As parents and caregivers, many of us already understand how important motor skills are for our children’s development. As your child grows, mastering motor control allows them more independence and leads to greater success in school and sports. But have you ever heard of visual-motor skills?
If you already have a child in occupational therapy, you may have heard this term before. If not, you may be surprised to learn that vision has a lot to do with your child’s motor development.
What Are Visual-Motor Skills?
Being able to plan and execute movements based on what we see is called visual-motor integration. Visual-motor skills are helpful for performing a variety of daily tasks and activities that involve both fine and gross motor skills. They are an important part of your child’s cognitive development as well.
Fine motor skills often require the use of our eyes to complete tasks efficiently. That’s why visual-motor integration can have an effect on your child’s writing abilities. If you have a preschooler who isn’t writing yet, they use these skills to work on coloring and arts and crafts.
We also use visual-motor skills for larger movements, like playing sports, running, and even walking. Being able to coordinate movements in our arms and legs to catch or kick a ball are examples of this. Visual-motor skills also help us to be aware of our surroundings and keep us safe as we move around.
Visual-motor skills are linked to cognitive development as well. They help us to recall information and read fluently. Additionally, being able to write and copy information efficiently helps your child to keep up in school.
Visual-motor skills include:
1. Eye-hand coordination.
Eye-hand coordination is the ability to use our vision to guide our hands. This can help us to carry out daily tasks such as getting dressed and eating. It’s also necessary for activities like writing, playing sports, and reading music.
2. Visual scanning.
Reading from left to right and looking for a toy in a messy room are both examples of visual scanning. This is the way we methodically search for objects and information in our environment.
3. Visual closure.
Visual closure is the ability to recognize words or objects even when we can’t see it entirely. Our brains are often able to fill in the blanks even when something is partially hidden. This is helpful for skills like reading and letter recognition.
4. Visual discrimination.
Being able to see differences and similarities between objects is called visual discrimination. This includes sorting or matching objects based on size, shape, color, or texture.
5. Visual spatial awareness.
Visual spatial awareness is being aware of how objects relate to each other (and to yourself) in space. This can affect physical activities, movement, left-right awareness, and handwriting.
6. Visual figure ground.
Similar to visual scanning, visual figure ground allows us to focus on a single object within a busy background. This affects everyday tasks like locating objects as well as reading and schoolwork.
7. Visual memory.
Visual memory is the ability to remember the things we see. This is important for learning new information. Young children use their visual memory as they work on letter and number recognition, reading, and writing.
Difficulties With Visual-Motor Integration
Children who struggle with visual-motor integration may have difficulties performing everyday tasks and have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. As a result, their handwriting, athletic abilities, and academics may suffer.
If you have a young child, it’s important to remember that all children develop at different rates. It could just be that they haven’t acquired some visual-motor skills yet. However, there are some signs of a problem that you can look for.
Children with visual-motor difficulties may struggle with:
- Left-right awareness
- Reading and sight words
- Letter and number recognition
- Sorting and matching
- Letter reversal
- Eye-hand coordination
While children learn and grow at different rates, if you have any concerns about your child’s development, talk to your child’s pediatrician.They may recommend practicing these skills at home or refer your child to an occupational therapist.
How To Improve Visual-Motor Skills
Improving visual-motor integration can take some time, but there are plenty of ways you can help your child. Any activities that require coordination of the eyes and body will help build these skills.
Children learn through play, and many of these activities are simple and require little planning. Fine motor activity sheets can be helpful in developing visual-motor skills and a lot of fun for your child.
Some activities you can do at home include:
- Tracing activities
- Small manipulatives
- Stacking blocks
- Matching and memory games
- Threading activities
- Playing sports or catch
If your child is struggling to perform tasks at home or school, it may be helpful for them to work with an occupational therapist. Early interventions such as occupational therapy are often successful in improving visual-motor skills in young children.
Children who work with an occupational therapist to improve fine motor skills or handwriting will likely already be working on visual-motor integration. Your child’s occupational therapist may track your child’s visual-motor skills using a test called a VMI. This will help them to determine what skills your child needs to work on in therapy.
Pediatric occupational therapy often incorporates play to help your child build skills and gain independence. An occupational therapist will work on a combination of fine and gross motor skills to support their visual-motor development. This can be a great way to give your child the extra practice they need.
Beth Pfeiffer, Beverly Moskowitz, Andrew Paoletti, Eugene Brusilovskiy, Sheryl Eckberg Zylstra, Tammy Murray; Developmental Test of Visual–Motor Integration (VMI): An Effective Outcome Measure for Handwriting Interventions for Kindergarten, First-Grade, and Second-Grade Students?. Am J Occup Ther July/August 2015, Vol. 69(4), 6904350010p1–6904350010p7. doi: https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.015826
Coallier, M., Rouleau, N., Bara, F., & Morin, M. (2014). Visual-Motor Skills Performance on the Beery-VMI: A Study of Canadian Kindergarten Children. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2(2). doi: https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1074
Dankert, H. L., Davies, P. L., & Gavin, W. J. (2003). Occupational therapy effects on visual-motor skills in preschool children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 542–549.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”