Michael Cole, OD, Child and Family Eye Care Center

Toys play a vital role in overall development, especially visual development. If children play too many computer games or watch too much TV or movies, they don’t get necessary opportunities to develop visual skills critical to academic success. Many students struggle in school because of poorly developed visual skills. Fortunately, we can help them.

Keep in mind that seeing 20/20, or passing a vision screening, only means that a child can see the letters on the eye chart she is supposed to see from 20 feet away. Vision screenings do not test all the visual skills vital for learning.

That said, it’s time to talk more about toys. Most toys are designed for play within a distance of 18 to 24 inches. Visual developmental also requires outdoor activities, such as playing catch, T-ball, badminton, tennis, etc.

This holiday season, you can help your child by looking for toys to help with:

  • Building eye-hand coordination
  • Shape and size discrimination (important for reading)
  • General movement skills (for everything from writing to sports)
  • Space and distance judgments (crucial for driving and sports)
  • Left/right awareness (vital in avoiding reversals)
  • Visual thinking
  • Visualization
  • Visual memory skills (enable us to develop concepts)

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends the following toys that are not only fun to play with, but also help develop visual skill development:

1 Year
  • Grimm’s Beads Grasper
  • Little Tikes Superstar Stacker
  • Maxville Activity Center (Alex Toys)
  • Busy Poppin’ Pals (Playskool)
  • Caterpillar Play Gym (Baby Einstein) 
2 Years
  • Beginner Pattern Blocks (Melissa & Doug)
  • Stack & Sort Board (Melissa & Doug)
  • Teach My Baby Learning Kit
  • Discover Sounds Sports Center (Little Tikes)
3 to 5 Years
  • Smart Toss (Learning Resources)
  • Spot it — Numbers & Shapes
  • LeapFrog Scribble and Write Tablet
  • Bowling Friends (Melissa & Doug)
  • Lego® Duplo®
  • Grow to Pro Tee Ball Set (Fisher Price)
  • Wooden Shape Sorting Clock
  • Picture Dominoes
  • Visual Tactile Matching Patches
  • Imagination Magnets (Mindware)
6 to 8 Years
  • Sturdy Birdy Balance Game
  • Perfection™ Game
  • ThinkFun S’Match
  • Spot It!
  • Educational Insights Kanoodle
  • Marble Runs
  • Magnetic Building Construction Set
  • The Robot Face Game
9 to 14 Years
  • Jazzminton Paddle Game
  • Legos® & 3D Puzzles
  • Perplexus Puzzle Maze Ball
  • Set: Family Game of Visual
  • Perception
  • Ladder Ball Set
  • Blink — The World’s Fastest
  • Game
  • Suspend Game (Melissa & Doug)
  • Franklin Sports Bean Bag Toss
More toys that help develop visual skills:
  • Battleship Game (MB)
  • Chalkboard (24” x 36” min.)
  • Tinker Toys
  • Erector Set
  • Pegboard and Pegs
  • Coloring and Dot-to-Dot Books
  • Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Twister (MB)
  • Building Blocks
  • Paint by Number
  • Playskool Parquetry & Color Blocks
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Sewing Cards
  • Checkers & Chinese Checkers
  • Concentration (MB)
  • Finger Paints
  • Action Darts Velcro Board and Velcro-Covered balls

Encourage your children to round out their activities with some of these tried-and-true games. If you find your child doesn’t like these games, or struggles with reading and learning, it could be a sign of a vision problem, in which case you should schedule a vision evaluation with an optometrist who provides in-office vision therapy programs designed to help children develop the visual skills necessary for learning.

For more information on the 17 visual skills required for academic success and vision therapy, visit cachefec.com.