Writing with Both Hands-What you Need to Know

Kids may write with both hands and have poor legibility or speed with handwriting.

Writing with both hands is a common concern for parents, teachers, and therapists working with students on handwriting skills. Using both hands to write might look like switching hands while writing or even coloring as a result of hand weakness. But there could also be other considerations at play including mixed hand dominance or confusion on which hand to pick up the pencil and which hand holds the paper.

You’ll definitely want to check out a related resource on more information on hand dominance and establishment of a preferred hand in functional activities.

Writing with both hands- what’s going on

Have you seen a child on your therapy caseload that writes with both hands? Writing with both hands can be a problem when it comes to handwriting legibility and efficiency.

Have you ever wondered is my child a lefty or a righty? Or perhaps writing with both hands piqued your curiosity about whether or not your child is ambidextrous.

Or been asked if they are a lefty or righty and unable to answer?

Have you noticed that your child seems to use both hands equally when writing? If so, your child may be experiencing mixed hand dominance patterns or cross-dominance, and this is why you are not sure if they are a lefty or a righty. Writing with both hands can have implications that affect handwriting.

Read on for information on using both hands to write writing and what you need to know about mixed-handedness.

Writing with both hands, wondering what this means for kids in learning and writing? This has great information on mixed dominance and laterality in kids.

Where to begin when kids write with Both Hands 

First, it’s important to understand what is happening when a student uses both hands to write.

Hand dominance

Let’s discuss mixed dominance to begin. Here is more information about hand dominance and activities to promote laterality.

What is mixed dominance and what does this mean in child development? Read more about hand dominance and writing with both hands.

What is Mixed Dominance?

Mixed dominance refers to when a child does not demonstrate a strong preference for either the left side or the right side of the body for completion of activities, or clearly utilizes both hands for specific sets of activities. For example, a kiddo might throw with his left hand, but write with his right hand.

It should also be noted that children with mixed dominance often utilize both sides of the body equally, but poorly. When they fatigue, this leads to confusion with if they are left-side dominant or right-side dominant.

When Does hand Dominance Develop?

Dominance of one side of the body or the other is not expected until 5 years of age. Before the age of 5 years old, use of both hands is expected to a moderate degree. However, most children are showing a strong preference for one hand or the other by 3.5-4 years of age.

Determining Mixed Dominance

Dominance is typically determined through observation of the eyes, hands and feet and which one the child uses for task completion. For example, a child who is demonstrating mixed dominance may be right eye dominant, and left hand/foot dominant or left eye dominant, right hand dominant and left foot dominant, or any combination of these characteristics.

Therapists may utilize the Jordan Left/Right Reversal Questionnaire or clinical observations to help them determine mixed dominance. In a vision screen, the therapist can have the child pretend to be a pirate, and see what eye they close when looking through a tube/rolled paper.

The eye that the child closes is the non-dominant or “weak” eye and the dominant or “strong” eye is the open one. If the “strong” eye does not match the hand preference the child has been showing, this is mixed dominance in action.

Be sure to watch this space, because tomorrow we’ll cover more about writing with both hands, ambidexterity, and mixed dominance.

For more information on visual screening, check out our vision screening packet:

 

 

 

Writing with boht hands Impacts Writing and Reading

Children who experience mixed dominance patterns, evidenced by writing with both hands, often have challenges with left/right awareness.  This left/right confusion can impact reading and writing, as a result of delayed reading and writing skills. 

Left Right Confusion and Handwriting

The child that doesn’t know their left from their right side at the kindergarten to first grade stage may show challenges as they are learning letter formation.

Poor left/right awareness can affect a student’s ability to accurately form letters and result in ‘dyslexia’ looking reversal patterns.

The reversal patterns in letter formation and recognition may also lead to poor phonemic awareness, and later poor spelling, further delaying their reading and writing skills.

Reading left to right may also be a significant challenge as a result of poor eye teaming, as both sides of the brain are attempting to ‘dominate’ the skill. This struggle between the two sides of the brain results in poor organization of the information and retrieval of phonemic rules. Here is more information about visual processing and the skills that impact reading and learning.

Difficulties in these areas can be red flags of mixed dominance patterns that need to be addressed.

Switching hands when writing means that the student holds the pencil with a different hand each time and doesn’t have the experience to create motor plans for each letter. They are looking at different angles and directions to the paper, writing  sample to copy formations, and establishing loose “muscle memory” when it comes to creating an established plan of action for letter forms. 

Writing with different hands can impact overall organization on the paper, too. This includes use of margins, and writing in lists. Typically, when writing, we need to hold the paper with the non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper. Placing letters  

More implications of using both hands to write

Mixed dominance does not always seem like a big deal, but when left unaddressed your child may be left frustrated with their struggles in gross motor play, reading and writing. 

Struggles in these areas significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and desire to participate in age appropriate activities. Fortunately, mixed dominance can be easily addressed through therapy.

Try this pouring and scooping activity to refine hand dominance in functional tasks.

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.





 
Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.
What is mixed dominance and what does this mean for kids?

Occupational Therapy Vision Screening Tool

Click here to read more about the Visual Screening Packet.   This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to access 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.  

 

For even MORE information on eye-hand coordination and 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.

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance

What is ambidexterity

Many parents see their child switch hands during tasks, or show refined use of both hands and wonder if their child is ambidextrous. Maybe a child uses their left hand to throw a ball, but bats with their right hand. Maybe they kick a ball with their right foot, but hold a pencil with their left hand. Ambidexterity is a common question among parents of kids who switch hands in activities or don’t use one hand consistently.

Here, we are covering several aspects of ambidexterity. We’ll go over the difference between being ambidextrous and having mixed dominance. We’ll cover what it means when a child uses both hands to write or color. And, we’ll go over some activities to support a dominant hand.

How do you know if your child is ambidextrous or if they are showing signs of mixed dominance? This post will explain a little more about ambidexterity as well as mixed dominance and what it means in motor skills.

What is ambidexterity? Is my child ambidextrous?

What does Ambidextrous Mean?

The definition of ambidextrous is use of both hands with equal refined precision and motor skill. This means that each side of the body is equally able to write with natural motor planning, fine motor control, strength, and refined motor movements.

According to the definition of ambidexterous, there is equal refinement and precision. You might think this means just the hands and fingers are involved with equal use of both sides. However, that’s not exactly the case.

Those who are truly ambidextrous may have equal use of hands, as well as feet, eyes, and even toungue motor skills.

An ambidextrous child will play naturally with toys using both hands. You might notice equal use of the hands and feet, or switching left to right or right to left during play, sports, school work, and other tasks.

When it comes to someone being ambidextrous and fine motor involvement, this can refer to:

  • Writing
  • Scissor use
  • Clothing fasteners
  • Play
  • Hand strength
  • Brushing teeth and hair
  • Many other every day tasks

Ambidextrous also refers to the feet too.

