What is Visual Memory?

what is visual memory

Have you seen visual perceptual terms like Visual Memory and wondered, exactly What Is Visual Memory?  Today we’re sharing how to use our dyed lollipop sticks in a few eye-hand coordination activities including visual memory, and explaining what this term means to development of handwriting, reading, and functional tasks.

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What is visual memory

What is Visual Memory?

Visual Memory is one part of a large arena known as visual perceptual skills. Visual memory focuses on one’s ability to recall visual information that has been seen.  Visual memory is a critical factor in reading and writing.  

When a child is writing a word, he must recall the formation of parts of the letter from memory.  It can be terribly frustrating for one with a visual memory deficit to perform a handwriting, spelling, or word copying exercise.  

Children with difficulty in visual memory will have trouble copying letters, words, and sentences from a chalkboard or book.  They may present with very slow handwriting, trouble forming letters, and mixing up letters or words within sentences.  

Producing written work on worksheets and tests may be difficult.  Recalling sight words in reading exercises can be hard as well as following along in a reading activity during stop and start tasks, due to comprehension and difficulty recalling what was read.  Kids with visual memory deficits can demonstrate difficulty with formation of letters and numbers and appear “lazy” in their written work.

what is visual memory
visual memory activity with shape building

Visual Memory Shape Building Activity

We used our dyed lollipop sticks to build shapes.  Make a shape example and have your child copy the form.  You can grade the activity as more difficult by removing the example and having the child build the shape using their “mind’s eye”.  

Assistance can be provided by giving visual or verbal prompts to assist with building simple shapes.  Further extend this visual memory activity by engaging colors and building the shapes with all one color.  

Then introduce shape forms with patterning or random colors.  Once the child demonstrates succeeds with shape copying, encourage letter and number building using the lollipop sticks.  

This simple activity can be extended in so many ways to help work on visual memory!

We did a few shape copying activities as well.  Little Sister had fun creating a neighborhood of houses using our colored lollipop sticks.  

Visual Memory Activities to help with Visual Memory Deficits:

  • Memory Games (affiliate link)
    games or Concentration games (affiliate link)
  • I Spy games and books (affiliate links)
  • Encourage the child to recall the items to be found using visual memory.
  • Form copying games, such as Pixy Cubes (affiliate link)
    Shape sequencing games, like Mental Blox (affiliate link)
  • Place a tray of items in front of the child.  Allow them 30 seconds to memorize all of the items.  Cover the tray with a piece of paper.  Ask the child to recall as many items as they can.  Another version to this game is removing one or more items and asking the child to recall the missing items.

 As always, use your best judgement with your kids.  All activities that we document on this blog are supervised.  The information on this website should not be used as medical advise.  Please contact a therapist for an individualized evaluation if therapeutic advise is needed.

Visual Memory Definition

Visual memory can be defined as the ability to both store and recall visual information, and then retrieve that information for later use.

Visual input such as images, shapes, colors, designs, and patterns contain attributes that allow us to discriminate differences between items in the world around us.

This is important because we can utilize those visual attributes to identify objects and understand information during functional tasks that we complete day in and day out.

Visual memory also refers to the ability to remember what you have seen in the past and to use that information in the present or future. This involves working memory, which is an executive functioning skill and involves more advanced cognitive processes in order to pull information from the “files” in the brain to utilize visual information in a different setting or at another time.

For example, if a child is shown a picture of a pencil, they use their visual memory to remember what a pencil looks like, so they can recognize a pencil the next time they see one.

This is a remedial example, but can be expanded on for practically every aspect of daily activities.

Consider the role that recalling previously seen and understood visual information plays in the following areas:

  • Learning- Visual recall of information, seeing previously learned information, visual reasoning and problem solving, etc.
  • Safety- Seeing how the dials on the stove are placed to cook and turned off ater finishing the cooking task, seeing the door knob of the house is locked, visualizing steps to walk up or down, etc.
  • Driving- recognizing roads, traffic patterns, and even the buttons that operate the vehicle
  • Community access- Getting around in the neighborhood, recognizing traffic patterns and safety signals to cross the road, going to appointments, etc.
  • Daily self-care tasks- Recognizing clothing, seeing patterns and colors to match clothing, visualizing items needed to get dressed or bathe, etc.
  • Taking medicine- Visualizing and recalling medicine bottles, seeing colors of pills, or knowing if one medicine was taken but not the other, etc.
  • Taking care of others- Visual memory implications might include safety, care, and every aspect of caring for others
  • Reading- Knowing where you stopped reading, not re-reading a passage over and over again, identifying letters, words, etc.
  • Writing- Visual memory plays a role in writing including letter formation, number formation, and placement of letters and words on a page.
  • Math- Visual information includes understanding and knowing numbers, symbols, patterns, equations, math facts, etc. by sight.
  • Every other aspect of functional performance!

Playing a role in the visual memory and specifically the input, storage, and retrieval of visual information, includes many aspects, or attributes of vision, including:

  • Color: The hue, saturation, and brightness of an object or image.
  • Shape: The form or outline of an object or image.
  • Size: The physical dimensions of an object or image.
  • Texture: The surface quality of an object or image, such as smooth, rough, or bumpy.
  • Contrast: The difference between light and dark areas in an image.
  • Position: The location of an object or image relative to other objects or images.
  • Motion: The movement of an object or image over time.
  • Depth: The perception of three-dimensional space in an image.
  • Pattern: The repetition of visual elements in an image.
  • Context: The surrounding environment or situation in which an object or image is viewed.

These visual attributes are important for processing and interpreting visual information and are used by the brain to create a coherent and meaningful visual experience. Playing a major role in visual memory is the visual perceptual skill of visual discrimination.

Think of it this way: When you build a 1000 piece puzzle, you dump the puzzle pieces out on a table. Visual memory enables you to:

  • Sort through the pieces to find all of the straight edge pieces.
  • Select pieces that have similar colors or patterns.
  • Notice the shape of pieces.
  • Build the puzzle while holding visual information in the mind to search for a particular color, shape, or pattern on the piece. For example: you might look for a piece with white background and texture, with a straight edge and a round connecting piece.
  • Hold information in the mind to look for another particular piece of the puzzle such as another straight edge piece that is red, but when you come across the white piece with a straight edge and the round connecting piece, you recall where to place that puzzle piece.

