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Vision Based Learning and Children's Eye Exercises

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Vision plays a huge role in our quality of life and ability to learn and process the world around us. In the workplace, we are often reminded of the importance of taking a break from the computer screen during our work day. Giving our eyes a rest from our monitors may be enough to keep our eyes from fatigue, but for children still developing their vision, a break from the screen is only the beginning.

For a child’s eyes, something as simple as a trip to the park becomes the perfect visual workout. Unfortunately, due to less time outdoors and a strong focus on technology (learning tools like tablets and computers), the majority of preschool and elementary school children are no longer getting the amount of outdoor eye muscle exercise needed to correctly develop their vision into young adulthood.

Published in a March 2014 article in JAMA Pediatrics, children get more sleep, do better in school, show more positive behavior and experience physical health benefits when parents limit content and the amount of time their children spend on computers or television. Lack of physical activity also impacts ocular motor abilities. While sitting to view a computer screen, our eyes remain stationary, but when our bodies are in motion, our eyes spontaneously move. Sadly, as beneficial as we think those electronics are for education, they should be viewed as just as detrimental. Using them in moderation is essential to a child’s development. Here are a few key reasons why.

  1. Focus, tracking, and depth perception will develop continually from birth throughout early and middle childhood. These visual skills are needed to perceive, recognize, and identify shapes, letters and numbers for reading and writing. Limiting your child’s screen time and replacing it with gross motor play will also stimulate their nervous system.
  2. Children who primarily concentrate on electronics are less able to alternate between near and far vision and develop their peripheral vision. The ability to focus and converge the eyes from far point to a near point is necessary during school and may show up as the first sign of a vision difficulty. All too often, children appear to have a learning disability or attention problems when the real culprit is poor visual processing skills.

Symptoms that indicate your child may be experiencing vision-based learning difficulties include:

  • Head tilting or closing one eye while reading
  • Difficulty drawing a straight line
  • Bumps into things or knocks things over
  • Holds books very close to eyes
  • Burning, itching or constant watering of the eyes
  • Homework takes a long time to complete
  • Teacher reports the child is often off task often during class
  • Gets frustrated often when reading or writing
  • Is not able to copy from the board at school
  • Gives up easily on tasks even before trying

There is a true sense of urgency when it comes to a child’s vision. The ability of both eyes to focus on an object simultaneously becomes fully developed by around age seven. This makes it imperative that vision difficulties are corrected in elementary school children by implementing visual exercises that can be done in just a few minutes a day.

Coleman Vision - Playing baseballThe busiest muscles in our bodies are, amazingly, the eye muscles. We have six muscles that help the eyes move vertically, horizontally, anteroposterior (both front and back), and to rotate. Just like our arm, leg, neck and back muscles require movement and stretching, our eye muscles benefit greatly from targeted movement exercises. Outdoor play including running, skipping, crawling, and playing ball games promotes natural movement of the eyes and hand-eye coordination, depth perception, and eye tracking. Combined with daily vision exercises below and an eye examination, your child can be on a course for fully developed healthy vision.

Daily Vision Exercises for Children:

  • Up and Down. Have your child place their hands out and above and below their head level. Moving eyes only, have them look at each hand 10 times.
  • Side to Side. Have your child place their hands out wider than should distance apart. Moving eyes only, have them look at each hand 10 times.
  • Nose to Thumb. Have your child place their hand straight out, with one thumb up. With both eyes open, have them look in at their nose, then out to their thumb. Repeat 10 times.
  • Eye Shifting. This exercise helps a child learn to shift their eyes quickly from one point to another. Have your child hold an object out in their hand. Have them focus on the object, then look to another object such as a picture on the wall about 10 or more feet away. Repeat 10 times.
  • Tracking Exercises. This exercise is helpful to children that tend to skip words, switch the order of letters, or lose their place when reading. Tie a string around a ball. Have your child lie on their back. Swing the ball back and forth, side to side, and around in a circle. Have the child tracking the motion with only their eyes, head stationary. Repeat each direction 10 times.
  • Eye Writing. Have your child draw a letter, number or shape on a wall using only their eyes.
  • Imaginary Clock. Have your child imagine a large clock. Ask a number and with only their eyes have them look to where the number would be on a clock.
  • Flashlight Following. Together with your child, and two flashlights in a dark bedroom, have them follow your flashlight as you shine it on objects in the room, near and far, slow and fast. Take turns being the leading flashlight.
  • Board Games. Unlike games on a flat screen, playing object based board games like Operation, Pick-Up Sticks, and Lite Brite can exercise eye muscles and improve fixation skills. Beading jewelry or using modeling clay are a few more ways your child’s vision can get a workout without them even knowing it.

These eye exercises are a quick start and helpful to improve and enhance your child’s vision, but they are not enough to correct vision problems with binocular, oculomotor, or accommodative diagnoses that require a doctor’s care. Your child should have a visual screening with your family optometrist before beginning their first year of school.



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If your child exhibits any vision-based learning difficulty symptoms, schedule an evaluation with us today. Dr. David Coleman and Dr. Jeff Coleman are developmental optometrists. They are trained to diagnose and treat vision-based learning problems and will assist in guiding you on a corrective treatment and exercise plan.

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