Eye love math

Why visual skills are a must for math success - and how you can help.

Learning Stages

By Dr. Lauren Bradway


Dr. Lauren Bradway is the author of How to Maximize Your Child's Learning Ability (Square One Publishers, 2003). She consults online with parents regarding their child's learning style at www.helpingchildrengrow.com.

Mind's eye for mathematics

"Logical-Mathematical Intelligence" is one of the seven types of intelligence described by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1993). According to Gardner, children strong in this type of intelligence have well-developed visual skills. They complete arithmetic problems quickly in their head, easily develop computer skills and win at games that require a visual strategy like checkers and chess.

Thomas Armstrong, in his book, In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child's Personal Style of Learning (Putnam Publishing Group, 1988), refers to a child's ability to develop and manipulate mental images as an "inner blackboard." Dr. Armstrong points to the "importance of the mental image as a crucial step along the way toward higher abstract thinking for the young child." He adds that as the child grows, "thinking becomes clothed in the rich fabric of inner imagery."

Research and writings by both Gardner and Armstrong strongly suggest that well-developed visual skills are a prerequisite for success in math. Even though your child may not be a "natural" when it comes to using inner vision, you can help her develop the ability. Here are some suggestions for cultivating your child’s inner blackboard:

First and second grade

  • Treat your child to a visit to an art gallery. Allow plenty of time for her to study, compare and return to works of art she finds most appealing.
  • Before a trip, study a map of your state with your child. Ask her to close her eyes and visualize a mental map of how to get from your town to the one you'll be visiting.
  • Encourage your child to assemble model cars and planes from kits. By doing this, she will be mentally picturing the end result.
  • Read your child a story in a darkened room and ask her to picture the action. Help her by posing questions to stimulate visual imagery, such as: What is Cinderella wearing to the ball? and Tell me what her carriage looks like.

Third and fourth grade

  • Encourage your child's interest in photography with a digital camera. Encourage her to picture in her mind's eye how the photograph will turn out.
  • Enroll your child in computer classes. Not only will he improve his computer skills by attending, he'll improve his visual concentration and visual memory as well.
  • Develop the power of inner vision through art classes of all types including pottery, painting and drawing.
  • To stimulate visual observation and organization, encourage a collection of stamps, coins or shells.
  • Whether or not your child is naturally adept in this area, you can encourage the development of visual skills by taking the lead in choosing games and activities that stimulate these abilities.