In babies and very young children, the muscles in the eyes develop sequentially and are intimately related to the development of the central nervous system. In infancy and early childhood, peripheral vision is the first function to develop naturally, followed by the development of foveal vision.
Foveal refers to up-close, two-dimensional viewing used for activities such as reading and writing. Peripheral and three-dimensional vision refers to what we see beyond the foveal center, reaching to the mid and far boundaries of our vision as a whole. Foveal function allows us to focus in on and track details, while peripheral vision allows us to take in the environment all around us. Each is critically important.
There’s a great book by Carla Hannaford entitled, Smart Moves, published by Great Ocean Publishers. This book looks at how movement nourishes the brain and is essential in the developing years. In Chapter 6, Hannaford describes how the eye muscles strengthen as they move in response to head movement. This happens when the vestibular system is activated. The more the eyes move, the more the muscles of both eyes work together, and the more connections are made to the brain.
Time spent in sedentary positions for very young children can inhibit the natural development of eye muscle strengthening, teaming and tracking. Giving babies and young children lots of opportunities to move and express physically helps to stimulate the vestibular system, and helps the eye muscles to strengthen and grow in concert.
In the short video clip above, I’m speaking at a Movement Grows Learning Workshop about foveal and peripheral vision.