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Visual Motor: What are Visual Motor Planning Skills and do they Help My Child Read?
This article provides helpful information about your child’s visual motor skills. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Have you ever thought about the skills and energy it takes just to write the letters in your name or read a few passages from a magazine? For most of us, these tasks are automatic and we do them without even thinking, but for others, it takes great concentration and thought to complete the same tasks you and I are capable of on a daily basis.
Reading and writing are two fundamental skills taught the moment we enter school, and in many cases, prior to kindergarten. Take a 5-year-old child and ask her to draw a triangle from a shape previously shown to her. The task of drawing a shape, whether simple or complex, involves multiple decisions the brain must make instantly. Some of these decisions include sequencing, motor planning and positioning. Let’s follow this child’s plan of action as she draws a triangle.
Motor Planning at Work
First, the child must visually recognize the presented shape (a triangle). If presented with another shape, the student must be able to discern between the two different shapes (visual discrimination). After the brain completes these tasks, a generalized motor plan of action is created. The motor plan involved with this activity would include factors like the starting point of the pencil, the direction, the speed at which the pencil will move, and the pressure on the paper.
The activation of the plan of action is controlled by the motor cortex which is located in the rear portion of the frontal lobe of the brain. Once there is activation, the information passes to another area of the brain responsible for the details of the movement needed and then it is sent back to the motor cortex. This process is like a loop in the brain that continues back and forth between brain structures to facilitate motor planning.
The other part of the brain that is involved with this “loop” is the cerebellum. The cerebellum receives information about the intended movement from the motor cortex and then sends back information to the motor cortex about the required direction, force, sequence, etc. During the execution of this movement, feedback is also received by various senses, specifically visual and kinesthetic. When this type of feedback is received, if there is an error, the child can quickly fix the problem and move on.
Motor Planning: Essential Part of Visual Perceptual System
In Developing Ocular Motor and Visual Perceptual Skills, Kenneth Lane describes the following regarding motor planning:
“Motor planning is an integral part of the perceptual motor system and is not a conscious process. The motor plan is formulated according to information stored in memory about the movement. The effectiveness of the motor plan depends on efficient processing and storage of the relevant kinesthetic information. This is why training is essential for proper visual motor perceptual skills.”
What are these essential skills that children must be fluent with to achieve success in school activities like reading, writing and hands on learning tasks? Visual perceptual skills help children obtain visual information from their environment and organize the data. Only then can the brain interpret what the child is really seeing.
Visual Perceptual Skills Building Blocks
Occasionally, there are issues with the visual system and children struggle with processing these skills. The building blocks that assist with visual perceptual skills and what role they play in the learning process include the following:
- Visual Memory: The child’s ability to recall visual details about an object or form.
- Visual Closure: This skill allows the child to identify an object visually when part of the picture is missing.
- Visual Discrimination: If a child is able to perceive the similarities and differences in forms and objects then they have a good visual discrimination understanding.
- Visual Attention: This is where a student can visually focus on important optical information and filter out unnecessary stimuli.
- Visual Figure Ground: Locating an object or form against a busy or similar background (for example, a white car against a white building)
- Visual Form Constancy: This skill allows a child to identify a shape or object no matter the size, direction or color.
- Spatial Relations: Understanding the position of objects in the environment and their relationship and space to each other.
- Sensory Processing: The accurate reception, understanding and response to sensory information from external and internal sources.
Visual Motor Skills
Visual perceptual skills play an important role in allowing the child to practice and perfect their motor skills. What are visual motor skills? Visual motor skills are the abilities that emerge in the child when their visual perception and motor skills come together and allow the eyes and hands to move in an organized way. These important skills are the basis for a child’s daily life.
Everything from throwing a ball, cutting, coloring and climbing to reading and writing all rely on the proper function of the visual motor capacity. Visual motor skills develop sequentially. Each slight new development in the perceptual area will guide the child’s movements. With handwriting, these movements are based on the visual information that is first seen and then processed. Children first learn by imitating the form or shape of their letters, then they begin copying or tracing, and eventually, they learn to draw letters from visual memory.
Visual Perceptual Activities
It is always helpful to have some activities or games in your back pocket to help your child with some skills that he or she needs to improve. Not only are these ideas fun, but many are quick, on-the-go resources that assist your child in increasing their visual motor abilities. Some of the following ideas will help you get started:
- Hidden picture pages
- Dot-to-Dot worksheets
- Partially draw a picture and have the child finish the missing part
- Anything with building blocks
- Word searches
- Memory card game
- Put 3D letters in a paper bag, or a bag that is not transparent, and have the child identify the letter just by feeling the letters
For similar activities to improve visual motor planning, fine motor, and emotional grounding, try the Rewiring the Brain Handbook (e-Book).
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs