Figure-Ground Perception

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Figure-ground perception is the ability to focus on one specific piece of information in a busy background.

Visual figure-ground is the ability to see an object in a busy background; while auditory figure-ground helps us to pick out a voice or sound from a noisy environment.

Many childhood games and activities, not to mention some life skills, need this visual perceptual skill!

Because this skill is so important, we need to make sure we give our kids lots of opportunities to develop their skills. Toddlers and preschoolers need lots of hands-on figure ground activities and games, so keep the worksheets until they are a bit older.

Figure-Ground Perception In Everyday Life

Good visual figure-ground skills can help you to...

  • find your favorite socks in a messy drawer
  • find the ketchup bottle in the pantry
  • find a specific toy in the toy-box
  • find a favorite t-shirt in the cupboard
  • find a dropped item if it fell onto a similar colored background (eg a green button on the grass)

(Does anyone else think that moms have super-hero abilities in this area?! LOL)

Kids With Poor Skills May Struggle At School

When visual figure-ground skills are poor, a child may...

  • struggle to find information on a busy blackboard
  • lose his/her place when copying work from the board
  • lose his/her place on the page while reading.
  • have poor dictionary skills
  • struggle with map work
  • struggle to find personal items in a cluttered place
busy blackboards are hard for kids with poor figure-ground perceptionBusy blackboards can be overwhelming

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The following  visual perception activities are intended to encourage your child's normal visual perceptual development.
If you suspect your child has visual perceptual delays, please seek a professional opinion.

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!

"Active Eyes" Activities

Children need to learn to pay attention to detail and to actively look for information .

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

 When you are out and about, play the “I spy with my little eye” game.

Kids of all ages can play this (my teens still love outwitting each other with really odd-ball items!). For younger kids who don't yet know their letters, use the phonetic letter sound, for example say "mmm" instead of "em" for "M".

visual perception - can you see the butterfly?"I spy with my little eye"

You can also have your kids look out for specific numbers and letters on car license plates, calling out when they spot them. Great for road trips!

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Using Games And Puzzles

1) Jigsaw Puzzles

Picking out pieces to complete a puzzle is a great figure-ground activity.

Instead of picking up a piece and figuring out where it fits, do it the other way. Decide what piece is needed (eg "the piece with the red hat") and ask your child to look for that specific piece.

doing puzzles helps boost visual figure-ground skillsAsk your child to do a puzzle with you

2) Play Games Like "Spot It!"

This is a fast-paced game that whole families can play, but if you your child has poor figure-ground perception, then have them work through the cards at their own pace, with your guidance to get the hang of finding the items.

They should soon be confident enough to play with you and then others. The European version of Spot It! is called Dobble.

spot-it-game-for-visual-perception.jpgPlay "Spot It!"

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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.

These books are great for rainy days and road trips. Or just leave them lying around the house so your child can pick it up when they're feeling curious!

Seek and Find Books for figure-ground perception

The books I link to here are great for elementary age kids:

Seek and Find Books for figure-ground perception

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Using Worksheets

Look out for worksheets that provide spot-the-difference, mazes, hidden pictures, word-searches and color-by-number activities. These are all helpful in building visual figure-ground skills.

You may need to help your child develop some strategies  - for example, using a finger to help  scan a spot-the-difference maze, using a 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 packed with figure-ground perception worksheets that you can use over and over again:

Clicking the links will take you directly to their site; alternatively my OT Mom readers can get the Figure-Ground and Visual Discrimination Bundle via my website at an exclusive discount!

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.

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Pin this page! Figure ground perception activities and tips

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