VIsual Perception: Visual-Spatial Relations

Visual perception child with glasses

We are continuing our Visual Perception blog series that focuses on the 7 specific skills comprising visual perception. In the last post, we learned more about Visual Memory and how to help your clients, students, or children improve it. Next up is Visual-Spatial Relations! 

Knowing which specific skill area(s) your child struggles with will aid in choosing appropriate and effective treatment activities. In addition to occupational therapists, there are also specialized optometrists called developmental optometrists (also called behavioral optometrists) who evaluate and treat all of the skills above.

Visual-spatial relations or visual-spatial processing is the ability to tell where objects are in space. It can quickly become more complicated as more objects are added and these objects are twisted, turned, flipped, or moved closer or further away. Your child’s visual-spatial processing skills can affect their ability to read books, do math, follow maps, play a sport, tie shoelaces, or safely cross a street.

Visual-spatial skills are important for understanding how the symbols making up letters and numbers are placed in relation to each other. For example, the same shape is used for the numbers 6 and 9. The meaning is determined by how it is rotated. The same goes for letters b/d, p/q, and M/W. It is also important to accurately perceive how letters are arranged on a page because that determines what words are being formed. The words “bus” and “sub” are formed from the same letters, but their spatial arrangement determines which word those letters form.

A child who needs to follow a map must have an accurate sense of direction and how places on the map relate to each other in real life. A map reader has to take a 2D picture and transform it into 3D real life using their minds–this involves a whole lot of visual-spatial skills!

Two additional tasks that require visual-spatial relations skills are shoe tying and crossing the street. When tying shoes, the child must maintain accurate placement of each strong over and other the other to tie the knot securely. We often teach shoe tying skills in the clinic, and therapists find themselves using positional words like left, right, over, on top, under, around, and through. It’s much easier to understand the meaning of these words when the child has appropriately developed visual-spatial skills. Crossing the street requires a person to accurately gauge the distance and speed of coming cars, then compare that to their own walking speed and the distance across the road to safely judge whether or not it is safe to cross the street. This is part of the reason young children should never cross streets by themselves.

Check out the list below for lots of fun ways to help your child develop accurate visual-spatial skills!

*If you have concerns about your child’s vision, we always suggest that you first consult with your child’s optometrist or ophthalmologist.*

Tips and Tricks:

    • Our pre-made downloadable Visual-Spatial Relations skills packet is perfect for busy adults who want to quickly and effectively improve their child’s visual-spatial skills. Find it in our Teachers Pay Teachers store or our Etsy store!
    • Draw a simple map of the layout of a room in your home, office, or school. Leave a few items out and have your child use a sticker or magnet to show you where the missing items would be placed on the map.
    • Both you and the child should draw the layout of the room you are in. While the child covers their eyes, hide an item in the room, then show them where that item is hidden by pointing at the spot on the drawing. The child should be able to quickly find the item after being shown where it is on the map. For an extra challenge, try putting the item under other objects so that it is not immediately visible. This way, the child will have to rely on their map reading skills to find the item rather than just looking for it in plain sight.
    • Draw a scavenger hunt map for your child to follow around your building/home. Have them find hidden household items along the way by marking their locations on the map. Consider hiding a special treat or fun activity at the end!
    • For young children, basic shapes puzzles or shape sorters are a fantastic introduction to visual-spatial skills.
    •  Tangrams are a great way for kids in preschool all the way through high school to practice visual-spatial relations skills. Tangrams are a Chinese geometric puzzle consisting of a square cut into seven pieces that can be arranged to make various other shapes. You can find tangram kits in stores and online in a wide variety of difficulty levels. You can also cut out your own from paper following the directions found here!
    • A geoboard is a toy not often seen anymore, but it’s effective for developing not only visual-spatial relations skills but also fine motor skills! Look for a geoboard that includes pictures of designs for children to copy like this one.
    • Origami is another activity that has become less common in recent years. It is worth breaking back out because of its focus on creating 3D shapes by folding a 2D object as well as its innate fine motor skill practice.
    • Tetris is a classic game that has been around forever and never seems to go out-of-style. Fair warning: it can be addictive! However, it’s a fun and fast-paced way for kids to practice visual-spatial skills. It can be used as a beneficial screen-time activity for kids who are motivated by screens. If you prefer your child not engage in screen time, try this version made of wooden blocks.
    • Below are several games that can be purchased and played for intense visual-spatial relations skill practice:

What are your favorite activities to address visual-spatial skills? Let us know in the comments. Stay tuned for our next visual skill post– Form Constancy!

When you make a purchase through one of our links, we earn a small percentage of that purchase price at no cost to you through affiliate partnerships. OT on the Spot prides itself in only recommending toys that have been properly vetted and researched.

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