Visual Figure Ground

Do you spend what feels like hours poring over Where’s Wally? trying to find the stripy-clad fellow? Or searching for your favourite top in your closet? Or puzzled at the pantry looking for a specific spice (only to have your beloved fetch it from right in front of you)?

All of the above are examples of visual figure ground – the ability to locate an object or maintain a gaze on it within a busy (cluttered or chaotic) background.

It’s a skill that’s present in almost every school-based activity but especially being able to focus on individual words while reading.

How do I know if my child is having difficulty with their visual figure ground skills?

Kids who would benefit from developing their visual figure ground skills often find it challenging to:

  • Concentrate (maintain attention) on information on a blackboard or worksheet – instead getting distracted by things such as the teacher’s clothing or the colours of chalk they’re using
  • Focus on providing specific content without getting overwhelmed by whatever else is on the page
  • Locate an object within a group of similar objects (e.g. a particular toy in the toy box)
  • Notice the ‘big picture’, instead getting stuck within the detail
  • Complete ‘hidden picture’ activities (such as ‘Spot the Difference’ or Where's Wally?)
  • Read sentences in the correct order

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Ways you can help your child with their visual figure ground skills

The following activities are great for encouraging your youngster’s visual figure ground skills:

  • Playing games such as 'I Spy' or ‘Bingo’ and reading Where’s Wally?
  • Placing a few objects on piece of material that has a ‘busy’ pattern and asking them to find a particular object
  • Doing ‘colour by number’ worksheets
  • Asking for their help to find items at the shops or to get a particular coloured pair of socks from the sock drawer
  • Locating various shapes in a room (e.g. the fridge is a rectangle, the ball is a circle)
  • Drawing shapes one on top of another and asking them to trace the triangle, or the circle and so on
  • Tracing or colouring named objects or shapes in a picture

Some additional tips for improving your child’s visual figure ground skills

Figure ground is another skill that requires a bit of patience, perseverance and – you guessed it –repetition. While developing their figure ground abilities your little miss or mister will benefit from:

  • Having a desk or play space that’s free of clutter
  • Worksheets that are simple and not crowded with too much information
  • Organising toys and other materials in categories (e.g. by colour)
  • Using generous sizing and spacing for printed words
  • Cutting out a ‘window’ or ‘peephole’ from a piece of cardboard and placing it on their worksheet or book to block out everything except the words or line they’re reading
  • Using a finger or pencil to guide the eyes from left to right across the lines while reading

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Combined Videos

Combining several foundation skills, our PlayBiz Play-a-Long videos run for 10 minutes or so. We’ve carefully ordered the activities so they enable your youngster to have an optimal learning experience and develop the skills they’ll need for school by joining in the ‘teachable moments’. Picture a fun and educational TV program like PlaySchool crossed with an occupational therapy session that’s chock full of strategies. Ready, steady, learn! Please note: The Play-a-Long videos don’t need to be viewed in any particular order.