It must be August. Parents are getting their kids ready for the new school year and trying to remember everything that their children should have or have done before starting school. What have I forgotten?This can be especially important for parents of young children starting nursery school or primary school, especially if they haven't done it before. This is a guide to your children's vision, what you should expect to see if there are any problems and when you should bring them for their first eye examination.

Vision and Learning

It is estimated that 85% of a child's learning at school is visual so it is very important to make sure that your children's vision is as perfect as possible. Vision is also needed in the fun things at school as well as learning to read or write. During their first school years from ages 3 to 6, your child will be fine-tuning the vision and visual skills he/she already has developed during the infant and toddler years. Early school vision tasks vary with a child's age and activities. For example, many young kids in nursery may be learning to ride tricycles and master the complex eye-hand coordination needed to pedal, steer and watch where they're going at the same time. Alternatively, older children starting primary school may be learning how to integrate vision and body motions (motor skills) by playing sports such as football (keep your eye on the ball!), or working on the fine motor skills needed to write their names.

Warning Signs of Vision Problems

If you have children between the ages of 3 and 6, be aware of these warning signs of possible early school vision problems:

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting the head to see better
  • Frequently rubbing eyes, even when not sleepy
  • Shielding eyes or other signs of sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing and watery eyes
  • Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
  • Avoiding activities that require near vision, such as colouring or reading, or distance vision, such as playing ball or tag
  • Complaining of headaches or tired eyes

Book an appointment with your optometrist if your child exhibits any of these signs.

Refractive Errors

The most common early school vision problems are refractive errors (spectacle prescriptions):

  • Long sightedness is very common in young children. Excessive long-sightedness can lead to strabismus, otherwise known as a squint or turn. If strabismus is due solely to uncorrected long-sightedness, wearing properly prescribed eyeglasses or contact lenses often can straighten the eyes. Strabismus surgery usually is required if your child has severely crossed eyes or constant strabismus not caused by long-sightedness.Untreated strabismus can lead to amblyopia. If not treated, eventually the amblyopic eye "shuts off" and vision may be permanently lost.
  • Short-sightedness, also called myopia, is another common early school vision problem although much rarer than long-sightedness in young children. Myopia makes it difficult to clearly see the white-board and other distant objects. In most cases, short-sightedness can be completely corrected with glasses or contacts. Myopia often develop later in life and is more common in children over 8 years old or teenagers.
  • Astigmatism often causes blurred or distorted vision at all distances. Like short and long- sightedness, astigmatism usually can be corrected completely with glasses or contact lenses.

Your child can also have eye coordination or focusing problems that may or may not be associated with refractive error. Vision therapy and eye exercises may help - please ask your optometrist for more information.

The First Eye Exam

Even if your child exhibits no symptoms of a refractive error or other vision problems, he should have an screening test by a health visitor by the age of 6 months and a full eye examination at age 3 years. Having a complete eye exam before your child enters school allows enough time to catch and correct any vision problems that may interfere with learning. For this reason, we also recommend that children without symptoms should receive another eye exam in P1/ P2.Should your child require correction for any visual problem, we recommend an exam every 6 months. A regular eye exam allows your optometrist to stay on top of your child's visual needs, as well as ensure that your child's prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses is still correct. During the school years, your child's visual system is developing along with the rest of her body, so annual eyeglass prescription changes are common.Make sure your child receives a comprehensive eye exam from an optometrist, not just vision screenings from school nurses or pediatricians. Vision screenings may help spot problems, but they often miss them, too, because they are not complete tests and generally concentrate on distance vision, missing out on reading problems.

Motivating Your Child To Wear Eyeglasses

  • If your child needs to wear eyeglasses, get him involved in selecting the eyewear — if he helps choose the frame, he will be more motivated to wear the glasses.
  • Also, explain the benefits of the glasses to him, using specific examples — such as, "Your new glasses will help you see the ball better when you play catch."
  • Book the eye exam and glasses selection at a time that's good for your child. As you know, some kids are more focused early in the day, while others come to life after lunch or an afternoon nap.
  • Don't visit the eye doctor when your child is tired, cranky or hungry.
  • First, select a few frame styles for your child with the help of an experienced optician. Then give your child the final choice of the glasses he'll wear.
  • Make the outing a positive event, discussing how lots of people he knows wear glasses, and how they see much better.
  • Make sure the frames you choose are fitted properly for your child and are comfortable. No one, especially a child, will wear uncomfortable glasses.

Eye examinations are free of charge for children. Mackey Opticians also offer a wide range of spectacles that are free with a NHS voucher.

Book an appointment today for a free eye examination for your child

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