6 Visual-Motor Preschool Activities With a Twist

preschool aged boy wearing long sleeve and jeans playing catch outside. It is fall and the leaves on the trees behind him are changing color. He is standing with his left foot forward and his right arm back behind his head about to toss the ball
Cheri Moore

Written by Cheri Moore

November 11, 2021

6 visual-motor preschool activities with a twist provide opportunities for family fun during the holidays and deep belly laughs. What is the twist? The twist is that all 6 action-packed activities encourage the development of eye movement skills in preschoolers, children, and teens. Eye movement skills develop visual-motor skills. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, I encourage you to play alongside your preschooler. Regardless of your age, the muscles in your eyes benefit from exercise.

The holidays are a busy time which is why these activities use everyday objects found around your home. You shouldn’t have to run to the store to buy supplies for any of these visual-motor activities. Remember, preschoolers learn best through exploration and observation. Thus, I encourage you to show them your visual processing skills, laugh, and play alongside your preschooler and loved ones.

Join In and Observe Your Preschooler’s Visual-Motor Skills

During these 6 action-packed activities, watch your preschooler’s eyes and posture. Visual-motor activities provide opportunities for you to observe your preschooler’s visual processing (eye movement) strengths and difficulties. Does your preschooler move their eyes right to left and left to right? Also, do they choose to move objects across from one side of their body to the other side, left to right and right to left using the same hand? For observation tips, please read my How to Observe Visual Development in All Ages post. When you watch your child’s posture and eyes, you learn how to play in ways that meet their visual needs.

Be Flexible to Meet Your Preschooler’s Visual Needs

Once an activity is set up, watch how your preschooler moves everything around to their liking. Remember, you are observing eye movements through visual-motor activities. Observation means no verbal or physical corrections.

Interesting Fact:

Your brain has to learn visual processing skills. Information comes from the eyes. However, the brain decides what to do with what was seen, your physical reaction. This is why parents are encouraged to keep the television off. Preschoolers must move and explore to develop visual processing skills that in turn develop visual-motor skills. Stepping back, observing, and then joining your preschooler in play encourages positive interactions.

Cheri Moore

Next week, I believe you will be amazed to learn just how hard a child works to develop their visual processing and visual-motor skills. Sadly, they must work even harder if they have visual processing difficulties. Also, success and satisfaction in all areas of life are rare.

Whenever any of us accidentally makes a mess, we all tend to feel sad inside. Thus, reassure your child with a hug or by saying something silly like “That food just jumped off your plate. I guess it wanted to see the floor.” Then, give them the tools to fix whatever happened. My children often heard me say: “I am so thankful God gave us two hands. No problem, washcloths are for cleaning up messes” (dustpans, brooms, more clothes). Then, hand them a washcloth and work together.

Visual Development For Preschoolers, 4 and 5 Year Olds

Typical Development

  1. Uses eyes and hands together well.
  2. Expresses self, looks at you, rolls eyes.
  3. Draws and names pictures.
  4. Colors within the lines.
  5. Cuts well on the lines.
  6. Uses the whole piece of paper.
  7. Places small objects in small openings.
  8. Visually alert, looks around, watches.
  9. Talks about what they saw: person, place, or thing.

Visual Processing Concerns

  1. Struggles with motor coordination.
  2. Avoids eye-contact.
  3. Drawings are lopsided, lacks details.
  4. Colors outside of the lines, scribbles.
  5. Cuts off parts of the picture.
  6. Uses only part of the paper.
  7. Forces objects through an opening.
  8. Avoids lights, prefers dimly lit rooms.
  9. Rarely shares what they saw.
  10. Avoids certain activities.
two preschool aged kids sitting on the floor coloring with crayons on a large brown piece of paper. A boy wearing a hat is on the left and he is leaning forward on his forearms. A girl is on the left and she is reaching down with her right hand to color. Multiple crayons are on the paper and in a tin cup in front of them.

Visual-Motor Activity #1: Homemade Marble Run

The Twist: Challenges Eye Tracking and Visualization

Watching a moving object encourages eye tracking. When you read a book or write, your eyes move from left to right and from right to left. Visualization occurs as they decorate the tubes and design the marble run.

