There are many ways you can inspire your baby with visually stimulating experiences to help her make sense of her world and what she sees in it.

How to use visuals to play with your baby.

There are many ways you can inspire your baby with visually stimulating experiences to help her make sense of her world and what she sees in it. The best visual stimuli for babies will be bright, bold, strong contrasting colours or black and white, simple and clearly defined shapes and patterns.

Pointing to visual stimuli and talking about what you see is a great way to help children engage with things they are looking at. Phrases such as “Look at the circles in that picture,” or “Can you see the black square?” can engage children, pique their curiosity and develop their ability to pay attention specific visual stimuli.

For very young babies, eye-tracking skills – the way the brain automatically directs the eye to information it is processing - can be developed though games such as balling up a tissue or coloured chiffon scarf and throwing it up into the air so that it lands on the baby. This will link sight and touch and develop children’s ability to focus and track moving objects.

Balls and toys that have distinct, contrasting colours will improve your baby’s focus and promote her eye-tracking skills as they moves, and, as they move faster, the bright patterns become increasingly difficult to distinguish, thus providing additional challenges for children as their vision develops.

Provide play for your baby that includes all the five senses: touch, hearing, sight, taste and smell Games that promote sensory integration - the way the brain makes sense of the environment from touch, hearing, sight, taste and smell - help children learn to develop hand-eye coordination and encourage their brains to link information that they receive from their five senses.

Many baby toys have textures and noises built into them and the best ones have textures that are consistent with how something looks, feels and sounds. For example, toys that have a crinkly paper that makes a rustling sound and feels crunchy to the touch facilitates consistent sensory perception, so that when your baby encounters other objects that have a similar texture or that make similar sounds, he will expect to see something that looks ‘crunchy’ and those neural pathways develop more effectively.

What the research says.

Playing with your baby by pointing or helping him to direct his gaze promotes brain development. Lots of games involving vision are very simple and can be done almost anywhere with limited equipment. Dr Robert Fantz, (1960) conducted an experiment where he put two objects directly in front of a baby; a patterned black and white chequerboard and a plain grey card. He found that babies had a preference to the black and white geometric chequerboard, meaning that babies prefer bright contrasting colours and geometric shapes, compared to a plain piece of paper with no design. This chequerboard design, although boring to adults, captured children’s attention because of the contrasting colours. The striking design allowed children to concentrate and focus on the shape for longer, as it was visually appealing and captured their attention.

Bower (1977), who is a behavioural scientist supports Fant’z findings. He showed babies black and white shapes as well as plain white, red and yellow coloured cards. He found that babies picked the black and white shapes over the bright cards, as it stimulated them more. Try these games with your baby and see how she responds!

You could show your baby coloured cards and see which colour she is attracted to. Just by showing these contrasting colours in what ever form - coloured shapes, coloured cards, coloured toys - will increase brain development and stimulate visual development in your baby. Cut out an assortment of brightly coloured cards in different shapes and show them to your. Your baby will find circular shapes especially interesting as they do not have corners. She is able to move her eyes around the circle in a continuous movement rather than jumping corners like what she would have to do when looking at a square or triangle. Babies find these shapes easier to gaze at, as the eye movement is softer and not as rigid as if looking at a square. Babies begin to learn that shape A (circle) has no corners, but shape B (a square) has corners. This information is then stored for deep processing and when a baby is faced with another circular/square object, they retrieve the information and can distinguish between shapes.

Chaze and Ludington (1984) found that babies are fond of circular geometric shapes. One reason why babies prefer circles is because this is the first shape they see when they are breast-feeding. At a very young age, babies also begin to recognize the contrast of colours between the nipple and the lighter skin around it and it is from this process of recognition that babies start to discern differences in colours and to distinguish between colours.

Summary: Visual stimulation is crucial for the development of your child and for promoting strong cognitive, physical, and emotional growth. Babies need to be stimulated in order to make quicker brain connections and by showing them contrasting colours and geometric shapes is one way that this can be done.

Article written in consultation with a Leading Child Psychologist, Dr. Amanda Gummer.