What seemed like a novel idea a few weeks ago - home schooling your kids during lockdown - is starting to take its toll.
Restrictions on travel have also meant a new kind of school holiday - one that involves a lot of time at home. But what sort of impact does this have on our kids' health - especially their eyes?
Coping with change
Any sudden, drastic change is a shock to the system. In the space of little over a month, we've gone from regular life to a new normal and a whole new jargon. Home schooling apps like SeeSaw and Google Classroom, social distancing rules and quarantine, have changed everything we do.
Suddenly, everything from karate lessons to clarinet practice is online. While it’s important to keep kids busy and engaged, we also have to be very careful their eyes don’t pay the price for too much screen time.
Tips to protect kids' eyes during COVID-19
Most importantly, limit screen time! We'll say that again: limit the total time kids spend on digital screens of all sorts, and that includes TV, video games, Kindle and smart phone as well as the usual computers.
- Screens from TV to video games can be great babysitters when we need to work from home or take a call, but there can be too much of a good thing.
- We've previously written about some simple strategies to limit screen time.
- Many manufacturers, such as Apple, have screen-time controls built into their products that switch off access once your reach your daily limits.
Eye strain and kids
The social distancing restrictions of COVID-19 have driven a whole planet indoors and in front of laptops. Prolonged, close-up exposure to backlit screens hits eyes hard, especially developing eyes, with symptoms of digital fatigue, headache, neck and backache, as well as poor posture and shallow breathing.
Even if kids are being home-schooled and need to be at a desk on a screen for several hours a day, there ARE ways to reduce these symptoms:
- Make sure the laptop has an assigned place, such as a desk, or even one end of the kitchen table, rather than being carried around for use on lounges, in bedrooms or even in bed! This makes it much easier to differentiate between schoolwork and downtime and prevents the whole day from becoming screen time.
- Turn down the brightness and contrast settings on your child’s screen to the lowest setting that allows comfortable viewing. Blue light and high contrast are both factors in digital eyestrain.
- Pin up a school planner near their workstation, showing when the screen can and cannot be used and get them to fill it out with other non-screen-based activities in between, such as outdoor breaks, board games, art and craft, lego and plain old-fashioned books.
What about dry eyes?
Children rarely present to our dry eye clinic, but habits formed as kids can lead to dry eye syndrome, one of the conditions we commonly see in young adults. Staring at screens greatly reduces your blink rate and, in time, your blink quality - in other words how completely you close your eyes when you blink. Not closing them fully is a common problem in dry eye sufferers.
Reducing screen-time using the techniques above will automatically reduce habits that lead to dry eyes.
Best non-screen based educational activities for kids
Primary school kids are unlikely to suffer in terms of education because they miss a term of school. As long as their brains are engaged and they're still reading and discussing things and working with numbers now and then, they'll be okay. Here are our top ideas for keeping their brains engaged:
- Old fashioned board games: Monopoly (the traditional, not the credit card version!) is an all rounder in terms of exposing kids to counting, adding, subtracting (giving change to the bank and fellow players), multiplying (paying for all those hotels) as well as reading the Chance and Community Chest cards and rules of the game.
- Scrabble and Bananagrams are also a winner and combine words and numbers as well as strategy.
- Card games such as Rummy, Cheat and 21 familiarise young kids with number and patterns as well as playing by the rules.
- There are countless other games, from Trivial Pursuits to Pictionary that will engage your child's mind and keep them away from screen.
- Schedule a games time every day as a break from screen-based activity.
Aside from games, it could be a good time to get those art books out or print out some science or art projects that kids can do at home. Give them a selection of cookery books and get them to plan a meal. You'll have to do the shopping and it'll make more mess than usual but it's great way to engage their minds while building resilience and independence!
The Eye Practice remains open during the COVID-19 crisis. Read about how we are protecting our patients and staff here. If you're worried about your eyes or have lost or broken your essential eye wear, give us a call on (02) 9290 1899 or make an appointment online. We'd love to hear from you!