It might be a surprise to some parents to learn that Island optometrists recommend taking your kids for their first eye exam when they're infants.

"The best age is to start right back at six months of age," Dr. Lester Jinks, a Charlottetown optometrist, told Mainstreet P.E.I. host Angela Walker.

"There are enough tests that you can get a reasonable understanding of the visual system and the fact that both eyes are working quite well together and once you've established the fact that both eyes are working and they focus together it negates problems that may arise later down the road."

Jinks said a baby's eyes start aligning after four to five months and they start using both eyes together.

Catch issues early

"The reason why I say six months is because you'd like to catch ... there's a problem called amblyopia which is lazy eye and sometimes the earlier you pick it up, the better."

Jinks said catching the disease even after age three decreases the outcome for correcting it.

'That's something that you should really take advantage of because it's a great segue into making sure that your child's eyes are ready for school.' - Dr. Lester Jinks

The optometrist said as long as the affected eye can receive a clear image and see things well, the visual system will develop.

For some kids, that could mean wearing eye glasses or patching the good eye to help the weaker eye practice focusing.

The optometrist said taking young kids for eye tests is recommended especially if a parent, grandparent or sibling has a prescription difference between the two eyes.

Helps with school

Jinks said most parents bring kids in for their first eye exam just before they start school which is fine, but they need to be checked by the age of three to make sure things are OK long before they start school.

Dr. Lester Jinks

Dr. Lester Jinks says infants should have an eye exam by the age of six months. (Angela Walker/CBC)

"You want your child's first experience at school to be a really positive one and you want to give them every single advantage that they can have," he said. "By providing them with clear vision so that they are comfortable, it might mean that they really enjoy school."

Jinks said knowing a child's vision is OK removes the stress if they think they aren't performing as well as their peers in school.

"Considering that 80 per cent of the learning occurs through the visual system, that's a lot of learning and you want to make it optimal for them to be able to get that kind of learning."

Program to help

Jinks said parents who need financial assistance with eye exams and buying glasses for their kids can get some help through the Eye See…Eye Learn program.

The program is a partnership through Health PEI and the P.E.I. Association of Optometrists and eyewear sponsors, VisionTech Labs PEI and Viva Canada. It provides free eye exams and glasses for kids in kindergarten whose parents can't afford it.  

"That's something that you should really take advantage of because it's a great segue into making sure that your child's eyes are ready for school," said Jinks.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.