How to Improve Reading with 15+ Visual Skills Activities

Visual Skills Activities to Improve Reading Skills

Visual skill development is an important foundation for reading.  These fun games & activities will help to develop and improve eye movement & control, visual perception, visual convergence, visual accommodation, and saccadic eye movements.

I have to say, I love my career as an occupational therapist! My job is to look at students through a unique lens and analyze the parts of the brain and body needed for daily tasks. 

When you break down skills needed for reading, math and writing, the visual system plays such an important role.   

Most of the school-age students that I’ve worked with have needed visual activities as part of their treatment plan.  Their visual weaknesses were impacting their success with learning.

They could ‘see‘ well.

But many had weak eye muscles and poor visual-perceptual and visual-motor skills. 

What Visual Skills are Needed for Reading? An Occupational Therapy Perspective

Obviously, our eyes need to see objects clearly-  up close and far away.  However, there are many more layers to the visual system than just seeing clearly. 

In order to read, children need eye movement control, visual convergence, visual accommodation, and saccadic eye movements. And they need to have visual perceptual skills.

To break down those big fancy terms in words that make sense, here are some examples…

The muscles of your children’s eyes need to move separately from head movements.  They have to work well together as a ‘team’ in order to focus on objects near and far. And they need to move smoothly across midline (the infinity loop exercise helps with this.)

Kids’ eye muscles must quickly coordinate movements to visually attend and stay focused on objects.  The eyes need to slightly turn inward to focus on objects up close (visual convergence.) And they need to return back to neutral when looking at something farther in the distance (visual divergence.)

Visual (accommodation) skills are needed for children when looking at objects near and far. The eyes must quickly adjust and focus on items based on their location.

Kids’ eyes need to scan the environment effectively. They have to quickly move from object to object with good accuracy (saccades.) Or scan across items or words while taking in and processing the input.

Furthermore, as the eyes are moving effectively and focusing properly, the brain is working to interpret what is being seen – visual perception.

The visual skills needed for reading are quite involved!

Why Focus on Visual Skills Activities Instead of Practicing Reading?

Before diving into reading and expecting quick success and results, you have to focus on foundational and developmental skills.

For example, if your child wants to learn to play basketball, you wouldn’t hand them a ball and have them step out onto the court to play a game, right?

First, you’d have to make sure that they work on fundamental skills. 

Skills such as ball handling, passing, and shooting would need practiced.  And the rules of the game would need to be learned. 

Your child would need to have the developmental skills before actually playing the game. 

Kenneth A Lane, OD FCOVD, (author: Developing Ocular Motor and Visual Perceptual Skills: An Activity Workbook) suggests that reading instruction begins when children are developmentally ready: between 7 and 9 years old!

In addition, he explains the complexity of reading and how most children’s visual systems are not mature enough to effectively read. [So PLEASE, don’t ever try to “teach your baby to read” – and stop anyone else from ever trying!]

In my experience when working with kids, I’ve always felt so bad for kiddos who couldn’t keep up with reading because of weak eye muscles, difficulty with visual skills, and decreased visual-perceptual skills

Visual skills activities help!

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15+ Occupational Therapy Activities to Improve Visual Skills for Reading

The following visual skills activities help improve skills in kids. They improve the strength and coordination of kids’ eye muscles and those fancy skills needed for reading. (Visual convergence, visual accommodation, saccadic eye movements, and visual perceptual skills.)

1. Bubbles and Oral Motor Toys

Yes, you read that correctly! The mouth muscles help strengthen the eye muscles!  Amazing, right?! Certain oral motor games help the eyes converge together.

For example, mouth toys such as party blowouts, floating ball blow pipes, harmonicas, string pipes, and slide whistles (with a pleasant soft sound, of course) are good ones.

(Oral Sensory Activities and Tools are also a powerful way to increase focus and attention in kids. Click on the link to the post to learn more.)

2. Hand-Held Tomy Water Games

My favorite treatment games that I have used for years are the Tomy Waterful (dolphin, pelican) games. They’re great for visual focusing and getting the eyes to converge together.

And and added bonus, the buttons strengthen the thumb muscles in the hands needed for Pencil Grasp Development.

