What is visual discrimination?

Visual discrimination is the ability to identify differences in visual images. Many parts of a preschool or kindergarten classroom use visual imagery, including the following: 1) Reading and writing; 2) Mathematics; 3) Social studies and science; and 4) Social interactions.

Why teach visual discrimination?

Children must be able to successfully distinguish between different letters in order to read and write words. As Winnie the Pooh famously said, ‎“To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.”

For example, if your child is unable to distinguish the letter “b” from the letter “p,” he will incorrectly read the word “bat” as “pat.” This will inevitably lead to frustration and self-doubt as your child struggles to understand why the sentence does not make sense (which it likely will not since “bat” and “pat” are not interchangeable words).

How can I help my child with visual discrimination?

Visual discrimination skills are honed through practice. Particularly for young children, it may be necessary for you to work with your child to help him learn to identify differences and similarities among certain images.

It is best to start by comparing two real objects first. Toys that are similar make great objects to compare.

Ask your child to look at two objects (small toys are a good place to start). Ask your child questions such as, "Which is bigger?" or "Which is green?" Once your child can answer those questions, let him ask you questions. This will force your child to observe a difference or similarity in order to ask you a question.

After your child can compare two real objects, start comparing pictures of objects. You could take pictures of the real objects he has compared at home. If your child can successfully compare two objects, gradually add in one more object at a time. Your child should eventually be about to compare four to five objects. Once your child has learned to compare objects, he should be able to naturally apply his visual discrimination skills to letters and words.

The goal is for your child to be able to tell the difference between letters and words that look alike. The letters b, d, p, and q are most often confused. Words like saw and was are easily confused. Children also confuse words such as clasp and claps.

Visual discrimination plays an important role in learning to read.