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Improve Visual-Motor, Fine Motor Skills & More with Children’s Games and Puzzle Activities

Updated on April 30, 2013
rmcrayne profile image

Rose Mary, an Occupational Therapist since 1987, is experienced with pre-term infants, early intervention, school therapy, and home health.

Connect Four Fine Motor/Visual Motor Activity

Standard and travel sized Connect Four game
Standard and travel sized Connect Four game | Source




Who would have thought 25 years ago that videos, DVDs and cable television would have been such an integral part of how children are entertained?  Or 15 years ago how mainstream cell phone texting and computer and video game systems, like Wii, Play Station, and XBox would be?  Have we forgotten how to have fun without electronics?  Does no one play cards, board games, or other games anymore?  Do we really think these cultural shifts will have no impact on cognitive, motor and social development of children? 

If you do not have non-electronic, low tech games in your home, I highly recommend you start collecting.  As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I routinely used activity books, cards, puzzles, board games and other games.  The great thing is, without even analyzing each, almost all children’s games inherently have developmental and educational benefits.  Games, as most all activities, require accessing and using multiple sensations and skills simultaneously or in sequence. 

I have composed a primer of sorts to overview developmental skills in the areas of visual perception, fine motor, gross motor, cognitive and social skills.  Low tech children’s and family games are great for facilitating these skills. 


Practice visual discrimination, form constancy and spatial relations skills with puzzles.  Photo by Tech Vern,
Practice visual discrimination, form constancy and spatial relations skills with puzzles. Photo by Tech Vern,
Sequential memory skills with Hangman.  Photo from
Sequential memory skills with Hangman. Photo from


Visual perception is the brain’s interpretation of what the eyes see. It is the recognition, interpretation and organization of images. If a child has difficulty in visual perception, you must first ensure the child’s vision is adequate.

So what is the significance of visual perception? A child may see a series of shapes, but does he know which are bigger, or how to orient them in space for play in games? Can she recognize letters written in different sizes or scripts?

Visual perceptual skills include visual discrimination, visual memory, visual sequential memory, spatial relations, form constancy, figure ground and visual closure.

Visual discrimination is the recognition of likenesses and differences between objects, words or pictures.

Visual memory is the ability to remember and recall objects, words or pictures that are seen.

Visual sequential memory is the ability to recall in order, objects, pictures or letters that we have seen. This is an important skill in copying from a blackboard. Visual sequential memory deficits are thought to be a feature of dyslexia.

Spatial relations awareness allows us to recognize objects regardless of rotation or position in space. It is also important in recognizing our position in space and the relationship between ourselves and objects.

Form constancy skills come into play in recognizing that an object is the same regardless of size or orientation, such as recognizing the letter “A” regardless of size or font.

Figure ground awareness allows us to distinguish between foreground and background. Finding hidden pictures is a classic example of this.

Visual closure awareness allows us to predict the whole picture when given incomplete information. Imagine a connect-the-dots picture with random sections not drawn in.

Fine motor manipulation with Cootie.  Photo from
Fine motor manipulation with Cootie. Photo from
Precision fine motor skills with Operation.  Photo from
Precision fine motor skills with Operation. Photo from


Fine motor skills are sometimes referred to as small motor or hand skills and include dexterity and manipulation of objects. These skills are all part of the motor response to visual or other stimuli. The child may understand the concept of an activity, but does he have the finely tuned motor skills to respond? Can she manipulate game board pieces in her hand? Can he manipulate a crayon or pencil?

In-Hand Manipulation Skills were described by Dr. Charlotte Exner, who has lead Occupational Therapy students, including me, in researching these skills in children and establishing norms. There are 5 areas of in-hand manipulation skills, all of which involve the manipulation of objects with or within one hand.

An example of finger to palm translation would be picking up coins from a table, with one hand, and holding them in the palm.

Palm to finger translation is used when you have coins in your hand and bring them out one at a time, and put them in a soda machine.

Shift is the action of moving your fingers up and down a pencil or crayon, or threading a needle.

Simple and complex rotation are used to pick up a pencil off of a table, and rotate it in the hand in order to use it.

My In-Hand Manipulation Demonstration

Battleship for visual-motor challenge.  Photo from
Battleship for visual-motor challenge. Photo from


Visual-motor or perceptual-motor skills are the integration or translation of visual information into motor responses. Visual- motor bridges visual perception and fine motor responses. These types of integration are sometimes referred to eye-hand coordination or eye-body coordination. An example would be perceiving the situation in a board game, and then appropriately moving the game piece. Handwriting would also be an example.

