Seeing Clearly: Activities to Strengthen the Eyes

May 16, 2014

I once asked my daughter’s optometrist (one of Boston’s best, by the way) if there was anything we could do to help our daughter strengthen her eyesight.

“No, not really,” she had replied, returning to her task of adjusting the little gold rimmed glasses on our two-year old’s face.

On top of all our daughter’s other issues, the vision issue had come as a surprise, because it was her left eye, her non-ROP surgery eye, that was causing her to lean way down close to the table as she gripped the crayon and scribbled squiggles and lines across the page.

So poor eyesight it would be, I resigned upon hearing the doctor’s words.

Until two weeks later, that is, when we walked into the office of an alternative practitioner.

She did all sorts of adjustments on Andie’s arms, legs, feet and spine as we discussed topics ranging from infant reflexes to nutrition to homeopathy.  Somewhere in the middle of one of those topics, she looked at Andie’s glasses and offhandedly asked what we were doing to strengthen her eyes.

“Well…nothing,” I said.  “There’s nothing you can do.”

Her raised eyebrows replaced her verbal reply.

“There’s something we can do?” I asked.

“Yes! The eyes are muscles, and just like all the other muscles in your body, they can be exercised!” she said, before going on to teach me all sorts of eye strengthening “games” we could play with Andie and her big brother at home.

And so we did.

And so can you!

Here are a couple of our favorites:

Hit the Hanging Ball

Dowel rods, in all shapes and sizes, are available at local hardware stores. Choose the size you think will work best for your child.

Dowel rods, in all shapes and sizes, are available at local hardware stores. Choose the size you think will work best for your child.

Materials – 1 eye patch, 1 wiffle ball, long string, a dowel rod and different colored masking or electrical tape.

Instructions – On either end of the dowel rod, put strips of the different colored tape about an inch or two apart. For example, red, blue, yellow.  On the other end of the rod, attach the tape in a different pattern, i.e. blue, yellow, red.

Hang the wiffle ball from the ceiling so it hangs a bit higher than your kiddo’s head. Have your kiddo put on the “pirate patch,” place the dowel rod in both hands between the tape and let the fun begin. For older kids, call out a hand and a color and they can hit the dangling ball with the proper colored strip, i.e. left-red, right-blue.  (When we started the game, my daughter was too young to know her left from right, so I’d stand behind her and lightly touch the correct arm.)  Switch the patch to the other eye and play again! And don’t forget to include non-preemie siblings – it’s great for  their eyes too!

Balance Beam, Bean Bags and Buckets

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 2.22.34 PMMaterials – pirate patch, balance beam, bean bags and buckets (or bowls)

This game involved using the balance beam my husband made, which was great for all sorts of games, especially core work.  (You can try tape or chalk on the floor or driveway if you don’t have a balance beam.)  Put a few buckets or bowls on either side of the balance beam, give your kiddo a few bean bags to hold, have him/her pop the pirate patch on one eye, and then, while looking straight ahead, walk across the balance beam, dropping the bean bags, one at a time into the buckets.

This game will obviously take lots of practice and just walking on the beam alone is a perfect place to start. At first your kiddo will always want to look down, but as they become more able, eventually they may be able to just turn their eyes and not their whole head to locate the buckets!  Remember to keep it fun. If signs of frustration emerge, call it a day and move on!

So not only were these games fun for the kids, they also gave me back a sense of control; they made me feel like I could actively participate in my child’s healing.  And it wasn’t just eye games, either! We went on to make up lots core-strengthening games and lung-strengthening games, too.  Just imagine all the fun you can have blowing feathers and cotton balls across a table with straws, or playing kazoos or blowing bubbles and whistles! Have fun and think outside the box!

What about you? Were you ever told by a doctor that there was “nothing you could do” only to find out that wasn’t necessarily the case? Do you have other ideas for eye strengthening games, or other alternative “games” for improving your preemie’s well-being? If so, please share them in the comment section below.  Remember the more we all share our ideas with each other, the better of our kiddos will be!