Visual Discrimination Activities

visual discrimination activities for kids

Visual discrimination helps a child to see subtle differences between objects or pictures and to see if something matches up. This visual perceptual skill can be described as “paying attention to detail" and is vital for reading, writing and other school skills.

How Does Poor Visual Discrimination Affect Kids?

Younger children with poor skills may struggle to:

  • match clothing, socks, or cutlery, especially when the differences are subtle
  • see the difference between similar objects (eg coins, especially foreign coins which are similar to local currency)
Does your child notice the difference between coins?
A school-going child with poor skills may struggle to:
  • see the difference between similar looking letters and words (eg b / d,    b / p,    5 / S,    won’t / want,    car / cat) - this can affect reading and letter formation skills
  • complete spot-the-difference type activities
  • read maps

Try the activities and games on this page to help your child develop visual discrimination skills. Even toddlers can start developing this vital skill with the simpler activities on this page!

These 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.

Spot The Odd One Out

Spotting the odd one out can be the first step in learning to discriminate visually between items. Try and look for opportunities in everyday life where you can ask your child to point out the item that is "not the same", or the one that "does not match".

If possible, encourage your child to explain why the object is the odd one out - this will help to develop language skills.

Start with really simple differences like color and size, then progress to more subtle differences.

Spot the one that does not fit...

Number of holes

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Sorting Activities for Visual Discrimination

Once you know your child can see the difference between objects, you can give your child lots of sorting activities to develop visual discrimination skills. Sorting teaches your child to look at basic details such as color, shape and size.

For very young kids, start with sorting into just two categories (eg red blocks and yellow blocks), and then increase the challenge by adding more colors, sizes and shapes.

The ideas below are suitable for preschoolers, but do take care with small items, to make sure they don't choke!

Sorting Activities for Color and Shape

Buttons, beads and pegs can be sorted for color and shape in so many different activities, but please take care so that no small items are put in the mouth.

You can put out a pile of items that are all the same shape, and sort them for color. If you have matching color cups into which the items can be placed, that often helps younger kids to master this task.

If your child is overwhelmed by the task of sorting all the colors, ask him/her to pick out just one color - this girl is picking out all the pink pegs.

Picking out a specific color

You can also ask your child to sort a variety of shaped blocks into groups of the same color.

If this is too hard, start with just two colors and then work up to more.

Sorting blocks by color

Using the same blocks, you can also ask your child to sort by shape. In the picture alongside, the rectangles all happened to be yellow, but you can see a variety of colors in the squares and triangles.

Again, start with just two very different shapes (eg circles and squares) and increase the challenge once your child has mastered these. Sorting rectangles and squares is more challenging than sorting circles and squares.

Sorting blocks by shape

Older kids who can recognize that shades of the same color go together, may enjoy sorting a big pile of buttons into a muffin tray.

You can see that there are light and dark shades of buttons in the same hole. This a great sorting activity that kids can do before using the buttons in a craft activity.

Sorting buttons into a muffin tray

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Sorting Household Items

If you have cutlery with different patterns, have your child sort them out into matching sets.

Sort cutlery by pattern

If you have different shapes of pasta, mix a few different shapes and have your child sort them out.

An empty egg box makes a great sorting tray!

Sort pasta into an egg box

Sort bottle tops - you can sort these by color or by size.

If your child is overwhelmed by a big pile of colors, you can ask your child to pick out just one color as this girl is doing with the purple tops.

Sort bottle tops by color or size

Take a nature walk and collect all kinds of items. When you get home, sort your nature collection into categories such as cones, seeds and leaves.

Sorting nature objects

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Matching Activities

You can use any of the items you used for sorting, for a matching activity as well. Just put two of each item in the pile and ask your child to match them up.

Socks work particularly well for this!

Sorting very different socks

Ask your child to help you find the matching socks from a big pile of socks. Start with socks that are very different, and then increase the challenge to socks that are similar.

