Developing Visual Motor Skills

by Nancy B. Lewis, O.D.

Developing Visual Motor SkillsVisual motor skills imply much more than handwriting.  Children need to be able to use their hands and eyes as paired tools.  Following are some activities that develop visual-motor skills. Remember, developmental age is more important than chronological age; a child is as old as he/she acts.

Infants and Toddlers (0-3)

Imitative interaction between child and adult develops eye-hand coordination and teaches the connection between action and reaction.  For infants and toddlers, your voice and face are all you need to hold a child’s attention.  Move close and talk to the child softly with exaggerated facial movements.  Children will gaze and then reach out to touch you.

For children who have problems reaching out, gently take and kiss their hands or place them on your face.  Repeated sessions will develop a connection between sound and the feel of your face.

Scarves and fabric netting can be tossed to enhance alertness as a child uses hands to try to catch the colorful objects.  These tools are particularly good for encouraging focus in children with pervasive developmental problems.

For mobile toddlers, place colorful toys on the floor to encourage gazing and reaching.  A baby who can sit unassisted is ready for three nesting cups or stacking blocks, balloons and a big rolling ball.  By age two, soccer-like activities can begin.  Try to hit a balloon back and forth without its touching the floor.

As toddlers gain stamina, take short walks.  Children who can jump over puddles, avoid sidewalk cracks and walk on walls are learning about space and distance through their eyes.  This is the foundation for later visual-motor skills.

Primary School (4-8)

This is a crucial age when the larger body is becoming stronger, and children learn how to use incrementally smaller parts.  The ultimate goal is for the eyes to move independently of the head and for the fingers and joints of the hand to move without the shoulder and upper arm.  Most four year olds are still most comfortable standing up and drawing at an easel.  Some have adequate control and can sit and write with chunky markers.  Erasable boards on the wall are good transitions from easels to tables.

Primary children love playing flashlight games.  Name an object in the room and see who can shine the beam on it first.  Older children can chase a beam with their flashlights.  Take turns leading and chasing.

Geoboards encourage visual motor development.  A geoboard is a square piece of wood with nails evenly spaced in rows and columns.  Four inches square is a good size.  Make patterns by stretching rubber bands over the nails.  Have the child copy designs.  Use one or two bands for younger children and increase the complexity for older ones.

Elementary School (9-13)

By this age, children have good manual dexterity and are able to use their eyes to give meaning to what they see.  Refining these skills allows them automaticity to learn how to write cursive script.  By now, it is imperative that the left-to-right and up-down progressions are fully intact.  Using carpentry tools and cooking and sewing materials for short, simple projects is appealing to this age.

Games such as Chinese Checkers and Othello encourage visual-motor and visual-spatial development.  Complex arts and crafts projects are popular.  Putting together models, making jewelry, knitting and other crafts all encourage good eye-hand coordination.

Secondary School (14 up)

In the past, many teens had hobbies that involved highly skilled use of hands and eyes.  As older children show serious interest in art, sports, and other activities involving eye-hand coordination, parents can consider buying more expensive materials.  Stained glass, beadwork, intricate models of ships, cars, and airplanes are all better leisure time activities than surfing the Internet. Complex board games such as chess and backgammon can also serve to bond families if given special times to play, such as Sunday afternoon.

Encourage visual-motor skills, especially in the context of family fun and exchange of conversation.  Try to limit solitary visual-motor activities on the computer and hand-held video games. For more ideas about games and activities for developing visual skills at home and in the classroom, read Developing Your Child For Success by Kenneth Lane and Classroom Visual Activities by Kristy Remick.