A LESSON FROM A WIDE-EYED DOE
Have you ever seen the eyes of a deer, while standing completely still, dart quickly to one side before dashing off to safety? The deer freezes when a threatening sound is heard, then her eyes alone look to the direction in which she will move BEFORE moving. Her head and body quickly turns and she leaps in that direction. We live in a culture where our eyes become rather locked into position from staring straight ahead for hours each day while working on a computer, driving, and watching TV. It is no surprise then that it is not common knowledge that much of movement originates with the movement of our eyes. How does the development of the infant’s eyes relate to learning movement skills?
EYE DEVELOPMENT IN BABIES BY AGE 6 MONTHS
The development of sight begins with the fetal development of the eyes and continues to develop with the part of the brain called the visual cortex. Most visual abilities are present by age 6 months and finely tuned by one year. These abilities are depth perception, color vision, fine acuity, and eye movements such as blinking and tracking. Vision continues to adapt and change quite a bit until the age of two years and less so until the age of nine years old. Sight is an extremely complicated ability, and the brain allocates more of its territory to vision than to all the other senses combined. This tells us that our eyesight is both quite a complicated function is extremely important.
BABIES, INTENTION AND MOVEMENT
Once the baby has developed the visual skills of focusing on an object and tracking it, you will observe her want a favorite toy and reach for it. Her movement is motivated by her intention…by what she WANTS. Since reaching is a skill developed quite early, babies quickly learn to reach when they see something they want. For baby to learn movement skills, involve her sight in a way that evokes her desire to get a fun object. For example, if she is lying on her back, hold the toy in front of her face so she can focus on it, and when you see that she would like to play with it you move it slowly to one side an set it on the floor near her. Occasionally shake it to make its familiar sound, reminding her it is near. Observe how first her eyes move to the side, her head then turns toward the toy, and she tries to reach for it. Maybe, eventually, she finds herself rolling onto her stomach to get it! Create her intention and she will organize her movement to try and get what she wants! Contrast this experience with a baby lying on a mat with toys dangling overhead: she is quite content to play with them. Why should she roll to the side? After all, her entertainment is right in from of her face.
Let’s examine the skill of reaching. Hold a favorite rattle in front of baby, shake it to engage her curiosity and then hold it a bit away from her so she will reach to grasp it. And, sometimes, hold it a bit to the right and observe how she organizes her movement to get it. She follows it with her eyes, then turns her head, then maybe she turns her ribs and spine a bit to be able to reach to the side and grasp the rattle. It won’t be long before baby’s reaching for the stars!