Visual-motor development can keep complex. Your child uses many areas of development to hone their visual-motor skills. Let's take a look at what typical visual-motor development in children looks like. I'll also give you some activity suggestions to help build strong visual-motor skills.
I also have a free printable checklist of this post that you can download and print out. Scroll to the bottom of this post for more details on that.
What is Visual-Motor Development?
Visual-motor in layman's terms means being able to use visual sense and motor skills together in order to complete a task or activity. You may also see it referred to as visual-motor integration, which means that the eyes and motor movements are working together in an efficient way.
Visual-motor development needs visual perceptual skills and gross motor skills in order to be efficient. These terms may seem confusing, so let me break it down even more for you.
- Visual-Motor Development – Using the eyes and motor movements together in an efficient way to complete a task
- Visual-Motor Integration – Efficient communication between the eyes and the arms or legs in order to complete a task or activity (you may see this called VMI. The Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration or VMI is also an evaluation tool Occupational Therapists use in order to assess a child's visual-motor abilities).
- Visual Perception – Being able to interpret and make sense of what you are seeing
Children who struggle with visual-motor skills will often have difficulty in school with tasks such as handwriting, scissor skills, and even reading.
Let's take a look at the typical development of visual-motor skills. Then I'll give you some links for further reading if you suspect your child struggles with visual-motor skills along with some activity suggestions.
Typical Visual-Motor Development in Children
For this post we will be reviewing development from ages 0 months to 6 years old. Remember that the ages given as a range. Some children may master these skills sooner, others later.
As always, if you do suspect your child has delays in this area of development, talk to your child's doctor and ask for an Occupational Therapy Evaluation as well as get an exam by an eye doctor to rule out any physical delays in vision development.
0-5 Months Old
- Can track a rattle while lying on their back.
- Eyes can track an object towards the middle (midline) or start at midline to either side.
- Eyes can follow objects in a circular motion.
- Can look at an object and attempt to reach for that object (visually directed reaching).
- Touches fingers together.
- Can begin to reach with both hands at the same time.
- Eyes can track an object to the right and left sides, past the midline.
- Can regard their own hands.
- Can track a ball side to side as it rolls across a table left to right and right to left.
- Can track a rattle from side to side while lying on their back.
- Can touch both hands together while lying on back.
- Can reach to midline for a toy or object while lying on their back.
6-11 Months Old
- Can extend hands to reach for a toy while lying on the back.
- Watches your mouth when you talk.
- Reaches for an object with right or left hand.
- Uses a raking grasp (all fingers at the same time) to pick up small objects.
- Can shake a rattle.
- Can transfer objects from one hand to the other.
- Starts to make eye contact.
- Can begin to play games like peek-a-boo.
- Can bring hands together to grasp a block/toy while sitting supported on an adult's lap.
- Use an inferior pincer grasp (pads of index finger and thumb) to pick up small objects like round cereal.
- Develops eye-hand coordination by crawling.
- Can clap hands together.
- Can release an object upon request.
- Can remove large pegs from a pegboard.
- Finds a small object after watching it be hidden.
- Eyes can follow an object as it is dropped.
- Feeds self finger foods.
12-17 Months (1 to 1 1/2 years old)
- Can judge distances to throw an object with some accuracy.
- Begins to scribble on paper with a crayon.
- Can place objects into a medium or large container.
- Can remove socks.
- Turns pages of a board book.
- Imitates stirring with a spoon.
- Looks where a ball is rolled.
- Removes or dumps out objects from a container.
- Able to point at objects with their finger.
- Begin to place small objects into a small container.
- Can identify 1 body part on themselves.
- Imitates a tower, 2-3 blocks high.
- Begins to imitate a vertical line or scribbles.
- Pats or touches pictures.
18-23 Months (1 1/2 to 2 years old)
- Can build a tower 4-6 blocks high.
- Begins to imitate a circle shape through scribbling.
- Can imitate a vertical line when drawing.
- Can push, pull, or dump things.
- Can turn a few thicker pages in a book.
- Can push, pull, and dump items out.
- Can turn a picture right side up if it is given to them upside down.
- Can identify 3 body parts on themselves.
- Matches pictures of items to real objects.
- Attempts to kick a ball by walking into it or swinging their leg (they may also miss the ball).
- Can throw a small ball a few feet while standing.
- Can scoop food from one container to another.
- Can feed self some foods without much spilling.
24-29 Months (2 to 2 1/2 years old)
- Able to remove a lid that twists and screws.
- Can turn 1 page at a time while looking at a book.
- Can build a tower up to 8 blocks high.
- Can string 4 large beads onto a piece of yarn.
- Can sort objects that vary in color when given an example.
- Can imitate a 2-4 block train design with a chimney.
- Imitates horizontal lines on paper.
- Begins to imitate a single circle shape.
- Identifies 4 body parts of themselves.
- Matches pictures to real objects.
- Turns an object right-side up.
- Can kick a ball forward with either foot without support.
- Throws a large ball.
- Can undress independently with help only for fasteners and pullover clothing.
