Figure Ground Activities

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These simple figure ground activities will help your toddler or preschool child develop an important visual perceptual skill.

Learning to visually focus on objects in a busy background is an important foundation for being able to find a missing sock in the drawer, pick out information on the board in the classroom, and not lose your place when reading.

These visual perception activities are intended to encourage your child's normal visual perceptual development. Please seek a professional opinion if you are concerned about your child.

figure-ground activities for younger kids

For your convenience, I have linked to products on Amazon (marked #Ad) that are similar to the ones I use myself - I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through these links, which helps support this site. However, you are under no obligation to purchase anything!

Toddler Figure Ground Activities

These are fun for very young children, or for those whose figure-ground perception is really poor.

Find Your Laundry

Give your child a pile of socks and ask them to find their own socks.

Or dump the laundry basket on the floor and ask them to find their own clothes in the pile!

This will help your child to spot something important in a busy background.

sorting socks - toddler visual perception activityFind your own socks!

Sort Cereal or Pasta

Give your child a bowl of mixed pasta shapes or a bowl of colorful cereal such as Cheerios or Froot Loops.

Ask your child to pick out one specific shape of pasta or color of cereal. He/she will then need to spot that shape or color in the busy background.

Please supervise your child to prevent choking.

sorting cereal - toddler figure ground activity

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"Active Eyes" Activities

Learning to pay attention to detail and to look for information is a skill that children need to learn.

When everything is presented to us visually on a screen, we can get lazy about looking for things in the "real world", so I like to encourage parents to play what I call "Active Eyes" activities with their kids.

Take an "Active Eyes" Walk

If you have the opportunity to walk in your neighborhood or in nature, use the opportunity to look for specific items.

If you spot something interesting, don't point it out to your child!

Rather ask them to try and find the butterfly on the plant, or the red flower in the garden, or whatever you have spotted.

visual butterfly flowerSpot the butterfly!

Take an "Active Eyes" Pretend Shopping Trip

Give your child a shopping flyer and ask them to find specific items for your shopping list, real or imaginary.

Kids who know their numbers could point out specific numbers eg a 4. 

figure ground activity with shopping flyersUse your Active Eyes to "shop"

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Using Games And Puzzles

Matching Cards

Mix up a variety of picture cards/ memory game#Ad cards and ask your child to find a specific picture.

Increase the figure-ground demand by adding more cards to the “pool” so your child has to find the card in a busier background.

look for the picture in a busy backgroundFind a specific picture in a mix of cards

Jigsaw Puzzles

When doing a jigsaw puzzle, encourage your child to look for the small details.

For example, pick up a piece, point out a specific color/shape/object on the piece, and ask your child to find a piece that has the same color/the rest of the object on it.

Obviously, start with puzzles with fewer pieces!

doing a jigsaw puzzle is a good figure ground activityDo a jigsaw puzzle!

If your child struggles with the concept of puzzles, read my article on teaching puzzles.

Play Games Like "Spot It!"

"Spot It"#Ad (known as "Dobble"#Ad  in Europe) is a fast paced game when played by the rules. For a younger child, or one who struggles, let them work through the cards at their own pace, with your guidance. You can use Spot It Junior#Ad to make it easier, as the pictures are more distinctive, and there are fewer pictures on each card.

"Spot It" game for visual perceptionPlaying Spot It

"BusyTown"#Ad and the popular  "I Spy" Eagle Eye"#Ad brand of games are also great games to build figure-ground perception skills.

These games are readily available in many toy departments, but I have looked them out on Amazon for your convenience.

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Using "Seek-and-Find" Type Books

Your child will need lots of encouragement if they usually avoid this type of book – encourage your child to pay attention to detail, and show them how to systematically work through the page.

Usually, I let the child scan the page first, and if they do not find the object, I will work with them systematically.

You can ask your child to look in specific areas of the picture – "Have you looked in the house?", "How about the tree?"

In this way, you can systematically cover all the main areas of the page.

Use a "seek and find" type book for visual figure-ground perceptionLooking in specific areas

Or you can show your child how to move a finger across the page and have the eyes follow the finger.

Work from left to right, gradually moving down the page.

Use a "seek and find" type book for visual figure-ground perceptionScanning the page systematically

Many libraries and second hand book stores stock a range of "Where's Waldo?", "I Spy" and "Usborne Puzzle Books". You can also try these ones from Amazon:

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Using Activity Books

If your child has an activity book at home, the chances are good that there are some activity pages that work on figure-ground perception. 

Look out for pages that present spot-the-difference, mazes, hidden pictures, word-searches and color-by-number activities like the ones shown below. These are all helpful in building visual figure-ground skills.

an example of overlapping lines worksheetOverlapping lines
an example of mazes worksheetMazes
an example of spot the differencesSpot the differences

However, kids with poor figure-ground perception often don’t know where to begin to do these activities as the visual information is overwhelming.

If your child usually avoids these pages, or tends to make a mess of them, sit with your child and help them to make sense of the page.

You may need to help them develop some strategies  - for example, using their finger to help them scan a spot-the-difference maze, using their finger to trace the maze paths to find the correct one before tracing it with a crayon.

Your Therapy Source has created some lovely printable resources that you can use over and over again:

Clicking the links will take you to my review of each resource - and check out the exclusive Figure-Ground and Visual Discrimination Bundle for my OT Mom readers!

I hope you found this information useful! Children with poor figure ground skills may also struggle with other visual perceptual skills as well. So take a look at my other pages to be inspired with more activity ideas.

Read my page on figure-ground perception to find out more about how important this is, and to get more activities that can help slightly older kids,

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