Upper extremity hand strength isn’t just about strong hands! Kids need upper extremity strength for tasks such as handwriting, coloring, managing clothing fasteners, and more! The thing is, upper extremity strengthening begins at a very young age. In fact, activities for toddlers can be loaded with the strengthening and dexterity activities that strengthen the upper extremities for improved endurance and coordination down the road. All of these components work together fluidly for strong upper extremities. Check out the upper extremity activities for toddlers to find out how and where to begin with upper extremity strength! This article was written by The OT Toolbox contributor author, Christina Komaniecki, OTR.
Upper extremity activities for toddlers
Working on upper extremity strength is a key factor in being
able to have the endurance for handwriting. Working on the shoulder muscle
strength and flexibility will help to improve the coordination needed for
drawing and handwriting.
Importance of upper extremity activities for strength
Why is this important? If a child does not have adequate
shoulder strength and core body strengthit will be difficult for them to have controlled hand movements.
You may notice that when handwriting or coloring that they position their
shoulder abducted and wrist will be flexed instead of in extension.Build muscle strength proximal to distal
because if you don’t have strength in your shoulders, back, traps etc. then
your distal function (example handwriting) will not be as controlled.
These are upper extremity activities for toddlers and kids who would benefit from strength and endurance in the upper body.
Gravity Resistive Sticker Activity
Have the child lay on the ground under a table. I will
usually place a pillow or blanket to make it more comfortable. Tape a large
piece of paper under the table and have the child, while laying on their back,
place stickers on the paper.
I have drawn circles for the child to place stickers in or
had a background theme. For example, a nature background and use stickers such
as birds, trees, etc. The other activity I have done is had the child place
stickers randomly all over the paper and then then have to use a marker to
circle the shapes. Works great if you are working on a child’s pre-writing skills.
They could also put a square, triangle or make an X on the shapes.
Crayon Rubbing on a Vertical Surface
I remember when I was younger I really enjoyed taking coins,
placing paper over them and then using a crayon to rub the print onto the
paper. I also did this with leaves in the fall. How exciting to see the print
come out on the paper! One fun way to keep a child engaged with this great
upper extremity activity for toddlers, is to tape crayon rubbing plates on the wall, place a
large sheet of paper over them and then give the child crayons to rub the paper
until they see the print.
Having a child color on a vertical surface is a great
activity in itself for shoulder stability and flexibility and it puts the wrist
in extension which helps encourage a better pencil/crayon grasp.
I have used crayon rubbing plates with animal pictures on
them and girls love to color the fashion
plates. To keep the child engaged I won’t let the child see what plates I am
using. That way they continue to color on the vertical surface to see what pictures
This activity also
works on teaching children how to apply more pressure when writing/coloring, as
you need to press hard to have the print come through and softer if the print
is blurred because of how hard the child pushed on the crayon.
Looking for more upper extremity activities for toddlers?
Another great under the table activity is beading! Use resistance and gravity to strengthen and boost skills by beading under a table.
Christina Komaniecki is a school based Occupational Therapist. I graduated from Governors State University with a master’s in occupational therapy. I have been working in the pediatric setting for almost 6 years and have worked in early intervention, outpatient pediatrics, inpatient pediatrics, day rehab, private clinic and schools. My passion is working with children and I love to see them learn new things and grow. I love my two little girls, family, yoga and going on long walks.
Visual problems can surface in many ways. Visual processing challenges present as difficulty in reading, handwriting, sports, navigating a hallway, or many other areas. Sometimes, the issue is a result of visual tracking challenges. Read on to find out exactly what is visual tracking and what an eye tracking problem looks like in kids, including common visual tracking difficulties that present in the classroom or during academic work. We’ve shared a few visual tracking tips and soon on the site, we’ll share a collection of visual tracking activities, too.
What is Visual Tracking?
You’ve probably seen it before: The child who struggles with letter reversals..the child who has challenges in navigating obstacles when playing…the child who labors with reading and commonly skips words or lines of words when reading.
These are all signs of a visual tracking problem. There are many more, in fact. The thing is, visual tracking is a part of almost everything we do!
