Most of what we learn is acquired through our visual system, our eyesight and the complex connection between our eyes and our brain. These days even very young children spend long hours taxing their visual systems with early reading, high-stakes testing, and “screen time,” using computers for schoolwork and play.

Here are a few tips to help your child use his or her vision most effectively at school:

• If your child wears glasses or contact lenses, be sure their prescription is up-to-date — and be sure they remember to wear their lenses at school. A back-up pair is a good idea.

• Limit the time your child spends playing video or computer games, especially as test days approach. These activities are visually fatiguing and can lower test scores.

• Pay attention to visual hygiene at school and during homework sessions at home. A well-lit room, proper posture, and a slanted work surface can make close work easier.

• Be sure that teaching and testing materials are presented in a font that is large enough to be easily readable, and that print is sharp and clear.

• Bubble answer sheet formats can present a problem for children whose visual systems are not yet fully developed. If a student’s test scores do not seem to reflect that child’s true capabilities, consider a developmental vision evaluation.

Reading and visual skills

Of course we know that vision is important for reading. But vision is much more than just clear eyesight. Learning to read requires children to engage in a variety of visual skills in order to move and coordinate their eyes, focus, and scan for information which the visual system then transmits to the brain. These visual skills are typically developed from infancy as children grow.

Here are a few of the visual skills needed for efficient reading and processing:

• Tracking and fixation. Vital to reading, these skills allow us to look at a word, follow a line of print, and shift the eyes rapidly from one word to another.

• Visual discrimination. This enables a learner to quickly detect small differences and make sense of what is seen, important for reading and spelling.

• Binocularity and convergence. These abilities allow both eyes to work together, to point accurately to the same place, and to maintain alignment of the eyes.

It is important to remember that schoolwork and reading are done at close range, not the 20-foot distance used to assess eyesight in the standard eye chart vision test. Even a child with “20:20” vision may need to improve visual skills in order to read and learn efficiently.

• Dr. Kelly de Simone is owner of Eye Priority P.C., 15725 S. 46th St., Suite 112. She is a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. She was awarded the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce Palo Verde Businesswoman of the Year Award in 2011.

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