In addition, there are a few more ideas you could try:

Sorting similar socks is more challenging

Matching Cards

Use a set of matching cards. Place one from each pair on the table

Then hand your child a card and ask him/her to find the matching card from the pool on the table.

You can increase the challenge of this activity by increasing the number of cards on the table.

Find the matching card
Don't have matching cards? Try a second-hand shop, or take a look at this Nature-themed Matching Game, or Animal-themed Matching Game from Amazon.

For your convenience, I have looked for similar products on Amazon that will enable you to promote your child's skills in this area. These are my affiliate links to these products - I will earn a small commission if you purchase something through my links, which helps to support my free website. However, you are under no obligation to purchase anything!

Matching Shadows/Outlines

Matching shadows or matching outlines is a good visual discrimination activity.

If your child has activity books at home, look out for pages that require your child to pay attention in order to match identical outlines, like this one.

Match the pictures

Sometimes you can find shadow match cards like these ones alongside...

Match the shadow

Or you can purchase this inexpensive visual perceptual e-book that contains shadow bingo printouts like the ones shown here.

I turn the bingo game into a matching activity for just one child.

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Paying Attention to Detail

Teaching your child to pay attention to detail is an important step in developing good visual discrimination skills.

The following games and activities are the kind I often use to help preschool, kindergarten and early elementary kids develop this skill.

1) Graphing Games

Graphing Games require the child to look at the object and then place it in the correct position on the “graph” according to the color and contents of the picture.

This download of reproducible Graphing Games sheets is a fantastic resource packed with different themed graphs like this one.

2) Build-a-Figure Puzzles

These 3 and 4 piece puzzles are different to conventional puzzles in that the backgrounds are usually very simple and each puzzle is only 3 or 4 pieces.

Your child has to pay careful attention to the color and lines of the picture in order to correctly build the figure.

Self correcting puzzles have interlocking pieces which allow only for one solution, where straight line puzzles can be mixed and matched in a creative way when not being used to build matching skills.

Below, I have linked to similar products on Amazon.

For your convenience, I have looked for similar products on Amazon that will enable you to promote your child's skills in this area. These are my affiliate links to these products - I will earn a small commission if you purchase something through my links, which helps to support my free website. However, you are under no obligation to purchase anything!

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Visual Discrimination Activities for Older Kids

It is always a challenge to find visual discrimination activities that suit older kids. Sometimes the challenge lies in a more intricate activity, and sometimes you can increase the challenge by adding some time pressure.

Here are some ideas I have used with older kids - my own and at schools...

1) Start a coin collection

This is a recent hobby that our family took up, and it has been a great way to help one of my kids to learn to pay attention to small details.

Sorting local coins by date means they need to take a close look at the numbers, while sorting foreign coins necessitated matching our coins to the ones shown on a numismatics website.

Sorting coins can help improve visual discrimination skills

2) Play Some Fast Matching Games

Speed Match is a great printable download from Your Therapy Source, that I often use.

For older kids, I print the pages in black and white, and play with a time limit, which I don't use with younger kids.

You can also play Spot It! (or Dobble, if you are in Europe) - this game works on figure-ground perception and visual discrimination skills, but most kids don't know this and just play it for fun!

It is a fast paced game, so if your child struggles to play it in a group, then have your child just play one-on-one with you so you can give a little extra time until his/her skills improve.

These are my affiliate links to these products on Amazon - I will earn a small commission if you purchase something through my links, which helps to support my free website. However, you are under no obligation to purchase anything!

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Visual Discrimination Worksheets and Printables

Once a child has done a lot of hands-on matching and sorting activities, there is a place for worksheets and printables to help kids consolidate their skills.

The resources below contain printable sheets that can be cut into activity cards, so they are still hands-on activities.  These are my favorite printable visual discrimination activities and I have used them a lot!

Check them out by clicking on the links below:

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