15 Important Occupational Therapy Visual Skills Activities 

Visual Skills Activities to Improve Reading Skills

Visual skills and visual development are an important foundation for school skills such as reading and writing.  There are so many fun games & activities for kids to help to develop and improve eye movement & control, visual attention, visual perception, visual convergence, visual accommodation, and saccadic eye movements that children need for academic success. 

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 preschool and school-age students that I work with need so many visual activities as part of their occupational therapy treatment plan to help with complex tasks at school.  Their visual weaknesses were impacting their success with learning.

They can see well and they see clearly.

But many have weak eye muscles, difficulty looking around the classroom, poor visual-perceptual skills, and delays with visual-motor skills. 

What Visual Skills are Needed for Reading? Tips from Occupational Therapists

Our visual system is an extremely complex system.  On a simple level, good vision consists of functional central visual acuity (what we see in front of us) and peripheral vision (our protective vision that picks up on things moving next to us) working in balance.   

And obviously, healthy 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. Kids take in so much visual information every day.

In order to read, children need eye movement control, eye teaming, visual attention, visual convergence, visual accommodation, eye tracking, and saccadic eye movements.  And we have to take into account a child’s ability to process what the eyes see. They need to have strong visual perceptual skills for learning.  

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 (eye teaming) 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 and find objects in the environment effectively.  Then they have to quickly move the eyes from object to object with good accuracy (saccades.)  Or scan across items or words.  All of this requires good visual motor skills but also adequate visual processing skills.  

Furthermore, as the eyes are moving effectively and focusing properly, the brain is working to interpret what is being seen.  This is 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.  A child’s eyes process large amounts of visual information from the time they’re born until elementary school years.  Visual processing skills are very complex!  

In order for kids to have academic success, the development of the eyes and brains need to be considered. 

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?

Firstly, you’d have to make sure that they work on fundamental skills such as ball handling, passing, and shooting. Secondly, the rules of the game would need to be learned. Finally, you’d have to practice all of the skills together for long periods of time before you see success.  

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 why are we trying to start the process earlier.

Instead, we need to slow down and make sure children have the readiness skills.  We need to respect the development of a child’s visual system and the brain’s ability to process the visual information. 

In my experience when working with kids, I’ve always felt so bad for kiddos who couldn’t keep up with reading because of the lack of their eyes’ ability to perform the basics.  So many kids have weak eye muscles, difficulty with visual skills, and decreased visual perceptual skills.

Visual skills activities help!

[This post contains affiliate links. See below for more information.]

15 Types of Occupational Therapy Activities to Improve Visual Skills

The following visual skills activities help improve visual integration 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.)  

These are some of my favorite occupational therapy activities that are fun for kids and address so many basic visual skills that kids need. 

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 with eye teaming, visual convergence, and visual divergence.   

Blowing and sucking activities help the eye muscles turn in and out when needed.

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 (dolphinpelican) games. I’ve bought them for family members and fellow occupational therapists!  They’re great for visual attention, visual focusing and getting the eyes to converge together.  

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

3. I Spy Games

Playing “I Spy” is great for visual thinking, visual attention and visual scanning.  Playing in a large room or outdoors helps with visual accommodation and scanning.  

I Spy card games, or games such as Find-it or Spot-It, work on back and forth eye movements (saccades) and visual perceptual skills such as  visual form constancy. 

4. Visual Memory Games

Kids need to have strong visual memory skills in order to identify and discriminate similar letters for reading.  Try basic memory games like I Never Forget a Face.  And work on visual sequential memory with games such as Guess Who?Line-upSequence, etc.

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

5. Home-made Magnet Plate Activities

This is another one of my favorite activities as an occupational therapist!  Write the alphabet letters, numbers, colors or pictures all over a plain paper or plastic plate.  

Place a magnet clear bingo chip on top of the plate.  The child holds and slides a strong magnet under the plate. You can focus on letter identification, sequencing the alphabet, and spelling or add numbers for counting and skip counting. 

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

6. Bouncing Ball Play for Visual Skills

Ball games are great for gross visual-motor skill development.  They assist with eye tracking, saccades, and sometimes accommodation (depending on the game.)  They’re also great for hand-eye coordination which helps with writing skills.  

A ball can be used during play and learning or with peers during gross motor play and recess.  The smaller the ball, the harder it is for the child to follow the moving object. Ball games can consist of rolling, rolling to a target, bouncing or throwing at a target.  

7.  Play Outside or In Large Open Spaces

Kids need time outdoors in a variety of areas with different distances to help develop near and far vision.  Play outdoors, at a park or at a playground also helps develop depth perception as well as peripheral awareness.  

Taking nature walks, climbing structures, making obstacle courses, and riding toys and bikes helps with gross visual-motor development.  Games such as I Spy and scavenger hunts in large spaces are helpful for working on visual accommodation and saccades that kids need for copying tasks in the classroom.

8.  Step-by-Step Drawing Activities

Drawing activities support visual motor integration skills.  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 back and forth.       

9. Paper Pencil Mazes and Dot-to-Dot Visual Skills Activities

Mazes are great for eye-hand coordination.  Start with wide and shorter paths for young children.  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. 

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.  Dot to dots are great for fine visual-motor development. 

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

Word searches, fill-ins and cross word puzzles help with back ad forth eye movements and eye focusing.  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 tasks.  They address visual scanning and figure ground.  I have saved so many Highlights magazines Hidden Picture activities to use with students. 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, and saccadic eye movements.  The small game pieces are also great for fine motor skills.  

13. Tangrams and Mosaic Puzzles

Visual perceptual skills are important for numerous skills needed for reading and math.  Tangrams and this wooden mosaic puzzle are great for improving visual perception and visual accommodation.  They’re a great activity for kids that helps with reading and math.

14. Quirkle Cubes and Multi-Matrix

Games that address visual skills always add fun to play and learning. 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.  They’re so good for visual thinking and problem solving. Lite-Brite or Peg Brite also offer room for creativity. 

Have fun using these visual skills activities with young children and older school age children.  Make them a part of your daily activities at home and at school to help support academic performance.  

For more visual activities, check out:

Visual Perception Activities to Improve Reading Skills

Related Occupational Therapy Activities for Kids

The visual activities from this post are listed on a one page handout with other visual skills games and activities.  In addition to the visual skills activities, the free PDF contains balance, crossing midline and auditory games and activities for kids.

These fun occupational therapy activities all work on skills needed for reading readiness and academic performance.  (Further explanation of this handout can be found on How to Improve Reading Skills with 50+ Sensory Strategies.)

*CLICK FOR THE FREE PRINTABLE: Activities to Enhance Reading Skills in Kids

Additional Related Posts:

[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.

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 22 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.  

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This