Learning to See – How Vision Develops
Newborns have all the eye structures necessary to see, but they haven’t learned to use them yet. Infants' vision begins to develop at birth. Babies spend much of their early weeks and months of life learning how to see--developing such skills as focusing, teaming their eye movements, recognizing depth, developing eye-hand coordination, and making spatial judgments. As the child grows, more complex skills, such as visual perception and visual motor integration, develop to meet the child’s growing need to understand and interpret his world.
Birth to Four Months
Because newborns can only focus eight to twelve inches, most of their vision is blurred. Babies first start to learn to focus their eyes by looking at faces and then gradually moving out to bright objects of interest brought near them. Newborns should be able to momentarily hold their gaze on an object for a few seconds, but by 8-12 weeks they should start to follow people or moving objects with their eyes. At first, infants have to move their whole head to move their eyes, but by 2-4 months they should start to move their eyes independently with much less head movement. When infants start to follow moving objects with their eyes they begin to develop tracking and eye teaming skills. Young infants haven't learned to use their eyes together; they haven't developed enough neuromuscular control yet to keep their eyes from crossing. This alarms many parents, but by 4 or 5 months babies usually have learned to coordinate their eye movements as a team and the crossed-eyes should stop. (If you're seeing your infant's eyes cross after this time, this could indicate a problem, and you should seek the advice of your family optometrist.) By four months, babies start to reach for objects, the beginning of eye-hand coordination. Also by four months of age, babies visual systems have developed the ability to see in full color, and they're exposed to an exciting new world!