Writing your name, counting money, choosing an outfit for the day. What do these tasks have in common?
They all require visual discrimination, a visual processing skill that we need to read, write, do math, and complete daily tasks. You can help preschoolers develop their visual discrimination skills with activities and worksheets found in this article.
What is visual discrimination?
Visual discrimination is the ability to classify objects, symbols, and shapes and differentiate between them based on their size, color, shape, and orientation. Visual discrimination is an essential skill that preschoolers need to learn before developing more advanced literacy and math skills because visual discrimination makes it possible to distinguish between similar letters, numbers, and symbols.
Why is it important to teach visual discrimination skills?
Before children can learn to read and do math, they must learn to distinguish between similar letters and numbers. Teaching young children visual discrimination skills helps them learn to tell the difference between visually similar letters, such as "O" and "Q," and visually similar numbers, such as "6" and "9."
Visual discrimination also helps children distinguish between denominations of coins and dollars that look similar, such as a quarter and nickel and a $10 and $20 bill. This skill is invaluable when children are learning to count money and make change.
In addition to building math and literacy skills, visual discrimination helps children care for themselves. For example, children need to be able to classify objects to dress themselves independently for example, matching socks by color and size or determining if a piece of clothing is too small or too large without having to try it on.
Activities that teach preschoolers visual discrimination skills
You can teach your children visual discrimination skills with these engaging activities.
This activity develops children’s visual discrimination skills by having them organize beads by color.
For this sorting activity, you'll need:
- Perler beads
- A plastic paint palette
- Place a handful of beads in the center of the paint palette. Next, place one bead of each color in the surrounding wells as an example of where to sort each bead.
- Ask your children to look carefully at the color of each bead. Then, have them organize the beads in the center of the palette by placing each bead in the well that corresponds with its color and shade.
These free printables include ten domino-matching activities that develop children’s visual discrimination skills. These activities help young children learn to distinguish between objects and compare objects to images.
For this domino matching activity, you'll need:
- Domino tiles
- Matching dominos worksheets
- Select the correct domino tiles and place them at the bottom of the page.
- Ask your children to match the dominos at the bottom of the page to the pictures of dominoes.
Shape and size puzzle
This free printable helps young children learn to distinguish between shapes of different sizes by having them match puzzle pieces to the spaces where the pieces fit.
For this shape and size puzzle activity, you'll need:
- Discuss each puzzle piece's shape, size, and orientation with your children. Then, explain that each piece fits in a specific hole in the picture.
- Have the children use a crayon to draw a line from each puzzle piece to its place in the puzzle.
- As the children work through the puzzle, ask them how they determine if a puzzle piece belongs in a certain space.
This coin sorting activity helps young children learn to distinguish between sizes and details by sorting coins.
For this activity, you'll need:
- A pile of coins of different values (pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters)
- Ask the children to draw a circle on a piece of paper for each coin denomination.
- Have them sort out the pile of coins into the circles based on the size and details of each coin. Each circle should contain one coin denomination.
This free, printable matching socks game uses pictures of socks to help preschoolers learn to match objects and improve their visual discrimination skills.
For this activity, you'll need:
- Sock matching worksheet
- Clothespins (optional)
- Yarn (optional)
- Print out a sock matching worksheet. You can print out multiple worksheets to make the activity more challenging for your children.
- Cut out the socks. You can laminate the sock shapes to make them more durable.
- Have the children match the socks to create corresponding pairs.
- If you want to display the matching pairs, you can hang them from a piece of yarn using clothespins to create a clothesline.
This card sorting activity helps preschoolers improve their visual discrimination skills by having them sort playing cards based on their suit, number, or color.
For this card sorting activity, you'll need:
- Playing cards
- Show the children that each playing card has a number or letter, color, and suit.
- Have the children sort the playing cards into two piles, one for red cards and one for black cards.
- To make the activity more challenging, have the children sort the playing cards into piles based on their suit or number/letter.
For more activity ideas that you can implement at your center, download our calendar template for early education programs.
Teaching visual discrimination FAQs
What skills should be taught in conjunction with visual discrimination?
Visual discrimination is a visual processing skill, a skill that relates to the brain's ability to interpret visual information.
Other visual processing skills include:
- Visual memory: the ability to remember visuals.
- Form constancy: the ability to recognize that objects stay the same even if they change size, position, or are viewed in a different environment (e.g., recognizing a dog is a dog whether you see it in a photo or in a park).
- Figure ground: the ability to find an object hidden in a busy background.
- Visual closure: the ability to identify two objects that are the same even if part of one object is missing (e.g., completing a puzzle by using a picture of the finished puzzle as a reference).
- Visual motor skills: coordinating the eyes and hands to draw and write.
What is the difference between visual discrimination and visual acuity?
Visual discrimination is the ability to classify objects, symbols, or shapes based on their details. In contrast, visual acuity is the ability to distinguish the details of an object, symbol, or shape at a distance.
What factors impact children’s development of visual discrimination skills?
Children with vision, spatial awareness, or attention issues may struggle when learning visual discrimination skills.
Vision issues such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism, and poor visual acuity may make children’s sight blurry or unfocused, making it difficult to distinguish small details.
Children with spatial awareness issues may struggle to understand directional concepts, such as the difference between left and right. This may make it difficult to tell the difference between certain letters that are distinguished by their directionality, such as “b” and “d” and “p” and “q.”
Children with attention issues such as ADHD may struggle with concentration and memory. This can make it difficult to distinguish letters, numbers, and symbols by memory to complete tasks.
Visual discrimination is a lifelong skill
Visual discrimination is more than a pre-literacy skill. The ability to classify objects, symbols, and shapes and differentiate between them is crucial for many daily tasks. These visual discrimination activities will help your preschoolers develop skills they will need as they learn to read and complete essential tasks not only in childhood but also throughout their lives.