As you can see there are many factors playing into visual memory, but this visual processing skill is an important part of functional tasks.

visual memory tests
Visual memory tests include both a functional aspect and a standardized visual memory assessment.

Testing Visual Memory

When it comes to testing visual memory, occupational therapists evaluate using several standardized tests as well as non-standardized screenings.

Essential to testing visual memory skills is the functional aspect: Can the individual utilize short and long term memory in the retrieval of visual information in order to accomplish functional tasks? Answering this question can provide both opportunities to challenge deficits, as well as target key areas of functional performance that need to be addressed.

Visual memory tests are part of a wider assessment of visual perception or tests of visual motor integration. The occupational therapy provider completes these standardized vision tests during an OT eval. However, there is more to it that the standardized testing.

Using functional performance to assess visual memory is a key part of the occupational therapy assessment. One role of the OT provider is completing a visual motor test during functional tasks, using skilled interventions.

For example, the OT can ask the client to remember items that are needed in a particular activity. They can select and/or identify several items to brush teeth: toothbrush, toothpaste, cup, dental floss, water.

The therapist could assess to see if the client can remember all four words or items after a 10 minute delay, and then a 30 minute delay. At least 3/4 of the items should be recalled. This test can assess visual memory skills in combination with a functional task.

To further analyze the visual memory aspect, the therapist could point to objects in the room and ask the client to recall them immediately, after 5 minutes, and at the end of the therapy session.

Visual Memory Tests

Some of the standardized tests that assess visual memory skills include:

  • Motor Free Visual Perception Test (MVPT)– overall visual perception screening tool
  • Test of Visual Perceptual Skills – breaks down skills into categories
  • The Developmental Test of Visual Perception – thorough test of skills
  • Test of Visual Motor Skills/Perception – a general screener to assess basic skills. Not a great test of different sub categories.
  • The Visual Memory Span Test- This test measures visual memory capacity by presenting a series of pictures to the participant and asking them to recall them in a specific order.
  • Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test- This test requires the person to draw a complex figure from memory after seeing it for a short period of time. The test assesses visual memory, perceptual organization, and constructional ability.
  • Visual Patterns Test- This test requires the person to reproduce complex patterns after seeing them for a short period of time. The test assesses visual memory and visual processing ability.
  • Benton Visual Retention Test- This test requires the person to look at a series of geometric figures for a short period of time and then draw them from memory. The test assesses visual memory and visual perceptual skills.
  • Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning- This is a comprehensive memory assessment that includes tests for visual memory, verbal memory, and other memory domains. The visual memory tests include tasks such as recalling pictures and designs.
  • Wechsler Memory Scale- This is another comprehensive memory assessment that includes tests for visual memory, verbal memory, and other memory domains. The visual memory tests include tasks such as recognizing and recalling visual stimuli.


What is visual memory and why is it necessary for development of functional skills like handwriting and reading? Tips and activities from to work on visual memory in kids and adults.


Use dyed lollipop sticks to work on visual memory by copying and building shapes, forms, letters, numbers, and pictures. Visual Memory  is an important skill needed for reading and writing.





Looking for more vision activities?  Try these: 





Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

The Visual Processing Bundle has everything you need to work on underlying visual processing skills so you can help students with classroom tasks like copying written work, letter reversals, and messy handwriting in fun and engaging ways!

  • Over 235 pages of workbooks, worksheets, e-books, handouts, activity cards, tracking tools
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  • Checklists
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Target visual memory skills and many other aspects of visual perception and visual motor integration at a special price of just $18 (Regularly $45). Get your copy here.

What is Visual Attention?

Visual attention

Visual attention is a hot topic when it comes to learning! There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to being visually attentive, however. Attention to visual information is an area of visual processing that is more than just focusing on a task or leaning activity. Attention and awareness of visual information is a skill necessary for noticing details, adjusting to patterns, reading, and so much more of the giant visual processing umbrella.

Be sure to read our resource on near point copying as visual attention plays a role in copying written work.

Visual attention

Visual Attention

Read on to discover what is visual attention and how this visual skill impacts so much of what we do.

Visual attention is a visual processing skill that allows us to notice and focus on details. Some aspects of visual attention occur automatically and immediately, and others require integration of other visual processing aspects such as visual perceptual work, focused vision, retained attention, visual mindfulness, and more.


What is visual attention?

First, it’s important to recognize where visual attention lies in the visual processing umbrella. Visual processing is an aspect that includes the cognitive components, once visual information is received through oculomotor skills and visual acuity.

Attention of visual information is an area of obtaining visual information and communicating that information with the brain. This collection of information requires several eye mobility skills including: voluntary eye movements, visual fixation, smooth pursuits (or visual tracking) and visual scanning.

Additionally, visual perceptual skills are included in the visual processing skill. These skills allow us to discriminate details and fill in “missing pieces” such as partially obscured portions of the form and to use the “mind’s eye” to visualize those aspects.

About Visual Processing…

For more information on visual processing and the aspects that are a part of visual skills (oculomotor skills, visual perception, visual motor integration, etc.) join us in a free 3-day email series, the Visual Processing Lab, as we discuss each aspect of visual processing with a fun, chemo or bio lab theme!

As a related component, the visual input from a picture story sequence can support needs of individuals to work on visual attention.

Visual Attention includes:

1.) Alertness- Defined as “the quality of being alert”, alertness is that watchful and attentive manner of being ready and responsive to visual information. Visual alertness requires focused vision and keenness to a specific object or area in the visual field.

2.) Selective Attention- The ability of noticing and processing specific information while disregarding other, less relevant information describes selective attention. This ability to discern visual information is needed for attending visually to information.

3.) Surrounding Attention- This aspect of attention refers to the surroundings and position in space. An awareness of our body position and the environment happening around us, including distance impacts attention at large.

