Hand-Eye Coordination in Children

One of the most significant parts of a child’s growth and development is their hand-eye coordination. This underpins a child’s ability to do so many other things in their lives, yet a lot of the time it isn’t really discussed, or if it is then only certain aspects are mentioned (such as pincer grip). But if a child’s hand-eye coordination is underdeveloped, a lot of other physical tasks become significantly harder, which can further hinder physical development and this, in turn, can have detrimental effects on cognitive development. In short, hand-eye coordination is extremely important to a child’s development and in this blog, we’re going to take a brief look at understanding it and what can be done to promote its development.

I Think I Know, but Just in Case, What is Hand-Eye Coordination?

In essence, hand-eye coordination describes the accuracy of our response to trying to move an object one way or another. This process starts when our eyes identify an object or task that we want to interact with. This may be from a conscious decision or a subconscious one, but regardless we have seen something and choose to interact with it. Our brain then processes the information from the eyes and sends instructions to our hands to actually reach out and interact with the object our eyes identified. Then, finally, our hands reach out and hopefully successfully grab, touch or move the object as we wanted.

So, the process of hand-eye coordination is basically:

  • Eyes – See it
  • Brain – Process it
  • Hands – Do it

When this all works well, it’s a seamless process that we give absolutely no thought to. It’s pretty much as automated as breathing; something that you can think about and effect if you want to, but there’s no need to normally. But when young children are just developing these abilities, it doesn’t always work, and this can lead to frustration, tantrums and upset. But learning and developing hand-eye coordination is a process like any other learning journey, so let’s look at what this journey should loosely look like.

A Rough Guide to Hand-Eye Coordination Milestones

Child’s AgeHand-Eye Coordination Activities
0 – 6 MonthsGrabbing objects and passing things between hands.
6 – 12 MonthsUsing thumb and forefinger for pincer grip and picking up smaller objects.
1 – 2 YearsStacking blocks, holding a pencil and using a spoon.
2 – 3 YearsDrawing circles or simple shapes, turning pages of a paper book and beginning to control a ball.
3 – 5 YearsDeveloping better use of cutlery, showing intention with the fine placement of small objects and beginning to write.
5 – 7 YearsColouring within the lines, being able to do and undo buttons and beginning to play sport.
Johansson, R. et al. (2001) “Eye–Hand Coordination in Object Manipulation”, The Journal of Neuroscience, 21(17)

It’s important to realise that every child will develop at their own rate, and different skills and abilities will advance at vastly different rates between children. This being said, the table here shows a generalised journey most children will fall into. The ages shown here and the activities children should be capable of achieving during this time bracket will account for a vast majority of children with some exceeding the milestones and others taking slightly longer.

Whilst these milestones are a reasonable starting point to try and gauge a child’s development, as a parent, you are in the best position to know if something doesn’t feel right. Trusting that judgement and incorporating simple activities into play can be all that’s needed to help your child stay on track.

That being said, if your child is significantly behind one of these steps then please contact your Health Visitor or GP for advice.

Hand-Eye Coordination is More Complicated than it Sounds

A few scientific words are incoming now, you have been warned.

There are numerous other areas of a child’s development that are directly intertwined with hand-eye coordination. Each of these needs to develop to enable successful hand-eye coordination, and as such if any one of these is underdeveloped it can cause issues with our ability to perform certain, often basic, tasks. So having an awareness of these individual cognitive processes can help us to spot when something isn’t quite right.

  • Visual Discrimination – Allows us to identify individual objects and their detail.
  • Visual Tracking – Allows us to locate and follow objects.
  • Vestibular System – Controls our balance and coordination.
  • Fine Motor Skills – Moving our small muscles to manipulate objects.
  • Gross Motor Skills – Moving our limbs to reach for objects.
  • Proprioception – The awareness of how we move our bodies.

With all of these systems working and developing in harmony, children will normally be able to improve their hand-eye coordination and their overall development. Throughout childhood, and even when we’re fully grown, developing our hand-eye coordination is something that we can actively choose to work on as our brains are still incredibly good at learning. Gradually repeating tasks and activities can train our brains to produce better muscle responses, something that’s exemplified by professional athletes, surgeons and gamers to name three easy examples. Each of these groups undertakes similar actions repeatedly and their hands will often perform complex tasks without them really thinking about the precise actions needed. So what can we do if we want to help out children (or ourselves) develop better hand-eye coordination?

Developing Hand-Eye Coordination

With young children, play is by far the best means of helping them with all kinds of physical and cognitive development. The simple act of interacting with you and their toys will help them learn how to grasp and manipulate things along with their hand-eye coordination, but also their social skills amongst other things. Once a child can sit up, teaching them to roll a ball back and forward between you is a fantastic base skill for building upon as they grow. In fact, ball skills in general utilise so many different muscles and cognitive processes, that focusing on them can give children a real boost in hand-eye coordination. Even simply interacting with a ball, without any specific goal or structure, still uses a lot of muscle control and hand-eye coordination. So playing with your child and a ball can go a long way to helping their hand-eye coordination. This is something that can be taken to the next level once they’re old enough by joining after-school clubs, local sporting clubs, or something a bit more unique like our own Ball Bubbas.

In fact, Ball Bubbas is a great example because we have designed the classes around developing hand-eye coordination alongside other important skills such as core motor skills and balance. Skills that you will recall are also vital parts of each other’s success.

It’s important to remember that the development of a child’s hand-eye coordination is vital for their growth and success in many other aspects of their young lives. Most of the time this development occurs naturally enough and children will have little trouble in learning to control their hands, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t enhance and assist their natural learning. Play is by far the best means to help children develop these abilities, and things as simple as a ball can be a fantastic aid. Teach your child to roll, push, throw, catch, kick, bounce or anything else you can think of to do with a ball, every one of these actions requires a lot of brain power and hand-eye coordination.

You can check out the NHS’s Baby Moves website, which is part of the Start 4 Life initiative, and has loads of information and ideas to help get your little ones moving and developing. Checking out after-school clubs and local sporting clubs, such as Ball Bubbas, can all give your children a boost and help further refine their hand-eye coordination. But the most important thing to remember is to just have fun playing with them and enjoy the special moments as they develop.