Simple Exercises to Get Your Child's Eyes in Shape for Going Back to School
As we begin to think about our children going back to school, we can have them do some simple exercises to get their eyes back in shape for the rigors of all the near work involved in their academic pursuits. Our eyes were not designed to spend extended periods of time looking up close at the flat world of papers, books, and electronic device screens. They were designed to function in the three dimensional world with all of its clues to depth, which aid the eyes in knowing where to aim. The combination of sustained near work, and decreased time spent playing outside, increases the risk of numerous visual system dysfunctions including myopia (nearsightedness), especially in younger children.
Here are a few exercises to strengthen your child's visual system so it is more prepared to handle the stress of concentrated near work. The first exercise, Four Corner Fixations, is designed to strengthen, and limber the eye muscles. Have your child sit 6 to 8 feet from a wall, and move their eyes from corner to corner in a clockwise fashion, stopping in each of the four corners for three seconds. Repeat this for a total of five rounds, and then go counterclockwise for another five rounds.
The second exercise, Focus Shift, is designed to build strength, and flexibility in the focusing muscles. Have your child cover their left eye with their left hand, and hold a pencil 6 inches in front of their right eye. Ask them to shift their focus from the print on the pencil to a picture or calendar on the wall across the room. Do this 10 times, and then repeat with their other eye. This will help them sustain clarity with near work, and shifting from the board to their paper.
The third exercise, Near-Far Rock, is aimed at strengthening how well the eyes work together as a team. Have your child hold a pencil 6 to 8 inches from their nose, and shift their eyes from the pencil to a target across the room, or out the window, holding fixation on each target for 3 seconds. Repeat this 20 times.
The fourth exercise, Letter Fixations, works on the eye movements we use with reading, and writing. Have your child pick a book appropriate for their reading level, and just say the first, and last letter on each row for a page or two. Strive for accuracy first, flow second, and finally ask for speed.
The fifth exercise, ABC Search, is one that can be done with the whole family (except the driver) working together. While riding in the car, or going for a walk, start by looking for an item that begins with the letter "a", such as an apple. Then find something which begins with the letter 'b", and so on thru the entire alphabet. When you have finished, you can add a memory component to this game by seeing if you, as a family, can name all of the items you found in order.
These exercise are good for anyone, but the over 40 crowd may find the focusing exercise too taxing or even impossible. If any of these exercises cause a headache, or eye straining that lasts for more than a few minutes, stop the exercise. This may indicate that there is a weakness that should be evaluated by an eye care professional.
By doing eye exercises, or vision therapy, we know we can improve our visual functioning and efficiency, which will benefit our reading and writing.