4.) Mindful Alertness- The ability to be mindful and aware of visual input with a concentrated effort allows attention needed for participating in a visual task. The continuous alertness in a focused state allows us to attend with intention.

5.) Shared Attention- This aspect of visual attention allows us to shift focus between visual input. This can involve filtering of unnecessary information.

What is visual attention? It's a visual processing skill that allows us to read and maintain our place on a line of words. Visual attention allows us to copy written work and notice details. It allows us to recognize faces and letters or words. Visual attention is an important visual skill that many kids struggle with.Learn more here, as well as other information on visual processing.


Visual Attention and Preattentive Features

If visual memory and attention is depiction of and focusing on specific qualities of a form, then pre-attentive features are basic features of visual information that are automatically noticed by the eyes. These features are easily pulled out of a background or group in a visual display.

Pre-attentive features include:

  • Color
  • Orientation
  • Curvature
  • Size
  • Motion
  • Depth Cues
  • Vernier
  • Lustre
  • Aspects of Shape

Visual Attention and Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy providers address functional skills in their clients. They help to support every day tasks. Visual attention is one of the underlying components that are required in the visual system and plays a key role in supporting visual processing for performance of everyday activities.

There are several types of visual problems:

1. Visual efficiency- This includes eye movements, eye alignment, and eye focusing. These three abilities relate to functional performance. 

Consider these questions related to the attentional mechanisms surrounding visual efficiency:

  • Can you be a good reader if you lose your place constantly while reading, because of poor eye movements?
  • Can you be a good reader if you are seeing double? Wouldn’t you express visual inattention as a result of double vision?
  • Can you be a good reader and learner if the words are moving in and out of focus and as a result you have headaches and eye strain? Wouldn’t these hardships signal the eyes to close one to shutdown, thus losing visual attention to the stimulus of the reading task?
  • Wouldn’t visual efficiency problems impact your ability to think with reasoning and impact comprehension as a result?

Looking at these questions, it’s easy to see the attentional effects that visual efficiency has on maintaining attention to visual stimuli. 

2. Visual Perception- Visual perceptual skills impact academic performance, and visual attention is one of these. These skills work together to allow for functional vision! Visual perception and attention skills enable the cognitive processes.

  • Visual attention
  • Visual memory (which requires attention)
  • Visual discrimination (which visual attention is a key component in order to discriminate between details)
  • Visual closure (in which visual attention is a skill that impacts the mind’s eye in closing a visual image)
  • Spatial attention in written work

3. Visual motor integration- The components of visual motor integration includes the  integrates the perceptual awareness with the motor output, and attentional skills are a main role. Consider:

  • Automaticity of movement
  • Rhythm and timing
  • Body knowledge and control
  • Laterality and directionality
  • Reaction time, which is related to the visual attention on a stimulus
  • Filtering out irrelevant information

All of these areas listed above impact everyday life! 

Visual Attention Tests

There are screening tools that can look at visual attention. These allow the examiner to determine both a focus of attention as well as efficiency and accuracy components. Attention tests won’t give the full picture when used in isolation, but they should be considered as contributing evidence of visual attention challenges. 

Some visual attention tests include:

  1. Basic vision screening- Follow a tongue depressor with a sticker at one end with the eyes, or follow the end of a pen with the eyes. The visual attention screening tool can be used to examine how the eye moves to follow a stimulus across various fields of vision. Another screening task is to ask the participant to scan between tow stimuli held at different sides of their field of vision. Both are also a way to see the attentional capacity to follow a moving target. Included in this screening is a look at pursuits (eye tracking) and saccades (eye scanning). You’ll find more information in our blog posts on visual tracking and visual scanning.
  2. Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TVPS-4)
  3. Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration, or the Beery VMI
  4. Non-standardized screenings using Parquetry blocks (tangrams), block copying tests, and directionality tasks
  5. Copying materials from a near point and far point

Automaticity in Vision Attention

Automaticity refers to the ability to perform routine activities effortlessly and automatically, or without conscious thought. Every motor task that we do throughout the day required conscious through and effort when it was first learned. 

Once we’ve done a task for long enough, it becomes routine and automatic. We can then do other tasks at the same time. You see this when driving a car, for example. When the task of driving become so routine and ingrained that it is automatic, we can do other things at the same time: think about our day, remember a thought, carry on a conversation, change the radio station, etc.

Driving is an extremely complex task that moves to a conscious routine over time!

However, the issue is that we have a sort of blindness when we do other things even during an automatic task. Have you ever driven home from work, only to not recall the drive because you were thinking about other things?

We as humans also challenge ourselves, often unsafely, by thinking we can do other things while performing an automatic task. Think: texting while driving. The results from this is unfortunate.

What is at play with automaticity is the visual attention skill that moves from a conscious effort to an unconscious effort.

Similarly, this ability is present when we read or write. 

A proficient reader is able to automatically recognize, recall, and reproduce, or write, letters and numbers without conscious effort to identify each letter and number form. 

This attention to detail has become ingrained and automatic. 

When we see challenges with reading proficiency, comprehension, speed, and overall the student who is struggling academically, the automaticity may be missing. The visual scene is incomplete without the automatic integration of visual attention.

Visual Attention Activities

Visual challenges with spatial skills, omitting materials in reading or writing, and other functional considerations can mean working on visual attention can help. Attention tasks like the ones below can support this skill.

The goal for using these visual attention activities is to have comfortable, efficient, and accurate vision at various distances through the function of play and learning. We want to see eye alignment, eye focusing, and eye movements, all operating at an automatic and reflexive level, or without conscious effort.