3. I Spy Games

Playing “I Spy” is great for visually scanning the environment. I Spy card games, or games such as Find-it or Spot-It, work on back and forth eye movements and visual perceptual skills.

4. Visual Memory Games

Kids need to have strong visual memory skills in order to identify letters for reading. Try basic memory games like this challenging one. And work on visual sequential memory with games such as Guess Who?, Line-up, Sequence, etc.

The Simon Classic Game is also a fast paced fun game for visual memory that also requires concentration.

5. Home-made Magnet Plate Activities

This is another one of my favorite activities as an occupational therapist! Write the alphabet letters all over a plain paper or plastic plate. Place a magnet on top of the plate. The child holds and slides a strong magnet under the plate. This is great for letter identification, sequencing the alphabet, and spelling.

[Check out this post for more information: An Easy Visual-Motor Activity Using Magnets.]

6. Bouncing Ball Play for Visual Skills

Bounce a small to medium ball back and forth with a peer. Or, bounce the ball off of a wall and catch it. The smaller the ball, the harder it is for the child.

7. Step-by-Step Drawing Activities

There are many how to draw books such as how to draw everything or how to draw animals.  Start with a motivating but simple picture.

To work on visual accommodation, place the picture at a distance away for the kids so they have to look up and down / back and forth.

8. Paper Pencil Mazes

Start with wide and shorter paths for younger kids. Decrease the width and increase the length and complexity as needed. Encourage kids to “look ahead” with their eyes before finding the right path through the maze. This helps strengthen visual saccades.

[My HP printer has mazes already on it that can be printed for free – I use them for older students.]

9. Dot-to-Dot Visual Skills Activities

Dot-to-dot activities require scanning and visual accommodation. Here’s an example of one on Amazon. There are so many others that include either letters or numbers. They can be found at dollar stores or bookstores.

10. Word Searches, Word Fill-Ins, and Cross Words

Amazon also has several activity books with word searches, fill-ins and cross word puzzles. (I like how they’re organized by age ranges to help guide educators and parents.) These activities help work on visual saccades needed for reading.

11. Hidden Pictures Activities

Hidden pictures are great visual scanning and visual perceptual activities. Do you remember these from the Highlights magazines? I used to love this part of the magazine as a kid!

12. Battleship

Games such as Battleship work on perceptual skills for reading, visual focusing,

13. Tangrams and Mosaic Puzzles

Visual perceptual skills are important for reading. Tangrams and this wooden mosaic puzzle are great for improving visual perception and visual accommodation.

14. Quirkle Cubes and Multi-Matrix

During my treatment sessions when my students are ready, I like to challenge them with fast paced visual games. my students love playing Qwirkle Cubes (so many ways to play) and Multi-Matrix.

15. Geoboards, Pegboards and Lighted Peg Games

For added fine motor skill and visual perceptual skill development, I love using pegboard designs and geoboards. And you can’t go wrong with a fun game like Lite-Brite or Peg Brite.

*CLICK FOR A FREE PRINTABLE: Activities to Enhance Reading Skills in Kids. In addition to visual skills activities on the printable, there are also balance, crossing midline and auditory games and activities! ALL fun occupational therapy activities to support reading readiness.

Visual Perception Activities to Improve Reading Skills

Related Occupational Therapy Visual Perceptual Activities, Visual Motor and Activities to Improve Skills for Reading

17 Special Movement Activities to Improve Visual Skills – improve balance to support eye muscle development and control.

42 Easy Visual Perceptual Activities – find even more activities that focus on the different areas of visual perception.

How to Improve Reading Skills with Auditory Activities – improve listening, following directions and auditory skills needed for reading.

Art Projects & Crafts for Kids – A Great Way to Support Learning & Development – support skills needed for reading, writing, math, and fine motor development.

Educational Toys and Games – tried and highly recommended by this occupational therapist to address visual perceptual skills in kids!

[As an Amazon Associate, Develop Learn Grow may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases if you buy something after clicking one of the links.  See full disclaimer and privacy policy for more information.]

*Editor’s Note: This post has been revamped and updated from its original publish date.

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School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 21 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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