Starfish Therapies

January 8, 2014

Eye See: Visual Perceptual vs Eyesight

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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Occupational therapists are frequently asked what the difference between visual perception and eyesight is. Vision plays a significant role in the way we interact with our environment and how we learn.

Visual acuity refers to how clearly a person sees. Vision is more than just eye sight and how clearly we see. A person can have “20/20” vision but also have difficulty with visual perceptual skills.

Visual perception refers to the brains ability to make sense of what the eyes see. All of the body’s sensory experiences contribute to visual perception including sight, sound, touch, smell, balance, movement and muscle control contribute to visual perception. Visual perception is important for many different school tasks including reading, writing, cutting, copying from the board, visualizing past experiences, giving/getting directions, navigating the playground, and eye-hand coordination. The sub-areas of visual perception include the following:


Visual discrimination: The ability to see differences and similarities in shapes, patterns and objects.

Form Constancy Perception: The ability to identify, sort and name the same objects, shapes and symbols despite differences in their size, shading, texture and/or position.

Figure Ground Perception: The ability to distinguish an object/word/letter/number from a busy background. It requires the eyes to focus on and identify specific objects/words/letters/numbers between others.

Position in Space Perception: The ability to understand and perceive the position of an object in relation to one’s own body.

Spatial Relationships Perception: The ability to perceive the position of two or more objects in relation to oneself and to each other. It includes the ability to identify left and right on one’s own body and apply it to objects.

Visual Closure Perception: The ability to identify an object, shape or symbol from an incomplete presentation.

Visual Memory: The ability to recall or reproduce a number/letter/object/figure that has previously been seen for a short period of time i.e. to remember what has been seen.

Occupational Therapists frequently work on visual perceptual skills to facilitate improved visual motor and fine motor skills. Activities to promote improved visual perceptual skills include puzzles, finding hidden pictures, Where’s Waldo, “I SPY” (figure ground), bingo (visual scanning), memory card game ( visual memory and matching), and block design duplication (visual-spatial relations).  Visual perception plays an important role in how a child learns and interprets his or her environment.

December 3, 2012

Car Games

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 2:40 pm
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car trip

With the holiday season in full swing, your family may find itself spending some time in the car while traveling between various family members or other destinations. Here are some games that are fun and can work on skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground discrimination and visual form constancy.

When I used to travel with my family (and even when I moved cross country as an adult) one of my favorite games to play was the license plate game.  We loved to try to and find a license plate from all 50 states.  This tends to be more of an ongoing game though.  So if you have kids that can write or read, you can give them a list of the states and have them cross them off as they see them (or try to write the license plate number next to the state).  In our car Hawaii and Alaska were always especially exciting to find.  You could keep the list in the car so they can work on it each time they get in.

The alphabet game was another favorite.  When we got in the car we would start at the letter A and try to find each letter of the alphabet on the signs we drove by or the license plates we saw.  To make it more challenging we would disqualify license plates or we would say that the word needed to start with the letter.  You could make it a group activity or a competition between each person in the car.

Another game that doesn’t have to be just for the car but can be played there is ‘I Spy’.  Now this one may be trickier to play if you are driving on a freeway and you are picking objects outside.  You may want to leave the outside objects for low speed driving or when you are stuck in traffic and use inside items for freeway driving.  You can vary the game by picking specific objects that you spy or picking colors or objects that start with a certain letter.  You could also turn it into a game of categories.  I remember one time driving in the car with my mom and I had to do a school project on weather vanes and I had the best time locating weather vanes as we drove along and writing the different styles down for my project.  Think of all the categories you could come up with to have your kids look for!

November 6, 2012

Using the Super Skipper

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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The Super Skipper is a great tool to work on jumping, coordination, timing, and visual perceptual skills to name a few.  Just to warn you there is music that goes along with it, so if your child is sensitive to auditory input, they may not like this toy.  There are 3 speeds that it operates at with a different song for each speed as well as a distinct noise that happens when the turning wand arm gets knocked off the base.

We have used it with kiddos who aren’t able to jump yet and they just practice being able to step over an obstacle as it approaches them.  Its a great way to practice noticing your environment and obstacles that may be approaching.  We have also used it with kiddos who are able to jump and we want them to practice the timing of being able to jump over an object as it is moving towards them (think jump rope but in a different context).  Finally we have used it with kiddos who have weakness on one side more than the other and are working on skills like hopping.  We have them practice hopping on their weaker side over the turning wand.  As the kids practice these skills we make it fun by counting to see how many times they are successful and try to build on that each time.  For kids who are doing it regularly we will keep a chart so they can see their progress.

