Visual Discrimination and Learning: Less is More

How do you feel when you walk into a room and it’s covered in chaos and clutter? If you’re anything like me, you may have experienced some serious stress.

Have you ever handed your child a math worksheet only to watch your kid melt into tears?

Both of these are examples of visual discrimination and its impact on our mental states.

When children resist school work, they often shut down, melt down or worse. And it’s easy to confuse this behavior as a willful act of disobedience or “laziness.”

But so often it’s not. And so today I’m going to discuss visual discrimination and how it impacts learning.

visual discrimination, homeschooling struggling students

A Pattern of Being A Struggling Student?

Kids need us to equip them with what they need in order to learn.

Visual Clutter, Stress & Your Struggling Student

Let me start by telling you a little story from my own homeschool.

Last year, my 14 year-old daughter and I were working through some Algebra word problems.

We’d just been introduced to a new concept and were slowly putting the pieces together.

As we began to tackle the problems, she and I both began to feel overwhelmed.  We were working hard to make sense of the new concepts and it just wasn’t clicking.

Bottom line: We were FRUSTRATED.

And you know what was making it worse?!!  The computer screen full of text.

Clutter: A Barrier For Struggling Students

Here’s the thing.

Learning a new skill is not as simple as it may appear on the surface.  Specifically, during that lesson, my girl and I were:

  1. Processing a new concept specific to algebraic functions,
  2. Reading text from a screen (don’t get me started about screens…) and
  3. We were trying to integrate the new math concept with other skills including reading comprehension.

Ultimately, our frustration was either gonna make us or break us. So I knew I had to do something fast.


Post-it notes & Learning?

Enter in… a HUGE Post-it note.  Here’s why I reached for the sticky note.

Many children and adults struggle with visual discrimination. 

In layman’s terms, visual discrimination is the ability of the brain to tease through all of the input that it receives through the eyes.  

At any given moment, the brain has to process through and zoom in on that which is most important in the particular scenario.

Decisions Use Limited Cognitive Fuel

By removing the unnecessary text from sight, the cognitive load was lessened.

In other words, our brains were more easily able to focus in on what was crucial to the math problem at hand.

This, in turn, allowed my daughter (and I) to better process through and make sense of that one specific math problem.

Focus on the GOAL


We didn’t have to tease through unnecessary visual information in order to focus on what was crucial to the goal.

The goal at that time was to learn the new math concept. In order to do so, we needed to set ourselves up for success.

homeschool math, struggling student, visual discrimination, learning differences, adhd, reading
In this picture, you see the accommodation that my 14-year-old and I made when having to process and learn a new algebraic concept.

Homeschooling Requires Flexible Thinking

Again, when my girl and I became frustrated (and snippy) at one another, I took that as my cue that we both needed a breather. 

I had to make the decision to use my adult executive functioning skills in order to get us on track so we could move forward. 

Ultimately, I knew we needed to pivot quickly or things could go south fast.

Post-Its, Learning & Deep Breaths

I grabbed a large post-it and covered the entire screen except for the first line of the first word problem.

I took a deep breath and offered this suggestion to my girl. Game changer!!!

“Read it aloud and let’s process what it is saying,”

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Visual Discrimination in Learning & At Home

Think about the many blog posts, books and TV shows that focus on:

  • Decluttering
  • minimalism
  • organization

There are too many too count. Why are these concepts so popular with adult women and more specifically moms?

Remove Visual Clutter & Open Doors To Learning

Because by simply removing visual clutter, we find ourselves more peaceful and less anxious. 

Clutter increases the need to tease through all of the information our brain receives from the environment.

This is an exercise that requires mental capacity.

Every mom knows that mental capacity is a limited resource that must be used wisely. 

This is true for overwhelmed homeschool moms and for struggling students. 

We must transfer this understanding over to how we equip and support our students.

visual discrimination in homeschool

Effective Learning: Less Is More

When a child is overwhelmed or feeling even slightly anxious about having to focus on a new or harder concept or skill, the last thing we want is to do is add barriers to learning.  

In the case of a child learning a new math concept or skill, lots of text or math problems on a page can be a huge barrier to the goal of learning.

What do we do to help our kids improve their skills, acquire and learn new information?

adhd homeschooling the distracted child, adhd, autism, homeschool training

Another Simple Tip to Help Struggling Students

Instead of an entire sheet of 25 math problems, grab a blank piece of paper and write out one math problem in large text.

That one math problem on a clean sheet of paper is less threatening and now more accessible to your child.

Anxiety lessens and then the brain is then more available to learn.  

I’d rather a child do five math problems and learn for the long-term, than have a student fight through tears and stress to finish twenty-five.

Small chunks of intentional teaching over time yield fruit.

I’d rather a child do five math problems and learn for the long-term, than have a student fight through tears and stress to finish twenty-five.

Small chunks of intentional teaching over time yield fruit.

Homeschooling Your Struggling Student

The next time your child starts to melt down at the thought of reading or doing math, think:

‘Remove the barriers.’  

  1. Grab a sticky note and cover up the majority of text on a page and read line by line.
  2. Write multiplication problems one at a time on a small whiteboard in LARGE text. 
  3. Use a line marker to cover up the lines of text in a book.
visual discrimination, visual processing, special needs learners

Open The Doors To Learning By Removing Visual Clutter

Remove the barrier and don’t drain your child’s mental capacity by forcing his brain to wade through a bunch of visual clutter before he masters a new concept.   

Your child’s innate fight or flight response will be lessened.

Her ability to receive and process new information will be freed up to actually learn and receive the concept.

Before a child can ever do hundreds of math problems they must be given the opportunity to succeed at a few.

Slowly over time, you can increase the workload if necessary.

The Goal is REAL Learning

In the end, always ask:

  • What’s my goal?
  • What is the most efficient and peaceful way to hequip my child to learn and move onto the next level?

Do you have a struggling student? A child with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia or other learning difference? 

Your child can succeed when equipped based on his or her God-given wiring. 

Check out all the homeschool teacher trainings available in A Heart For All Students Store.  

These include:

  1. The Unregulated Child: Sensory Systems & Self-Regulation In Your Home & Homeschool
  2. Homeschooling The Distracted Child: Harnessing The Power of The ADHD Brain
  3. Huh? How Speech & Language Processing Impacts Reading, Writing & Relationships

Each one hour in-depth training will equip you to change the trajectory of your entire homeschool.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I appreciate your support.

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4 thoughts on “Visual Discrimination and Learning: Less is More”

  1. Oh wow I wish I would have done this while my son was struggling at math. You are so right, it is the overwhelm looking at so many problems to solve that you give up before you even start.
    Great advice. Thank you

  2. Lindsay these are such great tips! As a homeschooling mom (which I guess all of us are now) these are the PERFECT tips that set both parents and students up for success! You’ve certainly mastered the art of speaking a child’s language. And knowing that they each speak different languages (through their behaviors) it’s easier to understand what they need, especially when they can’t say it! Thanks for being such a bright light in the mass of darkness our world is going through right now!


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