As well as the senses of touch, taste and smell, sight plays an important role in the initial stages of the development of your relationship with a child in your care.  Even babies of a few months old react to a bright light, colourful mobile, or a patterned blouse. They are attracted to a wide variety of visual stimuli and quite often it is the most natural and easy way to engage with a baby.

Young children look at everything around them. They love to look at bright, bold patterns; to watch the washing going around in the machine; or to simply watch you as you go about your daily tasks. Everyday jobs and experiences that we take for granted can be hugely entertaining to young children. Babies explore their world actively with their eyes, so ensure that whenever you see something of interest you call their attention to it. Help children to make the most of their visual skills by ensuring that objects of interest are placed at appropriate levels for them to enjoy. When playing together, use toys and equipment yourself as children will gain a great deal from watching you. Help them to enjoy looking at simple picture books and draw attention to the finer details on the pages.

The Living Space

Alert parents that by providing an interesting and colourful environment they will be helping their baby to learn and develop. It is, of course, the way that a baby’s visual experience is shared that is of the most importance. Talking about what a child can see and introducing him to new objects and images will help his development more than any colourful toy alone. Care must be taken not to overload a baby, as they can quickly become overstimulated.

How you can help:
  • Ensure that a baby’s play, sleeping and eating spaces are visually interesting and attractive
  • Avoid clutter and too many toys in a child’s play space. Young children find it hard to focus their attention if there is too much on offer.
  • Create a quiet, calm atmosphere in a child’s sleeping space with soft lighting and spaces to rest their eyes on
  • Make a child’s eating space bright and inviting. Avoid the temptation of having a television constantly on and try not to distract your child with too many toys. Use bright, interesting utensils and allow children to bring a comfort toy if you feel they need it.

Eye Contact

It is very important to make eye contact with babies as you talk to, tickle, change and feed them. This allows the baby to focus and concentrate on your face, picking up on all of your features and your voice.

How you can help:
  • Sit close when talking to a baby. Encourage him to focus on your face if you want him to listen.
  • Play peek-a-boo games, taking eye contact away and then bringing it back.

Offer Visual Stimuli

Before a baby is mobile he will rely on you to introduce things for him to look at. He will be eager to look for and find things he drops. His natural curiosity will make him look under, over, in and around new toys or others items he encounters. Use trays, baskets and boxes to gather a variety of familiar and unusual items for him to explore. Encourage him to look carefully at the things he is holding or to take a closer look at things he spots at a distance.

How you can help:
  • While playing together bring a wide variety of items from around your setting for him to look at closely
  • Introduce him to his teddies and toys, encouraging him to take notice of his playthings
  • Call attention to the textures and patterns on his toys and clothes.

Follow Children’s Interests

Follow a child’s gaze and see what he finds interesting. Encourage him to explore with all his senses, helping him to understand that he can gather more information from touching and lifting something rather than just looking.

How you can help:
  • Notice what a child is gazing at, then bring it closer so he can explore it
  • Offer unusual items from around the room for him to look at
  • Look at magazines together, pointing out interesting pictures

Look But Don’t Touch

It is hard for a baby or toddler to understand that some things must only be looked at and not touched, due to safety or other reasons. It is an important skill for your young children to master, particularly with relation to not touching hot or sharp objects. To encourage this self-discipline, you may choose to place a favourite object out of reach – but within sight – of the child. Help him to appreciate the pleasure of just looking at a pretty object. Be patient, as this is a skill that needs a lot of practice.

How you can help:
  • When out with a child, stop at windows and draw his attention to interesting items
  • Take children into art galleries or museums and call their attention to the various exhibits. Choose your visit carefully, making sure that the artwork and exhibits will hold the children’s attention.

The Environment

Inviting children to look closely at their environments will enable them to become familiar with where things are kept and what is available to them. Consider what a child may see from the bouncy chair or changing mat. Place a variety of interesting objects nearby, changing these regularly to visually excite or interest.

How you can help:
  • Introduce children to the items in a room, whether it’s pictures or friezes on the wall or a mobile over a cot. Name and describe each wall hanging.
  • Open cupboards and let children look inside. Let them see what’s inside the drawers too.
  • Lift children so they can see out of the windows, so they know what the different views are like around the home or setting.

Looking at Detail

Looking in detail at things will eventually help children’s understanding of abstract concepts such as colour, texture and shape. They may not understand these until after their third birthday, but it is important to encourage this visual awareness as often and as early as possible. The visual environment should reflect an interesting space, which encourages even the youngest child to explore the patterns, shapes and colours they are introduced to.

How you can help:
  • Change the pictures around the room from time to time. Don’t change everything at once, but challenge children to notice what is new or what has gone.
  • If you hang any items that a child has made on a wall, ensure you do it together.
  • Put up a family photo or something of significance for every child, so that they all have something familiar to find.