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Perception Training

By June Oberlander
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #55, 2003.

How to train your child's senses so he will be ready to learn.
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June Oberlander

As your child's first teacher, it is vital that you understand the relationships between experience, perception, and learning. Young children are curious about their environment and readily explore it in many ways. But just touching, tasting, feeling, smelling, and hearing does not guarantee a child's brain will make sense of what is touched, tasted, felt, smelt, or heard.

The five senses are the avenues through which a child experiences the world. But perception is what transforms raw data into meaning, which in turn makes learning and retention possible.

Here is how perception works. When stimulated, the senses automatically trigger a "detective" game within the brain. The brain then enables the child to recognize and identify what stimulated him and some form of learning takes place. Additional learning takes place when the child can discriminate between different inputs.

Thus generally speaking, there are three types of sensory perception:

  1. Detection - the child senses a stimulation

  2. Recognition - the child is able to recognize and identify what was detected

  3. Discrimination - the child perceives a pattern or stimulation as being similar or different from other patterns and stimulations

Memory also depends on perception. Your child's brain acts as a sponge as it absorbs and processes information. It has the capacity to store and organize information. But to be remembered, this information must first be detected, recognized, and discriminated.

Perception & Readiness

Perception skills are required for readiness. Preschool children need many varied and enriching experiences involving perceptual skills to help them develop a good healthy foundation for learning.

Auditory Perception. Unfortunately some children have weaknesses in one or more areas. For example, even though there is nothing wrong with their hearing, some children are very poor listeners. They may hear words (detect) but do not receive the message (recognize) therefore they cannot recall (discriminate) what was heard. The child may be a lazy listener or have problems processing information. This indicates that a child needs more training with listening skills. Games that require following verbal directions, such as "Hot and Cold" or "Simon Says," are excellent for this.

Visual Perception. Other children may have visual perception problems even though their vision is normal. They may have problems distinguishing between similar letters of the alphabet, for example b and d, p and q, or between similar words. The child can detect and recognize but cannot discriminate between letters or words. This type of problem needs to be corrected before a child can be expected to recognize words and begin reading comprehension.

One way to develop visual perception abilities is through eye-hand coordination exercises that involve manipulating various materials. Here are some good kinds of manipulative materials for you to provide your child:

  • For color and size discrimination: an assortment of colored blocks

  • For shape discrimination: you can make your own inexpensive set of shapes by cutting a circle, square, rectangle, triangle and oval, etc. out of construction paper

  • For specific training in reading readiness: print letters, numbers, and words on flashcards, or (better) you can use sets of specially designed letter and number manipulatives, made of foam rubber or wood. For very young children who might bite the letters, wood is best.

Fine Motor Skills. Does your child hold a pencil or scissors clumsily? Does he cut poorly or have trouble coloring between the lines? If he cannot paste, cannot string beads and picks up small objects awkwardly, he needs more training in fine motor coordination. A good pre-handwriting program, such as ReadyWriter from School Made Simple, or almost any preschool cut-and-paste workbook can help here. Also, sometimes just waiting awhile may help, especially in the case of boys.

Tactile Perception. Some children do not like to touch various materials. Some balk at getting their hands wet. Others do not like to work with clay, paste, sand or paint. Some children have difficulty distinguishing between objects that are smooth or rough, shiny or dull, soft or hard, etc. These children have difficulty with tactile perception and need further enrichment to help them perceive textural awareness of various media. Montessori materials are particularly good for tactile perception training.

Gross Motor Skills. Some children have difficulty with large muscle coordination. They need training in running, jumping, hopping, skipping, trotting, galloping, etc. Also helpful are activities involving ball play such as throwing and catching a ball and walking on a low balance beam, etc. These activities involve the body and its relation in space.

Use these tips as your first step in becoming aware of your child's perceptual development. Be sure to check his progress at regular intervals. Let's guide each child to use his natural senses to his full potential.

This article has been edited by our stuff to remove outdated links and information.

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