It’s hard to imagine that newborn babies can only see about 8-12 inches away, with anything beyond all a blur. It’s even harder to imagine just how crucial a strong visual system is for a child’s overall development, with 80% of learning in the first 12 years coming through the eyes.
With such a huge window of opportunity, parents and caregivers alike can take advantage of toys and play to help stimulate and sharpen a child’s vision. Bonus: Playing with your kids releases the hormone oxytocin in both you and your child. Sometimes called the “love hormone,” oxytocin supports bonding and other social and emotional behaviors.
As with most child-related activities, though, keeping things age-appropriate is key. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), most activities for “those under the age of 5 months should stimulate a baby’s sense of sight. Those for older-aged kids should help develop or sharpen general eye movement skills, including eye-hand coordination necessary for writing and sports, shape and size discrimination needed for reading, and visualization and visual memory skills needed for comprehension and the ability to visualize abstract things.” 
Building on the AOA guidelines, here are 3 activities for 3 age stages you can try with your child:
When a baby is able to safely sit on his or her own, a simple game of roll-the-ball can help stimulate depth perception and eye movement/tracking. Be sure to choose a soft ball (preferably with high contrast) and start close, slowly working your way further back from the child. While the goal here is to stimulate a baby’s sense of sight, keep in mind this time is a treasure trove for verbal and social development, too. Describe what you are doing at all times and reinforce turn-taking skills.
For younger babies, brightly colored mobiles will fit the bill.
Toddlers & preschoolers
Now poised to interact at a more complex level, try engaging your toddler with age-appropriate puzzles or parquetry blocks (brightly colored geometric shapes) to learn spatial awareness and appreciate figure-ground relationships. That’s the ability to focus on 1 specific piece of information in a busy background (think I Spy).
Swap out the tablet for activities such as connect the dots, fill in the dots, mazes or tracing, which can enhance fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and eye movement/tracking skills. To get started, check out this special back-to-school guide chock-full of fun vision games and info from our friends at Pearle Vision, who have been caring for members of the community – including kids – since 1961. Play fun vision games alongside of Iris and Lash, Pearle Vision’s Eye Squad that is helping keep kids eyes healthy and strong.
O.D. alert: When playing vision games with your kids, be sure to stay tuned into frustration levels and watch for what your child’s behavior may be telling you about how they see. For a child struggling with vision issues, simple games could chip away at their confidence. Case in point, “While playing catch can further the development of those skills in a child with relatively normal age-related developmental levels, it can be frustrating and emotionally devastating to a child with binocular dysfunction, who would perform poorly at those tasks,” says EyeMed Medical Director, Joe Wende, O.D.
That’s why the AOA recommends that babies not considered at risk for vision problems have their first eye exam at 6 months of age. Parents should target another exam around 3 years of age, before first grade, and every 2 years thereafter. 
Staying up-to-date with eye exams can help ensure your child isn’t the 1 in every 4 school-age kids who has an undetected vision problem. And be certain to opt for a comprehensive eye exam, which can uncover issues like farsightedness and eye coordination that would likely be missed during a basic school screening. Find an eye doctor near you today.