Foundations for Visual Perception (Activity ideas)

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By: Melanie Lambert OTR/L

A.M. Skeffington, an American optometrist known to some as “the father of behavioral optometry”, believed that vision cannot be separated from the total individual nor from any of the sensory systems because it is integrated into all human performance. His model describes how visual processes mesh with auditory input, proprioception, kinesthesia and body sense. Visual perception is, therefore, not obtained from vision alone. It comes from combining visual skills with all other sensory modalities, including the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.

It is important that a child experiences visual perception through their own body before progressing to 3D activities (blocks, shape games etc.) and pen and paper tasks (worksheets). Here are some activity ideas that can be used during therapy sessions or incorporated as part of a program for home or school.

Form Constancy and Visual Discrimination
Form Constancy is the ability to accurately recognize and interpret that a form or object remains the same despite changes in its presentation such as size, direction, orientation, color, texture or context.

Visual Discrimination is the ability to identify differences and similarities between shapes, symbols, objects and patterns by their individual characteristics and distinctive features.

  • Take a box of plastic shapes (found in numerous commercially available games) and sort them out according to size, color, and shape.
  • Jump on shape stepping stones (make the stepping stones different sizes and different colors of the same shape).
  • Play shape twister.
  • Plat shape statues – make a shape with your body or with your friends when the music stops playing.
  • Search certain objects on command (look for all the blue objects, look for all the square shaped objects).
  • Run to certain objects that are similar, for example, run to something that is the same shape as the door.
  • I spy (something round, something smaller than the table or my book).
  • Have a number of objects on the table and identify which is the largest, thickest, fullest etc.
  • Feely bag – ask the pupils to describe a shape or object or plastic letter by feeling it without looking, then describe it again when they can see it.
  • Object matching using everyday objects (different toothbrushes, different cups, different books – have the child group them).
  • Let your child match socks while you sort and fold your clean laundry.
  • Use bendable things such as pipe cleaners to form letters and shapes. Feeling a shape can help a child visualize or “see” the shape). The letters can then be glued onto index cards. The child can touch them to “feel” the shape of the letter.

Figure Ground Perception
Figure Ground perception is the ability to screen out irrelevant visual material in order to concentrate on the important stimulus i.e. to perceive and locate a form or object within a busy field without getting confused by the background or surrounding images.

  • Play Jenga
  • Place a stuffed animal somewhere in the room and have the child find it.
  • Find two magnetic letters that are the same in a box full of magnetic letters.
  • Place number or alphabet cards around the room and have the child point to the letters and recite them in order.
  • Play “I’m thinking of something in the room that is…(for example, “small and green”). The child searchers for the item (use hot/cold cues).
  • Ask the child to find a person in the cafeteria or on the playground.
  • Play “I Spy” with a paper towel tube. Spot objects around the room.
  • Make a large scribble on the board, the child traces over it.
  • Untangle a loose knot of different colored yarns.
  • While looking at a picture in a story book, say, “I see something that is yellow, green and red.” Ask your child to identify what you are looking at.

Position in Space and Spatial Relationships
Position in Space perception is the ability to perceive an object’s position in space in relation to the oneself or the perception of the direction in which an object is turned.

Spatial Relationships is the ability to perceive the position of two or more objects in relation to oneself and in relation to each other.

  • Rope games – jump in between two ropes, jump over the rope, crawl under the rope
  • Stepping stone games – jump on the red stepping stone, jump next to blue stepping stone, jump on the right of the yellow stepping stone.
  • Throw a bean bag in various directions – on a target, left of the target, in front of target etc.
  • Play Hokey Pokey – put your left arm in, put your right foot in etc.
  • Play an arrow game – have the child tell you which way an arrow flashcard is pointing and then ask them to jump in that direction.
  • Navigate through an obstacle course and have the child explain what he is doing, for example, crawling under the table, walking around the chair, climbing on the box, etc.

Visual Closure and Visual Analysis and Synthesis
Visual Closure is the ability to identify or recognize a form or object from an incomplete presentation (this is when the entire object is not visible). This involves visualizing and mentally “filling in” the visual information that is missing.

Visual Analysis and Synthesis is the ability to see that certain parts make a whole. This is the understanding of the relationship between parts of a figure, word or sentence and the whole figure, word or sentence.

  • Guess what? – ask the child to guess what an object is when only part is visible. A picture of an object could be cut into four pieces and only one part given at a time until the child guesses what it is.
  • Use scrambled magnetic letters to practice spelling words.

Visual Memory and Visual Sequential Memory
Visual Memory is the ability to remember what is seen (characteristics of a given object or form) for immediate recall. A child must be capable of making a vivid image of the stimulus in their mind once the image has been removed.

Visual Sequential Memory is the ability to remember and recall a sequence of visual images such as letters, shapes, numbers, symbols and objects in the correct order.

  • Back Drawing – Use your finger to draw a shape, letter or number on the child’s back. Have him guess what it is and write it down on a piece of paper in front of him.
  • Follow the Leader – Demonstrate a series of actions for the child to repeat, for example, jump, turn around then clap. Have the child’s copy the sequence. Start with 3 actions. Add some more steps to make it more challenging once he is proficient with 3 actions.
  • Hide the peanut – Place the nut (or raisin) under one of three cups and move them around slowly. Have the child try pick the cup the peanut is under. If he picks the right cup, he gets to eat the prize underneath. Add more cups to make this more challenging (up to five cups).
  • Describe an object – Show the child an object and talk about its features. Take the object away and ask him to recall as many of its features as he can remember.
  • Object games – Place some everyday objects on a tray. Start with 4 objects and show them to the child for 5 seconds. Cover them and see how many he can recall. Add more objects as the child becomes more proficient with this. Try work up to 10 objects in total.
    Here are some variations of this game to make it more challenging and interesting:
  • Taking one object away and ask him to identify the object that is missing. Increase the number of objects that are removed to two then three.
  • Keep all the objects on the tray in random positions. Mix their positions around. Have the child rearrange them in their original positions.
  • Add a new object to the original group of objects and have the child identify what was added.
  • Line the objects up in a sequence and try to remember the order from left to right. Have the child close his eyes while you change the order of the objects, then have him reproduce the correct order again.


This Month’s Featured Author: Melanie Lambert

Melanie Lambert, an Occupational Therapist, is the brainchild and creator of Visual Learning For Life and its Worksheet Database. She is currently based in London and works part time in a pediatric private practice. The Worksheet Database continues to grow and Melanie is successfully developing and maximising the contents of the site to give users a complete toolkit in the pursuit of improving and enhancing children’s visual perception.

Visual Learning for Life provides parents, teachers and professionals with a unique and easily accessible tool to help empower children who struggle with reading, spelling, handwriting and maths due to visual perceptual problems. Our website offers an extensive database of over 1200 worksheets.

Please support our contributing authors and visit Visual Learning for Life

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