As your beautiful baby grows, you notice that he will look at you for longer periods.
He will even make faces to try to get your attention. These moments are especially important in laying down the foundation for visual attention. Every second you can grab to look at and talk with your baby is key to building visual focus and the ability to sustain attention. As we know, sustained attention is important for EVERYTHING! Especially learning.
The eyes need to direct all of our movements. When vision is coupled with any motor activity, there is a more efficient and effective result. Think of trying to put an earring on without a mirror or trying to do something in the dark. It gets done eventually but it takes a lot longer. Or think of the child in the outfield planning to catch the ball but the eyes are looking somewhere else…
When your baby begins to bat at toys, bells and whistles should blow! This means that your baby now has intentional movement. With practice that random batting will become more accurate as the arms and eyes work together becoming more successful at hitting the dangling toy. Providing opportunities for your baby to touch and move toys will help establish the connection between the eyes and hands.
The trick is to keep your amazing baby motivated and challenged. Scattering a pile of toys around the room doesn’t really draw the baby in. Selecting specific toys and placing them nearby for the baby to see and the eventually reach for helps to bring the baby’s attention to one item. Encourage your baby to play with each toy chosen in various positions: on the tummy, side lying and in supported sitting. This will help captivate the baby’s interest as well as introduce more challenge. It also helps make the body more flexible for bigger motor challenges and motor planning as she develops.
Visual attention is the key not only to strong motor development but learning as well. Keeping your baby gazing at you and the toys you introduce throughout waking hours will help build the visual focus necessary for later eye-‐hand activities.
Here are some ways you can play with your baby to help encourage visual attention and visual tracking:
- Be sure to be near your baby when talking and smiling at him. Don’t be afraid to make funny faces. This will intrigue and delight your baby and will extend the visual attention.
- Place toys and common (safe) household objects in front of the baby. Make sure the toy is placed at a distance easily accessible for reaching. Slowly move toys a little farther away to challenge her to move or reach for the toy. Make sure the baby is always successful in this quest. That might mean bringing the toy quite close so touching or grasping is possible.
- When your baby is sitting in a baby or car seat, stroller or some other containerized mechanism, be sure there are safe objects for her to hold, feel and squeeze. This will help increase the awareness, strength and coordination of the hands for future athletic work (like throwing a basket ball, or squeezing a racquet).
- Gently rub your baby’s hands over textured surfaces and shaped objects. Tactile stimulation helps build early precepts for later visual spatial reasoning (like figuring out where to run on the soccer field).
- When talking to your baby, always have your face in close proximity. That way your baby will link the sounds of your voice with your face. Auditory and visual attention will be increased!
When your baby is around, put away the iphone and other electronic devises. Give your baby 100% of your attention!
By Jill Mays, author of Your Child’s Motor Development Story – Understanding and enhancing development from birth to their first sport. Jill has worked with children for more than 30 years. A mother of three children, she has juggled motherhood with her work in a private occupational therapy practice and consulting where she helps parents and educators understand the complex concepts of sensorimotor development.