Why is Visual Discrimination Important in Math? - Down River Resources | Your Elementary Math Guide

Why is Visual Discrimination Important in Math?

Teaching numbers isn't as easy as 1-2-3. While it might be easy for students to simply repeat or say their "numbers," there are many skills that blend together to build a child's foundation in numeracy. Children must be able to, not only, say their numbers and recognize them, they must also build a concept of counting and cardinality. From there, their learning continues to grow and develop as children learn what numbers actually represent. One of the skills that is significant for students to learn is visual discrimination. Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize details in visual images. It allows children to identify and recognize the similarities and differences of shapes/forms, letters, numbers, colors, and position of objects, people, and printed materials. Visual discrimination skills are essential for all subjects, including mathematics.

Visual Discrimination and Visual Processing

Visual discrimination is a visual processing skill that can be practiced in the home and at school. Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize details in visual images. It is important to emphasize that the development of this skill can be an issue for some children. We can continue to practice the skill and develop it, but some children will struggle and we need to be aware that medication nor additional practice will help those with a visual processing issue.

Processing issues go undetected on basic vision tests. Scientists have actually identified eight types of visual processing issues that exist and visual discrimination is one of them. Many children with learning issues, like dyslexia, have visual processing issues.

Regardless, visual discrimination is an important skill and needs to be practiced as it affects learning, especially in mathematics.

Visual Discrimination in Mathematics 

Let's look at how visual discrimination skills are developed through mathematics. Visual discrimination is the ability to visually detect differences in variables such as shape, pattern, color, size, etc.

Looking at the variables mentioned, it's easy to see how widespread visual discrimination skills are within the context of mathematics!

First, in order for children to be comfortable with numbers and mathematical concepts they reply on the ability to distinguish between different number symbols. If you think about letters, various numbers are similar in formation.

In fact, look the visual I created on the right side. This shows several of the numerals that young children often confuse because of their formation.

Examples of Visual Discrimination in Mathematics 

It is easy to ask a young child, "What is two plus one?" and get a correct response. When this is written down, it is common that the same child would not complete the question is writing, "2 + 1 = ?" Weak visual discrimination skills make it difficult for children to distinguish between the numerals and symbols.

As if single digit numbers were not challenge enough, Children have to identify the numerals correctly AND they but process them in the correct order, from left to right. Triple- and quadruple-digit numbers also comes with the same challenge.
double-digit numbers pose a challenge.

For example, 14 and 41 represent different amounts but are composed of the same numerals. Children must distinguish the order of these two digits.

The numbers 10, 100, and 1000 have visually similar digits but the place value is much different.

Children need to be able to determine whether a letter was a lower case 'e' or 'c', or an upper case 'F' and 'E,' in order to read those pesky word problems!

Visual discrimination allows applies to time. Take 5:07 and 7:05 a.m. into account. I would much rather wake up at 7:05 a.m. than 5:07 a.m.

Moving into geometry, a square and a rectangle both have 4 sides, 4 vertices, and 4 right angles. Squares and rectangles are similar but there is one variable that is different, thus each one is its own shape with a distinguishing attribute or property. In this case, the length of the sides is different; hence, visual discrimination helps a child see the difference.

These are just a few of the examples that are found within mathematics where visual discrimination is significant.

Practicing Visual Discrimination Skills

We can see why is it imperative that children have strong visual discrimination skills.

The lack of visual discrimination skills can lead to problems future problems in understanding mathematics. For example, if your child is unable to distinguish the the number“1” from the number “7,” he will incorrectly read the number “11” as “77.” This will lead, inevitably, to frustration and self-doubt, as your child struggles to understand their solution does not make sense (which it likely will not since “11” and “77” are not interchangeable).

We can help children to refine their visual discrimination skills in fun ways so that they build their confidence in math!

Here is a quick list of activities that can be done at school or in the home to help!

- Sort and match objects (socks, markers, blocks, etc.)
- Collect things from the playground or backyard to sort into categories.
- Complete straight edge puzzles where children must pay attention to the details on each piece.
- Matching games or concentration where children spot the differences in the cards. You can use numbers or shapes.
- 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.
- Use simple matching puzzles with the same two number, colors, or objects are both pieces.

If you do have children with visual processing issues, remember that there is no cure, but there are many strategies and supports that can help them. All children can benefit from learning to detect the differences in visual images.

I hope this post inspires you to create opportunities for your children to practice their visual discrimination skills, and if you want some basic numeral puzzles to help your child build their skills download them here on the blog. (See box below.)

What activities can you do in the home or classroom to build visual discrimination skills?

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