Your child’s visual readiness for school starts developing on the day of birth. Every moment of visual experience is a part of the practice and organization, which will prepare your child for the visual load of the classroom.
More than 98% of all infants are born with normal healthy seeing eyes. However, the normal health and structure of the eyes do not guarantee that your child will be able to use those eyes efficiently in the world he must see and interpret.
The classroom, into which your child enters around the age of six, demands much of vision. This classroom, and its special tasks, demand visual abilities and skills every child must learn before he enters school if he is to be successful there.
These abilities and skills are learned much better by your preschool-age child when you know how to evaluate your child’s progress, and how to guide and assist this vision development for future academic success.
Many studies have shown that freedom of eye movements, and the skills of getting visual attention on targets for inspection, are directly related to reading readiness. These visual abilities will not teach a child to read, but when theses skills are present, the teacher will have a child who is much more ready for reading instructions. Some children will not learn to read because they have no interest in reading. The majority of children who fail to achieve reading skills often demonstrate problems in the freedom and control of eye movements. Your child need not experience these difficulties. Instead, freedom and control of eye movements enhance the development of intellectual potentials.
This guide is designed to give you enough information about vision development so you can make intelligent observations, and know when, where and how to help your child. The Preschool Vision Development Checklist can be your way of knowing where your child is on the scale of developing the necessary visual abilities. The sequence of development is more important than the age at which it’s developed; therefore all ages given on the checklist are approximate. This checklist has been prepared by developmental optometrists and informed educators to help you assure your child of the success and pleasure available in all the academic years that lie ahead.
Before starting the check list, please read the general notes about the checklist for a better understanding of what to look for. Please also read important observations that parents can make. These observations should start when the child is age two and a half that can provide reliable clues to the progress your child should be making in gaining all the visual abilities essential to his school success.
Any difficulty your child shows in these evaluations should be clinically evaluated. Your child should have a comprehensive examination several times before entering school. The first exam should be at age 6 months as recommended by the American Optometric Association. The vision screening that most children receive in school does not replace this comprehensive examination. Most states are now requiring a comprehensive examination with a licensed optometrist before entering school for the first time. The doctors at Developmental Vision Center have spent and continue to spend years in post-graduate continuing education to master the complex visual programs that aid in vision development from infants to adults.
General Notes about the Checklist
Appearance of the Eyes
Most of the conditions noted will immediately catch your attention. However, none of these conditions should ever be allowed to continue. The basic physical condition of the eyes must be normal, and the eyes healthy, if your child is to develop the visual skills necessary for achievement in the classroom. One special note: Parents frequently become alarmed when they see one of the child’s eyes appearing to turn in toward the children’s nose.
This most often happens when the child is very young, and the bridge of the nose is still very flat and broad. Look carefully at pictures of your child, and if the reflections of the camera flash are centered in the puil (the black, round center of each eye), there is probably little cause for concern. If the reflection is not in the center of each eye, professional attention should be sought immediately because children seldom outgrow vision problems without professional assistance.
Evidence of Discomfort
This is not always easy to observe in very young babies, but the items listed will assist you if a child is experiencing discomforts he cannot tell you about. The most obvious of these will be the baby’s reluctance to keep eyes open in wakeful moments. Your baby may not be able to talk and tell you about his discomfort, but he learns very early how to keep his eyes closed to soothe any discomfort he might be having.
Expected Vision Performances
All of the items listed in the checklist are observations of visual behavior which have been carefully and extensively determined by a large number of authorities. The ages listed for each of these have to be approximate because every child is an individual, and will always develop at his own rate of experience and development. If any one of these developmental activities is omitted, or practiced too briefly, it is important to watch all other developmental signs to be certain your baby is gaining al the skills he needs. Delay in vision development can interfere with total development because of the close interrelationships between all sensory systems.
Eye Movement Abilities
- Hold a small, bright, interesting toy 8 to 10 inches directly in front of your child’s face. Say “Watch the (toy); watch it just with your eyes.” Move the target across, back and forth in front of the child’s face at a moderate speed. Move it across a distance of about 12 inches, and continue moving it six to eight times in each direction. Watch his eyes to see if they are maintaining alignment with the target where you know it to be as you move it. If so, encourage your child by saying “Good for you; keep watching the (toy); watch just with your eyes.” If not, Do not say “Do not move your head,” or “Hold your head still.” This procedure is to determine if your child has gained full, free eye movements without excessive head movements.
- Using the same toy as a target, move it up and down directly in front of your child’s face, in line with his nose. Give the same instructions and observe for eye movements without excessive head movements.
- Using the same toy for a near target, choose a familiar object across the room (in front of your child) for a distance target. Now say “Look at the toy; now look quickly at the (distance object); now at the toy; now look at the (distance object).” Repeat this near-far-far-near visual locating activity enough times to note the speed and accuracy of the eye movements and “target landings.” Eyes should move in a free and quick manner from target tot target, and without head movements.
Blending of “Fields of View”
- Hold a playing or postal card so it covers one of your child”s eyes. Now hold a small toy about 6 inches directly in front of your child’s nose. Say “Keep looking at the toy all the time.” When you are sure the child is looking intently at the target with his uncovered eye quickly remove the card. Carefully watch for movement of the just uncovered eye as your child strives to continue looking at the target. You may wish to do this a couple of times to make careful observations. Repeat this procedure by covering the other eye, and with the same instructions, make the same observations when the cover is removed.
Slight quick adjustments of the eye you have just uncovered as your child synchronizes his fields of view, are not unusual, especially up to the age of three. By ages four and four-and-a-half, there should be no or only slight adjustment to achieve this synchrony at the instant the cover is removed. If there is any observable difficulty reaching this synchrony, there is a definite need for the proper clinical help to assist your child in achieving the visual skills essential to all classroom tasks. A failure to learn this synchrony can result in severe blurring, or even doubling, of the words on a textbook page. Such confusion can cause the academic failure of a “smart” child.
Speed and Accuracy of Visual Discriminations
- Using the same card, cover your child’s right eye and have him name and describe objects that are in the distance. Then cover his left eye and repeat your request. If there is any real difference in what he can tell you in each situation, clinical attention should be sought. Do not delay this attention because such problems of visual discrimination are never outgrown.
- To evaluate your child’s visual discriminations at reading distances, use the same little card to cover one eye at a time. Ask your child to describe fine details of a picture in one of his favorite books. If your child has learned some letters, these are splendid test targets. If your child demonstrates problems discriminating small details at near, they may complain “It is hard to do when you hold the card there,” or they may cover one eye.