Twister gross motor challenge of motor planning, position in space and proprioception.  Photo from
Twister gross motor challenge of motor planning, position in space and proprioception. Photo from


Gross motor skills are sometimes referred to as “big motor” skills, referring to the big muscles or joints. Running, jumping and throwing a ball are all examples of gross motor skills. There are many component skills necessary for gross motor skills, such as motor planning, balance, position in space and proprioception to name a few.

Motor planning is a term used to refer to the execution or performance of a new motor task. When a child is learning to tie his shoes, it is motor planning. After he is proficient at shoe tying, it is not.

Position in space refers to our awareness of where we are in space and in relation to the people and things around us. It also is key in our awareness of where our arms or legs are in relation to our body and to space, without having to look.

We typically use the word “sensation” to refer to touch or skin sensation. Proprioception is our sense of awareness of our muscles and joints. If there is a heavy door that we are familiar with, we should know how much muscle power to recruit to open it.

Awareness of our position in space is key to balance, and proprioception is key in maintaining our balance if it is challenged. Attention is also important to balance, especially with young children, or in new and challenging situations.

Reasoning and logic with Guess Who.  Photo from
Reasoning and logic with Guess Who. Photo from


The ability to pay attention is necessary to any task. Some tasks of course require more attention than others, or more sustained attention for a longer period of time.

Sequencing skills are required in countless common tasks that we perform every day. Few tasks in life only have one step. Everything else requires us to carry out a sequence of steps to complete a task. We learn a sequence of steps to tie our shoes. We integrate sequencing and planning skills.

Even young children begin using problem solving skills in their daily lives. If they can relate their current problem to things they know, they will use logic and reasoning. For less familiar tasks they may have to use more critical thinking. Older children will begin using abstract reasoning to solve unique problems.

Cooperative play and turn taking with Chutes and Ladders.  Photo from
Cooperative play and turn taking with Chutes and Ladders. Photo from


Games are excellent opportunities to practice an array of social skills. Children must exercise patience and take turns. Games are also great opportunities for children to learn to give as well as follow instructions.

We can help children express their feelings while playing games. I have found children often say “That’s not fair” or “you cheated” when they actually mean “I’m really disappointed that I didn’t win”. We can help children recognize and more effectively express their feelings.

Games are good!  Photo from
Games are good! Photo from

All board games require, and therefore facilitate a multitude of these basic developmental skills. If a child cannot respond appropriately in a game, the problem could be vision, visual perception, visual-motor or fine motor. It could also be a problem with attention or understanding the basic concepts of the game.

Don’t underestimate the value of children’s games, puzzles and activity books. If your kids have gone high tech, consider putting games back on your Christmas and Birthday shopping lists.

I have listed some of the key developmental skills facilitated in most of the games in my series of hubs on children’s and family games listed here.


Thanks for reading. Leave a comment!

Submit a Comment
  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Thanks for reading and commenting randomcreative.

  • randomcreative profile image

    Rose Clearfield 

    9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    Great article with wonderful resources. Thanks!

  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Yikes, a 7 y/o texting!! Holy cow. Yep, it's a whole new world. Thanks so much for your comment, and for the blog post Dale.

  • Dale Mazurek profile image

    Dale Mazurek 

    10 years ago from Canada

    just the pictures alone bring back a lot of fun memories. Not to mention the importance as you have listed.

    It is so tru though that our world has become so fast paced. I couldn't believe it the other dsy when my 7 yr old niece text messaged me. That's right 7 yrs old.

    Anyway a great hub that all parents alike should read

    It is also up on my blog now



  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Kimberly, you're the tease. I always wanted Operation and never had it!

    LR, thanks for the recognition. I am indeed proud of the knowledge I amassed in my 20+ years as an OT. Yes, I was going to do Amazon, but when my latest sleep potion (lemon balm) kicked it, I couldn't afford to argue! Actually I will probably email you with a couple issues on this hub.

  • Lily Rose profile image

    Lily Rose 

    10 years ago from A Coast

    Great hub, RM! You are just a powerhouse of great information! My girls love puzzles and board games, but are still too small to understand a lot of it, but we try anyway! You should add some Amazon capsules for these games your picturing...

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Not fair, you keep teasing me with toys I use to have --but to your point hardly see anymore psst-Operation was my favorite, good Hub Mobster, Kimberly


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