  • Tangram activities
  • Laterality or directionality activities
  • Letter tracking in word searches
  • Brock string 
  • Bead stringing sequences
  • Directional jumps
  • Mazes
  • Code deciphering activities
  • Dots game
  • Sorting items (beads, buttons, etc.)
  • Hidden pictures activities
  • I Spy
  • What’s missing activities
  • Spot it game
  • Sequencing activities

For the individual with cognitive impairments such as following a stroke or other impairment in which visual inattention is present, some strategies can include:

  • Eye patching
  • Dynamic stimuli (flashing lights)
  • Activities to activate orientation and overall attention
  • Verbal cueing
  • Auditory cuing (bell, finger tapping, snapping, etc.)
  • Tactile cuing to engage the participant to look at the unattended side
  • Mirror therapy

Using an adaptive approach to visual inattention is important to foster functional participation, independence, and safety. These strategies can include:

  • Compensation strategies
  • Incorporate the patient’s awareness 
  • Place necessary items within the patient’s field of vision

How to work on Visual Attention

For more information and specific activities that can address visual attententiveness in fun and meaningful ways, grab the Visual Processing Bundle. In it, you will find 17 digital products, e-books, workbooks, and guides to addressing various aspects of visual processing. The bundle is valued at over $97 dollars for these products, and includes over 235 pages of tools, activities, resources, information, and strategies to address visual processing needs.

For one week, the visual processing bundle is on sale at $29.99. Grab the Visual Processing Bundle HERE.


Wolfe J. Visual attention. In: De Valois KK, editor. Seeing. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA:
Academic Press; 2000. p. 335-386.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Sorting Colors Activities

sorting colors

Sorting colors is a big deal. Young learners in the toddler and preschool stage start out by sorting items such as blocks, plastic animals, coins, or colored items.  Later in child development, sorting colors morphs into sorting silverware, matching socks, organizing drawers, or filing papers to name a few life skills. 

Sorting colors

Sorting by color is an important skill for organizing items into categories to make sense of them, or for ease of locating them later. It is far easier to find a pair of socks in a drawer when they are matched together rather than in a large multi-colored pile. But what developmental skills are required for sorting colors? How can you support this essential skill?

Sorting Colors

First, let’s break down what we mean by sorting colors…

Sorting by color can refer to anything from colored blocks to silverware does not involve being able to name the item. 

Developmentally, a young learner does not need to know their colors in order to sort. They are arranging the items according to their properties. You could sort foreign coins into their respective piles without any idea what they are. By participating in sorting color activities, the young child obtains hands-on practice in several areas of development: 

Hopefully as your learner continues to sort items, they may start recognizing the qualities of each item.  This can include shade, or color, shape, form, number, etc.

Sorting Colors Development

As with many skills, there is a hierarchy of learning to sorting tasks. Young children develop these skills through hands-on play and by playing with toys.

Development of color sorting progresses through these stages:

  1. Grouping items that are exactly the same.  Examples; colored plastic bears, blocks that are all the same size, coins, pompoms
  2. Sorting items that are similar: different brands of socks in similar colors, silverware in varying sizes, towels, a bag of buttons
  3. Sorting items that are similar AND different: sorting items by the color red, that are all different items. Sorting socks that are all different sizes, shapes, weights, and colors. Sorting items by colors that vary (five different shades of red).
  4. Sorting items that have more than one category This stage of development progresses to categorizing objects that can be sorted such as a pile of paper to file. In this case there needs to be one similar quality selected first in order to sort, such as putting all the medical bills together, sorting by date, alphabetizing the papers. The last stage is where we may see challenges impacted by working memory. Those struggling with development of executive functioning skills can be limited in sorting objects in various categories, particularly when a background is busy such as a messy desk, cluttered locker, or home.

Sorting by color is not the easiest way to sort. When there are multiple items that are similar such as 100 colored plastic balls, your learner may not recognize these as different items.  They see balls first, not colors. Try sorting very different items first.  Example: 5 identical buttons, 3 towels, 4 pencils, and 6 spoons.

Color Sorting and Visual Perception

Sorting involves recognizing an item’s properties, but also visual perception.  Through development of these skills, children move from thinking through the sorting of colors to visual efficiency which allows for automaticity in tasks.

Below are some thought processes that integrate color sorting with visual perceptual skills:

  • Figure ground lets the “perceiver” see the items as part to a whole, 
  • Form constancy recognizes that two balls of different colors are still balls. or two shades of red are still red.  
  • Visual discrimination allows the learner to tell difference between items. 
  • Visual memory is the ability to remember what is seen as the eyes are scanning the items

Color Sorting Teaches Mental Flexibility

When teaching sorting, teach mental flexibility.  Sort many different items in many different ways. Sort by, color, size, similarity, quality (4 legged animals), texture, weight, or two qualities.  

Sort the same items two different ways.  First sort the plastic fruit and veggies (affiliate link) into color, then sort by type.  Later your learner can sort by larger categories such as fruits versus vegetables.

Color Sorting and Functional Tasks

Why do some people have difficulty organizing and cleaning up? 

Sometimes a large task seems very overwhelming, therefore shut down and refusal tends to occur.  The most effective way to combat this is to teach sorting and categorizing. Go into your child’s messy room and look for the categories.  

  • Books all over the floor
  • Dirty clothes everywhere
  • Papers and trash scattered around
  • 9 dishes and plates
  • 29 stuffed animals
  • 84 hair clips
  • 64 crayons

Now this task seems much more manageable.  I often had to solve this dilemma with my younger daughter.

What other, more complicated ways could she organize this messy room?

  • Sorting the books into genre, size, type, or alphabetizing
  • Organizing the dirty clothes into whites and colors
  • Determining trash versus recyclables
  • Crayons may be part of the “school supplies” category
  • Hair accessories or toys might be a larger category

How would you tackle this chore?  

  • Sort into the larger category first such as books, then sort into their subcategories?  
  • Sort into subcategories such as stuffed animals, games, action figures, puzzles, then group into toys?  

There is no wrong answer depending on how your brain works. Actually the only wrong answer is not getting started or having a meltdown.

When working on basic sorting colors, and feeling it is futile or pointless, think about the bigger picture.  A person who can put their laundry, silverware, and toys away will be more independent than one who can not.

Color Sorting Activities

So, are you wondering about a fun way to build development in this area? We’ve got plenty of ideas.

The OT Toolbox has a great resource for teaching sorting using everyday items.

Amazon has tons of toys and games for sorting!  (affiliate link) Don’t limit yourself to store bought items though.  Your kitchen, bathroom, junk drawers, and desk are filled with items that can be grouped and sorted.  

Color sorting activities can include ideas such as:

  • Sorting colored circles (cut out circles from construction paper)
  • Sort different objects by color and drop them into baskets or bowls
  • Use color sorting activities along with a scavenger hunt. This color scavenger hunt is one fun idea.
  • Cut out cardboard shapes and sort by color or shape. This cardboard tangram activity is an easy way to make shapes in different colors.
  • Sort colored markers or crayons
  • Laminate a piece of construction paper and use it as a play mat. Sort different colored craft pom poms or other objects onto the correct mat.
  • Print out color words and sort them along with small objects. The Colors Handwriting Kit has these color words and other printable activities for playing with color.
  • Make dyed pumpkin seeds and sort by color.

This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  

A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting.  

SO much learning is happening with color sorting!

Fine Motor Color Sorting Activity with Straws

This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting. 

This color sorting activity is great for toddlers and preschools because it helps to develop many of the fine motor skills that they need for function.

I had Baby Girl (age 2 and a half) do this activity and she LOVED it.  Now, many toddlers are exploring textures of small objects with their mouths.  If you have a little one who puts things in their mouth during play, this may not be the activity for you.  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work right now, put it away and pull it out in a few months. 

Color sorting activity with straws

Always keep a close eye on your little ones during fine motor play and use your judgment with activities that work best for your child.  Many school teachers read our blog and definitely, if there are rules about choking hazards in your classroom, don’t do this one with the 2 or 3 year olds. 

You can adjust this color sorting activity to use other materials besides straws, too. Try using whole straws, pipe cleaners, colored craft sticks, or other objects that are safe for larger groups of Toddlers.  

There are so many fun ways to play and learn with our Occupational Therapy Activities for Toddlers post.

Kids can work on scissor skills by cutting straws into small pieces.

  color sorting activity using straws

We started out with a handful of colored straws.  These are a dollar store purchase and we only used a few of the hundred or so in the pack…starting out cheap…this activity is going well so far!  

Cutting the straws is a neat way to explore the “open-shut” motion of the scissors to cut the straw pieces.  Baby Girl liked the effect of cutting straws.  Flying straw bits= hilarious!  

If you’re not up for chasing bits and pieces of straws around the room or would rather not dodge flying straw pieces as they are cut, do this in a bin or bag.  Much easier on the eyes 😉  

Kids love to work on fine motor skills through play!

 Once our straws were cut into little pieces and ready for playing, I pulled out a few recycled grated cheese containers.  (Recycled container= free…activity going well still!)   We started with just one container out on the table and Baby Girl dropped the straw pieces into the holes. 

Here are more ways to use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities.

Toddlers and preschoolers can work on their tripod grasp by using small pieces of straws and a recycled grated cheese container.

Importance of Color sorting for toddlers and preschoolers

Color sorting activities are a great way to help toddlers and preschoolers develop skills for reading, learning, and math.

Sorting activities develop visual perceptual skills as children use visual discrimination to notice differences between objects.

By repeating the task with multiple repetitions, kids develop skills in visual attention and visual memory. These visual processing skills are necessary for reading and math tasks.

The ability to recall differences in objects builds working memory too, ask kids remember where specific colors go or the place where they should sort them.

These sorting skills come into play in more advanced learning tasks as they classify objects, numbers, letters, etc.

And, when children sort items by color, they are building What a great fine motor task this was for little hands!  Sorting straws into a container with small holes, like our activity, requires a tripod grasp to insert the straws into the small holes of the grated cheese container.   

These grated cheese containers are awesome for fine motor play with small objects!

Sorting items like cut up straws helps preschoolers and toddlers develop skills such as:

  • Fine motor skills (needed for pencil grasp, scissor use, turning pages, etc.)
  • Hand strength (needed for endurance in coloring, cutting, etc.)
  • Visual discrimination (needed to determine differences in letters, shapes, and numbers)
  • Visual attention
  • Visual discrimination
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Left Right discrimination (needed for handwriting, fine motor tasks)
  • Counting
  • Patterning
  • Classification skills

Preschoolers can get a lot of learning (colors, patterns, sorting, counting) from this activity too.  Have them count as they put the pieces in, do a pattern with the colored straws, sort from smallest to biggest pieces and put them in the container in order…the possibilities are endless!

Cut straw into small pieces and provide three recycled containers to sort and work on fine motor skills with kids.

Color Sorting Activity with Straws

Once she got a little tired of the activity, I let it sit out on the table for a while with two  more containers added.  I started dropping in colored straw pieces into the containers and sorted them by color. 

Use colored straws to sort and work on fine motor skills with recycled containers.

Baby Girl picked right up on that and got into the activity again.  This lasted for a long time.  We kept this out all day and she even wanted to invite her cousin over to play with us.  So we did!  This was a hit with the toddlers and Little Guy when he came home from preschool.  Easy, cheap, and fun.  I’ll take it!

Looking for more fun ways to work on color sorting?

You’ll find more activities to build hand strength, coordination, and dexterity in this resource on Fine Motor Skills.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Colors Handwriting Kit

Rainbow Handwriting Kit– This resource pack includes handwriting sheets, write the room cards, color worksheets, visual motor activities, and so much more. The handwriting kit includes:

  • Write the Room, Color Names: Lowercase Letters
  • Write the Room, Color Names: Uppercase Letters
  • Write the Room, Color Names: Cursive Writing
  • Copy/Draw/Color/Cut Color Worksheets
  • Colors Roll & Write Page
  • Color Names Letter Size Puzzle Pages
  • Flip and Fill A-Z Letter Pages
  • Colors Pre-Writing Lines Pencil Control Mazes
  • This handwriting kit now includes a bonus pack of pencil control worksheets, 1-10 fine motor clip cards, visual discrimination maze for directionality, handwriting sheets, and working memory/direction following sheet! Valued at $5, this bonus kit triples the goal areas you can work on in each therapy session or home program.

Click here to get your copy of the Colors Handwriting Kit.

