A little girl having an eye exam


Why You Should Add An Eye Exam To Your Back-To-School Prep List

Aug 28, 2018

First day of school clothes? Check.

New school supplies? Check.

Healthy lunch? Check again.

While parents are knocking items off their back-to-school prep lists, one item often falls by the wayside: eye exams.

Since more than 80 per cent of learning ... requires seeing, checking your kids’ eyes before they start school is pretty important — a fact we learned too late.

We found out how important eye exams were as part of our back-to-school routine when one year, as our middle child sat in the optometrist’s big cushy chair, eye exam equipment blocking half her face, our eye doctor turned to me: “She needs glasses.” That wasn’t the big deal. The big deal was when we went to pick up her new glasses a week later and our daughter jumped up and down in the parking lot outside, her new pink frames fitted to her face.

“The moon, mom! Look, mom, the moon!”

It was halfway through the junior kindergarten school year and I was stunned.

What had she missed, I wondered with an aching heart, before the world came into focus? And as remarkable as it was after she got her new glasses — her teacher told us she was more focused in class and we noticed she wasn’t as frustrated reading with us as she had been before, and she even had fewer temper tantrums — it was amazing that she had struggled for so long without saying a word.

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To be fair, our daughter was four at the time and didn’t realize there was a problem. How could she? She didn’t know there was a sharp, clear moon hanging in the sky. To her, it had always been a blurry blob of white.

But it must have been a lot of work squinting her way through her four-year-old world.

Before her glasses she struggled to read and was far behind the other kids in class. When I tried to read with her after school or at bedtime, I’d grow impatient because she didn’t seem to remember small, repetitive words like “the” and “and,” which I knew most early readers mastered quickly, if only because they memorized them. I had no idea that she would have memorized them if she could see them clearly. Once her glasses were firmly on her face, reading was no longer a struggle.

What had [my daughter] missed, I wondered with an aching heart, before the world came into focus?

Before glasses she also seemed inattentive and lacked focus, which was literally because she lacked focus — in her eyes, that is.

She was very quiet in class, her teacher told us. We later realized she couldn’t participate during storytime or other classroom activities because she couldn’t see. She was living in a blurry, fuzzy world and we had no idea until the optometrist clued us in.

Looking back I think it was remarkable she managed for so long — a testament to how adaptable and resilient kids are. But still, she shouldn’t have had to.

A year later, when our youngest daughter was two-and-a-half, I scheduled her in for an eye appointment at the same time as her older siblings. I didn’t want to wait until she started school to find out she needed glasses. When the optometrist turned toward me with that same look on her face I knew what she was going to say. Our youngest needed glasses just like her older sister.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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According to the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists, about 80 per cent of all babies are born farsighted. That number decreases as kids get older, but about one in four children still have problems seeing that could affect their ability to learn. At the same time, only 14 per cent of kids under six have an eye exam before starting school. Since more than 80 per cent of learning in the first 12 years requires seeing, checking your kids’ eyes before they start school is pretty important — a fact we learned too late.

The good news is that many provinces offer the Eye See…Eye Learn program, where children in junior kindergarten get a free eye exam — and, if needed, a free pair of eyeglasses. (If you’re not sure whether the program is offered where you live, check with your province’s optometrists’ association.)

So while you’re checking things off your back-to-school list, think about adding eye exams to your fall routine because you don’t want your kid wondering what that fuzzy thing is in the sky late at night.

Article Author Kelly Pedro
Kelly Pedro

Kelly Pedro is a former journalist turned freelance writer who specializes in writing about education, health and literacy. Her work has appeared in several publications including The London Free Press, The Toronto Star and Today’s Parent. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario with her husband, three children and Juno, the Bernese mountain dog. Connect with Kelly on her website, Twitter, LinkedIn or Alignable.

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