Matching is a skill that many take for granted. And picture matching or word to picture matching, are both executive function skills. And, I hear from parents who want IEP goal suggestions or printable matching pictures to use with their kids.

And not just the preschool kids either! Many older kids struggle with matching pictures too.

A group of apples with a red apple in the middle, all matching in color.

Matching Pictures

Matching is an essential skill for many reasons. First, a deficit in matching skills can indicate that memory or working memory skills are lagging.

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Matching also helps with sorting, another executive functioning skill.

We don’t (if we’re not teachers or professionals working with our kids) tend to think of matching as a memory skill, but it is. And memory is required for everything.

If a child is going to learn to read, he/she has to memorize the sounds and grammar rules associated with each letter.

If a child is going to work on sequencing, then they have to have the memory and matching skills too.

Here is one worksheet you may be interested in. Scroll down for more.

Matching Skills

Not all matching is finding two identical pictures and matching them up. It might be many different images and the child is asked to match all the red ones.

In PECS, we ask a child to match the PECS image with a real life request or activity.

In real life, we expect kids to “match” what is appropriate attire based on what kind of day is planned–both activities and weather.

Math requires matching. It’s great if a child can count 1-5. But can they visually show you what 2 of something looks like? Can they match (in their mind) what 1 is? Or 0?

Matching goes on all day, every day, all around us. And some kids have to be direct taught everything. Which is why starting with matching pictures is where many teachers and caregivers begin.

Here’s another free picture matching worksheet.

Matching and Language

Developing matching skills is essential to developing language.

As a parent, we should not only be presenting activities or seat work to our kids, but developing the language around it too.

You can make statements and ask questions such as:

  • What else do you see around us that is red/big/noisy?
  • You’re right! That is 2 cookies. Would you rather have 2 cookies or 0 cookies? Why?
  • Name something else big/blue/quiet/soft.
  • Questions about similarities and differences.
  • Comparison questions and statements–why some things match, why they don’t.
  • Think of a toy car and a real car–and all the questions and discussion points you can have around that.
  • Match a book to a tv show to a toy to a t-shirt.

Here is another free printable matching worksheet, if you need one.

Printable Matching Pictures

There are lots of great places to get printable matching pictures.

Remember to think outside the box and break some rules. What I mean by that is that a matching game or activity can be broken up. Take those picture cards or tiles, and match them to things around the house, classroom, or community.

You don’t just have to use the matching activity in the way it was intended.

Matching Pictures for Older Kids

If your child is beyond the preschool or young child stage, and you still need to work on matching skills, they may think that most of the offerings are babyish.

But, that doesn’t mean that age appropriate options are not out there, they are. It may take more effort on the parent or teacher’s part, but here are some ideas.

  • Cut pictures from a magazine that is of interest, such as a car magazine, guitar, Sports Illustrated or something like that. Ask friends, neighbors, libraries and newsstands if you can have their expired issues.
  • Comic books or Graphic Novels
  • Do a Google image search for the child’s preferred interests and print out the photos.
  • Use Lego, sports balls in different colors and sizes, hats, hair bows or scrunchies, bottles of nail polish, shoes, or other items that interest the child.
  • Go through family photo albums, catalogs that come in the mail, yearbooks, greeting cards…there is opportunity for matching all around us.

Matching and Reading

Matching skills are prerequisites for reading skills.

When we read, part of what we do involves matching. Children learn to match
shapes, patterns, letters and, finally, words.

Matching skills are necessary for kids to develop letter knowledge. That is, before a child can read, they have to know that a and A are the same letter. They match!

Matching and ABA

I would be remiss if I did not at least discuss matching skills and ABA. I am aware of the controversy surrounding ABA and the many very valid reasons people dislike ABA.

Having a child do matching skills, as seat work, is a very popular activity for those doing discrete trial work for ABA.

That is, you ask the child to match. If she does so successfully, you reward. If not, you do not. Yes, many have said that this makes ABA feel like dog training. I get it.

Even if you are not intending to use ABA, you likely are using behavior modification. You probably are verbally praising the child for getting it correct and verbally correcting them if they are not.

To avoid this, do your matching practice in the child’s natural environment instead of seat work. Or, instead of telling the child that they are incorrect, instead ask them questions as to why they made that choice.

Their answers may surprise you! They may spot a matching characteristic that you did not see.

This is also a callout to the adults to be specific in your ask. Instead of “show me which two items match” you may want to use instead “show me which two pictures are red.”

Because if both pictures are laminated 3″ squares….they do indeed match!

Matching Pictures to Tangible Objects

Or, maybe for your child, using all ‘real’ items is more appropriate.

But, at some point we want our kids to match beyond pictures to the real item. In fact, for my son, he does not do well with pictures at all. We use almost all tangible items in his teaching.

For example, he never cared about a picture of juice. But, we drained and cleaned a Capri Sun pouch, and that worked well instead of the PECS drawing.

I have a comprehensive list of toys that you can use just for this in the blog post linked below. It says ‘sensory toys’ but there is an entire section devoted to toys used in matching and language skills: Best Sensory Toys

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