An ambidextrous person will be able to kick equally strong and with the same amount of force with both feet. They are able to “take off” from a running stance with equal feet placement, whether they start out running on their left foot or their right foot. Gross motor ambidexterity can be seen in:

  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Hopping
  • Balance
  • Kicking a ball
  • Throwing a ball
  • Catching a ball
  • Among many other every day tasks

Ambidexterity can be observed in the eyes, too. Typically, all of us have one eye that is stronger, or a naturally dominant eye. We can complete a visual screening to identify this, or a visual exam may be in order.

Finally, an ambidextrous individual may show motor overflow movements with the tongue to both sides of the body.

Are you wondering about a child who uses both hands to write or perform tasks? Maybe you know a child who uses both hands equally and with equal skill. Perhaps your child uses one hand for specific tasks and their other hand for other tasks.

Mixed Dominance or Ambidexterous?

Just yesterday on The OT Toolbox, we discussed mixed dominance. In this post, we will cover more about true ambidexterity and what that means.

A child with mixed dominance demonstrates clear, stronger patterns based on the side of the body they are utilizing to complete the task.

For example, a child who is left hand dominant will develop a stronger fine motor pattern then a child who is not left side dominant but compensating for fatigue and is moderately adept at utilizing the left hand as a coping skill.

Is my child ambidextrous

A child who is truly ambidextrous will be equally as skilled at utilizing both sides of the body and it will look and feel natural to the child. Statistically, only 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous—it’s really very rare, and it is more likely that your child is experiencing mixed dominance patterns.

True ambidexterity requires both hands to be used with equal precision and there is no true preference in either the right or left hand for either both fine or gross motor tasks.

Can you make yourself ambidextrous?

This is an interesting question. Many times there is a perceived benefit to being ambidextrous, or switching hand or foot use during a task. Some perceived benefits might be:

  • Switching hands when one is fatigued from use during a task
  • Switching dominant sides during a sport such as baseball or softball to pitch with the other arm, batting from another side, dribbling to the other side when bringing up the ball during basketball, or kicking a ball with the other foot during soccer.
  • Writing equal legibility with both hands

Actually being ambidextrous is different than teaching yourself to become ambidextrous.

To use both sides of the hand as a learned concept takes cognitive attention whereas natural ambidexterity occurs without thought. Because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, humans have the ability to teach themselves to use their non-dominant hand or side to complete tasks. It takes practice, practice, and more practice.

Read here on motor planning where we cover this concept.

Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance?

Is my child ambidextrous? Isn’t that what mixed dominance is? These are two questions that therapists get asked frequently when evaluating a child for the first time for mixed dominance and other concerns. The answer is no, they are not the same thing.

This is a tricky area. Therapists recognize mixed dominance as a miscommunication or poor integration of the left and right sides of the brain and that’s how it’s explained to parents. However, there is a lot of information out there on this topic that may or may not be relevant to your child and her struggles— keep this in mind when Googling information.

It is more likely, that your child’s brain is utilizing the left and right sides for very specific motor skills such as writing, eating and throwing a ball. This can lead to motor confusion—this is where the poor integration and lack of communication between the left and right sides of the brain comes into play.

When the child is not utilizing one side of the brain more dominantly for motor patterns, confusion and poor motor learning occur leading to delays and deficits in motor skills.

It is unclear why the brain develops this way, but it does happen, and it is okay. In fact, it is easily addressed by an occupational therapist.

Ambidexterous Motor Development

I already touched on this a little, but a child with mixed dominance may switch sides for task completion when experiencing fatigue. Due to this, their motor development and precision is typically delayed.

The most common area that this is noted in is in fine motor development for handwriting. This is because the child is equally, but poorly skilled with both hands, and will switch hands to compensate for fatigue.

Motor delays may also be noticed later on when it comes to the reciprocal movements needed to throw/catch or kick a ball and when skipping. A child with mixed dominance may attempt to catch and throw with the same hand, hold a bat with a backwards grip, or stand on the opposite side of the plate when hitting.

They may also experience a moderate level of confusion, and frustration as they are unsure of how to make the two sides of their body work together leading to overall poor hand/foot-eye coordination skills.Ambidexterity or mixed dominance and what this means for kids who use both hands to complete tasks like handwriting.

For a few fun hand dominance activities, try these ideas to help kids establish a

Ambidextrous hands and eyes

If you have more questions and want to learn more on a dominant eyes and understanding how the eyes and hands work together during activities, you’ll want to check out our Visual Processing Lab.

It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers everything about visual processing, visual motor skills, and eye-hand coordination. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs and how the hands and eyes work together.  

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.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Magnetic Marble Run- Great Therapy Tool!

magnetic wall marble run

One thing occupational therapists love is using fun toys to develop skills and this magnetic marble run fits the bill. We found this Tumble Trax magnetic wall marble run and loved the ways to support fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and gross motor skills. Let’s take a better look at how to use a marble run to support development, and break down the activity analysis for this particular magnetic marble run toy.

Magnetic marble run activities for therapy

Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

How to Use a Magnetic Marble Run

Use this magnetic marble run in so many ways to work on a variety of skills. From fine motor, to core strength, to visual tracking, to crossing midline…this marble run can be so helpful.

We covered how to support skills such as visual tracking using marble runs in a different blog post but here, we hope to cover more ways to support development with a simple toy.

Because this marble run attaches to the wall using magnets, and because the magnetic marble run pieces are movable, there are so many ways to support development.

Some of these skills include gross motor development, visual motor skill development, fine motor development, and more.

Use a Magnetic Marble Run for Gross Motor Skills

Use the magnetic marble run on a vertical surface to address skill development:

  • Work on core strength by working on a vertical surface.
  • Address visual shift and upright posture by working at a plane equal or slightly above the head and line of sight.
  • Work on postural control
  • Address changes in positioning to bend, squat, and challenge different muscle groups by bending to retrieve marble run pieces and place them on the magnetic surface.
  • Work overhead to visually track and shift vision in different planes.
  • Address balance and coordination skills
  • Incorporate breathing

Use a Magnetic Marble Run for Visual Processing Skills

Move magnetic marble run pieces to target specific visual motor skills:

  • Work on visual tracking to watch the marble run through the track.
  • Address visual scanning skills to shift vision to the next area the marble will move
  • Incorporate eye-hand coordination skills
  • Address visual perceptual skills such as figure-ground, visual closure, visual discrimination, etc.
  • Address visual motor skills by copying designs using the movable track pieces, included with the Tumble Trax Magnetic Marble Run set.

Use a Marble Run for Fine Motor Skills

  • Address crossing midline to move a marble to a starting point across the midline.
  • Trace the track with fingers.
  • Pick up and manipulate the marble onto the Tumble Trax ledge.
  • Strengthen hands, including grip and pinch to manipulate and move the track pieces against the magnetic surface.

