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 maths, 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:
- auditory perception (sound)
- olfactory perception (smell)
- gustatory perception (taste)
- tactile perception (touch)
- Motor skills such as body awareness, spatial awareness, fine motor and gross motor skills, eye movements, eye-hand-foot coordination, midline crossing, direction awareness and dominance (left or right-handed)
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 form 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.
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:
- do maths
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.
Visual perceptual 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?
These are the types of visual perception skills, as laid out by Marike de Witt, author of “The Young Child in Context: A psycho-social perspective“, 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 maths.
Concentrating on developing your child’s visual perception will go a long way to school readiness and success in reading, writing, etc. (here’s a video explaining visual perception).
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 to develop visual and motor perception:
- Building puzzles
- Playing with construction toys
- Playing memory games
- Drawing, painting, cutting, pasting, folding
- Making patterns (with beads, pegs, etc.)
- Playing with and tracing shapes
- Sorting objects
- Matching colours
- Fine motor activities
- Gross motor activities
In the next section, I’ve given examples of simple but effective visual perceptual games that can be played.
12 Visual Perception Activities and Games for Children
The good news is that although the skills listed above 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 build 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 terms and conditions for more details.
Play a variety of these games to set your child up for learning success.
1. Matching Card Game
Matching card games 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.
Get your own matching cards by downloading the FREE set of printables at the end of the post.
2. Memory Game
Play a memory game with the cards used in the game above.
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, available for free download at the end of the post.
3. I Spy
Play the classic game I Spy by pointing out things by their visual aspects.
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!
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:
- shape (if they are 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 perceptual activity and are heaps of fun too.
This book is an 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 will hopefully inspire you to make up your own games too.
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