What’s interesting to watch is how their abilities change as the speed of the wand changes.  For the girl in the picture she was able to jump over it when it was on the slowest speed but as soon as it increased to the next speed she moved to the end of the wand so that she was only barely jumping over it (basically she was jumping next to it).  With hand hold assistance and increased cuing she was able to jump over the wand at the faster speed but it was more of a challenge for her because of her change in perception of the moving target.

This if you think about it is relevant to kids out in their day to day environments as well.  For many, they are able to recognize a change in their environment when it happens in a slow and controlled manner so that they can then react to it.  If it happens faster or in a more crowded situation it is harder to react in a timely fashion, or possibly harder to even recognize the change that is happening.  By using a tool such as the super skipper kids get to practice in a graded manner being able to visually attend to something and then react in a timely manner, while weaning down on verbal and tactile cues.

October 5, 2012

Tactile Letters


One of our recent projects at work was to make tactile letters.  Our therapists used various tactile surfaces such as duct tape, felt, cardboard, bumpy paper, glitter paper, denim and any other paper/material we could find that would provide different tactile input.  This allows the child to trace letters and get different tactile input while they are tracing.  Besides the practice of tracing the letter it also gives their body different input to assist with their learning of how to motor plan letter writing.  To provide even more input they made the tactile surface that formed the letter a distinct and different color from the border so that they could have assistance with visual distinction as well.
Some ways to use these tools other than just having the child practice tracing the letters is to play some guessing games.  You can have the child close their eyes while you trace their finger over the letter and see if they can guess what it is.  Or, you can put the letters under a sheet or cover and have the child reach under and see if they can figure out the letter just by feel.
What other ways can you think of to play with tactile letters?


– fun to play tactile games. Have the child close their eyes and take their finger to trace the letter and have them guess what letter it is….. Or place some cards under a blanket or sheet and see if the child can reach under and feel the letter to guess what it is before pulling it out.

June 5, 2012

What are 4 things playing Connect Four can help?

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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image retrieved from:

Connect Four is a game that I used to love playing as a kid!  However, now that I am working with kids I realize how much more it can be than just a game (while your kids think they are just playing a game).  Here are four things that playing Connect Four can work on:

  1. Pincer Grasp – Holding the chips can help to promote pincer grasp which is a mature grasp pattern.  It is possible to use other grasp patterns to pick up the chips as well as to hold it and put it in the slots but it is more efficient to use a pincer grasp and this is a game that can encourage that pattern.
  2. Visual Perception – Not only is this a game that requires planning but it requires being able to line up four chips of the same color in a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) but you can make it into a game that requires creating patterns.  You can do black and red patterns or use pictures of patterns and have the kiddos try to recreate the patterns.
  3. Fine Motor Control – In order to use this game it requires putting the chips into slots of a pretty specific size.  In order to do this the kiddos need to line up the chips and be able to purposefully release their grasp.  In order to encourage this for kids that are having trouble lining the chip up you could always create a funnel (flattened) that has a bigger opening to give the kiddos more leeway with accuracy.  You can decrease the size of the opening as they get more efficient until they are able to get it into the correct slots.
  4. Strategy – When playing the game the way it is meant to be played it requires kiddos to work on strategizing and using problem solving to come up with what move they want to make.  You can work on their thought process by asking them why as well as by letting them make moves and come up with what moves you might make.  It will allow them to work on thinking about what they want to do as well as what their opponent might do.

What things do you use Connect Four for?

March 6, 2012

What Can Velcro Popsicle Sticks Teach?


Once again, I found some really fun ideas on pinterest that I passed on to the OT’s at work.  I actually combined two ideas for them to work with.  The first was velcro popsicle sticks and the other was using preprinted Lego pictures.  We bought some colored popsicle sticks, added velcro and then had fun making pictures for kids to copy later.  One of our OT’s has been using the popsicle sticks by themselves as well as using them with the pictures.  From using these tools, here are some of the benefits that were discovered:

  • visual perception – the kids enhance these skills as they work to copy the shapes and/or the color order
  • problem solving – how to make the shape look like the one in the picture, as well as how to make the popsicle sticks stick to each other (i.e. the ‘soft’ side sticks to the ‘scratchy’ side)
  • bilateral hand use – in order to attach and detach the sticks, the kids need to use two hands
  • shape and letter recognition/formation – when kids create the shape/letter with the popsicle sticks they can trace it with their fingers and then carry it over to actual drawing/writing.  They can also work on naming the shapes or forming them when asked (either by copying a picture or free hand).  When one kiddo who was consistently making squares with rounded corners used the popsicle sticks he was able to make actual corners for the first time when he drew the square.
  • imagination – when given the chance to free play with them you can see what the kids come up with on their own.  For instance one kiddo made a square/diamond and then added one more stick, when the OT asked him what it was he held it up in the air and said ‘kite’.

What other ideas do you have for the popsicle sticks?

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