4 Ways to Support Visual Motor Skills

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Visual Motor Skills are an important foundational piece for growing readers, and if unnoticed or left untouched, students face increasingly difficult academic challenges.

Visual motor skills, also called visual motor integration, refers to the skills that combine visual skills, visual perception skills, and motor skills.

These are skills that use our eyes and hands in a coordinated way. For example, if I was looking at a picture of square and wanted to replicate the shape onto a new sheet of paper, having strong visual motor skills will allow me to do this task correctly. Poor visual motor skills will make this task more challenging. Essentially, we want our brain, eyes, and hands all to work together in an efficient way! These skills set the foundation for a child's daily activities; cutting, coloring, writing, playing at recess, zipping their coat, or tying their shoes.

When a child's eyes and hands are communicating with each other efficiently, these activities are easy for a child to do. When the brain, eyes, and hands are not communicating properly, children will have a hard time with many of these activities.

Signs of poor visual motor skills can look like poor handwriting, difficulty completing mazes, challenges copying from the board, and poor hand-eye coordination.

How do I develop these skills in the classroom?

Hand-eye coordination is using the information we receive through our eyes to coordinate the hands with control, and handwriting is a major player here!

It is important to teach handwriting in a clear and detailed way. It also needs to be taught systematically. It will be important for you to consistently progress monitor your students' handwriting because this work will help inform you if there is a problem with their visual motor skills. Analyzing letter formation, pencil grip, and illustrations should be included in the progress monitoring process.

Here are 4 ways to support visual motor skills:

All handwriting tasks, such as writing letters when in the alphabetic principle stage, are a great way to strengthen visual motor skills.

  • Trouble using classroom tools can be a sign of poor visual motor skills. Having students cut out shapes or other materials needed for activities is another way to strengthen a student's hand eye coordination!

  • Visual scanning activities such as mazes and word searches also help build visual motor coordination. This is because the student is scanning the page with their eyes, while trying to find the way out of the maze or circle the correct word with their pencil. (Mazes are also a great way to build a student's brainstorming and problem solving skills!)

  • Visual discrimination activities where students differentiate between capital and lowercase letters, coins, similar looking letters like b, d, p, q, and I spy books are activities that build visual perception skills, which are a key part of visual motor skills!

Red Flags:

If you notice a student struggling with any of these skills, such as letter formation, after explicit instruction and repeated practice, it would be helpful to seek advice from your school’s OT. Early intervention is always key, and an OT can prescribe some specific activities to strengthen these skills or hone in on areas that need to be further developed.