The human eye, our ability to see and the fact that we can comprehend the world around us is truly amazing. Sight underpins so much of the learning and development a child undertakes in the early years. From recognising familiar faces, to learning to read. From identifying different emotions, to running safely through a garden. Of course, children with a visual impairment achieve the even greater feat of developing these skills without the benefit of sight. For children who are not impaired, early years sight development is crucial.
At birth, children’s sight is very different from what we experience day to day. Abuzz with stimulation, their eyes are not yet able to work together or to distinguish colour. Very young babies will struggle to focus on any particular image. However, they will be able to distinguish some features at a distance of 8 to 10 inches from their face. By two months old, a baby’s eyes will be able to work together to focus on their parents’ faces when nearby. At three months old, most children will start to track moving objects with their eyes.
During this period the child’s eyes continue to improve how they work as a pair. This change enables children to increasingly see the world in 3D, giving them increasing depth perception. It is also around this age that neurological development causes a child to start developing hand-eye coordination. Although it is very difficult to know for sure, it is generally believed that children have good colour vision by 5 months old.
As babies grow towards their first birthday, much of the physical development of the eye itself is complete. During this period a child will be crawling, and beginning to take their first steps. All of this gross motor development also entails equally major development of their sight, and neurological vision centres. A 1 year old’s hand-eye coordination should be developing to the point that they can throw objects with some accuracy.
As children continue to develop through the early years, their brain’s ability to make full use of their eyes will keep improving. These changes will start to manifest themselves as the use of the eye, rather than the mouth, becomes more and more prominent in the way a child explores the world around them. Towards the end of the early years sight development, children will be increasingly able to throw and catch with more accuracy.
Beyond the early years, sight development continues. In reality, our eyes are always changing throughout life. For more information about keeping your eyes healthy, visit the Eyecare Trust.