Children as young as a couple months old show beginning signs of purposeful hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination is the combined control of eye and hand movements—seeing something and reaching for it. It’s using visual input to guide the hand.
Without hand-eye coordination we wouldn’t be able to do even the simplest of tasks. Every time you pick something up you are using hand-eye coordination—for example, when you feed yourself!
Initially, infant hand-eye coordination is reflexive rather than purposeful. An example is a newborn being able to put fingers in mouth. Voluntary reaching and grasping develops alongside this behavior, gradually overtaking reflexive grasping as the nervous system develops.
Babies first develop the ability to fix their gaze on an object. Once this task is mastered, they move on to develop touch and hand control. The eye figures out distance, size and shape of the object so that the hand can accurately touch, grasp and pick up.
As soon as a baby can sit up, hand-eye coordination develops even further. When there is “posture control,” an infant then switches from reaching and grasping with two hands to be able to reach and grasp with one hand.
Helping your baby develop hand-eye coordination:
- First work on gaze—getting your infant to focus on an object. Use something with bright primary colors or black and white objects. You can also use something shiny like a large spoon. Hold the object about 8-10 inches from you infant’s gaze and move the object slowly left to right and up and down. Try it first when your baby is on his or her back and then when they are in a seated position.
- Give your infant a small, squeezable ring to hold. Once the fingers are strong enough to hold the object, you’ll notice your baby first puts the object in their mouth—and after that is mastered, they will take it out and look at it!
- When your infant is in a seated position, place baby-friendly objects at the height of the table or highchair table in front of them. Watch as they work on reaching and eventually grasping!
- When your baby is able to sit up on their own, place baby-friendly toys in front of them on the play mat. Experiment with placing toys to the right of the baby and to the left of the baby in addition to in front of the baby.
- When your baby is about 12 months old, you can start rolling a ball to them when you are both seated. Try a number of times and eventually your baby will roll the ball back to you! This activity continues to develop hand-eye coordination through preschool years.
- Your preschooler can start to practice catching a large ball. If your child exhibits fear at first of a ball being tossed to them, start by using a large stuffed animal or a pillow.
Here is a website with additional activities for older children: https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/hand-eye-coordination.html#HandEyeYoungerKids