What is Visual Scanning | The OT Toolbox

What is Visual Scanning

Visual Scanning is a component of visual processing that is crucial to everything we do! From taking in visual information, to using that information in making decisions and enabling actions...visual scanning is an oculomotor skill that is sometimes an area of difficulty for those struggling with visual processing skills. Below, you will find information about visual scanning, including what this oculomotor control component looks like, what visual scanning really means, and why scanning as a visual skill is needed for learning, functional tasks, social emotional skills, executive function and other cognitive abilities, and just about everything we do!

To work on visual scanning in the classroom or clinic, you may want to grab this free 17 page visual perception worksheet packet that promote oculomotor skills like visual scanning as well as visual perceptual skills!



What is visual scanning? Visual scanning is the eyes movement from point A to point B, needed for reading, games, activities, play, functional tasks. Scanning or saccades, are an oculomotor visual skill.



What is Visual Scanning?


Visual scanning is noticing a car parked on the corner when you try to cross the road.
Visual scanning is finding last night's homework in a cluttered backpack.
Visual scanning is locating a matching shoe in a bin at the bottom of the closet.
Visual scanning is finding a pair of pants in a dresser to wear on a cool day.
Visual scanning is setting the table.
Visual scanning is looking for a lost parent on a busy playground.

Visual scanning is a lot of things! Rather, visual tracking is USED and REQUIRED in a lot of tasks. Scanning is needed to be independent, stay safe, make decisions, stay organized, help others, be a vital part of a workplace, succeed in school, learn and grow as an individual, and SO much more!

Oculomotor Control

Visual Scanning is a part of the oculomotor system that allows the eyes to take in information. Here is more information on oculomotor dysfunction and activities that can help address this area. Scanning makes up a piece of the visual-receptive components of the visual system.

The oculomotor control that allows us to take in information includes visual pursuit, or tracking, and saccadic eye movements, or scanning. The muscles of the eyes control these movements in a voluntary and reflexive capacity.

What is a saccade?

A visual saccade is the movement of the eye toward visual stimuli. This movement of the eyes in visual scanning allows the eyes to focus on the most important part of the visual stimuli. This allows us to notice a specific word, phrase, or topic in a body of text. You can see how scanning is needed for reading comprehension and writing essays in the school environment.


Visual Scanning Looks Like...

That precise focus of our eyes on a warm pair of clothes hidden in a closet provides safety and important information to drive executive functioning and decision-making.

The ability of they eye to focus on detail allows us to notice and locate our lost child in a busy store. These motor actions of the eyes are happening with both intention and in an automatic way so we are safe, locating the visual information we need, and safe.

At the same time, unnecessary information is negated, allowing the information we are looking for to be received and therefore processed for use in visual motor tasks, eye hand coordination, and function.

Here are activities to improve visual saccades.

Visual Scanning and Visual Perception

You can see how scanning works together with visual perception. As we scan, we need to discriminate, pull out the necessary information from background information, utilize visual closure, and sustain visual attention. Likewise, to access the information, visual perceptual skills require the ability to scan the environment.

Visual scanning is needed for reading and learning. Here are activities designed to build visual scanning in kids.

Visual Scanning Activities

Here is a visual scanning activity that includes a motor component. The eye-hand coordination couples with and requires visual scanning, visual perceptual skills, and the motor integration of that information for a task.

This visual scanning activity is a low-prep activity that can be used with a variety of themes or to address various levels.

For more easy activities that address a variety of visual perceptual and visual motor skills, you'll love these visual scanning activities.


This Bubble Wrap Math Maze is a fun way to work on visual scanning as well as other skill areas. Kids will love the auditory and proprioceptive feedback, too. 

Tangrams and finding correct pieces of puzzles like the ones tangrams support area  great way to encourage visual scanning as well as the perceptual and motor components of visual processing. These Cardboard Tangrams are a frugal and fun way to play and develop skills. 

This Letter Seek and Find activity is a low-prep and quick activity that can be used with various ages and levels. Attach handwriting tasks to make it perfect for older kids. Younger kids can work on letter recognition while addressing oculomotor skills, visual perception, and motor components. 

Work on visual scanning with a tasty feedback, using letter cookies or crackers! This Letter Cookie Seek is a great way to work on the visual skills needed for so many areas.

Visual scanning is needed for functional tasks, using saccadic eye movements from one point to another. Here are activities to help with visual saccades.

Looking for more visual scanning activities for the kids?  Try some of these:

More visual processing activities

For even MORE visual scanning activities to use in your occupational therapy practice, you will want to join our free visual processing lab email series. It's a 3-day series of emails that covers EVERYthing about visual processing. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs.

In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun "lab" theme. I might have had too much fun with this one :)

Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won't need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!

Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.
Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.

What is visual scanning? Read more information about visual scanning or visual saccades that are needed for reading, play, and everything we do!