Supplies:

  • Cardboard tubes (toliet paper tubes or paper towel tubes)
  • Decorating supplies: colored pencils or markers, stickers, colored tape, wrapping/colored paper, glue (use a small container and a q-tip for liquid glue)
  • Scissors
  • Painter’s tape
  • Marble, ping pong ball, toy car, or other small rolling object
  • Bowl or basket

Directions:

If your preschooler likes art, give them cardboard tubes and art supplies like stickers, colored tape, and markers. When there are older siblings encourage them to draw, color, cut, and glue paper on the outside of the cardboard tubes. Encourage experimentation. For example, whatever ends up on the inside of the tubes provides a teachable moment. Wait, watch and listen. Does your little one figure out that a bump causes balls to slow down or jump out of the tube? While it is completely optional, decorating the cardboard tubes is a fun way to get your little one excited about designing a marble run.

Next, start designing your marble run. If there are older siblings, let them make up the design. Encourage everyone to work together. Also, decrease frustration by using the floor to brainstorm a design.

When you are ready to tape the first tube up on the wall, make sure your preschooler is able to reach the starting spot. Equally important, make sure your preschooler can watch the rolling object. A wall accessible from a staircase allows all ages to drop in an object from up high. If you have a safe step stool, you can start the marble run a bit higher up.

Test the marble run as you tape it to the wall. Depending on your design and object, the “marble” or object may fly right out of the tube. Hint: the faster the speed the more likely the object will jump out of the tube. Once everyone is done experimenting, adjust the angles and distances to make your marble run successful. Lastly, place a bowl or basket at the end of the marble run to catch your object. What happens when the ball hits the container?

Check out the Tinkerlab’s post for some inspiration and additional directions.

An Open or Closed Marble Run?

An open marble run allows visual tracking. I like to start by cutting tubes into different lengths. If you are going to design your marble run where the object drops into the next tube, cut the tube in half right up the middle to make an opening. Then, cut off about a fourth or less of the top. Now, your little one can watch the moving object inside of the tube.

For a closed marble run, decorate the tubes. Then, twist or tape them together at different angles. Now, you are ready to tape the tubes on the wall using painter’s tape. Lastly, have your preschooler drop the marble in at the top. Encourage your preschooler to watch the ball roll down and into the basket at the end of the marble run.

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

Moms and Dads, watch your preschooler’s eyes while they watch the rolling object.

  • Do their eyes move left to right and right to left?
  • Is your preschooler watching the marble or are they doing their own thing?

How Long Should a Preschooler Focus on a Visual-Motor Activity?

The next few action-packed activities encourage your preschooler to focus on a target for longer periods of time. Developmentally, one minute of focus should occur for each year of your preschooler’s life; your child’s life; your teenager’s life. For example, a three-year-old should stay visually focused on a task for three minutes. That means no falling out of their seat, changing activities, or looking away and talking. I call these types of behaviors avoidance behaviors because they provide visual breaks.

Behaviors are clues indicating your child may have visual processing difficulties. It is a puzzle. Our visual system is complex. Thus, you can only observe some types of visual processing difficulties. A developmental vision exam is recommended before your preschooler starts school to evaluate all visual processing skills, eye health, and visual acuity.

Visual-Motor Activity #2: Water Gun Target Race With a Twist

The Twist: Encourages Visual Focus on a Target Using Snowballs or Water.

Does your child look at the target with both eyes? If so, how are they facing the target? As they play, observe to learn if they close one eye, squint, rub their eyes, or move closer and closer towards the target.

People who are right-handed should place their left foot forward when holding the water gun. People who are left-handed should place their right leg forward. If your preschooler stands incorrectly, teach them how to stand.

In warm climates, a water gun target race is enjoyed throughout the year. In colder climates around the holidays, use snowballs. The goal is to wash off the X drawn with chalk or to cover up the X. I provide a hint in the directions to make snow stick to the target.

Supplies:

  • Water guns or a pile of snowballs
  • Chalk
  • Timer (optional)
Nerf super soaker water gun.

