Vision Mechanics: Core Four


Visual motor skills involve both classical hand-eye coordination skills, but also the ability to move the eyes with great speed and accuracy. Hand-eye coordination (visuomotor) and eye-movement (oculomotor) skills are learned starting at birth, and are based on a strong sense of ‘body in space’ and balance, or vestibular sense.

Before we can ever hope to achieve great visuomotor skills for playing piano, or oculomotor skills for quick scanning of text, we need to be standing on a foundation of three well-developed and well-integrated core senses.

  • Visual Input: This is the main sensory information sent from the eyes to the brain and includes information about the light and images being perceived, but also regarding the position of the eyes and the status of eye focusing (accommodation).
  • Body Position & Awareness (aka somatosensation): Sensors in the body give us information about temperature, pain, pressure, and the stretching of joints and muscles. These all produce a map of our bodies in our brains.
  • Balance (vestibular sense): These sensors are in our inner ears and tell our brains if our heads are moving. This allows us to keep our balance and to determine if objects are moving around us or if we are moving around the objects (or both).

The Core Four activity set is designed to be accessible to most people and each of the four activities answers the visual needs of growing children by providing integrated challenges to each of the three areas mentioned above. So, while these activities help to develop the physical ‘core’, they are also central to sensory development, including visual perception. These activities are also easy to engage in, require no special equipment, and are not team-based: Team activities often involve specific muscle movements (i.e. hockey is heavy on legs and propulsion) and their nature means the participant is often sitting, waiting. Hockey, soccer, basketball are all similarly restrictive. Football is not even up for consideration given the extreme risk of brain injury.

These Core Four activities are inexpensive, available to everyone, and truly do help build a strong foundation for visual growth. All of the following address our primary developmental targets as outlined above. We hope you enjoy these and enjoy as much recommending these to your own clients!

Here they are, the Core Four Visual Developmental Activities:

  1. Swimming. Start slow, then slowly engage all four limbs. If swimming is not possible, engage in dunking, playing around under the surface, spinning, rolling/tumbling, diving. Be sure to have the child look up as well at times during play, that might mean simply looking up or floating on the back.
  2. Martial Arts. Training in virtually any form of martial arts, whether in person or at home, will help to integrate our three pillars and also provide a useful bit of training for self-protection. Martial arts, like swimming, involves controlled breathing and full body awareness, but it has added benefits of strong visual stimulus (when focusing on targets or simply concentrating), greater resistance against gravity. Participants must learn to be sure-footed but also remain aware of their surroundings. Martial Arts typically also involve elements of meditation, awareness of breathing, control of impulses.
  3. Climbing. Safely, but just about anything, anywhere. All require full body participation, aggressive balance control, and an awareness of vertical space (height) in particular. Scale the activity according to age, risk, ability. So this might be
    • Pillows and cushions and furniture,
    • A hill, a tree, a ladder (using all fours in all cases)
    • Play structures, like webbing in a park.
    • Crocodile walking up and down stairs.
  4. Yoga. Yoga combines the best of all the previous activities, it’s inexpensive, and can be perfected over a lifetime. There are simple poses and stretches that open up the client to spatial awareness and body control, and these can be scaled nearly infinitely to a mastery level integrating complex visual targeting with advance balance and limb movement. Again, it’s important to not only look down and straight, but be sure the head is often directed upwards. Use ‘drishti‘ points, or targets of regard while moving and holding positions. You are never too young nor too old to engage in yoga. Regulated, aware breathing is a key foundation to yoga, likewise mental focus.

Any combination of these Core Four activities will be beneficial to clients in bolstering visuomotor and oculomotor skills through reinforcing the foundation of human vision: Somatosensation, vestibular sense / balance, and peripheral visual awareness. Start small, build on that. Hint: Do these activities prior to more cognitive or fine motor skills work, you’ll find your client is relaxed and better able to handle the task (after a brief period of rest). Along similar lines, putting a child on a swing for 10-15 minutes prior to class can have a similar effect as the daily dose of ADHD medication.

Be sure to watch out for more tips and activities to build visual motor and visual perceptual skills!

Dr. B

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