Attach it to a magnetic wall or board, garage door, and even the refrigerator. It’s a fun way to play and work on the skills kids need.

Magnetic marble run

Learning Resources Tumble Trax Magnetic Marble Run

This marble run attaches to the refrigerator or any magnetic surface for endless visual motor integration exercises. Visually tracking the marble is a skill builder for reading and writing tasks.  Kids can address the form copying skills needed for handwriting with this interactive toy.

Click here to get this magnetic marble run.

More Marble Run Activities

Check out these other marble run activities we’ve shared before:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Looking for more ways to support fine motor skills, visual motor skills, sensory challenges, and gross motor skill development? Grab one of our therapy kits to work on so many areas!

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Scanning Activities for Reading (Free Download)

visual scanning for reading

Today, we have a fun scanning activities for reading using a printable resource that supports the underlying visual skills while using a fun theme that kids engage with. Vision truly impacts learning so if we can support the areas of development that help a child thrive, we are moving in the right direction. One of the ways that occupational therapy professionals support development is through meaningful occupations, and anything fun and playful is a winner when it comes to pediatric OT!

There are many visual scanning activities that support functional participation. Here, we’re talking specifically about reading skills.

Visual Scanning and reading

The end of the school year might feel like coasting into the finish line, however it needs to be focused on meeting goals and preparing learners for summer reading. 

Learners seem to have a love/hate relationship with reading. I believe the people who hate reading struggle with this task.  Becoming a proficient reader takes a combination of skills. Beyond vision, phonics, spelling, and letter recognition, are the visual perceptual skills needed to read fluently. Today’s post is focusing on scanning activities for reading. 

Visual scanning impacts reading in many ways.

  • The child who struggles with letter reversals
  • The child who labors with reading and commonly skips words or lines of words when reading.
  • Saccadic eye movement, or visual scanning, is necessary for reading a sentence or paragraph as the eyes follow the line of words.
  • Visual scanning allows us to rapidly shift vision between two objects without overshooting as when shifting vision during reading tasks.
  • In copying written work, this skill is very necessary.
  • 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

All of these aspects of reading can be an issue because of scanning challenges.

So what’s going on here, visually?

Visual scanning is one of several visual perceptual skills. These have been highlighted in posts before, but as a reminder, they are:

  • Visual Attention: The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out unimportant background information.
  • Visual Discrimination: The ability to determine differences or similarities in objects based on size, color, shape, etc.
  • Visual Memory: The ability to recall visual traits of a form or object.
  • Visual Spatial Relationships: Understanding the relationships of objects within the environment.
  • Visual Sequential-Memory: The ability to recall a sequence of objects in the correct order.
  • Visual Figure Ground: The ability to locate something in a busy background.
  • Visual Form Constancy: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it has been made smaller/larger or has been turned around.
  • Visual Closure: The ability to recognize a form or object when part of the picture is missing

All of these areas combined make up visual perception, and is part of the bigger picture of how our eyes work functionally.

Visual perception is the ability to organize and interpret the information that is seen and give it meaning.  This is a common thread in therapy treatment, as it is the foundation for many activities addressed daily.

Visual perception is essential for reading, writing, math, self care tasks, instrumental activities of daily living, and play.

How to develop SCANNING Skills FOR READING

There are ways to support the development and accuracy of visual scanning skills.

  1. Reading Readiness Skills- When my girls were young, the summer reading list meant a chance to earn a ticket to Six Flags from the school!  It also meant a dollar per chapter book from mom and dad.  I was out $61.00 just from one kid that summer.  It was worth it. 

In preparation  we did a lot of scanning activities for reading readiness.  These included worksheets like the ones offered on the OT Toolbox, as well as games.  Amazon has their (affiliate link) visual perceptual games chunked into one search category. 

This might include using reading prompts, desired books, and short reading passages.

Other strategies include working on scanning the environment for details. Ask kids to look for items that are all one color, for example.

Another reading readiness activity that supports reading is I Spy activities like these I Spy colors game, I spy with real toys, and printable pages (Many are found in our Membership).

2. Visual Scanning Games- Some activities to develop scanning skills for reading include:

  • Tricky Fingers
  • QBitz
  • Where’s Waldo
  • Highlights Magazine
  • Spot it Games.

3. Vision Activities– Also be sure to check out these vision activities for kids to support all of the underlying skills that impact reading and learning.

Specifically, be sure to check out these visual scanning activities that cover the full gamut!

4. Take a Deeper Look at What’s Going On- When assessing for reading difficulties, once you have ruled out visual acuity issues, use a screening tool or assessment to test for visual perceptual deficits

The Motor Free Visual Perceptual Test, as well as the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills, assesses the different visual perceptual skills, broken down into different areas. 

5. Visual Scanning Exercises- The free spring weather visual scanning exercise (grab it below!) is just a sample of the larger packet offered HERE on the OT Toolbox.  

Below you’ll find a free downloadable spring visual scanning exercise you can use to support visual scanning needed for reading skills. These activities include a weather and Spring theme, but you can use them all times of year. The sun and clouds themes work for everyone!

This visual scanning exercise is a great scanning activity for reading. It relies on visual attention, discrimination, memory, visual-sequential memory, and figure ground.

For more scanning work, grab the Spring Fine Motor Packet. This 97 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. Includes Spring themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

6. Visual Perception Activities- There are several posts this month highlighting Visual Perceptual Activities for Spring. 

For some therapists, parents, and educators these will be great worksheets for spring break, on those long rides to Grandma’s house.

Others will find these PDF sheets great for a spring lesson plan. Make a great packet of pages to send home, or do during class.  You can laminate these pages to make them eco-friendly and reusable. Some people project these onto smart boards, however I personally prefer the added skills involved in writing on paper.  However you choose to motivate your learners is the key to success.

DATA COLLECTION during scanning activities

Scanning activities for reading readiness are great for data collection. It is easy to measure the number of correct/incorrect guesses.

Of course it gets tricky when other factors such as impulsivity, attention, and compliance skew the data. Be sure to document these aspects of scanning that impacts reading skills as a functional task:

  • Document the number of errors, while adding narrative about the learner’s behavior. 
  • Provide several different types of visual perceptual tasks to try and determine which specific skills (or combination) are deficient.  This way your treatment can be more efficient, if you can hone in on one or two skill areas, such as visual memory, or scanning. 

DOCUMENTATION of Scanning tasks to support reading

  • Does your learner scan in sequential order, or all over the page?
  • Are items completely missed when scanning?
  • Is your learner taking their time, or making random guesses?
  • Does your learner thoroughly look at all the choices before giving an answer?

Some of these questions are not easy to answer. Continue to provide different types of exercises in order to measure progress. 

