Hand-eye coordination is the visual processing of information to guide hand movements. It is hugely important to a variety of daily routine activities such as writing and catching. Often, poor hand-eye coordination accompanies a number of syndromes and conditions, such as autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, decreased muscle tone and visual disorders like optic ataxia. Some of these symptoms can be improved with physiotherapy. So, how does physiotherapy improve hand-eye coordination?
Physiotherapy improves hand-eye coordination in several ways. These include:
- Enhancing motor skills and dexterity
- Reducing the risk of falls and injuries
- Improving participation in daily activities
- Increasing confidence and independence
- Improving function
Keep reading to learn more about some of the exercises you can carry out with your child to help develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
What Causes Poor Hand-Eye Coordination?
Hand-eye coordination is greatly impacted by the functioning of our visual system. The visual information we see around us is captured by our eyes and sent to the brain. The brain then processes and interprets these images before informing our hands and arms of the object’s location, speed, size and a variety of other characteristics. This very complex process must run smoothly to allow our hands to respond quickly to visual stimuli.
Even people with perfect vision and motor skills may have problems with hand-eye coordination. This is because the problem is generally not with the individual systems, but rather with how the brain, eyes and body communicate. For example, individuals with poor hand-eye coordination may find it difficult to play sports, have messy handwriting or suffer with eye strain. In summary, poor hand-eye coordination is caused by a difficulty in visual-motor coordination.
How Does Hand-Eye Coordination Work?
Hand-eye coordination incorporates a complex interplay of several brain functions, including:
- Visual processing – This is when your eyes gather information about the positions and movements of objects in your surroundings.
- Motor planning – This is when your brain analyses the visual information and transforms it into instructions for your hands to move.
- Motor execution – This is when your hands execute the planned movements with precision and accuracy.
Hand-eye coordination is essential for sports, fine motor skills and daily activities. Physiotherapy can help children of all ages with activities such as catching, drawing, playing an instrument and activities such as brushing your teeth.
The Role of Physiotherapy in Improving Hand-Eye Coordination
Physiotherapy can help improve hand-eye coordination in several ways. Physiotherapists use various exercises and techniques to help patients improve their visual tracking, motor planning and coordination between the eyes and hands. These specific exercises are designed to help patients improve their ability to perform tasks such as catching a ball, writing and playing sports.
How Can Physiotherapy Help Improve Hand-Eye Coordination?
Here are some of the key ways physiotherapy can help improve hand-eye coordination:
1. Assessment and Diagnosis
Our physiotherapists are trained to assess the underlying causes of hand-eye coordination problems. Using various methods such as observation, physical exams and specialised tests, they can identify the specific areas of weakness or impairment. This comprehensive assessment allows the physiotherapist to develop a targeted and individualised treatment plan.
2. Strengthening & Flexibility Exercises
Physiotherapists can design specific exercises to improve strength, flexibility and range of motion in the muscles and joints responsible for hand-eye coordination. These exercises target the muscles in the arms, hands, shoulders, neck and trunk, depending on the child’s needs.
Some examples of these exercises include:
- Grasping and releasing various sized objects to a target
- Walking forwards on hands with legs held (wheelbarrow) or with feet on floor (bear walking)
- Modified plank position – with legs supported and hands flat on the floor
- Whole Body Vibration with hands placed onto machine to improve strength and body awareness.
3. Proprioception & Kinesthesia Training
Proprioception and kinesthesia are the senses that provide information about the body’s position and movement in space. Our team of professionals incorporate various exercises to improve the senses, allowing children to become aware of their body’s movements and enhance their ability to control them.
4. Visual Processing & Motor Planning Skills
Physiotherapists can utilise various visual processing and motor planning activities to train the brain to interpret visual information more efficiently and plan coordinated hand movements.
5. Education & Self-Management Strategies
Physiotherapists play a crucial role in educating individuals about their hand-eye coordination challenges and providing them with self-management strategies. This includes teaching children how to perform specific exercises at home, suggesting modifications for everyday tasks and offering strategies for coping with limitations.
To find out more about the other conditions we treat at Therapy Stars, take a look at our article, ‘What Conditions Can Children’s Physiotherapy Treat?’.
How Can You Encourage Hand-Eye Coordination At Home?
For infants, reaching and playing with objects and toys are great ways to foster the development of hand-eye coordination. As they get older and can sit independently, you can play with balls, encouraging the baby to roll and corral them. Playing with blocks and other toys that involve putting something in or taking something out are great ways for an infant to develop this skill.
When it comes to toddlers, continue to play with various-sized and textured balls to develop hand-eye coordination. By the age of three, a toddler should be able to ‘fling’ a ball forwards and catch a ball against their chest. To help develop their aim, you can practise tossing balls into hula-hoops or targets on a wall (start with big targets and get smaller as the child progresses and gets older).
4-Year-Olds & Older
For older children, colouring and creating crafts is another fun way to develop hand-eye coordination. Some fun activities include stringing beads of macaroni, finger painting or playing with play-dough. Games that involve slight hand movements further facilitate growth in this area. This includes games such as Jenga or Topple. Lego or building blocks are also great for hand-eye coordination.
Hand-Eye Coordination Exercises
Below, we’ve highlighted some of the main hand-eye coordination exercises:
As you may have already guessed, catching is the ultimate hand-eye coordination activity. If your child has difficulty coordinating their movements when trying to catch something, we have a game that may help. All you need is some coloured scarves. Playing catch with scarves is a great way to improve hand coordination because the scarves drift slowly through the air, moving slowly enough for children to track them with their eyes. They are also very easy to grasp and only require one hand to catch, meaning this is a perfect activity for a child who has difficulty with fine motor coordination.
For older kids who need more of a challenge, try classic games including table tennis and darts.
This is a quick and easy way to work hand-eye coordination practice into your play routine with your child. See if your child can reach to pop each bubble. If that’s too easy, see how many they can catch in a cup or bowl using two hands. They can also alternate hands to pop bubbles even faster using both sides of their body.
If your child enjoys crafts and colouring, this activity could be a winner. All you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with. Take turns with your child drawing silly shapes or simple pictures, getting them to replicate the same drawing. This works best for younger children if you keep things simple. If copying the shape is too hard, you can have them trace on top of your drawing first. As your child’s drawing improves, you can make the pictures more complicated.
Some other ways to improve your child’s fine motor skills include encouraging them to play an instrument or crafting/sewing. Both of these activities require precise hand movements, making them great options for improving hand-eye coordination.
Water play is a fun, engaging activity for kids, which engages the senses and helps synthesise motor skills. Fill a bin or bathtub with water and pom poms, then give your child some cups, bowls or utensils to practise scooping and pouring. Challenge them to get all of the pompoms of one colour into the same cup by simply scooping.
This activity is very broad and can be adapted to whatever you have around the house at the time. First, tape some paper up on a ball and draw a zigzag line or a simple picture like a flower or sun. Then, hand your child some stickers or dot markers and tell them to outline the drawing by placing the stickers along the lines or dotting along it with the marker. Having the paper on a vertical surface like a wall or drive helps build shoulder and wrist strength.
Developing Hand-Eye Coordination With Therapy Stars
At Therapy Stars, our aim is to help your child reach their full mobility potential. Our developmental child physiotherapy is suitable for children aged 0-12 years old. The service benefits a wide range of developmental conditions such as developmental coordination disorder, dyspraxia and poor balance.
We use a range of specialist treatments and child physiotherapy exercises, as well as providing both parents and carers and schools with advice to encourage development outside of the clinic. For more information on this service, book a complimentary call with a member of our friendly team.
Hand-Eye Coordination FAQs
What Is Hand-Eye Coordination?
Hand-eye coordination is the way your brain synthesises visual input (what you’re seeing) with your upper extremity movements to perform a specific task. It allows us to perform countless daily activities with precision and efficiency, from simple tasks such as writing and eating to complex tasks like playing sports.
What Are Some Symptoms of Poor Hand-Eye Coordination?
Poor hand-eye coordination often presents itself as an avoidance or refusal to participate in many ordinary, daily activities. Children with poor hand-eye coordination typically have difficulty with their handwriting. Other skills such as dressing, taking care of personal hygiene and playing with small objects may also be avoided.
Does Poor Hand-Eye Coordination Simply Develop Over Time?
Hand-eye coordination difficulties are typically physiological in nature which is why children with poor coordination skills are usually born with deficiencies. It’s also important to note that hand-eye coordination can often be acquired over time through environmental effects like spinal cord injury, brain injury or severe neglect from sensory experiences during early development.