Moms Columns & Blogs

Teaching visualization boosts reading skills

By Dr. Vicki Parker guest blogger

When my daughter Sally needed help learning to read, I turned to a strategy I have used with some of my traumatic brain injury and stroke patients – visualization.

Visualization is a very powerful tool for memory and comprehension. A child will not enjoy reading unless she can create her own movies in her mind as she reads. Sally and I did games together to boost her ability to visualize stories. Now, even though Sally still has dyslexia, she is on grade level and likes to read for fun.

Your child can benefit from strong visualization skills, too. Here are ways you can incorporate visualization into your child’s toolbox of skills to help with academics, creativity and even remembering important errands or events.

Visualization works for adults, too, so try these techniques yourself and see if they don’t help your busy parent’s brain!

Describing places

Ask your children to describe places they have visited. Have them be as descriptive as possible. If this is challenging for your child, ask him questions: What colors did you see? What was the temperature? What was the size? This starts the visualization process.

Next, show your child unfamiliar pictures from magazines. Ask her to describe the scene with the picture in front of her and tell her to hold that picture in her mind. About a minute later, then 10 minutes later, then 30 minutes later, ask her to describe what she saw without viewing the picture again. If she needs you to assist her with questions to build a better description, do so at first. However, as soon as she can visualize without the questions, move in this direction.

The next phase is to tell your child about a scene without showing him a picture and see if he can make his own mental picture from the words. Start with more concrete images and then move to more abstract items. The funnier, more exaggerated the picture, the more likely he is to remember it.

Building lists with images

If your child needs to recall multiple items, help her relate or link one item to the next. Let’s do an example with your grocery list. Imagine you need to return your DVD to Redbox, then buy strawberries, cereal, dog food and paper towels. You might visualize the DVD as a character with hands. The DVD is walking along and holds hands with a strawberry. But the strawberry falls off the table and kerplunks into a bowl of dry cereal. The cereal splashes out of the bowl and lands in the dog food bowl. Luckily, there is a paper towel on the floor, and you are rescued from a mess!

This technique is fun and can work remarkably well. We have students who recall more than 50 items at a time using this "linked" approach.

Dr. Vicki Parker owns The Brain Trainer, a brain-training and speech language center in Charlotte. Email her at