Directions:

Use chalk to make two X’s on an object like two trees, each side of a garage door, two different planks on a wooden fence, or two posts on a porch. Make sure the X is a little bit below your preschooler’s eye level. Then, challenge your preschooler and loved ones to use their water guns to wash off the target, the X.

If you use snowballs, have everyone start by making a pile of snowballs. Next, mist the target area with water to help the snowballs stick to the target.

If your older children and adults enjoy competition, set a timer for 4 minutes. Whoever washes off or covers up more of their X wins the race. Get ready, set, go!

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

  • Are they looking at the target, the X? Are they facing forward squarely or are their shoulders tilted or twisted?
  • How do they look at target with both eyes? Are they equally open or are they squinting?
  • Do they start rubbing their eyes?
  • Do their eyes start to water or look tired?
  • Is their head held up straight or tilted to one side?
  • Does it look like they are standing sideways using one eye more than the other?

Your Sixth Sense, Proprioception

Proprioception is the brain’s ability to learn how much force is needed to throw, push, lift, or pull an object. According to WebMD, your body’s muscles must learn how to instinctively sense “movement, action, and location.” I have heard proprioception called your sixth sense. Proprioceptive skills develop from interactions between what is seen and felt and your inner ear’s vestibular system. Our brain is so amazing.

When proprioceptive skills are under-developed, all ages and preschoolers enjoy weighted blankets and throwing activities. I share more proprioceptive activities in my blog, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction in Adults and Children.

Visual-Motor Activity #3: Homemade Bean Bag Toss With a Twist

The Twist: Proprioception & Depth Perception Development Playing H.O.R.S.E

Proprioception and depth perception are both learned skills. When there are no visual processing difficulties present, these skills develop naturally and subconsciously. However, when there is stress on the visual system, such as double vision, these skills are developmentally delayed and can leave your loved one anxious and unsure of their environment.

5 colorful bean bags sitting on the ground for a visual-motor activity. In the background, three are stacked like a pyramid. In the foreground two are staggered one in front of the other. The fabric is floral with a solid background. There are two red, one blue, one yellow and one pink bean bag.

Supplies:

  • Bean bags or small stuffed animals
  • Laundry basket, basket, or bin

Directions:

The goal is to toss the object into the container. Be as creative as you’d like by challenging your preschooler to toss it in from different spots. Start close to the bin so they can be successful and then see how far away they can stand and toss it in.

If older siblings want to join in, you can make it into a game of H.O.R.S.E. Your preschooler will practice taking turns. Choose 5 designated spots where they must stand and throw the object into the bin. Everyone starts at the H spot and continues taking turns until everyone has successfully tossed their object into the bin from all 5 spots to spell the word horse.

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

  • Does the object land outside the basket more than inside?
  • Is your preschooler looking at the target, the basket?
  • Are there avoidance behaviors like simply walking up to the basket and dropping the object inside or walking away from the activity?
  • Did your preschooler switch which hand they used to toss the bean bag during the activity?
  • Does the activity make your preschooler anxious?

Visual-Motor Activity #4: Knock Down the Bottle

The Twist: Proprioception & Depth Perception Development

Depth perception affects every aspect of our lives. Your brain must learn the distance between two objects: your eyes and the ground. Over time as depth perception is developed, preschoolers alternate feet walking up and down steps. They reach out with more confidence to grasp their cup.

Supplies:

  • Empty soda bottles (20-24 oz bottles work great, but 2 liter bottles will also work)
  • Sand, rice, dried beans, or water
  • Bean bag or small ball
  • Short table or bench
  • Painters tape or doormat

Directions:

Place the bottles in a row along the edge of the table or bench at your preschooler’s height. Make a boundary line using the tape or doormat on the floor. Have your toddler stand on the boundary line and instruct them to throw the bean bag or ball at the bottles to knock them off of the table. Take turns knocking the bottles down.

Posture Note: Right-handed throwers should stand with their left foot forward. Left-handed throwers should stand with their right foot forward.

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

  • Are they looking at the bottle facing forward with their shoulders and face?
  • Look at both eyes. Are they equally open or are they squinting or covering an eye?
  • Is their head held up straight or tilted to one side?
  • Does it look like they are standing sideways using one eye more than the other?