Visual Figure Ground

visual figure ground

Vision and visual skills are complex with sub-categories such as visual figure ground. Luckily, occupational therapists are equipped with the ability and knowledge to assess vision at many levels. One type of visual skill that OTs assess for is called visual figure ground. In this post, we will break down what figure ground means, how visual-figure ground it fits into vision as a whole, and some red flags we look for. You’ll find some creative figure ground activities to build this skill, too!

Visual figure ground


Visual figure ground is the ability to discriminate between the object of focus and the other objects that are also in view, using visual skills such as attention, visual memory, and other components of visual perceptual skills. This is a hugely important skill in reading and writing, as well as learning and retaining information. 

Vision as a whole is made up of many parts. For daily activities, sighted individuals need to have visual clarity/focus (this can be adjusted with glasses), eye movement skills, and visual attention.  

In other words, figure ground is the ability to see an object and ignore the background. Without this ability, it may seem like a child needs glasses even though they may have technically perfect vision at the optometrist.

Visual figure ground has to do with visual attention, and how the eyes work with the brain to understand an image.


Below a general list of red flags to look for when it comes to visual figure ground. Many of these red flags are the same for other visual perception skills, as it often requires the combination of several skills to perform a task.

This is not an exhaustive list, but some ideas to work from. 

  • Difficulty completing age-appropriate puzzles
  • Difficulty reading or searching for important information in a text
  • Unable to complete mazes, “I Spy”, word searches, etc. in a similar way to their peers
  • Prefers simple artwork/images to complex 
  • Gives up quickly when looking for an item in their desk
  • Assumes many items are “lost” when they are in view/nearby
  • Difficulty coping from the board 
  • Unable to find a toy they want from the toy box
  • Difficulty finding a yogurt cup in the full refrigerator

You may be wondering, how do I know if its a problem with visual skills or something bigger, like attention overall?

Visual Figure Ground Activities

Being that the primary occupation of children is play, so it is through play that we address underlying skills such as figure ground. You’ll love this long list of visual activities that target a variety of areas, including visual figure ground.

Playing “I Spy” or “hide-and-go-seek” with familiar objects around the house can be a great way to get their brains prepped for visual discrimination of figure ground. They will use visual attention, visual tracking, and problem solving skills to win! 

Reading books or engaging in other activities provided by ‘Busy Town’, ‘Where’s Waldo’, or, of course, the ‘I Spy’ series are other great places to start. There are towns of great vision books recommendations for you that work to develop skills through reading.

You can also involve younger children in these types of activities by having them sort colorful cereal into the color categories, dig through the laundry basket to find matching socks, or really, anything that makes sense in your home. 

Figure Ground Worksheets

Sometimes, relating the vision skills to a reading or writing task is needed, and that’s where the figure ground worksheets come into play. Worksheets can get a bad rap, but it is possible to make worksheets functional, fun, and meaningful for kids so that they develop essential skills.

We have an awesome apple activity set that was developed to target visual skills, as well as tons of free resources for you to build visual figure ground skills! 

These free printable resources target figure ground skills and cover a variety of themes.

Visual processing bundle
Visual Processing Bundle is a collection of resources on visual processing skills.

One of our most popular tools to address visual figure ground is our Visual Processing Bundle. It’s a collection of printable resources, worksheets, handouts, and activity booklets geared towards all things vision.

Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

What is Motor Planning

motor planning

You may have heard the term motor planning but wondered what this means and what does it look like to utilize motor planning skills in everyday activities. Here, we are breaking down this important motor skills topic. Occupational therapists are skilled at analyzing movements and underlying skills needed to perform the things we do each day, or the tasks that occupy our time, and establishing an efficient and coordinated motor plan is one of the main aspects of this assessment. 

Motor planning

Motor Planning

When we perform an action, there are movements of our bones, joints, and muscles that enable our bodies to move. It’s through this movement that the body and brain receives feedback, or a motor concept that tells the brain and body that we have moved in a certain way in order to accomplish a specific action. This is the motor plan for that particular task at work!

Let’s look at a child’s motor skills in a specific action to really explore this concept. 

Ok, so you’re walking along a hallway with an armful of bags and see a ball in your path. You walk around it and continue walking. But, hold on. That was a pretty cool ball. It was all red and shiny. It looked like a really fun ball to bounce. You stop, turn around, walk back to the ball, stoop down, put down your bags, and pick it up. Woah. It’s not only red and shiny, but it’s a little heavy too. 

It takes a bit more muscle oomph than you were expecting. You hold your arm up high, with the ball up over your head. Totally not a baseball player’s pose, but all awkward and kid-like. You know. Pure fun throwing. 

You toss that red, shiny, heavy ball as hard as you can towards a big old blank wall on one of the hallway walls. Now watch out! That red, shiny, heavy ball is bouncing around like crazy! 

It’s bouncing off of the wall and right back at you! You jump to the side and then to the left and right as it bounces back and forth between the walls of that hallway. You have to skip to the side to avoid your bags. 

The ball stops bouncing and rolls to the side of the hall. 

Well, that was fun. You pick up the ball and hold it while you gather your bags. Now, you see a boy coming down the hall who sees that red, shiny, heavy ball in your hand and says, “Hey! There’s my ball!” You smile and toss the ball as he reaches out his hand and catches. “Thanks!!” he says as you wave and start walking down the hall again.

What is Motor Planning? Tips and Tools in this post with a fun fine motor motor planning (dyspraxia) activity for kids and adults from an Occupational Therapist

What is Motor Planning?

Motor Planning happens with everything we do! From walking around objects in our path, to picking up items, to aiming and throwing, drawing, writing, getting dressed, and even dodging red bouncy balls…

Motor Planning is defined as the problem solving and moving over, under, and around requires fine motor and gross motor skills and planning to plan out, organize, and carry out an action. We must organize incoming information, including sensory input, and integrate that information into our plan. We need to determine if a ball is heavy or light to pick up and hold it without dropping it.

You might hear of motor planning referred to as praxis. 

Praxis (generally also known as Motor Planning, but also it’s more than simply motor planning…) requires observing and understanding the task (ideation), planning out an action in response to the task (organization), and the act of carrying out the task (execution). A difficulty with any of these areas will lead to dyspraxia in many skill areas. 

