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Visual Discrimination Activities for Preschoolers

Visual discrimination is the ability to perceive and understand differences between visual stimuli. Build a foundation for children's cognitive skills with visual discrimination activities.

Visual Discrimination Activities for Preschoolers

Visual Discrimination Activities for Preschoolers

Visual discrimination, the ability to differentiate and recognize subtle differences in shapes, colors, and patterns, plays a pivotal role in a child's overall development. From distinguishing between shapes and colors to recognizing patterns and details, this skill forms the foundation for critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. 

In this article, we will dive into the importance of visual discrimination and share engaging and interactive activities that can help foster this skill in preschoolers. 

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. For preschoolers, who are at a stage of rapid brain development, engaging in visual discrimination activities helps them sharpen their observation skills, enhance their attention to detail, and develop critical thinking abilities. These activities lay the foundation for later academic skills, such as reading, writing, and problem-solving.

For example, before children develop more advanced literacy and math skills, they must learn to distinguish between similar letters and numbers. Visual discrimination skills make it possible to distinguish between visually similar letters, such as "O" and "Q," and visually similar numbers, such as "6" and "9".


Why is visual discrimination important?

Visual discrimination skills are not only essential for academic success but also play a vital role in a child's overall development. Here are some key benefits of teaching young children visual discrimination skills:

Enhances cognitive abilities

Visual discrimination activities help children develop their cognitive abilities by requiring them to analyze, compare, and differentiate between various visual stimuli. This process stimulates their brain and strengthens their ability to identify patterns, shapes, colors, and details, ultimately enhancing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Supports language development

Visual discrimination skills serve as a bridge to language development. When children learn to distinguish between different objects and their attributes, such as size, shape, and color, they can better describe and communicate their observations. This strengthens their vocabulary, increases their ability to express themselves, and lays the foundation for effective communication skills.

Boosts attention to detail

Engaging in visual discrimination activities requires focused attention to detail. By encouraging children to carefully observe and identify subtle differences, they develop their ability to concentrate, notice fine distinctions, and improve their overall attention span. This skill is not only crucial for academic tasks but also for daily activities that require careful observation and decision-making.

Cultivates visual perception

Visual discrimination activities provide opportunities for children to develop and refine their visual perception skills. They learn to interpret and make sense of visual information, understand spatial relationships, and recognize visual patterns. These skills are fundamental for reading, writing, mathematics, and other academic subjects.

Fosters creativity and imagination

Engaging in visual discrimination activities encourages children to explore the world around them with curiosity and imagination. As they learn to discern and categorize visual stimuli, they develop a deeper appreciation for art, design, and aesthetics. This fosters their creativity, encourages out-of-the-box thinking, and allows them to express themselves through various visual mediums.

Support child development with brightwheel's Experience Curriculum. These expert-designed lesson plans are aligned with all 50 states' early learning standards and incorporate 35 research-based skills into playful games and discovery projects. 


Activities that teach preschoolers visual discrimination skills

By teaching visual discrimination skills to young children, you can empower them to become keen observers, critical thinkers, and confident learners. These skills serve as the building blocks for their future academic success and overall cognitive development. Incorporate these engaging activities in your classroom to ignite children's curiosity and stimulate their visual perception abilities.

Bead sorting

This bead sorting 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 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.

Domino matching

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:


  • Select the correct domino tiles and place them at the bottom of the page.
  • Ask children to match the dominos at the bottom of the page to the correct pictures of dominoes.

Coin sorting

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)
  • Paper
  • Pencil


  • Ask 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 so each circle contains one coin denomination.

Sock matching

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:


  • 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.

Card sorting

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 children that each playing card has a number, letter, color, and suit.
  • Have 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.

Download a free calendar template for early education programs for more  activity ideas!

Teaching visual discrimination FAQs

What skills can 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 skills are crucial for many daily tasks. By incorporating engaging activities that promote observation, attention to detail, and critical thinking, educators provide young learners with invaluable tools for their cognitive development. From enhancing their cognitive abilities and supporting language development to boosting attention to detail and fostering creativity, visual discrimination skills lay the foundation for future academic success and overall growth.

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