Back to School Eye Exams: What to Bring, How to Prepare, and Why They Matter
Back-to-school season brings familiar traditions: cleaning out the backpacks, sharpening a set of fresh new pencils, and trying to find that elusive brand of glue stick specified on the school supply list. It also means making sure that you have all your kids’ registration forms in order, including medical forms and the back-to-school eye exam.
That’s where we come in!
School eye exam season is a routine in our year, too. We love welcoming kids and parents into our office to check in on their vision, make sure they can see clearly in the classroom, and hear what kids are looking forward to as they “level up” into a new grade.
As parents and pediatric eye doctors ourselves, we’d love to share two perspectives with you:
- Why kids’ comprehensive eye exams are important from a vision care standpoint
- Tips for parents to help eye exam appointments go smoothly for your child.
What is a back-to-school eye exam?
Parents and guardians bring their kids into Poudre Valley Eye Care for a comprehensive eye exam for two main reasons:
- They are fulfilling a school registration requirement and need the form filled out in order to complete registration for the new school year.
- They want to ensure that their child can see clearly, and that their vision correction needs haven’t changed.
Back to school eye exams are more than just a checkbox on parents list of school year preparations. They set the stage to help kids thrive in the classroom. Kids who can see clearly (rather than being frustrated by blurry blackboards and squinting-induced headaches) will be ready to learn and grow. Eye health is so important for school!
How poor vision affects kids in school
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard from adults that when they were kids, they struggled in school . . . until someone finally realized the problem was that they just couldn’t see the chalkboard. A fresh new pair of glasses changed everything for them!
Regular vision screening and eye exam requirements today are there to prevent kids from experiencing years of frustration and missed academic instruction. We want to catch the need for vision correction early, before kids start falling behind and losing confidence.
Signs of poor vision in the classroom include:
- Difficulty reading at grade level
- Difficulty seeing the chalkboard, white board, or Smart Board
- Struggling with school work
- Covering one eye from time to time
- Excessive blinking or squinting
- Trouble with writing (because they cannot see examples clearly)
- Struggling with physical activities and sports on the playground or in gym class
- Having a hard time focusing on tablets or computer screens
When kids have the right vision correction to see clearly, they often feel a huge sense of relief! Academics and athletics may suddenly “click” for the first time, or in a whole new way.
How to prepare your child for an eye exam
Some kids will be naturally excited for a visit to the eye doctor, while others will be more nervous or hesitant. In either case, preparing your child before their visit can go a long way towards helping them feel comfortable during the appointment.
So how do you prepare your child for their exam? Here are our tips. We’re focusing on younger kids who are coming in for one of their first-ever appointments, but you can adapt these for older children, too.
Talk about the appointment
First of all, talk about it! Explain that they will be visiting the eye doctor, and that the doctor will do some simple tests to make sure they can see well.Reassure them that the tests don’t hurt, and that you will be with them the whole time.
Your tone can go a long way towards helping children feel good about the appointment. Be upbeat and excited. Your child is growing! This is a part of getting ready for the school year, just like their new backpack or pencil box.
When you pass Poudre Valley Eyecare in the car, you can point it out: “Oh, that’s the eye doctor’s office where we will go get your eyes checked!”
You can also go to our About Us page and find a photo of the pediatric optometrist they will be seeing for their appointment. That way, you can show a friendly face and begin to use the doctor’s name.
Enjoy stories about visits to the eye doctor
Read books or watch shows that feature a character visiting the eye doctor. Look for age-appropriate media designed to explain and reassure kids, giving them a sense of what to expect before their visit.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has a video of a child having an eye exam, with a voice-over by Daniel Tiger explaining the whole process.
- Sesame Street has an episode called “Abby Helps Clear Things Up” where the friendly fairy Abby takes her friend Prince Charming to the eye doctor. The episode has some great strategies to help kids who are feeling nervous, as well as a song we personally love called “Eye Doctors Are Amazing.”
- Books featuring a visit to the eye doctor can also help. Check out Maisy Goes to the Eye Doctor and other books featuring a favorite character having their eyes checked!
Social stories are helpful, too. These tools walk children through a new process so that they know what to expect. You can search online to find one that you think will resonate with your child.
Once you’ve talked about the eye doctor and explored a story about how the visit will go, ask your child if they’d like to play eye doctor with you! Playing pretend is a hugely helpful strategy for kids to prepare for a new experience.
You may want to write some letters on a paper to hang up, or grab a spoon to cover your eyes one at a time. This will help kids understand the kinds of “tests” they’ll be doing at the eye exam.
Your child may want to be the doctor or patient. They may want to play pretend with you, or take care of a favorite stuffed animal or doll. Feel free to ask them if they’d like to switch roles once you go through the whole eye exam process. If they have a comfort object they’d like to bring to the appointment, they can bring it with to their pretend appointment, too.
One benefit of playing pretend is that it can give you insight into what your child might be worried about. For example, if your child is pretending to be the eye doctor and says you need a shot, you can let them know that they won’t be getting a shot at the eye doctor!
What to bring to your child’s eye exam
Before you head out the door to come see us, be sure you have all of the following:
- A favorite book or toy that your child can play with in the waiting room and hold on their lap during their exam, if they’d like. A small stuffed animal friend can be a big help!
- Your child’s medical history, with any important dates like surgeries written down.
- A list of questions you’d like to ask, written down so you don’t forget.
- Any medications they are on. Bringing these along can help if we need to double-check the dosage or name.
Your role in your child’s vision health
As parents ourselves, we love partnering with families to help keep kids’ vision healthy and clear! Your role as a parent or guardian is so important. Things you can do to help include:
- Look for the signs we listed under “How poor vision affects kids in school.” If you notice excessive squinting, trouble reading signs, or any of these other symptoms, make an appointment with us sooner rather than later. Let us know what you’re seeing.
- Schedule an eye exam every year. Eyes and vision can change so quickly when kids are young. Kids’ eyes often work hard to correct for vision problems in ways that can create problems down the road. Early detection allows us to not only correct vision, but also train kids’ eyes to work well together.
- If your child needs glasses, encourage them to wear them regularly. Explain why they’re important. You can also use the strategies we covered above for glasses, including watching shows and reading books where the main character has glasses or needs to get glasses.
Dr. Eric Torgerson
Owner at Poudre Valley Eyevare
Dr. Eric Torgerson is the owner of Poudre Valley Eyecare, and has been recognized for his contributions to optometry and his commitment to community health through various roles and accolades within the Northern Colorado Optometric Society and the Colorado Optometric Association.
Why Choose Us?
Our advanced technology and individualized care deliver results for patients of all ages. Our routine exams allow us to spot changes in your vision and allow us to treat those changes early. We have a comprehensive understanding of eye care, which means we can treat a wide range of conditions and chronic diseases. Our in-depth routine exams and customized treatment plans set us apart from the rest.