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Parents' Guide to Children's Normal Visual Development from Infancy to Preschool

Excerpted from: A Reference Guide for Preschool Children's Vision Development
© Optometric Extension Program, 1995


More than 98 percent of all infants are born with normal, healthy seeing organs -- the eyes. Many authorities believe this high rate of normalcy occurs because the eyes and the entire visual system are so important to humans.

However, the normal health and structure of the eyes do not guarantee that your child will be able to use those eyes efficiently in the world he must see and interpret. The classroom, into which your child enters around the age of six, demands much of a child's vision. This classroom, and its special tasks, demands visual abilities and skills every child must learn before he enters school if he is to be successful there. These abilities and skills are learned much better by your preschool child when you (and all others caring for your child) know how to evaluate your child's progress, and how to guide and assist this vision development for future academic success.

This Parents' Guide is designed to give you enough information about visual development so you can make intelligent observations, and know when, where and how to help your preschool child. The Parents' Visual Development Checklist for Preschool Children, below can help you know where a child is on the scale of developing necessary visual skills. Because the sequence of child development is more important than the age at which a given skill developed, all ages given on the checklist are approximate. If your child lags behind the scale by more than four to six weeks in the time from birth to age two, professional help should be sought to assure your child's successful performance in his academic future. Referrals to eye doctors who specialize in children's visual development can be obtained through this site by visiting our Referral Directory: Find a Pediatric Eye Doctor.

General Notes to Consider Before Going Through the Checklist:


Most of the conditions or behaviors noted below will catch your attention. However, none of these conditions should ever be allowed to continue. Children do not "outgrow" developmental delays or gaps. The basic physical condition of the eyes must be normal, and the eyes healthy, if your preschooler is to develop the visual skills necessary for achievement in the classroom.

If any one of these developmental activities is omitted, or practiced too briefly by your baby, it is important to watch all other developmental signs to be certain your baby is gaining all the skills he needs. Delay in visual development can interfere with total development because of the close interrelationships between all sensory systems (sensory motor integration).

SPECIAL NOTE: Parents frequently become alarmed when they see one of their child's eyes appearing to turn in (deviating) toward the child's nose. When the child is very young, and the bridge of the nose is still very flat and broad and this can give a false appearance of a crossed-eye (pseudostrabismus). Look carefully at pictures of your child, and if the reflections of the camera flash bulb are centered in the pupil (the black, round center of each eye), there is probably little cause for concern. However, if this reflection is not in the center of the eye, professional attention should be sought immediately because children seldom outgrow vision problems without professional assistance. Do not hesitate to get several opinions before anything as radical as eye muscle surgery is recommended for your child at these early ages. There are several proven clinical (non-surgical) procedures to alleviate most of these problems, and surgery should always be the last resort. To learn more about eye muscle surgery for eye deviations go to our page on Eye Muscle, Lazy Eye or Strabismus Surgery.

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Parents' Preschool Visual Development Checklist

© Optometric Extension Program, 1995

Dear Parent:

Your child's visual readiness for school starts developing on the day of birth. Every moment of visual experience is a part of the practice and organization which will prepare your child for the visual load of the classroom. This checklist has been prepared by developmental optometrists (behavioral optometrists) and informed educators to help you assure your child of the success and pleasure available in all the academic years that lie ahead.


  • Unusual redness of eyes
  • Unusual redness of lids
  • Crusted eyelids
  • Styes, or sores, on lids
  • Excessive tearing
  • Unusual lid droopiness
  • One eye turns in or out with fatigue


  • Excessive rubbing of eyes
  • Avoids bright light
  • Keeps eyes closed too much of the time


Birth to 6 weeks of age:

  • Stares at surrounding when awake
  • Momentarily holds gaze on bright light or bright object
  • Blinks at camera flash
  • Eyes and head move together
  • One eye may seem turned in at times

8 weeks to 24 weeks:

  • Eyes begin to move more widely with less head movement
  • Eyes begin to follow moving objects or people (8-12 weeks)
  • Watches parent's face when being talked to (10-12 weeks)
  • Begins to watch own hands (12-16 weeks)
  • Eyes move in active inspection of surroundings (18-20 weeks)
  • While sitting, looks at hands, food, bottle (18-24 weeks)
  • Now looking for, and watching more distant objects (20-28 weeks)

30 weeks to 48 weeks:

  • May turn eyes inward while inspecting hands or toy (28-32 weeks)
  • Eyes more mobile and move with little head movement (30-36 weeks)
  • Watches activities around him for longer periods of time (30-36 weeks)
  • Looks for toys he drops (32-38 weeks)
  • Visually inspects toys he can hold (38-40 weeks)
  • Creeps after favorite toy when seen (40-44 weeks)
  • Sweeps eyes around room to see what's happening (44-48 weeks)
  • Visually responds to smiles and voice of others (40-48 weeks)
  • More and more visual inspection of objects and persons (46-52 weeks)

12 months to 18 months:

  • Now using both hands and visually steering hand activity (12-14 months)
  • Visually interested in simple pictures (14-16 months)
  • Often holds objects very close to eyes to inspect (14-18 months)
  • Points to objects or people using words "look" or "see" (14-18 months)
  • Looks for and identifies pictures in books (16-18 months)

24 months to 36 months:

  • Occasionally visually inspects without needing to touch (20-24 months)
  • Smiles, facial brightening when views favorite objects and people (20-24 months)
  • Likes to watch movement of wheels, egg beater, etc. (24-28 months)
  • Watches own hand while scribbling (26-30 months)
  • Visually explores and steers own walking and climbing (30-36 months)
  • Watches and imitates other children (30-36 months)
  • Can now begin to keep coloring on the paper (34-38 months)
  • "Reads" pictures in books (34-38 months)

40 months to 48 months:

  • Brings head and eyes close to page of book while inspecting (40-44 months)
  • Draws and names circle and cross on paper (40-44 months)
  • Can close eyes on request, and may be able to wink one eye (46-50 months)

4 years to 5 years:

  • Uses eyes and hands together well and in increasing skill
  • Moves and rolls eyes in an expressive way
  • Draws and names pictures
  • Colors within lines
  • Cuts and pastes quite well on simple pictures
  • Copies simple forms and some letters
  • Can place small objects in small openings
  • Passes all the tests described in Important Observation Parents Can Make

  • Visually alert and observant of surroundings
  • Tells about places, objects, or people seen elsewhere
  • Shows increasing visual interest in new objects and place

REMEMBER: All the age ranges given above are approximate. Lags of a week or so are not unusual, but any definite developmental delay or non-performance should be given every necessary attention. The performances listed above are important. All are preparatory to school readiness and are visual skills which are essential to lifetime activities.

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