Get Set for Back-to-School Success

Roughly 80 per cent of classroom learning is vision based. As the new school year begins, make sure your child has the right visual tools and set-up they need to have a successful learning experience. One out of four children struggle with vision and learning due to undiagnosed vision issues or inefficiencies. Our visual system performs optimally and is less likely to experience stress under the right conditions. When your child is doing school work at home, make sure that they are set up for success. Here are some tips to create a positive learning environment for your child at home:

Desk and Chair

Let’s start with the hardware. When seated at a desk, the feet should be able to rest flat on the floor when the back is pushed to the back of the seat. This will create three 90-degree angles in the ankles, knees, and hips. If your child’s feet do not touch the floor, use books under their feet to achieve a 90-degree angle.


Using a slant board will move materials in line with the face to improve reading. Research has found this angle to be 22 degrees. I imagine that you rarely carry a protractor so instead imagine that you’ve picked up a book to skim the cover in a bookstore—how you are holding the book is likely very close to 22 degrees naturally as this is the most comfortable for our visual system.

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The optimal viewing distance for reading and near work is called Harmon’s Distance. This is the distance between a closed fist resting just under the chin and the elbow. The distance will be slightly different person-to-person depending on size. This allows the eye focusing mechanism to perform optimally. Even a few centimeters closer will start to ramp up the demand on the system and increase eye strain and fatigue.


In my nine years in optometry, I have often heard the question: “Will reading in the dark hurt my eyes?”  And the answer is NO…but YES? Although it will not structurally hurt an eye, it certainly will cause your child to bring the pages closer to see and increase eyestrain. A directional light (for example a desk lamp) will allow them to evenly light the page.


Our visual system was not designed for long periods of near work. Taking frequent breaks will prevent it from getting “locked” on the near task. I would recommend the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look 20 feet away. These short breaks reduce the tendency of the focusing muscles to become cramped.


Even though the weather is about to turn sour, active outdoor play is still an important part of visual development. An hour of distance play outside has been shown to be protective against the development of near-sightedness.


Of course, all these efficiency factors are not terribly important if your child cannot see well.  A comprehensive eye examination looks at not just the sharpness of letters, but the ability to sustain this during a full school day and overall eye health. Glasses can be used to optimally position visual systems for reading or help to improve sleep cycles by block blue light from screens. Keep in mind that although vision screenings are useful, they are not a replacement for an assessment with your optometrist.

So good luck to us all in the new school year! I am filled with optimism for the 2021–22 school year but am prepared for any changes that may come our way.

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