Infant vision development: Helping babies see their bright futures!

Eyes aren’t only the windows to the soul, vision is an important part of learning about, exploring and connecting with the world. Supporting your child’s visual development helps to set their sight on success!

The first year of your baby's life is a critical period of development. Photo credit: Nick Fedele | MSU Extension
The first year of your baby's life is a critical period of development. Photo credit: Nick Fedele | MSU Extension

During the first year of life, your baby is experiencing rapid growth, physically, cognitively and emotionally. Being that vision is the least developed sense at birth, a lot happens during the first 12 months. Your baby will go from being nearsighted and having difficulty focusing their eyes to being able to imitate movements, recognize faces and play peek-a-boo.

To help you understand this important year of development, Michigan State University Extension has information about how vision changes during the first year of life and ways you can support it.

Birth to Four Months

Until around three months of age, infants cannot focus on objects that are more than 8-10 inches away from their faces. Around three months, their range of vision begins to increase but they haven’t yet developed the ability to move their visual focus from one object to another.

Babies have an easier time focusing on high contrast objects during this stage of development. Black and white photos with contrasting patterns or images, also called infant stimulation cards, are easy for your infant to focus on and can encourage their vision development. You can post these cards throughout your home where your child can see them or even create a mobile with them.

At about three months, babies should be engaging in visual tracking, this refers to the ability to follow an object with their eyes. To practice tracking with your baby, place your baby on their back and try to get their attention with a rattle, bell or other toy held above them in midline (the center of their body). Once they look at your toy, slowly move the toy to the right or left towards the floor. Watch to see if your baby follows the object with their eyes. If your baby loses the object, try shaking it to get their attention again. You can also try gluing a high-contrast infant stimulation card to a paper plate and encouraging your child to track the image.

Supporting vision development from birth to four months:

  • Hold toys and others stimuli within 8 - 10 inches from your baby’s face so they are able to focus on it. Give them plenty of time to focus their eyes on the object and remember to give them lots of down time to avoid overstimulation.
  • Get your baby moving! Hold your baby up as you walk around the room and turn them slowly so they can see objects and people in the room.
  • Change it up! Make sure to alternate which side your child is feeding on and even which direction they are sleeping in the crib. This will allow them to balance what they are seeing and prevent them from always turning the same direction.

Five to Eight Months

Infants are beginning to develop depth perception, a more sensitive perception of color vision and can accomplish tasks like moving an object from one hand to the other. As children develop their motor skills during this period, they are also developing hand-eye coordination. Your baby will start to be able to tell the difference between strange and familiar faces. They also develop the ability to concentrate on objects like toys or even their own fingers or toes.

Supporting vision development from five to eight months:

  • Small toys, like wooden blocks, will encourage fine motor development and hand-eye coordination.
  • Make sure your baby has plenty of floor play so they can watch and explore the world around them.
  • Songs and other games that include a motor pattern like “patty cake” or “so big” can help encourage visual development and muscle coordination.
  • Hang a mobile above your child’s crib or play area that your child can reach for, pull or kick.

Nine to 12 Months

Babies are working on using their eyes and hands together and synchronizing these movements. They will develop better motor control of their hands and fingers and will be able to pick up objects by coordinating those fine motor muscles and their eyes. During this time they should be starting to feed themselves finger foods.

Supporting vision development from nine to 12 months:

  • Reading books with your child is a great way to test their sight. Allow your baby lots of time to explore books. They will be exposed to new and different colors, shapes and images and practice their hand-eye coordination by turning the pages.
  • Playing hide and seek using toys or your face is a great way to work on developing your infant’s visual memory. Partially cover your infant’s favorite toy and watch them work on retrieving it.
  • When you are out and about with your baby, point and label objects. It not only encourages visual acuity, but language and cognitive development as well.
  • Schedule plenty of face time. Babies still enjoy looking at familiar faces. So make silly faces and give plenty of kisses and tickles.

For more information about your child’s vision development, check out the American Optometric Association.

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