What Are They Looking At?: The Importance of Visual Stimulation in Infants

by Marcia Haut

When babies aren’t busy napping, they are staring at the world with wide-open eyes. After all, there’s a lot to take in. You’ve probably noticed significant strides in your young child’s vision from when they came into this world with their eyes closed. It’s pretty clear they’re trying to take in everything they can and make sense of the world around them! Like all body mechanics, visual milestones need to be nurtured in the first year.

Some senses, like smell, are fully developed at birth, but others, like a baby’s visual system, take time to evolve. The best part? You as a parent and caregiver can encourage this development.

As you may have figured out already, learning is easier when embedded in playtime, and with vision, one of the best ways to practice is through playful visual tracking exercises. Visual tracking is the ability to follow moving objects with your eyes. This ability involves a very specialized and coordinated skill set ranging from following an object with both eyes, to swiftly switching focus to variable distances and locations.

While we can’t guarantee your baby will want to look at the object you choose to hold, we can give you some tips that help:

  • High contrast, bold colors are better
  • Lights capture attention
  • Star with simple, uncomplicated toys, which are easier to focus on
  • Sound can help guide the eyes to an object

Milestones are about moving forward. So when it comes to sight, here’s how you can help babies progress:

0-4 months
Beginning at birth, babies learn a lot about their world through looking. Encouraging infants to look at brightly colored objects held 10 to 12 inches away from their eyes will help develop their vision. Between one and three months, babies will begin to visually track brightly colored objects. By slowly moving a brightly colored object from side to side 10 to 12 inches from an infant’s eyes, their eyes will begin to follow it as it moves. This tracking movement will help strengthen eye muscles, which will be important for reading later in life. At four to six months, most babies begin visually tracking objects up, down, and in all directions.

5-8 months
At this age, infants’ eyes start working together and can distinguish things in 3-D. Plus, it’s generally agreed that babies’ color receptors fully develop around this age, which mean colors can fascinate, and shapes can take on new interest during this stage of visual development.

9-12 months
By 9 to 12 months old, babies are developing awareness of their overall body, including how to synchronize their vision with their physical movements. By now, their eyes are pretty much as good as they are in adulthood—if not better—so they’ll be able to master focusing on objects, tracking their movement, and finding them at a distance.

In their first year, babies will focus on many objects, and they are especially attracted to faces. The NogginStik Developmental Light-up Rattle, from SmartNoggin Toys, features a friendly face and is equipped with several visual features. Unlike a traditional rattle, when the NogginStik is tapped or shaken, it emits a soft glow light that changes colors between red, green, and blue to stimulate the eyes and encourage visual attention and visual tracking skills.

The NogginStik is a toy that focuses on skills children need in the first developmental stages of their lives. The original purpose of the NogginStik was to promote eye tracking, but that’s only the beginning of where this developmental tool can take infants on their amazing milestone journey.

Check out SmartNoggin Toys and the NogginStik at Maletzky Media’s Babypalooza on July 14!

Karyn Ravin