Progress is often the answer we seek, rather than “why do they do that?”  Often doctors do not know the why, but have to try different things until they find something that works. 

Use spring break (if you are lucky enough to have one) to rest and recharge for all of the fun spring activities that can be added to your treatment plans and OT Toolbox!

Free scanning activity Download to support reading skills

Want to add this printable tool to your therapy toolbox?

Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

Join the Member’s Club today!

FREE Visual Scanning for Reading Exercise

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    Visual Tracking Games

    toys for visual tracking

    Visual Tracking is an important part of everything we do and visual tracking games can be a valuable resource to improving visual tracking skills! For tasks such as reading and writing, however, the ability to track visually across a line of written text is essential for reading and fluency in reading.

    When kids read across a line of text in a book, they are using visual tracking skills to follow the line from word to work. When they follow a finger along lines in a book they are using visual tracking skills. When they shift their vision from one point to another, they use a combination of visual scanning and visual tracking skills. Visual tracking is a multi-faceted topic and you can read more about visual tracking and all that it entails in functional tasks here on the website.

    These visual tracking games will be a useful tool in helping kids with visual tracking needs to read, write, visually scan and complete other visual motor tasks, using fun tracking games and visual tools that kids will love to use in occupational therapy activities or as part of a therapy home program for visual tracking!
     

    Visual Tracking Games and Visual Tracking Activities for Kids

    So when visual tracking is such an important part of function and skills, how do you address this skill area? There are adaptations that can be put into place to help, such as prompting, cues, physical assists, and other tools. One way to work on visual tracking needed for functional tasks is to use visual tracking games in play and activities.

    Visual tracking games and activities can be a valuable asset for increasing this skill area in kids with visual tracking skill deficits or needs.

    Read on to find out more about visual tracking games and activities that may help  kids improve their visual tracking skills.

    But first,

    What does a Visual Tracking Problem Look Like?

    The games and activities listed below are important for kids who struggle with tracking of words and letters when reading, writing, or completing math. Visual Tracking problems may also present as difficulty with sports or coordination. Visual tracking may be evident in learning. There are many ways that a visual tracking concern can become evident. If one of these areas or functional abilities is a problem for your child, student, or client, then a visual screening can be very useful in identifying specific needs.

    Need help addressing visual problems in the classroom? Here are classroom accommodations for visual impairments

    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 access 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.
     
     
     

    Visual Tracking Games for Kids

    Kids can play visual tracking games that are free or are fun games out on the market to address this skill area and improve visual tracking skills so that reading and writing are easier.

    Try some of these fun visual tracking games to help kids improve their visual tracking skills and they won’t even know they are “working”!

    Amazon affiliate links are included below.

    Badminton Game – Physical games and gross motor games like this one can help promote visual tracking across all visual fields including peripheral and in all directions (horizontal, vertical, circular, and diagonal).

    Pop and Catch Game – Combining fine motor skills like this Pop and Catch game can bring the target close to the body to challenge convergence in kids with visual tracking needs in a visual tracking activity that the whole family can enjoy.  

    Velcro Ball and Mitt – This visual tracking game combines gross motor and sensory components with resistive work that kids can use to challenge upper body strength while playing. Follow the target ball as it sails toward and away to challenge convergence of the eyes. This activity can easily be modified to meet various needs by using a brightly colored ball or moving closer or farther away. is a game kids can play indoors or outdoors while working on their visual tracking skills.

    Scoop ball -Try to scoop the ball while moving, while seated or while in a variety of positions and planes to add a graded component to this visual tracking game.

    Wham-O Track Ball -This classic visual tracking game is traditionally an outdoor lawn game for kids or adults, but it makes an awesome visual tracking game! When kids struggle with visual tracking skills, they can benefit from watching a moving target and challenges in visual tracking across various fields of vision. Play this visual tracking game indoors or outdoors. Why not add a prone component by playing while crawling or laying on the floor or while on a scooter board?

    Light Up Bouncy Ball – While any ball could potentially be used as a visual tracking tool, this light up ball can be used in a dark room or at night for a visual tracking game that kids can’t resist! Play a slow rolling game of catch or try to invoke spontaneous visual tracking skills by bouncing the ball against a wall in a darkened room. What fun!

    Glow in the Dark Ring Toss – This is another glow in the dark game that kids can play in a darkened space. The room doesn’t need to be completely dark to encourage visual tracking with this glowing game. Just close the blinds or play at night with a low light on and the glowing visual tracking can still happen! Ask the child to watch as the ring is tossed away from them. They child can also position themselves on the sidelines when they are waiting for their turn while others play, allowing for visual tracking across planes.

    Zoom Ball – This is a great therapy tool because the child can control and feel when the moving target is moving toward them and away from them. Zoom ball is a visual tracking tool that requires convergence as the child watches the target move between them and another player.

    Rocket Launch – There are many rocket launch toys on the market and any would work as a visual tracking tool. But this one is nice because it has the ability to change the angle so the rocket can be sent higher or at different angles. Kids can watch the brightly colored rocket as it sails through the air into unpredictable tracks and various fields of vision, including the peripheral.

    Slingshot Creatures – These fun creatures can be sent at targets or at any plane as a visual tracking tool. Kids will love shooting these creatures or watching them sail across the room!

    Parachute Toy – Parachute toys, flying discs, and other flying target toys are great for addressing visual tracking skills. Kids can toss them up or watch as they drop while following the target. This set includes lots of fun extras!

    Glowing Finger Slingshots – Flinger slingshots are a fun tool for targeting visual tracking skills. This visual tracking activity is one kids will love to engage with! Try them in a darkened room to encourage visual tracking as the glowing toy flies across the room!

    Flying slingshot copter – This is another slingshot activity that kids can shoot themselves while visual tracking as the target soars. Play indoors or outdoors. Visual tracking tools like this are motivating and a fun addition to goody bags or as a small gift idea.

    Handheld helicopter drone – This indoor or outdoor drone is a nice visual tracking tool that kids will love to send up and watch as it soars.  

    Need a resource to address visual tracking or need to know where to start with identifying visual tracking concerns?

    The Visual Tracking Screening Tool can help therapists screen for and identify visual problems that interfere with visual tracking, convergence, and other visual skills.

    Visual Tracking Tips and Tools for Treatment

    Here we are covering all things visual tracking, including what visual tracking means, how to improve visual tracking skills, and visual tracking toys to support development of this visual processing skill.

    Visual Tracking toys and tools to improve visual fixation, visual tracking, visual saccades, in handwriting, reading, and so many functional daily tasks and skills in kids.

    What is Visual Tracking

    Visual tracking is typically defined as the ability to efficiently move the eyes from left to right (or right to left, up and down, and circular motions) OR focusing on an object as it moves across a person’s visual field.

