The nice list: Holiday toys with optometric approval

The nice list: Holiday toys with optometric approval

To teach parents which games and activities will best enhance a child's vision development—and which will cause the most vision stress—The Vision Therapy Center in Brookfield, Wisconsin, recently posted its annual list of optometrist-approved toys.

"We became increasingly concerned about the number of gifts that could potentially adversely affect a child's visual development."

Toys cover a range of ages and types, from sewing cards and Nerf basketball to origami and Twister.

In a blog post, Kellye Knueppel, O.D., wrote, "We became increasingly concerned about the number of gifts that could potentially adversely affect a child's visual development, such as computers and handheld devices. We want to provide parents with an alternative."

This year's gift list includes 96 toys. The Vision Therapy Center team broke them into categories such as building, fine motor skills and space perception. Many of them—such as Tinker Toys, Silly Putty, pick-up sticks and Sit 'n Spin—have been around for generations.

"They're on the list for a reason, and they've hung around for a reason," says Brandon Begotka, O.D. "They're good for kids' development, and they're fun."

On the flipside, Dr. Begotka says spending excessive time in front of a screen not only stresses the eyes but also deprives children of meaningful visual experiences such as playing catch, jacks or Jenga.

Additionally, the games on the approved list take time to learn. Along the way, children pick up various skills and movements. Dr. Begotka says his one-year-old son can operate an iPhone—not because he's a genius, but because it's designed to be easy to learn.

"It takes time to develop skills needed for an activity like catching a ball," he says, "versus playing Angry Birds."

Visual skills in varied forms
The common thread among listed games is that they help a child develop his or her overall vision. That can come in the form of visual memory, pattern recognition or bilateral coordination.

Without that development, a child may not be able to control his or her eye movements, which will affect performance in school, sports and life. Furthermore, overuse of computers, handheld video devices and gaming systems have been clinically proven to coincide with worsening functional vision, including poor focusing ability and nearsightedness.

"While video games can be educational, they don't do much in developing depth perception, space perception or fine motor skills," Dr. Knueppel says. "We tend to encourage people do things in real space, such as throwing something at a target, or developing fine motor skills in activities in which they're actually picking things up."

She suggests doctors of optometry share the following tips with parents, in addition to using the list of games and activities as a resource:

  1. Limit school-age kids' screen time to an hour a day.
  2. If a child avoids certain activities or you find that some movements don't come naturally, introduce new activities that challenge the child in new ways.
  3. When selecting a toy or activity, be sure to align the gift with children's developmental age, rather than their actual age.

Dr. Begotka says doctors and patients are having the same conversation today as previous generations had after the advent of the television. The difference, he says, is that the smartphone creates even more visual stress because it's smaller and closer to our eyes. Of course, it's harmful for adults as well.

"The good thing about this list," Dr. Begotka says, "is that if parents are playing these games with their kids, they're getting the benefit too."

December 21, 2015

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