One only has to gaze upon a beautiful mountain vista or marvel at the iridescent rainbow captured in a tiny drop of rain to realize the joy in having clear vision. We often take this gift of sight for granted, but for those unable to manage their day to day requirements with visual clarity, it is of inestimable value. Eighty percent of learning is achieved through our eyes; a truly significant factor for children entering the school system, as in order for them to maximize their educational capacity it is imperative that they clearly identify letters, numbers and symbols. Sadly, far too many children begin kindergarten with an undiagnosed vision or eye health problem, which can impede their ability to learn during those first critical years in school.
In 2003, Dr. Dorrie Morrow, along with the Alberta Association of Optometrists in Canada, partnered with various local health and school authorities and the Alberta government’s Ministry of Children’s Services to launch an innovative pilot program called ‘Eye See… Eye Learn.’ It is estimated that a phenomenal 14% of school-aged children experience some form of vision dysfunction and the ‘Eye See… Eye Learn’ project was designed to ensure that neither vision deficits nor eye health problems were issues preventing children from reaching their full learning potential. Parents with children entering kindergarten were encouraged to obtain comprehensive eye and vision examinations provided pro bono for their child by local optometrists and ophthalmologists. As well, through the generous donation of participating industry sponsors, those children subsequently found to require eyeglasses were given them free of charge.
Increasing vision-health awareness through education is a pivotal element of the ‘Eye See… Eye Learn’ program. In conjunction with the pre-school eye examinations, a set of books called the ‘Bright Eyes’ series has been distributed to every elementary classroom from kindergarten to grade six, as well as every pediatrician and optometrist’s office within the province. The books are based on six of the most common vision concerns such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, amblyopia and eye safety in sports, as well as one emphasizing the correlation between vision and learning. Written in an entertaining style with beautiful illustrations; the goal is to provide accurate, age-appropriate wellness information to young readers. The educational component also extends to adults, as each Bright Eyes book contains a section called ‘Stuff for Grown- Ups;’ a parent and teacher’s guide to signs, symptoms and treatments for each condition.
The inaugural year of ‘Eye See…Eye Learn’ was deemed an unmitigated success, and raising awareness around the importance of eye health examinations resulted in more than 30% of Albertan children having their eyes examined prior to starting school. Every elementary school across the province of Alberta has now adopted the Eye See…Eye Learn program, with roughly 56,000 parent information packages being sent out to Albertan homes every year since the pilot and in fact, this incredibly beneficial program is now in place almost Canada-wide.
In June of 2015, the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists followed Alberta’s lead and distributed the Bright Eyes series to over 700 locations throughout their province. This very generous initiative provides vision-health education to every school, library and day-care setting within Saskatchewan, and in combination with early childhood eye examinations takes aim to rectify vision deficits before they can impact a child’s potential to learn.
D. Lesley Leslie is the author of many health and wellness books for children as well as the adult fiction novel, KAVLA. Born in England to South African parents, she was raised in Canada and now resides in the Middle East. She welcomes all suggestions, comments and questions.