    This skill is important for almost all daily activities, including reading, writing, cutting with scissors, drawing, and playing.  According to typical development of visual processing, the ability to visually track objects emerges in children around the age of five.  

    Reading a paragraph without losing their place, copying a list of homework from the chalkboard, misalignment of vertical and horizontal numbers in math problems, confusion in interpreting written direction, mixing up left/right, persistent letter reversals…Does any of this sound familiar? It’s all visual tracking!  

    Vision and visual tracking are tasks that happen without us even realizing.  The brain and it’s jobs is an amazing thing and our eyes are moving, tracking, scanning, focusing, pursuing, and accommodating without us even realizing.     There are many ways to work on visual perception in playful and creative ways.  

    visual tracking exercises

    Visual Tracking Exercises

    Using visual tracking exercises like the one described below can be a powerful way to use eye exercises to improve vision in kids. These are the visual skills needed not for visual acuity, but rather, those unseen visual problems that impact visual processing skills.

    Visual tracking exercises can include vision therapy activities that improve areas such as visual saccades or smooth visual pursuit.

    Difficulties in Visual Tracking

    You might see problems with these tasks if a child has difficulty with visual tracking:

    • Losing place when reading.  Re-reads or skips words or lines.  
    • Omits, substitutes, repeats, or confuses similar words when reading.
    • 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 slat, up or down hill, spacing letters and words irregularly.
    • Confusion with left/right directions.
    • Persistent reversals of letters (b, d, p, q) when naming letters.
    • Reverses letters when writing (persistent reversals after 2nd grade.)
    • Errors when copying from a chalkboard or book to paper.
    • Misalignment of horizontal and vertical series’ of numbers in math problems.

    Also related to visual tracking and very similar while being involved in many of these problem areas, is visual scanning.  

    It is important to note that not all of these difficulties indicate a true visual tracking and or visual scanning problem.  For example, many children demonstrate poor reading comprehension and may show a short attention span while not having visual scanning problems.  

    All children should be evaluated by a pediatric physician, behavioral optometrist, and occupational therapist to determine true visual processing and visual tracking or visual scanning deficits.  These recommendations are meant to be a resource.    

    Visual Tracking toys and tools to improve visual fixation, visual tracking, visual saccades, in handwriting, reading, and so many functional daily tasks and skills in kids.

    Visual Tracking Activities

    Today, I’m sharing an easy visual tracking activity that will help kids with many functional difficulties.  This post is part of our new series where we are sharing 31 days of Occupational Therapy using mostly free or inexpensive materials.

    Today’s activity should cost you at most $2 unless you already have these items in your craft cupboard or office supplies.  Add this activity to your treatment bag for multiple activities.  Read on:

    Amazon affiliate links below.

    This Visual tracking activity is easy to set up.  Gather recycled bottle caps.  I used round dot labels from our office supplies to color the inside of each cap.  You could also use a marker or paint to color the bottle caps.  Use what you’ve got on hand to make this treatment activity free or almost free!   Next, gather matching crafting pom poms.  These can be found at the dollar store for and inexpensive treatment item.    

    visual tracking activities

    Skills Related to Visual Tracking

    It’s important to mention that there are several skills related to visual tracking. These sub-areas should be identified as a piece of the overall puzzle. Areas related to visual tracking play a role in the eyes ability to fixate on an object and follow it as it moves. These skills include:

    • Visual fixation
    • Peripheral tracking
    • Visual pursuit

    Visual Fixation Activity: (Maintaining vision on an item in the visual field) Work one eye at a time.  

    1. Have your child close one eye and place a colored crafting pom pom onto a matching bottle cap.  They need to use one hand to place the pom pom into the corresponding bottle cap and not move bottle caps around on the table.
    2. After the child has filled all of the bottle caps using one eye, repeat the task with the other eye.  
    3. Then complete the activity using both eyes.    
    4. You can also do this activity by placing the label dots on a paper. Match the bottle caps onto the dots. 

    Visual Stare Activity (the amount of time the eyes can fixate on an object without eye movements)

    1. Hold up one bottle cap on your nose.
    2. Ask your child to sit about 18 inches from you and stare at the bottle cap.  Note their eye movements as they stare.  
    3. Keep track of time that the child can stare at the target without visual saccades (eye movements).

    Peripheral Tracking Activity (visually tracking from the peripheral visual fields)

    1. Arrange the bottle caps on the table.  
    2. Place a pom pom in the center of the table, with the bottle caps all around it.  
    3. Ask your child to stare at the pom pom. While keeping their head still and only moving their eyes, ask them to quickly find a bottle cap with the same color.  
    4. Ask them to scan to another bottle cap of the same color until they’ve found all of the caps with that color.  
    5. You can add a level to this task by writing letters or numbers in the bottle caps and asking the child to find letters in order or numbers in order.

    Visual Tracking Pursuit Activity (watching and tracking a moving object)

    1. Set one bottle cap on the right side of the table.  
    2. Place another at the left side.  
    3. The adult should blow a crafting pom pom from the right to the left and ask the child to follow the pom with his eyes, without moving their head.
    4. Repeat by blowing the pom pom from the left to the right, front to back, and back to front in front of the child.

    Visual Tracking Tracing Lines (Watching a pencil line as it is formed, and following the line with eye-hand coordination to trace with a pencil or marker)

    1. Set one vertical row of bottle cap on the left side of the child.  
    2. Place another vertical row on the right side.
    3. The adult should draw a line from one bottle cap on the left side to a matching bottle cap on the right side.  
    4. Instruct the child to follow the pencil as you draw.  Nest, trace the line with your finger.  
    5. Ask the child to trace the line with their finger.  
    6. They can then trace the lines with a pencil or marker.
    Visual Tracking toys and tools to improve visual fixation, visual tracking, visual saccades, in handwriting, reading, and so many functional daily tasks and skills in kids.

    Mor eye tracking Strategies

    • Complete mazes
    • Do puzzles.
    • Use a newspaper or magazine article.  Ask your child to highlight all of the letter “a’s”.
    • Draw or paint pictures.
    • Place a marble in a pie pan.  Rotate the pan around and watch the ball as it rolls. Don’t move your head, only your eyes!
    • Find as many things shaped like a a square in the room.  Repeat the activity, finding all of the circular shaped items in the room.
    • Play “I Spy.”
    • Dot-to-dot pictures.
    • Play balloon toss.
    • Use tracing paper to trace and color pictures.
    • Trace letters with chalk.
    • Play flashlight tag on walls and ceilings. The adult an child each holds a flashlight. As the adult shines the light on walls, the child keeps their light superimposed on top of yours. Start with simple strait lines.  Then add curved lines, then a circle.  Tell them what you are drawing next.  Advance the activity by drawing shapes without telling them what you are doing next.
    • Play with wind-up cars.
    • Create a race track on the floor. Follow cars with your eyes.
    • Roll a ball between you and the child.  Roll from left-right, right-left, front-back, back-front, and toss the ball.

