There are many possible causes for kids’ reading challenges. Sometimes, the kids need to deal with such overwhelming emotions they cannot learn anything, including reading. Other times, the teacher is not teaching how to read properly. Yes, you will be surprised how many kids cannot read because their teachers did not teach them how to read properly.
However, some children have reading challenges due to their weak visual ability. This means that their brain is wired so that they are not very good at absorbing and processing visual input. It is important to understand that this is a brain function and has nothing to do with eyesight.
Note: “Eyesight” is the ability of the eyes to get a clear and accurate image of the world. “Vision” also includes the brain functions required to keep the eyes working together and adapting to various lighting and motion conditions. “Visual perception” includes the interpretation, understanding and retention of visual input.
Most children with visual perception weakness can still read and it is important to find out if their difficulty is with all visual input or just with symbols. If they have weak visual ability with symbols, this will always lead to problems with reading.
Unfortunately, most of the information presented to students today is in visual form, so reading ability is essential and a strong visual child can manage schooling more easily, while students with other modalities may need help. Therefore, it is important to focus on stimulating the visual perception in every child.
Many parents think that when their kids cannot read, we just need to read with them more, but that is not the case. It is like giving someone who cannot hold a pen different kinds of pens to solve the problem. Yes, reading more brings some benefit, but a weak visual ability requires stimulating the visual perception at a more basic level. Once this is done, reading becomes easier and more natural and no longer frustrates the child.
Strong visual perception is essential for good decoding and memory of symbols. Reading requires mostly visual perception to analyze and memorize, and some auditory support for non-basic words.
How to develop kids’ visual perception
Here are some great ideas to develop children’s visual perception:
- Use picture books – Let your kids pick books with colorful pictures and tell you stories based on what they see.
- Cutting pictures from magazines – Some children like to keep their favorite clippings, sometimes in a special notebook or picture diary, show them off and look at them again from time to time. Encourage them to make collages of things they like.
- Playing matching games – It is good to start with all the cards showing. Later on, switch to playing with the cards facing down. Use color matching, shape matching, pattern matching, letter matching, word matching and puzzles. Start with puzzles that have the full picture as a background for reference.
- Taking photos – Let your kids run around the house and outside with a digital camera and take as many pictures as they like (digital photography is free). They can even see their pictures enlarged on the computer, show them off and share them easily with others for extra motivation.
- Playing Lotto and Bingo – These games are very good ways to develop visual perception. If the kids’ challenges are discovered in the first stages of schooling, it is a good idea to use letters and words in the lotto and bingo games.
- Playing Word Search – This is another good way to stimulate visual perception. Increase level of words and number of words in the page. A page a day can do magic!
- Solving Jigsaw Puzzles – Puzzles are a great way to improve kids’ attention to visual details. It is good to teach them strategies based on pictures, rather than shapes and the frame. If puzzles are not available, take a square picture from a magazine, show it to your child, cut it into 4 pieces and then ask your child to paste them together on a blank page. Do this with about 20 different pictures, and even let your child do the cutting.
Although they seem unrelated to reading, playing these games with children who have weak visual perception improves reading significantly. I have seen this happen many times, and family members can play them just as well as professionals.
Never let anyone tell you that your child will “grow out of it”. Reading is so essential that while your child is “growing out of it”, his or her classmates keep progressing. It disturbs me to work with children who are 3-4 years behind in reading and whose parents still hope they will grow out of it. It is almost like expecting a deaf person to start hearing instead of teaching them to sign and read lips.
Reading is very important for your children and the love of reading can be your gift to them. There is a lot you can do to help your kids with reading. If you notice something is wrong, check it out and fix it!