activities.

Here are 12 games you can play at home with your child. Some focus on one of the skills listed above, others encompass more than one skill (e.g. visual memory, discrimination or closure).

This post contains affiliate links for educational products that I personally recommend. If you purchase through one of them, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Read the disclosure for more details.

Play a variety of these games to set your child up for learning success.

1. Matching Card Game

Matching card games (like this one) have pairs of matching pictures. Lay one set out in front of your child. Keep the other set. Show one card at a time and ask your child to find the matching picture.

Variation: Place both sets of cards face up and shuffled and put on a timer to see how long it takes your child to match all the pairs.

2. Memory Game

Play a memory game with the cards used in the game above. (Get your own printable set from my shop).

Lay all the cards face down and shuffled. Take turns turning any two cards over on the table.

If you turn over a matching pair you keep the cards and if the pair doesn’t match, turn the cards back over until it is your turn to try again.

This is an excellent game for developing visual memory because your child needs to remember where the pictures are as they are turned over, in order to find the matching pairs.

The winner is the person with the most matching pairs at the end.

Here’s an example of one of the sets in my memory game cards.

Printable memory card game

3. I Spy

Play the classic game I Spy by pointing out things by their visual aspects.

Example:

I spy something that is round, flat and rough.

4. Build Puzzles

Building jigsaw puzzles is one of the best activities your child can do. Have puzzles available at home and make them part of regular playtime.

Ensure the puzzles are age-appropriate – the younger the child the bigger and fewer the pieces should be. They should be slightly challenging but doable. If they are too difficult children lose interest and feel incompetent.

The best quality educational puzzles are made of wood and have a wooden supporting board like these.

5. Sort Dry Pasta

Give your child an ice-cream tub of mixed dry pasta and ask them to sort the pasta by shapes (e.g. tubes, spirals etc), or even by colour if you can find colourful pasta.

You can still wash them and cook them after!

sorting dry pasta as a visual perception activity

6. Sort Buttons

Take a tub of buttons with different shapes and colours and provide containers to sort into, such as yoghurt cups or an egg tray.

Ask your child to sort them by specific criteria and then change the criteria.

The buttons can be sorted by:

  • colour
  • size
  • shape (if not all round)
  • number of holes in the middle (more advanced)
  • Fabric vs. plastic buttons

Here are more button activities for preschoolers.

7. Sort Shapes

Use play shapes or coloured counters and sort them as in the game above. Again, provide different criteria each time.

Sort the shapes by:

8. Remember What You Saw

Choose any 5 household items, natural items from the garden or toys and lay them out in front of your child. Allow your child at least half a minute to look at the items and memorize them.

Then, cover them with a cloth and see if your child can recall all 5 items. Start with fewer items if your child is younger and increase the number with time.

Then, place 5 items and remove only one item. Ask your child which item was removed from the set. Then try and remove 2 items.

9. Remember the Order

A variation on the above game which teaches sequential memory is to ask your child to watch you place 5 items down and then mix them and get your child to place them in the same order you did.

You can also use the cards from the matching game above. Place 5 cards on the table, cover them and get your child to find the 5 cards in their set and place them in the correct order.

10. Where’s Waldo?

Where’s Waldo, or originally Where’s Wally from Britain, is a fun series of books where you have to find Waldo in a maze of people in different scenes.

These books are great as a visual perception activity and are heaps of fun too.

This book is a more age-appropriate version for young kids.

11. Straight Edge Puzzles

Straight Edge puzzles are different from regular jigsaw puzzles because the skill is not in matching the puzzle shapes, but rather in looking at the detail in the picture and matching colours, lines, etc.

12. Can You See What It Is?

Place a set of 5 or 6 shapes on a table in a line. Cover half of each shape at the same time by placing a sheet of paper or cloth over them. Ask your child to name the shape.

Vary this game by showing half images in books, or showing an ear of an animal, for example, and guessing what animal it belongs to.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas for developing your child’s visual perception. There are many different games that can be played and these ideas are a guideline that will hopefully inspire you to make up your own games too.


Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.

Activity Pack for preschoolers

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Omoding Martin Auchor

Wednesday 16th of June 2021

Good information Thank you

Tanja Mcilroy

Thursday 17th of June 2021

Thanks for your comment!

Sarah

Tuesday 29th of December 2020

Such an interesting article. Great ideas thanks.

Tanja Mcilroy

Friday 1st of January 2021

Thanks for reading Sarah! Happy new year!

Prasanna

Monday 29th of June 2020

Very informative and practically useful article.

Michele

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

Hi Tanja! As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, I found this article has great ideas for parents to work on this important pre-learning skill!

Tanja Mcilroy

Thursday 28th of May 2020

Hi Michele, thanks so much for your feedback! Tanja

Indumathi

Friday 1st of May 2020

Useful article

Tanja Mcilroy

Friday 1st of May 2020

Thank you Indamuthi!

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