    Visual Tracking toys and tools to improve visual fixation, visual tracking, visual saccades, in handwriting, reading, and so many functional daily tasks and skills in kids.

    Visual tracking Toys

    Looking for more tools to improve visual tracking?  The toys below are great for improving visual tracking and visual scanning in fun ways.  These toys, games, and ideas may be a great gift idea for little ones who have visual perceptual difficulties or problems with visual tracking and handwriting, body awareness in space, letter reversals, detail awareness, or maintaining place while reading.  

    SO, save these ideas for grandparents and friends who might ask for gift ideas for birthdays and holidays.  These are some powerhouse visual tracking ideas!

    Use Pattern Blocks and Boards to work on visual fixation of shapes and sizes of shapes. 

    This Wooden Tangram Puzzle has many different shapes and forms that can be copied from instructions. Copying from a diagram is a great way to practice visual tracking.

    For younger kids, this Wooden Stacking Toy encourages tracking for color sorting.  Try some of our pom pom activities that we discussed above!

    Mazes are excellent for fostering and building on visual tracking skills. Particularly those that involve a moving ball such as a Marble Run
    or a labrynth.

    Watching a ball or moving object that is thrown around a room (like a balloon) is a great way to work on tracking in a big area. These Sportime Sensory Balls SloMo Balls are lightweight and move more slowly than a typical ball, allowing kids to visually track the bright color. These are very cool for games of toss and rolling in all planes and directions. Use them to address peripheral tracking as well. 


    A flashlight can be used in so many visual tracking activities. Shine the light on words or letters taped to walls. Play “I Spy” in a dark room, shine shapes like this flashlight can for visual tracking and form tracking.

    More visual Tracking Toys

    Also check out these other top occupational therapy toys:

    1. Fine Motor Toys 
    2. Gross Motor Toys 
    3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
    4. Toys for Reluctant Writers 
    5. Toys for Spatial Awareness 
    6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
    7. Toys for Sensory Play 
    8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
    9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
    10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
    11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
    12. Toys for Attention and Focus 
    Visual Tracking toys and tools to improve visual fixation, visual tracking, visual saccades, in handwriting, reading, and so many functional daily tasks and skills in kids.

    Spatial Awareness Toys and Activities

    spatial awareness toys

    For kids that struggle with body awareness, position-in-space, and overall spatial understanding, spatial awareness toys are fun ways to develop a specific set of skills that impact function of every day tasks. Want to help kids become more aware of their body position, the space that they need to function, write, and perform tasks through play? Here we are talking spatial awareness toys!

    Let’s talk toys to support spatial awareness skills.

    Spatial awareness toys and spatial awareness games to develop visual spatial skills.

    Spatial Awareness Toys

    In this post, we’ll cover a few different things:

    • Spatial Awareness Definition
    • Spatial awareness activities
    • An easy spatial awareness tool for handwriting
    • Spatial awareness toys

    Kids are often motivated by play as a means to support development of skills. When games and toys develop skills in which they struggle, it can be meaningful and engaging for the child. They may not even realize they are developing those skill areas through play. Before we get to the toy ideas, let’s go over spatial awareness in more detail.

    Spatial Awareness Definition

    First, let’s cover the definition of spatial awareness. You might be thinking…ok, I know a child who might be having issues with awareness of space during functional tasks… But exactly what is spatial awareness?

    The definition of Spatial Awareness is being aware of oneself in space. Incorporating body awareness, visual spatial skills, and orientation, spatial awareness involves positioning oneself and/or functional items (pencil, a ball, a bag of groceries, etc.) in relation to oneself and the world around.

    Spatial awareness means several things:

    • Awareness of spatial concepts can look like reaching for items without overshooting or missing the object.
    • It can mean use of a map to navigate streets or a new middle school.
    • It can incorporate spacing between letters and words in handwriting.
    • It can mean navigating a crowded hallway while carrying a backpack and a stack of papers.

    Being able to reason about the space around us, and how to manipulate objects in space, is a critical part of everyday life and everyday functional tasks. This specific skill allows us to safely cross a street, fold clothing, load the dishwasher, place objects in a locker, put together a piece of “some assembly required” furniture, and other functional cognitive tasks. And these skills are especially important for educational success in particular handwriting tasks, math, STEM, and science.

    Most of us realize as we walk through a doorway that we need to space ourselves through the middle of the door.  Those with poor visual spatial skills may walk to closely to the sides and bump the wall.

    Visual-spatial skills are used when a middle school or high school student uses a map to navigate a new school. Orienting yourself on the map and then relating that to the real world to make turns, movements in a large space takes a complex set of skills guided by visual spatial relations.

    Spatial awareness skills also involve the fine motor tasks of coordinating handwriting with writing in spaces allowed on paper, placing letters within an area (lines), and forming letters in the correct direction.  

    So what is spatial awareness? Let’s break it down even further…

    Spatial awareness and spatial perception

    Spatial Awareness can be broken into three areas, specifically related to spatial perception: position in space, depth perception, and topographical orientation.

    1. Position in Space– where an object is in space in relation to yourself and others. This skill includes awareness of the way an object is oriented or turned.  It is an important concept in directional language such as in, out, up, down, in front of, behind, between, left, and right. Children with problems with this skill area will demonstrate difficulty planning actions in relation to objects around them.  They may write letter reversals after second grade.  They typically show problems with spacing letters and words on a paper.  
    2. Depth Perception– Distances between a person and objects.  This ability helps us move in space. Grasping for a ball requires realizing where the ball is in relation to ourselves.  Kids with deficits in this area may have trouble catching a ball or walking/running/jumping over an obstacle. Copying words from a vertical plane onto a horizontal plane may be difficult and they will have trouble copying from a blackboard. 
    3. Topographical Orientation– Location of objects in an environment, including obstacles and execution of travel in an area.  Kids with difficulties in this area may become lost easily or have difficulties finding their classroom after a bathroom break.

    Visual Spatial Skills develop from an awareness of movements of the body.  If a child has true visual spatial skills, they will likely demonstrate difficulties with athletic performance, coordination, and balance.  They may appear clumsy, reverse letters and numbers in handwriting, and may tend to write from right to left across a page.  They will have difficulty placing letters on lines, forming letters correctly, and forming letters with appropriate size.   

    When kids struggle with the ability to perceive where they are in space…when children are challenged to identify how much room they need to navigate the world around them…These are all examples of spatial awareness skills.

