Eyes on the page

World Book Day is a good opportunity to emphasise the importance of children’s vision

Open book
Getty/Mary Ne

Children across the country headed to school dressed as their most beloved literary characters today, with rows of superheroes, witches and wizards and bookish animals out in full force at school drop off time.

The most fun day of the school year? Quite possibly. But a day when both parents’ and children’s minds are on reading can be an opportunity to emphasise the importance of eye health, too – something we should all be taking the chance to do.

World Book Day presents a perfect opportunity for those working within optometry to switch their focus, if it wasn’t there already, to the subject of childhood vision, and what can be done to maintain and improve it.

The organisation that runs Eye Health Week has jumped to the cause on social media, tweeting that those with a love of reading should remember to book an eye test every two years, unless more regular visits to the optometrists have been advised.

The reminder couldn’t come at a better time: a survey by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, published in February, found that parents’ worries over eye health have decreased during the pandemic, to the lowest point in eight years. The survey also found that the number of parents taking their child for an eye test has dropped to 28%, down from 37% in 2019.

The findings are not entirely unexpected: another study, undertaken in summer 2021, found that over half of parents had not booked an eye test for their child since the start of the pandemic.

With COVID-19 subsiding and reading at the forefront of people’s minds, now is a great time to remind parents both that practices are safe and clean environments, and of their responsibilities when it comes to their children’s eye health – and the AOP and OT have resources on hand to help practitioners do this.

As mentioned in this AOP advice article, signs such as squinting, complaining of sore eyes or headaches, head tilting and holding books close to their face can all be signs that a child might need to see an optometrist. Parents, unless told specifically, might not be aware of this.

The AOP has also published advice for parents on managing their children’s screen time, and in 2018 ran a specific campaign focusing on children’s vision, which, post-pandemic and in light of recent survey results, remains as important as ever.

You may also be interested in reading OT’s interview with professors Kathryn Saunders and Dr Sara McCullough, of Ulster University, on the importance of identifying a child before they become myopic, or revisiting this previous CET article on visual factors and reading difficulty.

Meanwhile, on the High Street many optometrists are already using the power of books to engage children in their own eye health. In Northern Ireland, optometrist Jean Kelly has published an interactive workbook, written to educate seven to nine-year-olds about eye exams, long and short-sightedness, astigmatism, and the importance of sunglasses.

In Essex, independent practice Patrick & Menzies has redecorated the window display of its Brightlingsea branch to celebrate World Book Day. 

Marking the day, the National Literacy Trust has published a video emphasising the importance of reading for children's wellbeing and development. That vision is essential for learning is something that I’m sure we can all get behind, this week and in the future. 

If you want to share your own World Book Day window displays, or stories from your practice more generally, we’d love to hear from you – please do tag us in your pictures on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or email [email protected]