Visual Development

Visual development is something that takes place primarily over the first few years of your baby’s life. At birth infants are more listeners than lookers; they have all the structures needed to see but haven’t learnt how to use them yet. As with learning to talk or walk, your baby will need to learn how to see. Babies will spend the early months of their lives developing skills such as focusing, using both eyes together to form one image (yoking), learning about depth perception and developing eye-hand co-ordination. To move their eyes, young babies need to move their heads. Their heads are heavy, and your baby will need to develop the musculature of the neck, shoulders and back to be able to use their eyes sufficiently to begin with. It is hard work and why tummy time can be exhausting for very little babies. At first babies do not like being on their tummies, but you can help by attracting their attention (talking to them, using a noisy toy such as a rattle), giving them lots of encouragement and by getting down on the floor with them to make it a fun activity for you both. It’s no fun for them just being put down on their tummy and not being able to see what is going on. Once your baby has strengthened their head and neck and can lift it up with ease, the world becomes a bigger and much more interesting place than the ceiling they previously saw. Being used to playing on their tummy on the floor, allows your baby the opportunity to reach and wriggle towards an object. This is the start of both hand-eye coordination and crawling, the first independent movement. What can your baby see?  There are two types of photoreceptors in sight: rods and cones. The rods work at very low levels of light (night vision for example), whilst cones require much more light and can see colour. At birth, the rods of the eye are more mature than the cones; your baby has spent the last nine months in your womb in very low lighting. This means that your baby at birth is able to see geometric shapes and the light and dark shades, but as the months pass and the cones mature so does your baby’s perception of colour and irregular shapes. The muscles in your baby's eye are also underdeveloped and immature. So newborns can only focus at 8 to 12 inches and everything is blurred. They start to learn to focus by looking at faces and then at objects brought near to them. That is why sitting with your baby in your arms and just staring at them, smiling and talking to them is so worthwhile. When they begin to follow moving objects with their eyes, tracking and eye teaming (yoking) skills start to develop and they learn to co-ordinate their eye movements. Eye/hand co-ordination begins when the child first reaches out for an object. A four-month old can see full colour and by six months their ability to see has advanced significantly, due to the large development within the visual centres of the brain. Colour vision will be similar to that of an adult and they should be able to move their eyes more rapidly, accurately and see more distinctly. Hand-eye coordination is improving each day. Between seven and twelve months there are further major changes as your baby will now be mobile. They will become better at judging distances and more accurate at grasping and throwing objects. At this stage, your moving baby is developing a better awareness of their body; they will be practising and learning how to coordinate their vision with their body movements. You may start to see changes to your baby's eye colour.

How to stimulate your baby’s visual development

During the first 4 months:

• Use a nightlight or other dim lamp in your baby’s room. • Try changing your baby's cot’s position frequently and their position within it. • Keep toys within your baby’s focus of about eight to 12 inches. • Talk to your baby as you walk around the room. • Alternate right and left sides with each feeding. • Hang a mobile above and outside the cot. • Start introducing some tummy time

Between 4 and 8 months: • Help your baby explore different shapes and textures with his or her fingers (treasure basket) • Give your baby the freedom to crawl and explore. • Hang objects across the cot. • Play games like patty cake and peek-a-boo with your baby. • Increase their tummy time to about one hour during their day (doesn't have to all at once) • Start reading books with your baby - brightly coloured and interesting picture books. Use your fingers to point at interesting objects or animals within the story • Use pull along toys to help develop your baby's ability to track a moving object, develop hand-eye coordination and visual focusing (near and far) Between 8 to 12 months: • Continue to encourage crawling; crawling is important in developing eye-hand-foot-body coordination. Roll balls, use tunnels, put toys slightly out of reach to encourage crawling • Give your baby stacking and take-apart toys. • Provide your baby with objects they can hold and see at the same time - treasure baskets including lots of sensory objects • Continue to use parent-facing prams and pushchairs to encourage conversations and visual games • Spend time playing outside