Visual scanning and visual tracking are oculomotor skills used to acquire visual information. Visual tracking is the ability in which we focus our eyes to follow a target without moving our entire head. Independent of head movement, our eyes are capable of working together in all planes, efficiently moving right/left, up/down, and in a circular movement. This is in addition to the ability to cross the midline.
Visual scanning is the ability to use this coordinated eye movement to efficiently search within the environment. This is a significant factor for all daily skills, including coordination (e.g. navigating obstacles or finding objects within a crowded cabinet) and school based activities (e.g. reading, copying from the board, alignment of math equations). Try one or all of these activities listed below to support visual scanning and visual tracking.
Both caregiver and child should have their own flashlight in a dark room. Caregiver starts as the “leader”, casting her flashlight up against the wall, moving in a random pattern. Using his own flashlight, the child should “chase” the caregiver’s light. Encourage minimal head movement to maximize the amount of visual tracking required. As the child casts his light on the wall in search of the caregiver’s light, the goal is for the child to have the smoothest pursuit of the flashlight.
Starting with a balloon and playing a game of “keep it up” allows for increased time to coordinate a motor response to accompany the visual input of the floating balloon. Progress to throwing, catching, and bouncing a ball. Increase the challenge using a smaller ball or smaller target.
Play the classic game but encourage the child to keep his head stationary, only “spying” and “guessing” objects only that can be seen in front of him or in the periphery. Choosing objects in your child’s peripheral view increases the challenge.
Mazes, connect the dots and tracing, oh my! Structured paper-pencil tasks like these require the eyes to track in a specific direction in order to complete the challenge.
A tried and true classic. Place three cups upside down on the table. With the child watching, hide a small ball or toy underneath one of the cups and mix the order of the cups. Challenge your child to keep his eyes on the cup obscuring the toy. Increase the challenge by increasing the number of times you rearrange the order of the cups or the speed in which you do so.
The above visual scanning and visual tracking activities are general and non-specific. They are meant to offer suggestions of fun ways to strengthen oculomotor skills and thereby visual tracking and visual scanning. If you suspect that your child may be having difficulties with visual tracking or visual scanning, please speak with your occupational therapist for an individualized plan.
Samantha Cooper is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. When not engaging her clients through play, Samantha can be found balancing her love for ice-cream with spin or barre classes or trying to cuddle her dog, Cassidy, who would much rather have her personal space.
At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to pediatric therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.