Visual Discrimination Activities for Children

Updated on March 9, 2018

What is Visual Discrimination?

Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize details in visual images. It allows people to identify the size, shape or form, color and position of objects and printed material. Visual discrimination skills also enable people to identify likenesses and differences between specific images.

For children, much of how they learn is through visual observation. Also, every book or nature walk is an adventure, as kids take in the variety of shapes, colors, people, and animals they encounter. Having strong visual discrimination skills enables children to observe details in their environment.

Why Visual Discrimination Skills Are Important

To be able to read, children need to distinguish between the numerous and various symbols that comprise our written language. As children become familiar with written language, they will become aware of the fact that words are groups of letters separated by spaces. They must then notice that letters are different than numerals, and they must learn the names of all the letters (both uppercase and lowercase) and the numerals 0 to 9. To be able to do this, children must be able to recognize distinct characteristics of each symbol. While adults do this with ease, think of the concentration it takes for a child to recognize and name the letter E when it is so similar to the letter F, the letter L or even the letter H. There are very slight differences in many letters (b, d, and p for example) and numerals (look at 6 and 9 or 2 and 5), so it is important for children to have finely developed visual discrimination skills to enable them to recognize and remember these differences.

Visual discrimination skills are also important in many other areas of the school curriculum. Think about the learning that takes place throughout a school day as children observe their environment. Science experiments, demonstrations in physical education class, stories told with accompanying pictures to discuss and on and on! Even such basic things as learning the names of new classmates and recognizing which cubbyhole and coat hook is theirs depend on strong visual discrimination skills.

I spy, you spy...

Use your eyes! Just give it a try!

Practice With Activities at Home

There are many activities that you can do with your child to help him hone his visual discrimination skills. Once your child realizes the importance of looking closely at things around him, he will be well on his way. You'll be surprised how sharp and observant those little eyes can be!

  • Read books about "opposites." Discuss with children the differences between the two pictures. This helps children learn the concept of "same and different."
  • Teach your child the names of basic shapes, such as square, triangle, circle, rectangle, oval and diamond. Some of these shapes are similar (circle/oval or square/rectangle/diamond), so discriminating between them will take some concentration and observation.
  • Read picture books and discuss the pictures with your child. Ask him to tell you what he sees in the pictures and then ask him to find specific things in the pictures.
  • Look through magazines with your child and ask him to point out specific objects. Begin with easy to spot items and increase the difficulty as your child's comfort with this activity increases. Then ask him to see if he can stump you by requesting that you find something on the page.
  • Make duplicates of some family photos. Show your child two identical pictures with one different picture and ask him which pictures are the same and which one is different.
  • Play "I Spy" by giving your child clues about something within view. Increase the difficulty as he becomes more skillful by spying things that are partially hidden or small in size. This is a great game to play when you have a few idle minutes, such as standing in line at the grocery store or waiting at the doctor's office.
  • Give your child a pile of clean socks and ask him to put two alike socks together to make a pair. You can make this activity more challenging by mixing two sizes of socks in the pile (from two children in the family).
  • Show your child a deck of playing cards and ask him to begin by putting the cards into two groups - red and black. When he is comfortable with that task, ask him to separate the two piles into individual suits - hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Increase the difficulty by showing your child part of the deck (10s, jacks, queens, kings and aces, for example) and asking him to sort the cards into piles based on the rank.
  • Give your child building blocks of various sizes and ask him to put them in order from the smallest to the largest.
  • Provide your child with puzzles. He will have to pay close attention to the shapes of the puzzle pieces and the shapes of the holes.
  • Use the cards from a matching or memory game to practice matching identical pictures.
  • Show your child pictures that develop in a sequence and ask him to place them in the correct order. He will have to look closely at the pictures to complete this task.
  • Look at books that feature hidden pictures. These puzzles can be challenging and fun!

Pictures in magazines or book illustrations are good resources for practicing visual discrimination.

Visual Discrimination Worksheets

color worksheets learn colors
color worksheets learn colors

Since worksheets are, at their core, printed sheets of paper that a child must look carefully at in order to complete correctly, worksheets are a wonderful way for children to develop or hone important visual discrimination skills.

While all worksheets test a child's visual discrimination skills (he needs to actually look at the paper, after all), visual discrimination worksheets are a particular subset of worksheets that are designed to really focus on a child's observational skills.

Compare and contrast worksheets are a wonderful subset of visual discrimination worksheets. These worksheets may ask your child to compare different sizes of items and pick the smallest or largest, or look at a group of items and pick the one item that doesn't belong, for example. Regardless of the specific activity, your child will need to carefully observe the items on the worksheet page and note differences and similarities between the items in order to complete it correctly.

Color worksheets and worksheets to help children learn color words are also wonderful visual discrimination worksheets for children since they not only teach children the basic colors but they challenge children to identify items that contain specified colors. Since knowing the names of the colors and being able to easily distinguish between different colors is an important skill for children in making keen observations about what they see, these worksheets provide children with important opportunities to develop this skill set.

Learning the names of the different shapes is also a wonderful way to improve observational skills, since knowing the names of the different shapes will help children appreciate the differences in the shapes he sees. Shapes worksheets can be perfect for introducing or reinforcing the name of each shape and how to draw each shape.

Give your child opportunities to practice visual discrimination every day!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image


        11 months ago

        Thanks alot for helping us

      • Millionairemomma profile image


        7 years ago

        I love learning about how to educate children. They are wonderful endless mysteries aren't they?

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        I love that you share from your expertise as a former preschool teacher and you do it in such a practical and easy to follow way for everyone.

      • TeacherRenee profile imageAUTHOR


        8 years ago

        @tfire12: Thanks for visiting.

      • TeacherRenee profile imageAUTHOR


        8 years ago

        @chicagoheather: Great, I hope you and your child can fun!

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Good activity suggestions, thanks.

      • chicagoheather profile image


        8 years ago

        Thanks for that list of activities. I'll try some today with my 4yo.


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