What I have learned

Bowen Opticians teaches children about eye health

Dispensing optician and practice manager at Bowen Opticians, Steph Swire, and manager at Little Learners Nursery, Anna Blasdale, tell OT  about how educational visits helped raise the profile of eye health

Bowen Opticians

Why was Little Learners Nursery interested in having Bowen Opticians carry out an educational visit?

Anna Blasdale (AB): We were really keen for this to go ahead as it fitted in well with our learning theme, ‘Real life superheroes.’ We wanted the children to explore all of the different types of people and professions that help us, not just firefighters and police officers but optometrists and dispensing opticians too.

How aware of eye health were the children before the visit?

AB: This was something we hadn’t ever explored before with the children. Bowen Opticians was fab at bringing this topic down to our nursery aged children’s level and made it super fun at the same time.

Why is it important for children and their learning at school to have an early introduction to eye health?

AB: We wanted the children to have an understanding of how important our eyesight is to us and that there are people who can help us if we are having problems with it. It was great for the children to be able to try on different glasses and learn why people wear them.

What were the key lessons the children learned from the visits?

AB: The children all learnt about what happens when you visit the opticians. Having a sight test is something many of them haven’t yet experienced and so it can be a little unsettling going along for the first time. The children were told what they would need to do and what the opticians would be looking for. This was a really great opportunity that will hopefully help children to look forward to their future visits.

Did you receive feedback from any of the children or parents?

AB: Parents were happy that their children had been given an insight into looking after their eyes and about what happens when they visit the opticians. The children went back to their nursery classroom buzzing and chatting away about what they had learnt. It was a brilliant and very interactive session.

What was the idea behind carrying out school and nursery visits?

Steph Swire (SS): We wanted to educate children and parents on the importance of eye care and regular sight tests. A lot of parents think that because they had their child tested once and they were fine then that’s the end of the matter.

How did these visits come about?

SS: A patient who runs a nursery asked if we had any old frames that we could donate and so we decided to tie it in with an educational visit. We let the children handle the frames and pass them around, then we explained a bit about the opticians. Because that went so well, we contacted all of the local schools and nurseries in the town to ask if it was of interest and then put a more structured presentation together.

"A lot of parents think that because they had their child tested once and they were fine then that’s the end of the matter"

How did you adapt the presentation after the first visit?

SS: At the first visit, we explained to the children, without any huge preparation, about the process of going to the opticians. Afterwards, we had a story book made to illustrate the different stages of the visit. It was something visual for them to look at that explained the stages. It worked really well.

The story book idea was done for the nursery ages and for the school children we put together a Velcro board with cuts outs and did a basic lesson on the anatomy of the eye. We were able to peel the stickers off and have the children line up and tell us where each bit should go. We then explained to them what the functions are. The questions from the older children were more complex, asking ‘why is the eye full of jelly?’ and ‘why do we have pupils?’ The nursery age children were asking why certain people wear glasses and more superhero-related questions.

What did the presentations cover?

SS: The school assemblies were split into different age groups. When we explained the anatomy of the eye, we did a more basic presentation for younger school children. The older children were more involved and the vocabulary used was more advanced to keep it interesting. We made the display harder, so the younger ones saw the anatomy of the eye and how it should be before it was removed and they put the stickers on the board. We adapted it for the older children, so we told them what certain things were and spoke about their function and then it was up to them to figure it out.

What was the message you wanted the children to take away?

SS: We wanted to get the idea out there that sight tests need to be done. We wanted to break the ice and make sure they understood what was going to happen, so that it wasn’t quite as intimidating when they were brought to the practice.

How did you get them to take this message home to their parents?

SS: We put some branded goodie bags together and put a leaflet in about family eye care with a section on adult as well as children’s eye care, along with some more general information on children’s eye health. We also put in a colouring-page and a lolly. The nursery age children were given Bowen Opticians branded stickers, which said ‘I learned about my eyes today,’ – they went home with a sticker, which hopefully prompted their parents to ask them what it was about.

How have these visits benefitted the practice?

SS: We’ve had an influx of children and their families booking in, but our overall community presence since we’ve carried out these visits has sky-rocketed. More people have heard of us at least, so it’s been an essential brand awareness tool.

What are some of the ways in which this helps to promote profile of optometry and eye health in the local community?

SS: We feel that we have successfully increased the awareness among children and adults that eyes need to be tested from an early age. We’ve been able to diminish rumours at the same time. For example, someone was told that children need to be able to read before they have their eyes tested.

What tips would you offer other practitioners about starting similar initiatives in their community?

SS: The literature given out is really important. It should have your branding on it because you want the parents to know that it was your practice and not another local one.

It needs to include something fun for children in it, but there’s no reason not to maximise your audience and put something in for adults as well.

Don’t bombard parents with too much information. If it’s not simple then it’s likely to get overlooked. Allow time for a Q&A session at the end. It gives you the opportunity to eliminate concerns children might have. Be prepared for a high demand. We have had more requests for visits than we thought we’d get.