Visual Perceptual Skills

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What are visual perceptual skills?

Visual perceptual skills are the skills that a child uses to make sense of what he or she sees.

Click on the quick links to see answers to these questions on this page.

Why Are They Important?

Making sense of what you see is vital for school skills such as reading, writing and math, as well as life skills such as reading signs and maps, finding objects in a busy space, and taking part in hobbies or crafts.

Real Life Visual Perception

Recognizing letters and numbers, matching shapes, recognizing a face, finding a toy in a messy cupboard, reading a road sign – these are all examples of how visual perception can be used in everyday life.

When visual perception has not developed properly, the child may still learn to read and write, but it can take a lot of cognitive effort and may slow down the learning process.

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What Are the Different Skills?

There are many areas of visual perception and sometimes teachers and professionals differ in the terms they use to describe various visual perceptual tasks.

This list is not comprehensive, but should cover the skills most commonly referred to within the school environment.

Each visual perceptual skill has its own page of information and activities you can do at home, so just click on the link to find out more!

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How Do They Work?

Visual perceptual skills develop gradually, as the baby learns to focus on and interact with the environment.

Giving your baby and toddler lots of opportunities to move and play indoors and outdoors will help the eyes learn to focus, to track moving objects and to locate objects in the environment.

Here’s an example of how visual perception works in everyday life.

Picture a little boy spotting some movement on a flower at the other side of the garden. His eyes spotted the movement and his brain has decided that the information is worth noticing.

Using the information from his eyes, his brain processes that the interesting object is a little distance away and not close by, and the little boy gets up to walk closer.

As he gets closer, his brain processes the shape and detail of the moving object and matches it up against the information already in the brain and makes a match – it is a butterfly! Excited now, the little boy keeps moving closer.

On the way, still watching the butterfly, he steps around the cars he left lying on the grass. His peripheral vision noticed the cars and his brain processed this information and enabled him to step around them.

As he walks, he can see the butterfly getting closer and closer. His eyes send information in 3 dimensions (depth perception) and his brain will process the information and tell his body when to stop so the butterfly does not get squashed.

The little boy spends some time admiring the butterfly’s pretty wings. His visual discrimination and figure-ground perception skills enable him to identify colors, shapes and patterns on the wings and to spot the butterfly’s compound eyes. His visual perceptual skills make this possible.

Oh! The butterfly has decided to fly away. The little boy’s eyes work together to track its flight path up and over the garden wall.

Inspired, the little boy runs inside and draws a lovely picture of the symmetrical wings of the butterfly, using his visual memory of what he has seen. His mom writes out the word “butterfly” and our little chap copies them down.

I hope you noticed the word "processing" - I had to use it a lot! Visual perception is all about your brain PROCESSING what you see, helping you make sense of it and then directing your actions accordingly.

With poor visual perceptual skills, the boy may not have been able to spot the butterfly, identify the butterfly as a butterfly, or recognize the colors and shapes on the wings.

He may even have accidentally squashed it by coming too close.

Poor visual perception would also have made it challenging for him to remember and draw what he had seen, and it would have been very hard for him to copy the letters out.

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Boost Visual Perceptual Skills!

How can parents help their child develop good visual processing skills?

  • Incorporate Gross Motor Activities!
    Hand-eye coordination activities are great for boosting visual motor skills as well as general visual perception.
    Bean bag games are great for visual tracking, and there are some other fun hand eye coordination ideas here.

  • Work On All The Skills!
    Expose your child to a variety of activities to develop the different skills. Jigsaw puzzles are popular, but they don’t develop all the visual perceptual skills that a child needs.

  • Limit Screen Time!
    Although there are fantastic apps and games that can develop some visual skills, they often do not work on the full range of visual perception skills that your child needs.

    In addition, because they are sedentary and the screen tends to stay the same distance away from the eyes, the visual system is not being challenged to adapt and develop the way it would be if your child was playing a pegboard game on the floor.

  • Don’t Start With Worksheets!
    The best way for a child to develop visual perceptual skills is through play!

    Expose your toddler and preschooler to simple, hands on activities and only introduce worksheets when your child is able to do desk work for short periods of time.

  • Do Some Hands-On Activities!
    Take a look at some of my free visual perception activities for ideas you can do at home!

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What If My Child Has Problems?

Good visual perception depends on the brain getting accurate information from the eyes, before it can be processed. You may need to have your child’s eyes tested by a behavioral optometrist, who will check much more than just 20/20 vision.
Read more about what a behavioral optometrist does.

Or your child may have a visual processing disorder – an occupational therapist, remedial teacher or educational psychologist should be able to do the necessary assessments to identify the specific visual perceptual skills with which your child is struggling.

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What Resources Do I Use?

Most of the activities on my website use everyday objects and regular toys. Just click on the page links for each visual skill to see fun ideas you can easily do at home with your child!

For very little kids, I have reviewed the book From Rattles to Writing here - This is a book that includes sections on encouraging normal visual motor development at every stage from birth to 5 years.

However, there are also a range of excellent printable worksheets for a child who is ready to do a few of these, and parents can also buy some of the resources that occupational therapists use. Click on the images below to view the resources!

Honesty Point: Some of these links will take you to affiliate products that I recommend.

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› Visual Perceptual Skills

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