A Preschool Visual-Motor Activity #5: Catch

The Twist: Developing Proprioception, Eye Tracking & Depth Perception Skills

They have to watch the ball come towards them to successfully catch the ball. This challenges their eye tracking skills. The speed at which the brain processes the visual information determines when they put their hands out. Preschoolers may put their hands out too early, on time, or too late.

a mother and daughter playing catch in the house with a small pink ball. Playing catch is a visual processing activity. The mom is kneeling. The girl is tossing the ball to her mom.

Supplies:

  • Small soft ball, stuff animals, or a bean bag

Directions:

Go outside and play catch with your preschooler. If you are playing catch inside, use a bean bag or a small stuffed animal. Using a soft object helps your preschooler feel safe. Also, these objects will simply stop where they land. Yay!

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

  • Does your preschooler catch the ball with confidence using their hands?
  • Are their hands brought together too early?
  • Do their hands come together too late requiring the use of their hands and their body?

If their hands come together too early or late, your preschooler’s brain needs more practice tracking a moving object. The action-packed activities on this blog and in our upcoming Toddler Visual Observation Activity Booklet provides additional fun and insights. Visit our website during Black Friday, Saturday, or Sunday to receive a FREE Preschool Holiday Visual Observation Activity.

Visual-Motor Activity #6: Horseshoes

The Twist: Developing Proprioception, Eye Tracking & Depth Perception Skills

The weight of the horseshoe in their hand is proprioceptive feedback that tells them when to let go of it and how hard to toss it.

Supplies:

  • Horseshoes or coat hangers (cover sharp end with electrical tape)
  • Wooden sticks/pegs
  • Doormat
black and white picture of a little boy playing horseshoes. He is wearing a t-shirt, shorts, sneakers, and ankle socks. He has light colored hair. His right arm is stretched out behind him as he prepares to toss the horseshoe. His right foot is in front of the left foot. In the background is a tall wooden fence. Horseshoes is a visual-motor activity.

Directions:

Push the wooden sticks or pegs into the ground. Based on your preschooler’s ability, place the doormat about 3 feet away from the peg. When it becomes too easy, move the mat one step backward. Stand beside them and give them a horseshoe or coat hanger. Take one for yourself. Then, put the rest on the ground between you and your preschooler. Now, you are ready to take turns trying to toss them onto the pegs.

Suggest taking turns with each of you using all the horseshoes before taking a break. Go first so your preschooler can learn through observation. Taking turns provides the perfect opportunity for you to observe their eyes and posture.

What to Observe in Your Preschooler

  • Are they looking at the wooden stick or peg facing fully forward with their shoulders and face?
  • Look at both eyes. Are they equally open or are they squinting or covering an eye?
  • Is their head held up straight or tilted to one side?
  • Does it look like they are standing sideways using one eye more than the other?

Moore Visual Observation Activity Booklet

If you have any concerns about your child’s visual processing skills after completing these visual-motor activities, I encourage you to consider purchasing the Moore Visual Observation Activity Booklet. In the booklet, I teach you more about how to observe and what to observe. It is filled with fun, purposeful activities that educate you about your loved one’s visual development.

cover page of the Moore Visual Observation Activities Booklet. The text is black and the background grey. There is a blue triangle on the bottom left and white triangle on the bottom right. The MAIT logo is in the white area.

Moore Auditory-Visual Preschool Questionnaire

If you want to learn even more about your child’s behaviors and what steps you need to take to help your loved one, then consider purchasing the Preschool Moore Auditory-Visual Questionnaire. The questionnaire helps you observe behaviors and ask questions related to sound sensitivity, auditory processing skills, hearing deficits, and visual processing skills.

For example, you will learn to observe how your preschooler looks at a book and what behaviors are concerning. What you may see as your little one being silly may be a clue that their visual system is struggling. I will teach you what to look out for with your child’s posture, eye movement, and eye alignment.

If you decide to register for the Preschool Moore Auditory-Visual Questionnaire ($10.00), you receive a document of pre-questionnaire activities. Once done, your Preschool Moore Auditory-Visual Questionnaire Report improves your ability to communicate your concerns. At any time, schedule a FREE Phone Consultation with myself, Cheri Moore.

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