Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning – Part 1

Vision skills allow us to make sense of our bodies – how they work alone and how they work within the world around us.

Vision takes the lead in action-pro-action-and-reaction and is a cognitive skill developed in the brain.  In fact, our eyes are actually extensions of our brain.  Dr. David Hubel, and his collaborator, Dr. Torsten Wiesel, dedicated their research to discovering the ways that the brain processes information.  This journey lead to Hubel’s writing that Anatomy of the Eye Hot Air BalooningThe retina is part of the brain, having been sequestered from it early in development but having kept its connections with the brain proper through a bundle of fibers – the optic nerve.”   He hails the retina’s role in Visual Information Processing as one that “by translating light into nerve signals, it begins the job of extracting from the environment what is useful and ignoring what is redundant.  No human inventions, including computer-assisted cameras, can begin to rival the eye.”   And so, as we begin our discussion on visual information processing, we will soon discover for ourselves the profound effect that the work and writings of Dr. David Hubel and his coworkers had on our realization and understanding of the key role that vision plays in learning.

The skills we use to process visual information are often labeled as “Visual Perceptual Skills.”  This complex set of cognitive skills allows us to gather information and integrate it with our other senses.  This set includes:

·      Visual Attention
·      Visual Discrimination
·      Position in Space
·      Visual Spatial Relations
·      Visual Memory
·      Visual Sequential Memory
·      Visual Form Constancy
·      Visual Closure
·      Figure Ground

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning Part 1 Handwriting With Katherine

Learning takes place when an experience is registered as

(1) a new one or one that has been dealt with previously,

(2) a positive or negative interaction,

(3) one that is desirable to repeat,

(4) one that needs adaptation in order to be effective or pleasurable, and/or

(5) one that can be recalled, reproduced, or adapted for use again in the future.

Learning requires the ability to gather information, manipulate it, store it, and recall it automatically.  The process of visual perception, when it is efficient, provides us with the platform for doing just that.  As we discuss each of the 9 Visual Perceptual Skills, we will begin to develop our understanding of the significance of vision’s role in learning.

In this article, we will begin our journey of discovery with the first two skills:  

visual attention and visual discrimination.

1.  Visual Attention is “important for selecting and inhibiting visual information over space and over time.   It is a diverse et of operations that interact with other perceptual, motor, and cognitive systems.  As our eyes perceive the endless stream of information coming from our bodies and the environment, the brain operates a filter that helps us to focus on what is immediately important.  Visual attention is necessary for handwriting and the development of other higher-level visual perceptual skills and it needs to begin its development early in a child’s visual processing journey.

a.  Children who have difficulty with visual attention will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Frequent fidgeting and/or cannot remain seated.
(2)  Often runs or climbs excessively or appears restless.
(3)  Appears not to be listening or fails to follow through with instructions.
(4)  Is easily distracted by external stimuli such as other children talking in the back of the room.
(5)  Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as handwriting or reading.

b.  Activities that enhance visual attention include:

(1)  Blowing through a straw encourages the eyes to pull together and work more effectively at close range.  The Cotton Ball Game is one that has the child blow through a straw to move a cotton ball toward

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning, Part 1 Handwriting With Katherine
The Cotton Ball Game is an excellent “attention-getter!”

a target, with or without visual guidance, such as masking tape from start to finish lines.  Whistles and blowing bubbles have the same effect and can include gross motor movement in their use, such as running to pop the bubble or marching to the whistle’s tune.

(2)  Balloon toss or tennis are excellent games to train the eyes to focus on a moving target.  Be sure to remind the child to try and maintain eye contact with the balloon as it travels away from and back toward him.

(3)  “I Spy,” hidden pictures, and memory games encourage the use of scanning and sustained focusing skills in close work tasks.  It is important to allow a struggling child to use his finger to search for hidden objects or to use his verbal skills to remember what he has seen in memory games.  As he becomes more proficient at the task, have him ease away from the “helping strategies.”

2.  Visual Discrimination is our ability to recognize the subtle differences and similarities between two visually represented forms in order to determine if they match or belong to a different group of forms.  This skill provides us with the perception of shape, size, and form for learning subjects such as handwriting and reading.

a.   Children who have difficulty with visual discrimination will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Difficulty matching items of clothing such as socks or shoes.
(2)  Determining the difference between sizes of objects during sorting activities or the sizes of letters and numbers during handwriting tasks.
(3)  Difficulty detecting errors in handwritten work, such as letter reversals.
(4)  Difficulty matching pictures to verbal instructions, during yoga practice for example.
(5)  Frequently placing objects in the inappropriate place, such as the wrong cubby in school even though each is clearly marked with a name.

c.  Activities that enhance visual discrimination include:

(1)  Sorting games that involve activities of daily living, such as laundry or silverware from the dishwasher, will add a touch of “reality” to the game and enhance the likelihood for building memory and carryover to other educational activities, such as handwriting.

Sorting laundry is a “fun-ctional” visual discrimination activity!

(2)  Puzzles provide an excellent opportunity for a child to recognize differences (size, flat sides) and to use his visual skills as he manipulates them to match the correct “holes and spaces.”

(3)  Legos, Lincoln Logs, or tangrams provide visual and tactile activities using a picture to copy and shapes to manipulate in order to reproduce the picture into a 2- or 3-D object.

As you can “see” from this introduction to the visual perceptual skill set, it covers quite a bit of how we learn, as it starts right out with our ability to pay attention to the task and to details.  The eye is amazing, with the retina actually being a part of the brain.