Before we talk more about what visual tracking looks like and other common signs of visual tracking problems, let’s discuss what exactly visual tracking is.
Definition of Visual Tracking
Visual tracking is a visual processing skill that occurs when the eyes focus on an object as it moves across the field of vision. Visual tracking occurs with movement of the eyes to follow a moving object and not movement of the head. The eyes have the ability to track an object in the vertical and horizontal, diagonal, and circular planes. There should also be an ability to track across the midline of the eyes and with smooth pursuit of the object. Visual tracking requires several skills in order to efficiently occur. These include oculomotor control abilities, including visual fixation, saccadic eye movement, smooth pursuit eye movements, along with convergence, and visual spatial attention.
These are the visual processing skills that need to occur in conjunction with visual tracking. They are necessary to enable visual tracking in functional tasks.
Visual Fixation- The ability to visually attend to a target or object. Visual fixation occurs while maintaining focus on the object and typically occurs at a variety of distances and locations within the visual field. This is a skill that typically develops at about 4 weeks of age.
Saccadic Eye Movement- These eye movements are those that occur very rapidly and allow us to smoothly shift vision between two objects without turning or moving the heads. Saccadic eye movement, or visual scanning is necessary for reading a sentence or paragraph as the eyes follow the line of words. This skill also allows us to rapidly shift vision between two objects without overshooting. In copying written work, this skill is very necessary.
Smooth Pursuit Eye Movement- This ability allows us to steadily follow an object as it is visually tracked. When a smooth pursuit of eye movements occurs, the eyes do not lose track of the object, and occur without jerky movements or excessive head movements. Visual scanning occurs in vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and circular movements.
Convergence- This ability is the simultaneous shift of both eyes together in an adducted position toward an object. The eyes work together to shift inward toward a target object, with single vision occurring with fixation on the object. Convergence is needed to focus on an object with both eyes together.
Visual Spatial Attention- This skill includes awareness and attention in the body and the environment and allows us to attend to all visual fields. When visual spatial inattention occurs, visual neglect can occur.
Occupational Therapy Vision Screening Tool
Occupational Therapists screen for visual problems in order to determine how they may impact functional tasks. Visual screening can occur in the classroom setting, in inpatient settings, in outpatient therapy, and in early intervention or home care.
This visual screening tool was created by an occupational therapist and provides information on visual terms, frequently asked questions regarding visual problems, a variety of visual screening techniques, and other tools that therapists will find valuable in visual screenings.
This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to download the 10 page file and print off to use over and over again in vision screenings and in educating therapists, teachers, parents, and other child advocates or caregivers.
What does a Visual Tracking Problem Look Like?
So many times, we may see kids who struggle with tasks like reading, writing, coordination, or other areas and miss the visual part of the difficulty. The ability to process visual information plays an important part in everything we do. The areas below are signs that a visual tracking problem may present and visual tracking skills should be assessed.
Visual Tracking Problem Red Flags
Incoordination when visual perceptual skills or visual motor skills are required
Difficulty with eye-hand or general coordination
Difficulty with sports including those that use a ball or target
History of delayed developmental milestones
Reverse letters or numbers when writing
Misjudges distances or heights related to orientation of the body or body parts in movement or activities
Difficulty following an object across their field of vision, especially when the object crosses midline
Trouble copying work from one place to a paper in single plane or multi-plane locations
Difficulty keeping up with peers
Difficulty managing body on uneven surfaces, including navigaing and managing bleachers, steps, or walkways
Difficulty drawing or coloring
Trouble shifting gaze in all planes
Skips words or a line of words when reading or re-reads lines of text
Must use finger to keep place when reading
Poor reading comprehension
Short attention span
Difficulty comprehending or remembering what is read
Confusion with interpreting or following written directions
Writing on a slant, up or down hill, spacing letters and words irregularly
Confusion with left/right directions
Errors when copying from a chalkboard or book to paper
Misalignment of horizontal and vertical series’ of numbers in math problems
These are just some of the problem areas that may be present when a visual tracking difficulty is present.
Looking for strategies to address a visual tracking problem? Try some of these: