Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tossing Bean Bags Can Improve A Child's Reading

Children who struggle with reading because they keep losing their place, skip little words, or miss entire lines may have deficits of their eye movement skills. Since there are three pairs of muscles connected to each eyeball, (that's 12 muscles in all), the eye can be accurately pointed towards an exact point in space often without the need for the head to move at all. Of course, if a child's eye movements have not developed to a place where she can control them automatically and efficiently, she will find reading difficult or frustrating. Tossing bean bags can help her control her eye movements. Here's how to give directions for the activity for which you need nothing more than two bean bags:
  • Hold a bean bag at waist level, palm up in one hand
  • Hold the other hand also at waist level, palm up
  • Toss the bean bag from one hand to the other in a large soft arc
  • Watch the bean bag from the time it leaves the first hand, following it constantly until it lands in the second hand
  • Toss the bean bag back and forth without taking your eyes off the bean bag

If it is difficult for your child to catch the bean bag, suggest that he make sure to look at the hand with which he needs to catch the bean bag right before the bean bag lands there. You may need to issue the same cue with every new toss at first.

When this becomes easy for your child, make the activity more difficult.

  • Hold one bean bag in one hand as before with the other hand at the waist, palm-up, in order to catch it
  • Toss the bean bag as before
  • When the bean bag is flying, clap one time. Then, catch the bean bag
  • Toss it back, clapping and catching with the other hand

When this becomes easy, make the activity even more difficult.

  • Hold two bean bags, one in each hand at waist level, palms up
  • Toss one bean bag in an arc
  • Watch the bean bag that is flying
  • When the bean bag is in the air, mid-flight, clap the other bean bag into the hand that threw the first bean bag (DO NOT Throw the second bean bag - CLAP It!)
  • Catch the first bean bag with the now empty hand
  • Continue for as many repetitions as possible

As your child masters these simple and quite entertaining activities, she will become more aware of how to direct her eyes. The longer she can sustain the activity, the more she will exercise her eye muscles. While this activity alone will not remediate a severe eye movement deficit, it will begin to give your child experience using and developing their ocular motilities.

If your child has difficulty reading because he loses his place, skips words or misses whole lines you should not assume that he will grow out of it. Instead, schedule your child for a complete eye exam at a developmental optometrist who has experience with binocular vision and who incorporates vision therapy into his practice. Click on the link (at the top right of this blog) to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development to find a member eye doctor in your area.

You may also be interested in purchasing the first book (the Purple Book) in my Eye Can Too! Read series because it provides a series of academic activities for elementary school students which rely on the eye movement skills of saccades and pursuits. All of these activities are designed to be done at home facilitated by a parent. Every child can improve their eye movement skills just like every athlete can improve their strength and dexterity. To purchase your copy of this book, just click on the link at the top right corner of this blog.

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