Michael Cole, OD, Child and Family Eye Care Center
As this school year and eternal winter comes to a close, our children are about to increase the noise and clutter levels of our homes as they spend all day with us. While we love having them close, we need to keep them busy and help them prepare for their next school year. What is the best use of our time with them to maximize their summer preparation?
The eyes and brain must be exposed to an environment rich with stimulation and the opportunity to interact actively with our surroundings. Next time you are fortunate enough to enjoy an infant, watch how they explore their environment with their eyes. Notice how they lock their gaze onto objects around them, trying to convince their tiny body to obey and pick up a toy.
Before we begin to reach and grasp with our hands, we must first “reach” with our vision and learn to direct our actions. Vision directed movements are clunky and inaccurate at first. Perhaps the child may occasionally, almost as if by accident, manage to grasp the toy as the arms swing from one side of the body to the other. Think of how those vision-guided movements progress until they pick up a single Cheerio. They advance in this way as long as they are provided opportunities.
When the baby begins to crawl, their vision begins to reach further — planning where their chubby little arms and legs may take them next. Soon, they are up and running. Until their visual system can learn to navigate at new speeds, they will bump into seemingly every corner and ledge they manage to find. Ultimately, these little ones run out the door to discover and explore outside.
Our eyes are meant to be used outdoors! In an ideal situation, our eyes can naturally see well far away from us. If you think of primitive humans, vision was needed to catch prey, tend to fields, and stay safe from danger. The machinery of our eyes is best suited for those types of tasks. Minimal effort is expended to perform at a high level while viewing distant objects.
Being outdoors provides the environment where the budding visual system can develop complex motor skills and decision-making. Our kids need their hands in the dirt, their feet on trampolines, their knees crawling in the grass, and their vision guiding their actions along the way. There is no replacement for the developmental boon of a backyard. If our children can learn to regulate their bodies effectively as they physically play, they will be better able to do so when at rest and when in the classroom.
Being exposed to sunlight has also been shown to reduce levels of nearsightedness in children. Sunlight helps regulate sleep cycles, improves mood, and promotes healthy bodies and bones.
This summer, help your kids turn off their devices and spend more time outside.
Although Minecraft and Fortnite might be calling their name, it’s harder to hear that call with the wind in their hair and the sun on their face. Let’s give them (and their eyes) a chance to grow in the open air!