At birth infants are first “listeners” rather than “lookers” as they have all the structures needed to see but haven’t learnt to use them yet. They spend the early months of their lives learning how to see, and develop skills such as focusing, using both eyes together to form one image, depth perception and developing eye-hand co-ordination to be able to make spatial decisions. As they grow the more complex skills develop such as visual perception, so the child can understand and cope with the world around him.
Young babies must use heads to move their eyes, they can’t move them independently. To move their eyes, young babies need to move their heads. Their heads are heavy and the baby needs 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 tumytime can be exhausting for very little babies. At first babies do not like being on their tummies but can be helped by you attracting their attention and giving them lots of encouragement. Make it fun a fun activity, get down on the floor with them and give lots of encouragement. It’s no fun just being put down on tummy and not being able to see what is going on. Once the 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 crawling, the first independent movement.
Newborn babies see patterns of light and dark and shades of grey. The rods of the eye being more mature than the cones. Whilst the rods are used for the reception of geometric shapes and the light and dark shades, as the cones mature so too does the baby’s perception of colour and irregular shapes. As newborns can only focus at 8 to 12 inches everything is blurred. They learn to focus by looking at faces and then at objects brought near to them. That is why is sitting with your baby in your arms and just staring at them, smiling and talking to them is so worthwhile, if not a little bit heavenly.
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.
Visual Development from birth to 12 months:
- At birth, your baby sees only in black and white and shades of grey. Within a few days after birth, infants prefer looking at an image of their mother’s face to that of a stranger. Your baby’s eyes are not very sensitive to light in the first month of life.
- One week after birth, they can see red, orange, yellow and green. But it takes a little longer for them to be able to see blue and violet. This is because blue light has shorter wavelengths, and fewer colour receptors exist in the human retina for blue light.
- By three months Infants develop sharper visual acuity (the sharpness or clarity of vision that enables one to distinguish fine details and shapes) during this period, and their eyes are beginning to move better as a team. Infants at this stage of development are learning how to shift their gaze from one object to another without having to move their head. And their eyes are becoming more sensitive to light
- A four-month old can see full colour
- By six months significant advances have taken place in the vision centers of the brain, allowing your infant to see more distinctly and move his eyes quicker and more accurately to follow moving objects. Colour vision should be similar to that of an adult. Babies also have better eye-hand coordination at 4 to 6 months of age
- Between seven and twelve months: Your child is now mobile, crawling about and covering more distance than you could ever have imagined. They will be better at judging distances and more accurate at grasping and throwing objects. At this stage, infants are developing a better awareness of their overall body and are learning how to coordinate their vision with their body movements. Your infant’s eyes maybe beginning to change 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.
• Change the cot’s position frequently and your child’s position in it.
• Keep reach-and-touch 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.
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 “patty cake” and “peek-a-boo” with your baby.
Between 8 to 12 months:
• Don’t encourage early walking; 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 he or she can hold and see at the same time