Sensory Systems Explained: What is Visual?

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The visual system is an essential component of early childhood development. It plays a critical role in how children perceive and interact with the world around them. During the first few years of life, the visual system undergoes significant development, which lays the foundation for lifelong visual function. 

Did you know that we have EIGHT sensory systems?! Most people only know the top five. This blog post is part of a series in which we delve into all eight sensory systems.

In addition to the visual system we have seven other sensory systems. They are:

Development of the Visual System in Early Childhood

Many aspects of the visual system develop during early childhood. Children require a variety of visual skills to function optimally in their daily activities. Here are some important aspects of the visual system that are necessary for preschoolers:

Visual Acuity: The ability to see objects clearly and in detail is important for many tasks such as reading, writing, and recognizing faces.

Depth Perception: The ability to perceive the distance between objects is important for tasks such as catching a ball or safely navigating the environment.

Color Vision: The ability to perceive and distinguish different colors is important for tasks such as color recognition, identifying objects, and reading.

Visual Tracking: The ability to visually follow moving objects is important for tasks such as sports and reading.

Visual Discrimination: The ability to differentiate between different visual stimuli is important for tasks such as recognizing letters, numbers, and shapes.

Visual Memory: The ability to remember visual information over a period of time is important for tasks such as reading comprehension and remembering faces.

Visual-Spatial Skills: The ability to mentally manipulate and understand spatial relationships between objects is important for tasks such as building with blocks and reading maps.

The visual system continues to develop throughout early childhood, with significant changes occurring during the preschool years. Preschoolers develop more complex visual processing skills which are an important aspect of the visual system for children. Visual processing involves the brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual information that is received through the eyes. This includes tasks such as recognizing faces, identifying objects, recognizing patterns, and reading.

Visual processing involves a number of sub-skills, including:

Visual Closure: The ability to recognize a familiar object or shape, even when parts of it are missing.

Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination: The ability to distinguish an object from its background.

Visual Form Constancy: The ability to recognize the same object even when it is presented in different orientations or sizes.

Visual Sequential Memory: The ability to remember visual information in the correct order.

Visual Spatial Memory: The ability to remember the location of objects in space.

Visual Attention: The ability to focus and sustain attention on visual tasks.

Visual Processing Speed: The ability to quickly and accurately process visual information.

The Impacts of the Visual System on Early Childhood Function

The development of the visual system in early childhood has a significant impact on a child’s everyday activities, including learning and socializing. 

Early detection and treatment of visual system deficits are crucial. Routine eye exams can help identify and treat vision problems before they impact a child’s development. 

Children who have difficulty with any of their visual skills may experience difficulty with tasks such as reading, writing, and learning in general. Therefore, it is important to promote the development of these skills through play and other activities that challenge the visual system in a fun and engaging way. This can help to ensure that preschoolers develop strong visual processing skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Visual Sensory Activities for Kids

There are many fun and engaging play activities that educators and caregivers can use to promote the development of the visual system in preschool-aged children. Here are a few ideas:

Visual Scavenger Hunt: Create a list of different visual objects for your child to find and check them off as they are discovered. This activity helps to develop visual scanning skills and object recognition.

Sorting Activities: Sorting activities, such as sorting objects by color, shape, or size, can help to develop visual discrimination skills and enhance attention to detail.

Puzzles: Puzzles are a great way to promote visual-spatial skills and attention to detail. Choose puzzles with colorful and engaging images to make the activity more appealing to young children.

I Spy Worksheets: Encourage children to identify and locate different objects based on visual characteristics.

Board Games: Play board games that require visual discrimination and attention, such as “Memory” or “Spot It.”

Building Blocks: Have children build with blocks or LEGOs, encouraging them to use visual-spatial skills to create different structures. Use foam blocks with shaving cream for a fun challenge!

Ball Games: Ball games, such as catch or soccer, can help to develop visual tracking skills and enhance hand-eye coordination.

Light Table: Use a light table or other illuminated surface to explore light and shadows, promoting visual discrimination and visual processing.

Play Dough: Play with play dough or clay, encouraging children to create different shapes and structures using visual-spatial skills. Add play dough mats to increase the fun!

Science Explorations: Use binoculars or magnifying glasses to explore the environment, promoting depth perception and visual processing.

Picture Books: Read books with colorful illustrations, encouraging children to use their visual processing skills to understand and interpret the images.

Create Art: Have children create their own visual art, such as a collage using different colors and shapes.

Command Games: Play “Simon Says” or “Red Light Green Light” using visual cues such as hand gestures or facial expressions.

Shadow Puppets: Use a flashlight or lamp to create shadow puppets on a wall or sheet, encouraging children to use their visual tracking and processing skills to follow the shadows and recognize the shapes. You can also ask children to create their own shadow puppets and put on a puppet show, promoting their creativity and imagination.

Glow Sticks: Use glow sticks to create toys such as sensory bottles. You can also use glow sticks to play games like creating different shapes and patterns in a dark room while encouraging children to use their visual tracking and processing skills to follow the glowing objects. This promotes visual tracking, depth perception, and attention.

There are so many different ways to encourage visual development through play!

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