In the words of Dr. Hubel, “The retina is part of the brain, having been sequestered from it early in development but having kept its connections with the brain proper through a bundle of fibers – the optic nerve

Please join us next week as we continue to explore the “rest of the visual perceptual skills story” with Position in Space and Visual Spatial Relations.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

Photo credit: renaln
Photo credit: renaln

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

 

 

 

Jean Piaget introduced the world to the learning brain of the child.  Through his systematic study of cognitive development, he discovered that children simply do not learn in the same way as adults.  According to his theory of cognitive child development, “children are born with a very basic mental structure … on which all subsequent learning and knowledge is based.”   Piaget felt that children learn through a reorganizing process comprised of three basic components.   First, as they are introduced to new information, the children begin to construct an understanding of the world around them and work to sort their knowledge into “schemas” or groups of information that match.  As they encounter additional new information, they will either “assimilate” it into their existing schemas or make “accommodations” for it by revising those schemas or developing new ones within which to store this unique information.  Saul McLeod, in his biography of Jean Piaget in Simply Psychology, provides an animated illustration that demonstrates how a child develops a schema for a dog and accommodates that schema when he meets a cat.  Piaget’s theory outlines this process of childhood learning as taking place over the span of four developmental stages (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational), three of which are kinesthetic.  Piaget describes the concrete operational stage (2-7 years) as one that requires a hands-on environment.  He believed that by holding and manipulating materials, “the actions of the body will improve the mind.”

Holding, manipulating and investigating materials engages children in a physical activity – movement – that uses their eyes, hands and sometimes their legs.  Sensory cues guide them as they begin to develop a perception of the task, an understanding of its basic components and how they need to be manipulated in order to complete the activity successfully.  Imitation, trial-and-error and adaptation takes place as the children experiment with the parts and steps of the task.  New movement patterns are created and revised perceptions are formed as they store information for use in the future.

Kinesthetic learning was defined in a 1992 publication titled, Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection, as one of four styles (joining visual, auditory and reading/writing) that we utilize in our quest for knowledge.  Typically, adults will learn best through a mix of these styles, preferring one or two above the rest.  Children, however, tend to learn most efficiently through their tactual and kinesthetic systems.

A child who struggles with handwriting skills could benefit from a vision assessment!
A child who struggles with handwriting skills could benefit from a vision assessment!

Studies have “indicated that many students do not become strongly visual before third grade (and) that auditory acuity first develops in many students after the sixth grade.”  In addition, it appears that “boys often are neither strongly visual nor auditory even during high school.” ** This information reinforces the research that shows that many children who are struggling with educational success are hampered in their attempts by instruction that is primarily auditory and/or visual.  Young children, kindergarten through second grade, who are experiencing reading and handwriting challenges may indeed be attempting to learn their fine motor skills without the benefit of the motor movement needed to develop the schemas for recognizing letters, reproducing them into words and producing independent writing specimens.

Children who have been labeled as behavioral, high-energy or unmotivated could be demonstrating the basic characteristics of kinesthetic learners.   They are anxious to get moving and exploring their environment, using their hands to find new information and gather unique experiences.  Kinesthetic learners may become bored easily and appear to be ignoring the speaker as they seek out movement and interactive work.  They are sometimes able to disguise this as obedient, sitting in circle and “behaving,” when indeed they may be daydreaming about what they would rather be doing.  Whichever the case, kinesthetic learners who are struggling with their education can be helped over this hurdle with planning and resources designed to meet their “hands-on” needs.

Kinesthetic learners benefit from hands-on and visually stimulating activities!
Kinesthetic learners benefit from hands-on and visually stimulating activities!

One of the basic steps in learning to read and write is the acquisition of an efficient recognition of the letters of the alphabet.  Automatic recall of the sounds, shapes and sizes of the letters is crucial in the development of speed and comprehension in reading, as well as speed and legibility in handwriting.  It makes sense, then, to introduce the alphabet with learning strategies that most fit the needs of their predominant learning style – kinesthetic.  Pre-writing development begins early as children begin to use their hands and eyes to explore everything that they can reach and touch.  They are beginning to understand shapes and sizes as they manipulate a rattle or hold their bottle.  Balls, spoons, their hands and feet provide a means by which they discover space, texture and movement.  As soon as they begin to smash and rub their food on their tray (or face), they are starting the process of communicating with us.  As they pick up their first writing utensil and make a mark on a surface, they are discovering that their movements connect them with the outside world and allow them to create something unique.  And this is the very stage in which they will start to expand their search for more ways to communicate through the movement of their hands.  Movement – kinesthetic learning – through play is natural for children.  Opportunities to explore movement and new experiences in their environment will enhance their learning by providing challenges for assimilation and adaptation.

It is easy to incorporate kinesthetic learning into the lives of babies and toddlers because they are kinesthetic learners at heart.  Place a lighted toy or colorful ball within their reach, and they will begin to explore it without your assistance.  As they become preschoolers, their curiosity and interests begin to take shape and they will seek out activities with movement and tactile input.  The introduction of pre-writing skills into the preschoolers’ day does require adult assistance, however, in order to provide opportunities to develop the appropriate fine motor/cognitive skills for letter recognition.  Kinesthetic pre-writing skill development engages children in fine-motor movement by utilizing textures, creativity and Building Blocksexploration.  Gel bags for tracing the letters, finger paint trays and sensory bins offer them the visual and tactile input while they scribble with their hands in paint or shaving cream or search for hidden letters in a bin of beans.   Color and texture work well together for outlining  and forming the letters of the alphabet.   Textured paper, fabric, play dough and wood pieces become exciting shapes and letters.  Guided play, where an adult interacts and helps to create a structure for learning, enhances a child’s development of concepts such as “over” and “under” – basic skills for handwriting.

 

**The link to this study has been removed from the site where it was originally loacated and an internet search was unable to locate the original article.

 

 

 

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures above that are the property of the author must provide a link when shared back to this article or her website.

Pictures that are the property of an outside site should include when shared the link provided with the photo to give proper credit to their owners.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
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