    What is spatial awareness and how does it relate to handwriting

    Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting.
    Letter size and use of margins also fall under the term “spatial awareness”. Use these spacing tool ideas to support spatial awareness in handwriting.
    What is spatial awareness?  Tips and tools for handwriting, reading, scissors, and all functional skills in kids and adults, from an Occupational Therapist.
    Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting.
    You can use a spacing tool to support spatial awareness skills in kids.

    visual spatial relations activities

    Addressing spatial awareness can occur with a handwriting spacing tool like the one we made, but other spacing activities can help with visual spatial relations, too. Try some of these activities:

    • Create an obstacle course using couch cushions, chairs, blankets, pillows, and other items in the house.
    • Try this activity for teaching over, under, around, and through with pretend play.
    • Create a paper obstacle course.  Draw obstacles on paper and have your child make his /her pencil go through the obstacles.  Draw circles, holes, mud pits, and mountains for them to draw lines as their pencil “climbs”, “jumps”, “rolls”, and even erases!
    • Write words and letters on graph paper.  The lines will work as a guide and also a good spacing activity.
    • Use stickers placed along the right margin of  to cue the student that they are nearing the edge of paper when writing.  
    • Highlight writing lines on worksheets.
    • Draw boxes for words on worksheets for them to write within.
    • Play Simon Says
    • Practice directions.  Draw arrows on a paper pointing up, down, left, and right.  Ask your child to point to the direction the arrow is pointing.  Then have them say the direction the arrows are pointing.  Then create actions for each arrow.  Up may be jumping. Down may be squatting. The Left arrow might be side sliding to the left, and the Right arrow might be a right high kick. Next, draw more rows of arrows in random order.  Ask your child to go through the motions and try to go faster and faster.

    spatial awareness Activities  

    For more multisensory learning and hands-on play incorporating the development of spatial awareness skills, visit these blog posts:

    Spatial Awareness Toys

    This post contains affiliate links.

    Looking for more tools to improve visual spatial awareness?  The toy ideas below are great for improving visual tracking and visual scanning in fun ways.  These toys, games, and ideas may be a great gift idea for little ones who have visual perceptual difficulties or problems with spacing and handwriting, body awareness in space, letter reversals, detail awareness, or maintaining place while reading.  

    SO, save these ideas for grandparents and friends who might ask for gift ideas for birthdays and holidays.  These are some powerhouse spatial awareness ideas!

    Spatial awareness toys and spatial awareness games for kids

    Practice spatial awareness with this Pull The String Board Game
    threading toy. Kids can use a unique pen to create lined designs and come away with a project they made on their own…while working on spacing. 

      When working on spatial awareness in handwriting, kids can count the number of holes in the pegboard in this Quercetti Tecno Building Toy. Copy instructions to build 3D structures while working on spacing of pieces and awareness of details in this fun engineering toy. 

    Mini erasers as a spacing tool. Kids can write while keeping the small eraser on their desk. When they space out words, use the eraser as a measuring tool, just like our button buddy. You can also encourage them to finish their writing task and then go back and check over their work for spatial concepts with the eraser. 

    Practice spatial awareness of the edges of the page by using a Clear Rulers. Kids can place the ruler along the edge of the paper to know when to stop writing and to use as a visual cue. Sometimes kids try to squish a word in at the end of a line when there is not enough room. Line the ruler up along the edge and as they write, they can see that they are nearing the edge of the paper.     

    Use a highlighter to draw dots between each word, to provide a visual cue for spacing between words. You can also draw a line along the edge of the paper for a visual cue that the child is nearing the edge of the paper. 

    Wooden Building Blocks Sets are powerful ways to support spatial awareness development.

    Spatial Awareness Games

    One study found that children who play frequently with puzzles, construction, and board games tend to have better spatial reasoning ability. 

    To get the whole family in on a spatial reasoning game while working on placement of pieces, try IQ Twist for a game of logic as you place pieces in this puzzle.

    This related IQ Arrows game develops spatial relations but is great for adding to an occupational therapy bag. Use the arrows in play dough to work on directionality with heavy work through the hands. Make mini fine motor obstacle courses and other spatial relations activities on a smaller scale.

    Kanoodle works on pattern recognition, spatial reasoning, and is a great way to practice spacing needed in handwriting.   

    A toy like a geoboard allows a child to copy forms while counting out spaces of pegs. Try these Geoboards.

    Here are more spatial awareness games and specifically spatial reasoning games:

    Toys for Body in Space Awareness

    These toys specifically address body awareness and directional awareness to help with overall spatial awareness development. Position in space impacts functioning in daily tasks at home and in the community. This plays a part in social emotional development and overall confidence as well. When a child feels confident in their body in space awareness, they can navigate the world around them with ease.

    And, in regards to handwriting, sometimes, spacing problems on paper have to do with difficulties with directional awareness.

    Use Arrows to start at the basics and practice naming left/write/top/bottom. Use them in whole-body movement activities where the child copies motions based on the arrow placement. Watch to make sure kids are not over stepping their allotted space. 

    Use Wikki Stix for spacing on paper with physical cues for margins and spacing. Use the wikki sticks to space between words and a “ball” of the wikki stick to space between words.

    Position in Space Toys

    What is spatial awareness? Use these activity suggestions from an occupational therapist.

    More Occupational Therapy Toys

    1. Fine Motor Toys 
    2. Gross Motor Toys 
    3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
    4. Toys for Reluctant Writers 
    5. Toys for Spatial Awareness 
    6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
    7. Toys for Sensory Play 
    8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
    9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
    10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
    11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
    12. Toys for Attention and Focus

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    How to Use Visual Reward Charts

    Visual reward chart ideas for visual schedules

    Visual reward charts are a powerful tool in helping kids accomplish tasks like potty training, tying shoes, chores, or other tasks, and can be used in conjunction with visual schedules. The use of this hands-on visual schedule can be effective in building intrinsic motivation and even executive functioning skills. Here, we’ll take a better look at visual reward charts, how to create one, and other tips for visual schedules with an identified reward.

    Use visual reward charts in visual schedules.

    In OT, we talk about personal motivators as a therapeutic intervention. We ask our clients what they want to work on as their therapy. We take what is important to them and strive to accomplish personal goals. Visual reward charts that use personal goals as an end result is very much aligned with occupational therapy. A visual reward chart can be a great motivator when integrating a personal goal with therapeutic interventions (or working on specific tasks at home, like chores, making the bed, potty training, or other tasks).

    Visual Reward Charts

    I discovered early on in my occupational therapy journey that positive reinforcement and visual reinforcement were powerful ways to shape behaviors and to achieve goals. When I become a mom I found that rewarding targeted behaviors also worked incredibly well with my own children.

    This tool really appealed to me because I am a visual, goal-orientated person. I love to make lists and tick off the tasks that I have completed and I have the habit of putting a star or smiley face on my calendar when I make it to gym and manage to squeeze a workout into my day.

    I gain a sense of achievement when I look back over the month and see the stars dotted throughout the weeks. I am also motivated to try harder when I look back at the month and there are not that many smiley faces staring back at me!

