Vision Development Milestones: Age One Year and Up
As in our previous article on vision development of infants from birth up to a year old, there are many activities that parents can encourage that will help children up to preschool develop great visual skills they will need later on in school and life. These skills not only help the process of vision but can be helpful in physical coordination as well.
In the time between one year and preschool, young children should become very interested iin exploration of their world, looking and listening. They can recognize familiar objects and pictures and love to scribble with crayons or fat pencils. Arts and crafts stimulate the imagination and their eyesight.
Parents can participate in their child’s visual development; it’s not just good for them, but fun for both. Some guidelines as to what is usual and expected are helpful.
With all toys and games, be sure to check the packaging to make sure they are appropriate for the age group of your child.
Check online for websites that provide safety guidelines for toys and follow their guidelines; because nothing is ever 100% safe, supervise play times.
One Year to Eighteen Months
Visual and physical coordination are important skills in playing sports once they are old enough. Most sports require good visual tracking, body-to-eye coordination and the ability to change focus rapidly as objects move from far away to close up. Examples of good visual skills include reading, writing, using a keyboard and throwing and catching a ball. All these things work together to help develop self confidence, too.
At about one year, most babies will be crawling and can pull themselves up into a standing position. If they have mastered crawling using cross-motion – that is, their right arm and left leg work together, then the left arm and right leg -- they can begin to walk, but early walking before they have mastery of that type of movement can sometimes lead to poor physical coordination as well as poor hand-eye or body-eye motion later on.
Also at about one year, babies can fairly well determine distance and throw things with better precision.
Good activities for this age group:
- Language is developing quickly, so use names for actions and objects.
- Encourage water and sand play with lots of different containers like cups, pails, plastic bottles and measuring spoons.
- Provide crayons or fat pencils to use on large sheets of inexpensive newsprint or a roll of butcher’s paper.
- Introduce things to put together and take apart and toys that require fitting shapes into spaces or inside each other.
- Encourage pretend play with a toy telephone or kitchen with play food, human and animal dolls.
- Roll a ball back and forth so the child learns to track using vision and not head turning.
Eighteen to Twenty-four Months
Depth perception and hand-eye coordination should be becoming quite well developed, so they can recognize different shapes and sizes of objects. Fine motor coordination allows them to reach out to grasp finger foods and hold their own bottle.
Sliding activities like skating or sledding help develop better balance and most children find them to be lots of fun, as well.
Good activities for this age group:
- Read picture books aloud and allow the child to see the words and the pictures together.
- Help the child start to sort objects by colour, shape, size or type.
- Continue water and sand play with containers .
- Provide large sheets of paper and crayons for creative scribbling.
- Provide four-wheeled toys to straddle and move with the feet and other wheeled toys to push or pull along.
- Encourage play and toys that allow building towers and other structures.
- Encourage imagination and telling stories.
Two to Three Years
Children in this age group are learning about the world all the time. Parents should encourage this and provide help when needed. Activities they may find helpful:
- Storybooks and reading out loud are always good; allow children to see words and pictures on the pages and that turning a page reveals more things to see.
- Introduce stories without pictures to help develop visualization and imagination.
- Provide lots of age-appropriate books and allow unrestricted access to them.
- Model activities like reading books and magazines; there should be lots of reading materials in the home.
- Begin trips to the library and allow the child to choose which stories and books to get.
- Encourage more and more arts and crafts; large beads to string on thick cords and take apart and restring in different ways.
- Provide building toys like blocks or large-size Legos that can be put together in lots of different ways.
- Physical activities like running, jumping, tumbling, climbing, using swings and beginning acrobatics are good.
- Children love to climb on and around play structures, and this is a good way to help socialization as well.
- Set up challenges like an obstacle course through furniture and pillows.
- Children like make-believe games, and playing dress-up, especially with a large wall-mirror so they can see how they look, and making up their own stories.
- Help the child learn how to play with others and socialize. They are learning to get along with others, how to play fair, taking turns, and sharing. Set up playdates with one playmate at a time.
Three to Four Years
If a child has not had a comprehensive vision examination, schedule it now. Children assume their vision is normal, and very seldom complain about it because they think everyone else sees the same way they do. It is important to catch vision problems early, before they begin to interfere with learning. Almost 80% of learning in school depends on vision and it’s proper functioning; if there are problems with focusing, tracking, aiming the eyes or their ability to work together, the child could have profound learning difficulties.
In general, children of three to four years old are becoming more skilled at all their activities, physical as well as visual. Some more things that will encourage this:
- Challenge child to dodge, throw, stop and go, turn sharp corners and other physical activities.
- Play outdoor yard games like tag and large-ball soccer.
- Encourage play together with small groups of others about the same age.
- As hand-eye coordination improves, begin manipulative activities like puzzles, hidden pictures, same/different, more sorting and classifying.
- Continue arts and crafts with drawing and colouring materials. Children can begin to use clay or play-dough to make shapes and forms like rolling out “snakes” to stack up into walls or sides of bowls or other containers.
- Continue with lots of books and stories.
Four years and Up
Children this age are beginning to tell stories to themselves or other children. They talk and talk and talk, with playmates or parents, making up names and characters. They can imagine themselves in different places or situations, and their intellectual development is now in overdrive.
Parents should provide ample opportunities to explore these new abilities and encourage active play and learning development. It is important not just for visual development but physical and learning skills as well.
Computers have become a large part of our lives, and your child will probably show an interest in learning about them, especially if adults or other siblings are using them. Please check our article titled “Computers and the Human Body, Especially for Kids” to learn about setting up a child’s computer station.
It is absolutely essential for children to have a complete vision evaluation before entering school. In most western school systems, grades one, two and three are concerned with teaching children how to read and how to use their vision to learn. At about grade four, the focus shifts to using reading in order to learn about other things. If there is a problem with the basic reading skills, there may be profound complications in the higher grade levels.
One thing parents should not do is depend on school vision screenings. The problem is not that they find problems that are not present, but rather that they miss many of the things that can cause learning difficulty. According to the College of Optometrists for Visual Development (COVD) a group of optometric professionals concerned about reading skills and good visual function in children, has estimated that at least half of vision difficulties that are significant enough to impact a child’s ability to learn are missed by school screenings. Parents should not depend for their children’s success in school on well-meaning but untrained volunteers.
After a preschool vision examination, each child should have an annual visual examination. Vision can change rather quickly, especially in young children into adolescence. In a very real sense, the vision skills they acquire in childhood are the key to their lifelong success. If that seems overstated, consider the role of the eyes in reading, and that we depend on reading to acquire the knowledge we need to function as well-rounded, independent adults.
Vision changes are normal throughout life, but unlike other issues, they often have no symptoms to alert us to the fact that there is a problem. Often the only way to find out if the visual system is functioning well is through an exam.
Vision Problems are Rare
Luckily, most children develop good vision and learning skills without difficulty, but parents owe it to themselves and their children to make sure that happens, and that the child is ready to learn.
If you have any doubts or questions about your child’s vision, check with your optometrist.