Visual exploration is one of the most important things we can do with our babies in their first year of life. Everything your baby sees creates new connections in the brain and contributes to learning that develops our sense of vision! We know that it takes time to develop the skills of sitting, standing and walking… but did you know it takes time to develop the act of moving our eyes, processing the information and gaining meaning from what we see? Let’s discuss all the changes that happen in the first year.
In the early days, the images most in focus are about 8 to 12 inches in front of our baby’s eyes, about the distance from the crook of mom’s arms to her face. Further objects will be more out of focus. You might notice that newborns are mostly attracted to things with light, movement, and contrast. Our ability to detect contrast, differences between light and dark, is the foundation for visual perception and the brain’s coding of visual information. You might have noticed that your newborn’s best friend is the ceiling fan for those reasons!
While playing with your little one, sometimes your baby may stare off into space because he just wants to take a break from sensory overload. It can be tiring to take in a whole new world!
Between four to eight weeks, you might notice your newborn staring vacantly at surroundings. You might notice that he quiets when gazing towards a light window or light source. Your newborn may start viewing faces momentarily. Your little one should begin to keep the eyes working together, instead of crossing or drifting apart (although this can occur up to 6 months.)
Once you discover that your newborn is able to look at your face, you may be able to slowly begin to move your face side-to-side and your sweet one may follow. You might notice that his eyes do not follow your face smoothly, but make little jumping motions. These motions are called saccades. Eventually, with practice and development, pursuits, (smooth tracking of a moving object) will occur. You can also practice these foundational eye movements with black and white images or high contrast images like in this book. (Check out our Instagram stories for demonstrations!)
Around 2 months, he first begins to observe his hand in action. Around 3 months, his eyes are able to follow moving objects in all directions (still working on perfecting those saccades and pursuits.) He will begin searching for sounds with his eyes.
Around four months, his eyes move in active inspection to explore his own hand, toys, and surroundings. Your little one may begin to reach hands to objects, and may bat at hanging objects with their hands. During the 3 to 4 month phase, a baby gym is fun for your baby to explore laying flat on his back, interacting with gravity and to practice reaching out to the colourful mobiles hanging above.
Around five to eight months, color vision has fully developed, and your little one is able to see clearly at longer distances. While reaching out to an object, your baby feels the textures and hears the crinkly sound it produces. Gradually, your baby will begin to understand that the action of touching is causing the noise. These are the beginnings of understanding the complex notion of cause and effect. Wrist rattles can be a great learning tool for this as well.
These important visual-tactile experiments support your baby’s developing spatial perception. Spatial perception is the foundational ability that allows us to perceive relationships between objects and self, also known as depth perception.
Most babies start crawling around 8 months old, which helps further develop eye-hand-foot-body coordination. Not only is crawling important for gross motor development and integration, it helps develop and reinforce spatial perception and eye coordination as well. According to kidspot.com:
“Crawling also offers an opportunity for a baby to understand spatial concepts. This provides the child with a physical understanding and orientation of the physical world around them; their relationship with and position within it… This understanding will be of vital importance throughout their lives for self-preservation, navigation and problem solving…Left and right brain coordination is boosted by crawling, as the brain is required to process hearing, sight and movement all at the same time. So the more your baby practises crawling, the more synchronised and developed each of these essential skills will become.”
Around 9 months, your little one will begin exploring the world by pulling themselves up to a standing position. By 10 months, your baby should be able to grasp objects with their thumb and forefinger, called a pincer grasp. This is a high level of visual motor integration. During this phase, it is a perfect time to bring your little one in for an InfantSEE evaluation, a comprehensive infant eye assessment between 6 and 12 months of age.
By 12 months of age, most babies will be crawling and trying to walk. Your baby can now judge distances fairly well and throw things with precision. Watch out world!
- How the brain learns to distinguish between what is important and what is not
- Smooth Pursuit in 1- to 4-month-old Human Infants