    Reward charts can be highly motivating and very helpful in establishing specific behaviours and reinforcing necessary habits. But reward charts have also received a fair amount of criticism from those who are concerned that children will expect to receive a reward at every turn. The worry that children will become completely reward-focused has been followed up with research on extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation in the early years of development.

    While it is clear that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators are necessary in shaping children’s willingness to learn the role of reward charts remains under review.

    Why Visual Reward Charts?

    Visual reward charts build intrinsic motivation. In my experience each child I work with is completely unique. Some children are self-driven and easy to motivate and reward charts aren’t necessary. Some children are inspired by working towards a goal and visually tracking their progress. In these cases reward charts have been an absolute hit.

    Develop executive functioning skills– Visual schedules that offer a personal goal or reward at the completion can be an effective way to shape a child’s actions in a given situation. Visual reward charts can provide a clear outline of the steps toward a goal that the child wants to accomplish. This can be a powerful tool in addressing initiation, task completion, and other executive functioning skills.

    Visual schedules improve functioning- You’ve probably seen potty schedule reward charts, chore charts, reading reward charts, or savings charts (kids save up their money in order to purchase a wanted item). All of these visual charts use the concept of a visual schedule; Complete tasks for a certain period of time and at the end a benefit is gained. The benefit is personal autonomy.

    There are many forms of reward charts that work to a functional goal:

    • Potty training chart
    • Chore charts
    • Reading reward chart
    • Math facts reward chart
    • Money savings chart
    • Tying shoes chart
    • Brushing teeth chart

    Visual prompts are helpful in teaching the steps of toothbrushing.

    Visual schedules can help with toilet training.

    Schedules can get kids organized an on time for morning routines.

    Visual charts offer a picture so children can “see” their progress– Working on a task can be abstract, especially for those with communication challenges. Visual chart that show time spent completing each therapy item, first-then charts, and visual schedules for autism or other neurodiverse individuals that need a visual breakdown of where they are in accomplishing a specific task.

    Visual reward charts offer multisensory feedback- When children accomplish a portion of a task or complete a job in an activity (such as completing each activity of the therapy session, practicing handwriting for a certain number of trials, or performing steps of a task like potty training, they can move velcro image pieces to a visual chart, place stickers on a reward chart, or mark off that they completed those trials. That physical movement, plus the visual component, plus possible auditory feedback (Good Job!) offers positive reinforcement with multisensory feedback to the child. They will be motivated to continue and feel a sense of pride for moving the needle toward their goal.

    How to Set up a Visual Reward Chart

    There are strategies that impact how successful a reward chart is when it comes to achieving personal goals.

    • The reward chart must be simple and specific. To really gain the benefit of a reward chart you need to engage the child in the process of drawing up the chart.
    • The targeted task needs to be specified and not unrealistic for the child to achieve. The performance tasks should be discussed with the child and the child needs to understand why they are important for them to complete the activity. Explaining why the behavior is important makes the chart more meaningful for the child.
    • Only target one action or behavior at a time and focus on tasks that will have a positive impact on the child and family’s well-being.
    • Once the child has a clear understanding of what is expected of them, create a visual reminder of what that task is. Take a photograph of them performing the activity or draw a picture of it.
    • For older children’s description can be written on the chart.
    • Next decide on the number of times the action needs to be performed in order for them to receive a reward. Keep the number low for younger children and children who are new to reward charts. Expecting them to complete an activity 40 or 50 times before receiving a reward is unrealistic. Chances are they will give up long before they reach their goal.
    • Then decide on the reward. Most children have an idea of something they would like to work towards and this should be mutually agreed upon at the beginning of the exercise. A few of my children have said ‘surprise me’ and the added anticipation of not knowing their reward has been motivating for them.
    • When deciding on a reward make sure that it’s realistic and in keeping with the task. No trips to Disneyland for brushing your teeth. I try and avoid rewarding with sweets so that I don’t encourage a dependence on unhealthy food. Every child is unique but if you connect with the child you will find the right thing to get them working towards completing their chart.
    • Place the chart somewhere that is visible to the child and you are ready to go.
    • Make sure that you mark the chart as soon as the targeted behaviour is performed. Children become despondent if they have done their part and they have to wait three days to their action to be acknowledged.
    • Next be involved as the child completes the chart and focus on providing positive comments about the targeted behaviour they are performing.

    When the chart is complete tell them how proud you are of their efforts and make a fuss of the fact they have worked towards achieving their goal. It is important that don’t become reliant on rewards and but focusing on the process they went through. Then, you can shift some of that extrinsic motivation to an awareness of how capable they are.

    For other ideas on how to use positive reinforcement in conjunction with reward charts have a look at this resource.

    A reward chart in action

    The reward charts that I use are usually tailor made for the child and specific behaviour we are working towards. As I have already mentioned it’s important to keep the reward chart simple and specific.

    A recent example of a chart I developed was to encourage a young four year old to get dressed in the morning. We established that he was capable of putting on his underwear, shorts and shirt but was really not interested in dressing himself each morning.

    I took a photograph of him in his clothes and we stuck it on a page. This provided a clear simple visual of the outcome we were working towards.

    We drew ten circles on the page and agreed that when he woke up and dressed himself in the morning he could color in a circle. This number of circles seemed attainable to the child. Remember that a visual chart with hundreds of blocks on it can be daunting.

    We spoke about the fact that once all the circles were colored in he would have dressed himself independently ten times. Here we were focusing more on the process that the reward chart would be encouraging.

    He loves dinosaurs and when we discussed a reward he asked if he could receive a dinosaur T-shirt when all of the circles were colored in. This seemed like a relevant reward given the task he was completing! We stuck a small picture of a dinosaur at the bottom of the page so he could remember the goal he was working towards. And that was his reward chart.

    He was very excited about his chart and managed to complete the chart in eleven days. He woke up in the mornings and apart from one morning that he was feeling quite grumpy he dressed himself independently! His mom made a big deal of how proud she was and how grown up he was that he had dressed himself so well. She made a show of sending a message to his grandparents to tell them about his accomplishment as well. And she bought him a dinosaur shirt which is a firm favorite of his. What a cool reminder of what he is capable of!

    In this case the reward chart worked well. It was presented in a positive way and the child was fully immersed in the process. Adjusting the reward chart according to the child’s age, interest and goal will go a long way towards helping them establish good habits.

    Main points to remember about visual reward charts

    • Engage the child in the process
    • Target a specific behaviour
    • Have a visual representation of the behaviour
    • Decide on an appropriate number of repetitions of the behaviour
    • Decide what the reward is
    • Place the chart in a visible spot
    • Mark the chart as soon as the behaviour is performed
    • Praise the child’s efforts
    • Provide them with the reward when the chart is completed

    Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.