30-36 Months (2 1/2 to 3 years old)
- Can imitate a single circle shape.
- Can snip paper with child-safe scissors.
- Can build a tower 10 blocks high.
- Can cut paper in half with child-safe scissors.
- Can match blue, red, and yellow objects by color.
- Can match identical, simple pictures.
- Completes a 3-piece puzzle.
- Can catch a large ball thrown gently and from a close distance.
- Makes small snips with scissors on a straight line.
- Can dress with help for fasteners.
36 Months – 41 Months (3 to 3 1/2 years old)
- Can copy vertical/horizontal lines, and circle shapes.
- Begins to imitate a cross shape.
- Can make continuous cuts with child safety scissors.
- Can throw a small ball overhand with one hand.
- Can imitate a 3-block bridge design.
- Can catch a large ball thrown from 5 feet away.
- Can sort circle, square and triangle shapes when shown how.
- Can match items by texture.
- Can recall some aspects of pictures.
- Can name an object when only part of it is shown.
42-47 Months ( 3 1/2 to 4 years old)
- Can count up to 5 objects aloud.
- Points to or names 4 basic colors.
- Completes a 4 to 5 piece puzzle.
- Can put shoes on the correct feet.
- Brushes teeth with horizontal and vertical motions.
- Can kick a large ball while it is rolling away, or rolled from 4 feet away.
- Throws a small ball underhand up to 5 feet and hitting a target at least 2 feet off the ground.
48 – 53 Months (4 to 4 1/2 years old)
- Can draw a person with 3 different body parts.
- Can pedal a tricycle around obstacles and make u-turns.
- Can dress and undress without much help.
- Catches a large ball from 3 feet away.
- Can point to the smallest object when asked.
- Points out two groups of objects that are alike based on shape, color, or size.
- Can choose long, longer, and longest from a group of 3.
- Can copy color and shape patterns with blocks or beads.
54 – 59 Months (4 1/2 to 5 years old)
- Sorts objects by color, size, and shape.
- Can follow moving objects with their eyes.
- Can select big, bigger, and biggest and small, smaller, smallest in a group of objects.
- Can copy a cross shape.
- Begins to imitate a square shape and left/right diagonal lines.
- Can cut a large circle with scissors.
- Can connect a series of dots spaced 1/2 inch apart to make a simple drawing.
- Cuts easy food with a knife.
- Bounces a ball 2-3 times.
60 – 65 Months (5 to 5 1/2 years old)
- Can copy the cross shape, square shape, diagonal lines.
- Can imitate the “X” shape and triangle shape.
- Catches a small ball with hands and chest.
- Can draw a person with 6 or more body parts.
- Can connect two dots (6 inches apart) with a straight line that does not deviate more than 1/4 inch.
- Knows most basic colors and color names.
- Can read and write numerals 1-5.
- Can match letters in a group of many different letters.
- Can group objects that vary in 2 ways such as blue square, blue circle, and red square.
- Can tie shoes.
66 – 71 Months (5 1/2 to 6 years old)
- Can name most uppercase but not most lowercase letters.
- Can recognize their name in uppercase letters.
- Can recognize their name when printed with lowercase and capital letters.
- Can complete a 6-12 piece interlocking puzzle.
- Brushes or combs their hair well.
- Cuts most food with a knife.
- Can print their own name in either upper or lowercase letters without a model.
- Can cut a simple picture following a general outline within 1/4 inch.
- Can copy an X shape and triangle shape.
Beery, K.E., Beery, N.A. The Beery-Buktencia Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration. Minneapolis: MSC Pearson, 2006.
Folio, M. R., Fewell R.R. Peabody Developmental Motor Scales 2nd Edition. Autin: Pro-Ed. 2000.
Stensaas, M.S., OTR/L The Developmental Sequence of Visual-Motor Skills. Super Duper Publications, 2007.
Visual-Motor Development Resources
If you are looking for more posts and resources on visual-motor development, here are some links I suggest.
- What is Visual Perception?
- Visual-Perceptual Skills Needed for Independent Feeding
- Best Visual Perception Toys for Children – Miss Jaime OT
- FUNctional Visual Perception Workbook for Kids – Miss Jaime OT
- Visual-Motor & Visual Perception – Cincinnati Children's Hospital
- Visual-Motor Skills – Your Therapy Source
- Visual-Motor Integration – OT Mom Learning Activities
Activity Suggestion for Visual-Motor Skills
Here are some very basic activity suggestions to help your child's visual-motor skills:
- Completing mazes or I-Spy activities
- Putting puzzles together
- Ball tossing or kicking activities (especially with a target)
- Scissor activities
- Practicing pre-writing lines and shapes with preschoolers (before introducing handwriting and letter formations)
- Building with blocks (here are some block activity suggestions)
- Beanbag tosses (corn hole game)
- Popping bubbles
Free Visual-Motor Development Checklist Printable
I have all the visual-motor development lists that I posted above in this handy checklist format. It's a free printable on my site when you also sign-up for my weekly child development newsletter.
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