Motor Monday: Visual Development

Contributed Content by Lina Awshee, COTA/L, COVT

Happy Motor Monday, MESH Friends!

Can you believe summer is winding down? Some districts have already started school, which is a reminder to me that work will be starting up again soon! I’ve been so spoiled being able to stay at home and play with Tessa all summer, it will definitely be an adjustment for both of us to get back into the groove of things.

With that said, I want to do a different type of post today and share with all of you one of my biggest passions as a clinician and mommy. VISUAL MOTOR development! So often, we hear about our children’s fine motor and gross motor developments–but our visual system tends to get left out of the conversation.

Having worked for so long as a Vision Therapist, I am always looking for ways to incorporate visual skills into the activities that I do with Tessa, so today, I want to share with you some of the foundational visual skills that we can all work on from when our babies are born!

From day one, we can work on our baby’s visual development by making sure to engage baby from all different directions – for example, when placing your baby into their bassinet or crib, alternate the direction from which you place your baby into their bed. This will allow them to see the “world” from a different perspective each time they are entering/exiting their crib. Another easy one to do in the early days is making sure to rotate baby with each feeding which most tend to do when breastfeeding; for those who are bottle feeding, you want to make sure to rotate them for feedings as well!

In the first couple months of life, it’s also important to remember that their visual system is still developing so placing any visual stimuli within 8-10 inches of their face is really where you want to keep it for optimal visual engagement. Babies are also most interested in familiar faces and high contrast objects so incorporating high contrast cards such as these cards by Genius Baby Toys or making/printing your own and placing them around the house is a great idea!

Below is a throwback of when Tess was around two months old – we had high contrast cards/images all over the place! (I tend to be a little extreme with the things I’m really passionate about. I mean, these cards were seriously everywhere!) These particular ones in the photo were positioned just above her bassinet so that when she laid down, she could look at them. We also made sure to rotate her position often so that she would turn her head in all directions to look towards the images. We also placed high contrast cards around her crib (both low and high), as well as at eye level on our walls for when we would carry her upright and walk around.

There are many, many visual skills (which I will start to outline in future Motor Monday posts!) but some KEY foundational skills in visual development that we can start targeting in the early days include:

Fixation – maintaining or “fixating” your gaze on a target or stimulus
Tracking – following a moving target or stimulus

These are just two skills but are skills that you can really interact and incorporate into your baby’s daily routine! Fixation happens often, whether it’s looking at your face, at a high contrast image, a toy, etc. When you notice your baby fixating, you can start to challenge your baby to track by slowly moving the object of interest in all directions–slowly up and down, side to side, circles, figure 8’s, etc.

And of course, you know it–one of the most important positions a baby should be in daily to practice these skills is TUMMY TIME! You’ve heard a million times why tummy time is so important for building strength, and coordination, and it’s no different for visual development as well! Making sure to provide engaging and motivating stimulus during tummy time is key to helping your baby develop the vital visual skills.

We loved our tummy time mirror because it has high contrast fidgets/objects mounted to it so it “grew” with her – she loved to look and fixate on the objects, then she was motivated to bat at them, and eventually she learned to play with the objects as she learned to sit up–and also eat the mirror like everything else during that mouthing stage! Even now that she is 20 months, she uses this mirror as her “play” mirror, checking herself out while making funny faces!

Did you know? A child’s first eye exam should occur at right about the 6-month mark! This is the time when many of your child’s visual developments have occurred and is the perfect time to take them in for a comprehensive eye exam. Below is information on a Nationwide program that offers cost-free eye exams for baby’s in their first year of life! (now there’s really no excuse not to take your baby in!)

InfantSEE, developed by the American Optometric Association and Johnson & Johnson Vision, is a public health program designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an integral part of infant wellness care to improve a child’s quality of life. We feel so strongly about the importance of healthy vision that participating member optometrists will provide a no-cost comprehensive infant eye and vision assessment within the first year of life.

You can find a doctor locator on their website. When we took Tessa in to our family optometrist for her first eye exam, it was easy peasy! She sat on my lap, the doc did a couple tests, using high contrast cards, their scopes, and a fun show projecting on the wall! She was even dilated that day because we had some concerns with her eye movements – but she took it like a champ and we were home playing in no time!

In future posts, I plan to share more in depth about some of the other visual skills and how you can incorporate the development of them in your PLAYtime with your kids. Please feel free to send over requests and questions if you ever have any!

For more information on eye care, check out these organizations:

American Optometric Association:
College of Optometry in Vision Development:

Till next time!

Happy Playing,

Lina & Tessa

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