Praxis includes motor planning, but also involved is ideation, execution, and feedback, with adjustment to that feedback. You can see the similarities in motor planning, which refers to the conscious and subconscious (ingrained) motor actions or plans.

Motor Planning is needed for everyday tasks. Think about the everyday activities that you complete day in and day out. Each of these actions requires a movement, or a series of movements to complete. There are both gross motor movements, fine motor movements, and posture all working together in a coordinated manner.

There is a motor plan for actions such as:

  • using a toothbrush to brush one’s teeth
  • brushing hair
  • getting dressed
  • putting on a backpack
  • walking down a hallway
  • walking up steps
  • walking down steps
  • holding a pencil
  • writing with a pencil (motor planning and handwriting is discussed here.)
  • riding a bike
  • maintaining posture
  • putting on a coat or jacket (on top of other clothing such as a shirt so that in this case, there isn’t the tactile feedback available of the fabric directly on the skin’s surface)
  • performing sports actions such as swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket, running, or gymnastics like doing a cartwheel

The interesting thing is that a movement plan, or the physical action that is completed whether the action has been performed in the past or if it is a new movement. A motor plan for a new task can be completed without thinking through how to move the body because it is just inherently completed.

When we complete unfamiliar tasks and need to stop and think through how the body needs to move, is when we see inefficient movement, or motor planning issues.

Motor Planning Difficulties

Above, we talked about praxis as another term or way to name the motor plan concept. When there are difficulties with motor planning, we are referring to the opposite of praxis, or dyspraxia. 

 Dyspraxia can be a result of poor sensory integration, visual difficulties, fine motor and gross motor coordination and ability, neural processing, and many other areas.

Motor planning difficulties can look like several things:

  • Difficult ability to complete physical tasks
  • Small steps
  • Slow speed
  • Pausing to think through actions
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Weakness

These challenges with motor function can exist with either new motor tasks or familiar actions. Deficits are apparent when speed is reduced so that the functional task isn’t efficient, when the motor task is unsafe, or poor completion of the task at hand.

There are diagnoses that have poor motor planning as a component of the diagnosis. Some of these disorders can include:

When motor planning difficulties exist, this can be a cause for other considerations related to movements, and demonstration of difficulties when participating in movement-based activities:

  • challenges in social interactions
  • anxiety
  • behaviors
  • social skills issues

Today, I’ve got a quick and easy fine motor activity to work on motor planning with kids. This activity is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where we’re sharing fun and frugal ideas for treatment of many OT skill areas with items you might already have in your house.

motor planning activity

Motor Planning Activity

Affiliate links are included in this post. 

Motor planning activity

To make this motor planning activity, you’ll need just a few items: 

  • a clear plastic baggie
  • white crafting pom poms
  • one red pom pom. These are items we had in our crafting supplies, but you could modify this activity to use items you have. Other ideas might be beads, pin pong balls, ice cubes, or any small item.
  1. Fill the baggie with the pom poms and squeeze out the air. 
  2. Seal the baggie.
  3. Use a permanent marker to draw on a maze from one side of the baggie to the other. You can make this as complex as you like. 
  4. Add additional mazes, or two different pom pom colors for the maze. Work the red pom pom from one end of the maze to the other.
Apraxia activity

Squeezing the pom pom is a fine motor work out for the hands. You’ll need to open up the thumb web space (the part of your hand between the thumb and fingers, and use those intrinsic small muscles of the hand. Both of these areas are important for fine motor tasks like coloring and writing.

Use this motor planning exercise as a warm-up activity before writing, coloring, and scissor activities. This is a great activity to have on hand in your therapy treatment bag or to pull out while waiting at the doctor’s office.

Motor planning toys and games

Motor Planning Activities

Looking for more ways to work on dyspraxia with your kids? These are some fun fine and gross motor activities that are fun and creative. 

The best thing about all of them is that they are open-ended. Use them in obstacle courses or in movement tasks to incorporate many skill areas. These are some fun ideas to save for gift ideas. Now which to get first…

Work on fine motor dexterity and bilateral coordination while encouraging motor planning as the child matches colors of the nuts and bolts in this Jumbo Nuts and Bolts Set with Backpack set. The large size is perfect for preschoolers or children with a weak hand grasp.

Practice motor planning and eye-hand coordination. This Button Mosaic Transperent Pegboard is a powerhouse of motor planning play. Kids can copy and match big and bright cards to the pegs in this large pegboard. I love that the toy is propped up on an incline plane, allowing for an extended wrist and a tripod grasp. Matching the colors and placing the pegs into the appropriate holes of the pegboard allow for motor planning practice.

Develop refined precision of fine motor skills with eye-hand coordination. A big and bright puzzle like this Puzzle-shaped Block Set  allows kids to work on hand-eye coordination and motor planning as they scan for pieces, match the appropriate parts of the puzzle pieces, and attempt to work the pieces into place. Building a puzzle such as this one can be a workout for kids with hand and upper extremity weakness.

Strengthen small motor skills. Kids of all ages can work on motor planning and fine motor skills with this Grimm’s Rainbow Bowls Shape & Color Sorting Activity. Use the colored fish to place into the matching cups, as children work on eye-hand coordination. Using the tongs requires a greater level of motor planning.

You can modify this activity by placing the cups around a room for a gross motor visual scanning and motor planning activity. Children can then follow multi-level instructions as they climb over, around, under, and through obstacles to return the fish to their matching bowls.

Encourage more gross motor planning with hopping, jumping, and skipping, or other gross motor tasks. This Crocodile Hop A Floor Mat Game does just that. It is a great way to encourage whole body motor planning and multiple-step direction following.

Address balance and coordination. These Gonge Riverstones Gross Motor Course challenge balance skills as children step from stone to stone. These would make a great part of many imagination play activities as children plan out motor sequences to step, cross, hop, and jump…without even realizing they are working on motor planning tasks.

