Helping Kids Succeed Early On
Updated: Mar 10
Recently, my son pointed out “pelicans have pouches like koalas, kangaroos, and wallabies” as I was reading Little Kids: First Big Book of Birds. At four, he had connected visual information that he had learned about animals with pouches and applied it to another animal.
Children make sense of their environment and integrate that information into their thinking. They look at visual details and learn from it. Although visual thinking skills are rarely taught in the classroom, they are essential for school success.
Kids love to learn about how things work. They develop their visual thinking skills as they learn about the world. Whether it’s about animals, people, or fantasy characters, kids acquire knowledge and then apply it to new concepts. So, why not start challenging them to think critically at an early age?
A good way to challenge young minds to look at their environment with a more watchful eye is to use objects in and around the home. Use toys or stuffed animals. First, assemble a set of objects that belong in the same category and include one that doesn’t belong with the rest. Then, challenge your child to find the one that doesn’t belong.
For example, you can use four dolls: three Disney princesses and one Barbie or three Star Wars miniatures with one superhero. You can challenge them by picking objects that are less obvious, like superheroes that can't fly with one that can or princesses with no special powers mixed in with one that has special powers.
I first began using this visual "game" when my daughter was three and did the same with my son. They even created their own sets to stump me. That way, kids learn about similarities and differences amongst objects in their environment. Having a discussion about the characteristic that doesn't fit also encourages language development.
A great book that takes this challenge to the next level is called “What’s Wrong?” by Anna Pomaska. This book requires kids PreK through 2nd grade to look at the finer details of pictures rather than the picture as a whole. The book contains a set of traditional scenes featuring children engaged in fun-filled activities. The “catch” is that there are a number of things wrong with the images. Objects do not fit in their surroundings, people behave oddly, and things that are not probable are happening. Children are invited to be budding detectives as they look for and identify mistakes in the pictures.
Once children figure out what doesn't belong and identify it, they can also work on their language skills. They can verbalize why an object doesn’t belong or what makes the situation not probable. This is a great activity for visual learners and also helpful for developing expressive language.
Highlights magazine has been the classic developer of What's Wrong? puzzles for decades. Their one-page puzzles encourage kids to look for details and developing visual discrimination skills. They also build descriptive language, increase vocabulary, and stimulate conversation.
To organize and build awareness of their environment, kids needs support in visual thinking skills. Developing visual thinking skills will translate into critical thinking skills. By practicing these important skill sets early on, children will be primed and ready to use descriptive words when asked to write about a topic.
Thinking visually helps kids transition easily to writing in detail about people, places, things, and actions. Their writing skills will be enriched later on by their early exposure to descriptive language and visual details.
For busy parents, educational therapy services can point you in the right direction when concerns come up early on in your child's development.