It is hard to imagine that newborn babies can only see about eight to 12 inches away, with anything beyond all a blur. It is even harder to imagine just how crucial a strong visual system is for a child’s overall development, with 80% of learning in the first 12 years coming through the eyes. With such a huge window of opportunity, parents and caregivers alike can take advantage of toys and play to help stimulate and sharpen a child’s vision.
When a baby can safely sit on his or her own, a simple game of roll-the-ball can help stimulate depth perception and eye movement/tracking. Be sure to choose a soft ball (preferably with high contrast) and start close, slowly working further back from the child. While the goal here is to stimulate a baby’s sense of sight, keep in mind this time is a treasure trove for verbal and social development, too. The parent or caregiver is smart to describe what they are doing at all times and reinforce turn-taking skills. For younger babies, brightly colored mobiles will fit the bill.
Toddlers and preschoolers
Now poised to interact at a more complex level, try engaging the toddler with age-appropriate puzzles or parquetry blocks (brightly colored geometric shapes) to learn spatial awareness and appreciate figure-ground relationships, which is the ability to focus on one specific piece of information in a busy background. A game like I Spy is perfect.
Swap out the tablet for activities such as connect-the-dots, fill in the dots, mazes or tracing, as these activities can enhance fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and eye movement/tracking skills.
Staying up to date with eye exams can help ensure the child is not the one in every four school-age kids who has an undetected vision problem. And be certain to opt for a comprehensive eye exam, which can uncover issues like farsightedness and eye coordination that would likely be missed during a basic school screening.