An article by Dr Dan Fortenbacher, discusses about how new research has shown why visual skills are so critical for reading.The research paper (“Frequency of Visual Defects in Children With Developmental Dyslexia”, from Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical) found deficits in visual function in the binocular, accommodation and oculomotor abilities of those children with developmental dyslexia vs normal readers.
These three visual function abilities can be thought of as eye teaming (the ability of the two eyes to work well as a team), focussing and tracking; these three essential visual skills help to enable us to be able to read fluently.
Too much time spent on screens means that less time is being spent practising basic skills, such as hand-eye coordination. Traditional childhood activities like cutting, sticking, drawing and handwriting are a great way to help build the foundations of the vital visual skills that children need to help with their schoolwork and beyond.
Below are a few ideas inspired by Dr Marsha Sorenson, for games for children of different age groups to help develop their visual system.
Shape sorter- visual-motor and visual discrimination skills. Such skills will later help a child in the classroom with being able to assign meaning to shapes and symbols, which helps them learn their letters and numbers.
Lego- fine motor and visual-motor skills. The creativity and imagination that playing with Lego encourages are key foundation skills for developing both critical and problem solving skills.
Puzzle books- eye teaming, hand eye coordination and visual closure (ability to recognise a picture when only part of it is seen) are used in activities such as dot-to-dot. Helping a child work on enhancing their visual development in these ways will aid their progress with hand writing and sight reading skills. With maze activities, as well as helping to improve eye teaming and visual motor skills, they can help improve directionality (knowledge of right and left directions). Problems with directionality can potentially lead to difficulty with letter formation and letter reversals.
e.g. Dobble and Rush hour puzzle game – visual thinking skills. Visualisation skills give us the ability to create images in our mind: this is very useful for helping with geometry, spelling and reading comprehension. Sequencing is important for understanding directions and for reading comprehension.
Another key skill to work on is figure-ground discrimination. This is the ability to notice and locate a form or object within a busy field without getting confused by the background or surrounding images.
A child who has poor figure-ground discrimination can easily become confused with too much print on the page: this can affect their concentration and attention, potentially leading to them having difficulty scanning text to locate specific information.
Ideas for games/activities to help with this are listed here;
- Painting by numbers
- Snakes & ladders
- Pick up sticks
- “Where’s Wally” puzzle books
- Find the odd one out
Outdoor free play is another area that children should be encouraged to participate in to help with their visual function development.
Regular eye examinations are important for everybody, including children. Just because a child doesn’t have any complaints about their vision, doesn’t mean that their visual system is necessarily performing properly. If a child has always experienced seeing words looking blurry, they won’t realise that they should look any different.