Introduce multiple-step direction following and motor planning. These colored footprints like these Gonge Feet Markers support direction following skills. Plan out a combination of fine and gross motor obstacle courses for kids to work on motor planning skills.

Make hand-eye coordination fun with challenges. For more fine motor coordination and motor planning, kids will love this Chickyboom Balance Game as they practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and about balance and mathematics.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Forest Animals Shadow Matching Worksheet

shadow matching worksheet with forest animals theme

Today we have a fun shadow matching worksheet for you. This forest animals activity is great for adding to a woodland animal theme, but more importantly, use the shadow worksheet to build visual perceptual skills in areas such as form constancy, visual memory, and more.

Shadow math
Free printable shadow matching worksheet with a forest animals theme.

Shadow matching worksheet

How are your visual perceptual skills?  

My learner can see, but can’t really SEE.  Wait, what?  Isn’t all “seeing” the same?  Not really.  There is seeing in the sense of visual acuity, how well the eyes can see items up close and at a distance.  Then there is seeing in the sense or perceiving an object. A person can have great visual acuity, 20/20 in fact, but have terrible visual perception.  In visual acuity the eye basically has to see the object.  In perception it not only has to see the object, but make sense of it. These vision issues are covered in our blog post on visual efficiency.

For example; I can see the puzzle pieces, but I can’t perceive that each piece becomes something whole, or which piece is the right shape.

This article does an excellent job of explaining visual perception, its effects, and how to improve this skill.

Armed with this information, it is critical to work on developing visual perceptual skills at an early age.  Visual perceptual skills begin in infancy with facial recognition, and by school age are necessary for reading, writing, and mathematics.

When it comes to visual perception, the OT Toolbox has you covered!  Check out the latest PDF free printable, Forest Animals Shadow Matching Worksheet.

You can get the shadow matching worksheet below by entering your email address into the form, or head to The OT Toolbox Member’s Club and going to the visual perception area. Use this item in a forest animals theme! And if you’re doing a forest animals theme, definitely be sure to add this Forest Animals Scissor Skills Activity. It’s a free set of printable puzzles kids can color, cut out, and put back together.

This is a great activity to build visual perceptual skills as early as preschool age. It addresses form constancy, figure ground, visual discrimination and visual attention. You can find other matching activities that support visual perceptual skill development in our free visual perception packet. It includes resources like this flower match-up, and outer space matching worksheets.

Ways to modify the shadow matching worksheet:

  • Laminate the page for reusability. This saves on resources, and many learners love to write with markers!
  • Print in black and white or color for different levels of difficulty
  • Cut the shapes and make a matching game instead of using a writing tool to draw lines
  • Talk about the animals, describe their characteristics, and give context clues to help your learner understand why certain pictures match

Other skills addressed using this forest animal activity sheet:

  • Attention
  • Behavior
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Task avoidance
  • Self regulation
  • Organization
  • Scanning
  • Fine motor skills – pencil grasp, drawing lines

In order to create a full lesson or treatment plan, therapists will need to be armed with more than just this one shadow matching worksheet.  The OT Toolbox offers several free printable items to work on visual perception, including:

If you are looking for all of your resources in one place, the OT Toolbox also offers a Visual Processing Bundle, featured here:

What other tasks or games work on visual perception?

  • Puzzles or dot to dots
  • Working on spatial concepts such as “in, out, on, under, next to, up, down, in front of.”
  • Hidden pictures games 
  • The game Memory – matching hidden pictures
  • Word search puzzles and mazes
  • Construction tasks using legos or popsicle sticks
  • Copying 3D block designs
  • Cleaning and organizing – washing dishes, sorting silverware, sorting laundry, organizing spaces
  • There are several Ipad apps available if necessary, but I recommend using electronics with caution, and following up with a real life task.

Now you know  more about “seeing” better.  Before working on visual perceptual skills, make sure your learner has correct visual acuity.  Sometimes their struggle is due to acuity rather than perception.  In this case, a pair of eyeglasses is an easy fix!

Whether your learner is working on this shadow worksheet, or any other resources by the OT Toolbox, make learning fun and motivating.  There is nothing better than a learner who is excited to see what their therapist has to offer.

shadow worksheet, shadow matching worksheet, forest animals

Free Shadow Matching Worksheet

Want to work on shadow matching with a forest animals theme? This shadow worksheet supports development of visual perceptual skills through play! Perfect for adding to a forest animals weekly therapy theme. Enter your email address into the form below.

Or, if you are a Member’s Club member, be sure to log in and then head to the visual perception area of free downloads that are on The OT Toolbox website. Not a member? Join now.

Free Forest Animals Worksheets

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    *The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages, etc. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and 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.

    Writing with Both Hands-What you Need to Know

    Left and right hand holding a pencil and writing on both sides of a notebook. Text reads "writing with both hands"

    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

    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.


    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 it called when you write with both hands

    We get the question about a name for writing with both hands. One way to describe this is the term mixed dominance.

    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 both 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. Read about more information on occupational therapy dyslexia supports.

    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.

    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 has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. 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. (affiliate link)

    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 (affiliate link) 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. (affiliate link)

    More Marble Run Activities

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. 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!

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Scanning Activities for Reading (Free Download)

    visual scanning for reading

    Today, we have a fun scanning activities for reading using a printable visual scanning worksheet resource that supports the underlying visual skills to target scanning exercises. Plus, the scanning worksheet users will love the fun theme. 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! This visual scanning worksheet is just that: a fun skill-builder!

    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. One way to foster the needed skills is with an activity like the visual scanning worksheets shown below. It’s a printable resource that focuses 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 when using visual scanning worksheets.

    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 or use of a short series of images, letters, or icons on visual scanning worksheets.

    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. Targeting scanning exercises doesn’t need to be complicated. Using simple three item series of images builds visual scanning skills.

    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 with fun scanning exercises kids love.

    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 this scanning activity 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, a scanning activity 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!

    As a related resource, check out our blog post on types of eye specialists. Another great resource is our blog post on behavioral optometrists.

    Free scanning activity Download to support reading skills

    Want to add this printable scanning activity 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

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      Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and 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.