The term “hand-eye coordination” describes the ability of your body’s visual system to process information received through the eyes and use it to direct the movements of the hands. This skill is clearly demonstrated in sports such as tennis, baseball and basketball, but even simple daily tasks require the brain, eyes and limbs to work together.
Hand-eye coordination is a complex neurological process that should be encouraged from an early age. It works in conjunction with our fine-motor skills (needed for tasks such as doing up buttons) and also our gross-motor skills (needed for catching a ball). Without good hand-eye coordination, we would not be able to carry out everyday tasks such as writing, pouring a drink, or putting on our socks.
From the basics such as picking up a toy to more major movements that involve a mature complexity of motions, hand-eye coordination builds as your child grows. As newborns, your baby’s hand movements are mainly reflexive in nature, but as they grow, their movements will be more purposeful.
By the time your baby is five-months-old, they should be reaching and grasping for objects and moving toys from one hand to the other. As the end of the first year approaches, this skill develops to include a pincer grip, capable of picking up smaller items such as dry pieces of cereal.
From two-years-old, your toddler should be able to pick up and stack five building blocks, hold a writing utensil, and hold a spoon to eat. By three-years-old, he or she should be capable of turning pages in a book, and drawing circles.
Once at preschool, your child should now have a good grasp on their hand-eye coordination. By now they have developed spacial awareness that coordinates with their hand-eye abilities to position small objects and better control eating utensils. Hand-eye coordination will continue to develop with practice, and by school age their fine motor skills have matured enough to let him or her master most basic hand-eye coordination tasks. Your school age child should be able to print letters, colour between the lines, feed themselves, do up zippers and buttons, and manipulate objects easily. As years go on, hand-eye coordination skills become more sophisticated, allowing them to play sports such as basketball, tennis and baseball.
There are many ways to encourage development of hand-eye coordination in children. Just like any other skill, the more time spent doing activities that involve hand-eye coordination, the easier the skill will become.
For infants, play is an essential part of developing hand-eye coordination. Play allows your baby to learn how to reach and grab for objects, as well as understand cause and effect.
If you have concerns about your child’s hand-eye coordination, consider speaking with your paediatrician. Before this, however, you may like to try some exercises that help to strengthen weak hand-eye coordination skills.
The key to improving hand-eye coordination appears to be in exercises that focus not on an object or destination, but on the space in between. A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience supports a theory that gaze control is a major contributing factor in developing good hand-eye coordination. In the study, researchers found that gaze defines key grasping or fingertip positions between the hand and the object and then directs the hand to these positions when moving the object.
With this in mind, great activities to improve hand-eye coordination include:
Have your child hold a tennis racket or badminton racket out in front of them, palm facing up, or for the more advanced option a ping pong paddle. You may need to hold the racket along with them until they can get the hang of it themselves. Take a tennis ball, shuttlecock or ping pong ball and have them bounce it as many times as they can without dropping or missing it. Repeat the drill, adapting the height of the bounce each time.
Just like bouncing a ball on a racket, playing wall ball is a great way to practice hand-eye coordination, and something your child can do on their own. Have them take a ball of any size, stand in front of a wall and start throwing and catching the ball. Repeat, and even have them change the distance between them and the wall each time.
Jigsaw puzzles can sharpen visual perception and fine motor skills, and can be an effective tool in the development of your child. In addition to adding to their fine motor skills, jigsaw puzzles can help children develop their memory, shape recognition and goal setting. Choose age-appropriate puzzles to avoid your child from becoming too frustrated with the difficulty.