Play is essential for reading, writing and maths, as it develops the perceptual skills which underpin both numeracy and literacy. This learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and these perceptual skills are acquired and refined over many years.  It is a process that largely happens through play and discovery in the early years at home and under the direction of trained, pre-school teachers.

In the first nine years of life, children need as much tactile learning (using their own body in a learning experience vs being on a screen) as possible for them to make sense of the world. This needs to be paired with plenty of repetition to create well-worn neurological pathways in the brain around critical concepts that underpin literacy and numeracy.

Children move in and out of three phases of learning:

  • concrete (real objects)
  • semi-concrete (pictures of real objects)
  • abstract learning (the object represented by a dot, number, or letter)

If your child was a brick wall, you wouldn’t want any of the bricks in the foundation to be missing. If gaps are picked up in their learning and development in the Preschool or Foundation Phase, it is critical that intervention and remediation take place before the age of nine when it is easier to fix due to the neuroplasticity of the brain. According to Professor Venter, (recently retired Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Free State University), “Up to 75% of children who do not receive help in this window of opportunity will struggle through school for the remaining years,”

Here is a comprehensive summary of most of the basic perceptual skills that children start acquiring in the preschool years and perfecting in primary school – the bricks in the foundations of the wall:

Perceptual Skills

  • Auditory (hearing) perception:

    • The way in which the brain gives meaning to what the ears hear; vital for all forms of auditory learning.
  • Auditory discrimination:

    • The ability to hear and dis­criminate between differences in sound; vital for speech development and spelling.
  • Auditory memory:

    • The ability to remember what the ears have heard.
  • Body image:

    • The way in which a person perceives his or her body.
  • Body awareness:

    • The awareness of the body, its parts and how they function.
  • Classification:

    • The ability to group objects according to kind or class.
  • Visual Discrimination:

    • The ability to recognise similarities and differences.
  • Eye-hand coordination:

    • The way in which the eyes work together (coordinate) with the hands and fingers; vital for sewing, threading, drawing, writing, etc.
  • Figure-ground perception:

    • The ability to isolate and focus on an object or figure which may be in the foreground or background of a composite picture; vital for reading, writing, spelling and mathematical ability.
  • Fine-motor coordination:

    • The ability to coordinate the movements of the small muscles of the body, namely eyes, hands, fingers, toes and tongue; vital for writing, speech, sewing, etc.
  • Form perception:

    • The ability to recognise and name shapes and forms.
  • Form constancy:

    • The ability to recognise a form or shape, regardless of size, angle, position, or colour.
  • Gross-motor activities:

    • Activities involving large muscles of the body, such as the neck, back, buttocks, arms and legs.
  • Gross-motor coordination:

    • The coordinated movement of the large muscles of the body.
  • Gustatory (taste) perception:

    • The way in which the brain interprets messages received through the tongue.
  • Olfactory (smell) perception:

    • The way in which the brain interprets messages received through the nose.
  • One-to-one correspondence:

    • The ability to match similar objects or groups to one another.
  • Phonics:

    • The sounds of the letters of the alphabet.
  • Spatial relationships:

    • The ability to recognise the position of two or more objects in relation to each other and the observer, e.g. above, below, next to, left and right; closely related to laterality (awareness of left and right), directionality and language.
  • Tactile (touch) perception:

    • The way in which the brain gives meaning to the messages received through the sense of touch.
  • Visual (sight) perception

    • The way in which the brain gives meaning to what the eyes observe; vital for all forms of visual learning.
    • The ability to recognise similar­ities and differences by sight; vital for reading, writing, spelling and mathematics.
  • Visual memory:

    • The ability to remember what the eyes have seen.
  • Visual sequencing:

    • The ability to arrange objects, sym­bols, words or numbers in a logical order.
  • Visual seriation:

    • The ability to place objects or thoughts in an orderly series, e.g. from most to least, small to large, lightest to heaviest, darkest to lightest; essential for mathematics

Therapists will give you an even more detailed breakdown of these skills, but this is an introduction to get you started. If you think your child has some learning gaps please speak to their teacher about it and get an assessment from a speech therapist, occupational therapist, or educational psychologist if required. Read my blog on Play and Learning gaps

All of these skills can be acquired and reinforced through play. Please read my 2021 Toy and Game recommendations

Let’s keep raising our childrens’ natural potential.

Much love,
Nikki Bush
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win at work and life

Enjoy the Parenting with Nikki Bush Podcast on the Refiloe Mpakanyane Weekend Breakfast on 702.