Tips for Developing Your Baby's Visual Tracking Skills

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Babies reach lots of exciting milestones in their first year of life, from trying their first food to uttering their first giggle. Milestones related to vision may be less apparent to parents but are just as important for babies to reach. Following an object's movement with the eyes, known as visual tracking, is a key development for babies.

Your baby is born with poor vision, and they actually have to learn how to focus and coordinate the movement of their eyes. Just like being able to use their hands, communicate with words, or walk, your baby needs to experiment with using their eyes to fully develop their vision.

During their first three months of life, you can provide opportunities for your baby to practice the skills needed to master visual tracking.

What Is Visual Tracking?

Visual tracking is the ability to follow moving objects with the eyes without moving the head. This eye control is a fine motor skill that includes eye movement from side to side and up to down, as well as diagonal and circular movement.

Why Visual Tracking Is Important

Mastering visual tracking sets the stage for your child's success in reaching future vision milestones. Soon after they learn to track, they will begin to work on hand-eye coordination. Later in life, visual tracking will be essential in learning how to read.

Visual tracking also helps your baby learn about their world. "The visual sense lets the child take in an abundance of information," says Valerie Kattouf, OD, FAOO, a pediatric optometrist and medical reviewer for All About Vision. "Without the ability to track moving objects, scan a room, or alternate fixation between various objects, a baby cannot expand his or her ability to take in information and further development."

When Do Babies Start Visually Tracking Objects?

By about 3 months old, most babies can visually track objects.

The road to visual tracking begins not with objects, but with human faces. At just 1 to 2 weeks of age, newborns will shift their gaze to follow your face, as long as your face is no more than eight to ten inches away from theirs. "This is the distance between your face and your babies while breastfeeding," says Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, a pediatrician, and consultant for Mom Loves Best.

At this point, babies see only in black and white. "When babies first start tracking objects when they are around 3 months of age, they can most easily track objects that are black and white. They are easiest for them to see and therefore most attractive," says Dr. Poinsett.

After learning to follow an object's movement, babies will learn to shift their gaze between two objects and hand-eye coordination will begin to develop.

How to Help Develop Your Baby's Visual Tracking

You can help your baby develop visual tracking skills by providing opportunities for them to practice using their eyes. To do this, you will need to have a good understanding of what babies are able to see. Hanging a mobile three feet above your baby's eyes won't help because they cannot see that far. Bringing your face close to your baby's and slowly moving an object while talking to them will.

Focus on Human Faces

Newborns are naturally disposed to stare at human faces. It is pretty amazing that although babies do not track objects until about 3 months old, they can shift their gaze to follow a caregiver's face as early as the second week of life.

Spend lots of time making eye contact with your infant. You can smile or talk if you wish, but just looking down at your precious baby is enough to stimulate them to look back and begin to work their little eye muscles.

Show Them High Contrast Color Pairings

When your baby is born, they can't see much. What they can see best is high-contrast images close to their face. If you prop them up in front of a black and white image 8 to 10 inches away, you will probably notice that they stare at it intently. Other high-contrast pairings, such as purple and orange or blue and yellow, will work too.

If your infant is looking right at the image with wide eyes, let them be. They are busy developing the ability to focus their eyes. When they are a bit older and don't seem as enamored by these pictures as before, you can begin to move them slowly to motivate them to track. "You can shake it a little and move it slowly across your infant's face," says Dr. Poinsett.

Pro-tip: If your baby fusses during tummy time, try positioning them in front of a high-contrast black and white image. They may become so fascinated by staring at it that they forget about trying to get out of tummy time.

Use Low-Hanging Mobiles

Mobiles can help your baby develop their vision, but it is important to use them correctly. Make sure that your mobile hangs low enough for a newborn baby to be able to focus on them. "Remember, a baby's world is very close up early in development," notes Dr. Kattouf. Mobiles for infants do not need to move or swing a lot.

When your baby is about 2 months old, switch their mobile out for one that does swing back and forth. You can start using an infant gym with different objects for your baby to bat and try to grab around 3 to 4 months old, or when your baby first reaches for their mobile.

Mobiles for older babies can be colorful, as color vision begins around 3 months and is fully in place by around 5 months.

A Word From Verywell

Visual tracking is an important milestone in your baby's journey to developing full-color, 20/20 vision. Babies are born with poor vision and need plenty of chances to practice focusing and using their eyes. You can help your newborn learn to track objects by showing them high-contrast images 8 to 10 inches from their face. Later, you can begin to slightly move the objects they enjoy looking at.

Remember that your baby will learn to track at their own pace. The most important way to help them is to have plenty of positive interactions that bond you with your infant. An engaged baby is a happy baby, which is the point of providing them with rich, visually stimulating activities that support their development.

Originally written by
Jennifer White
Jennifer White has authored parenting books and has worked in childcare and education fields for over 15 years.
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  1. Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. American Optometric Association.