The Eyes Have It: 5 Ways to strengthen your Child's Eye Muscles
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
When my son was 9 years old, we discovered through unrelated testing, that his eyes were not tracking together. One eye was doing all of the work and the other eye was just hanging out. I had been looking into his eyes his entire life and I never once noticed that his eyes were not tracking together. I was surprised when this was discovered because he had just had his annual physical and the doctor wrote 20/10 in his chart. I thought his ability to see near and far was all that I needed to be concerned about.
This diagnosis would explain why he had trouble catching a ball and was reluctant to jump off of even low surfaces because he had no depth perception. It also explained why he was having trouble fully understanding what he was reading for school because he was skipping words and lines of text because his one working eye was not able to remember its place. Not to mention that he was presenting with ADHD-like behavior because his exhausted brain, trying to process information with one eye, was not allowing him to focus for more than a minute or two. It turns out that he was lucky that he was diagnosed at 9 years old because if we didn't find out until he was 10, no amount of therapy would be able to fully correct the problem. Thus began 1 1/2 years of vision therapy that ended just before the Pandemic began.
It wasn't until I and my team of experts began to put together exercises for the app we were developing called Fledglings' Flight, that I realized that if I didn't contribute to the problem with his eyes, I certainly didn't do anything to prevent it. Here is where I save you $4000 on cost of vision therapy. I am going to give you 5 ways you can strengthen your child's eye muscles to avoid issues that may lead to costly therapy later in life.
#1. Move the crib into the center of the room
I placed my son's crib up against the wall because I wanted to maximize the floor space in his room for tummy time. This is a problem because that meant that only his right eye was getting stimulated while he was awake in the crib. This may not seem like a p
roblem until you realize that newborns sleep 14-17 hours a day and not all at once. So there is a lot of crib time and hours collectively spent looking between the bars. Eventually an eye that isn't getting sufficient stimulation will stop working. When you move the crib
to the center of the room, both eyes get equal chances to be stimulated by their exciting new surroundings.
#2. Alternate the direction baby faces in crib
I understand that not everyone's nursery has the space to place the crib in the center of the room. Here is what you can do instead.
I always placed my son so that I could see his face from the doorway. This was extremely important to me
because I was sure that he was going to die from SIDS as soon as I left the room. What I should have done is changed the direction he was facing each time that I put him down. One time with his face towards the door and the next with is head at the other end of the crib. This would have given each eye more or less equal time being stimulated.
Place a sock over one of the 4 posters of the crib, if you have that type of crib, on the side that your baby's head is located. When it is sleeping-time again, place your baby the other direction and move the sock to the other side. You can also drape a burb cloth over the head or foot boards to help you keep track. Mommy-brain is real.
#3. Alternate the arm that baby is held when being bottle-fed
When babies aren't sleeping they are eating. Between the two tasks, this is 80% of the time that your baby spends each day. This means that if you are bottle feeding your baby, you need to be conscientious about making sure that both eyes are getting equal time to be stimulated.
We like to hold the bottle with our dominate hand which means that one eye is getting all of the action. Make sure that you alternate which arm holds your baby at each feeding. This can be awkward when you are holding the bottle with your non-dominate hand, but it is a good opportunity to build t
hat skill and help your baby's eyes in the process.
Place a rubber band or hair scrunchy the wrist of the arm that held the bottle to help you keep track of which way you should hold your baby when being fed the next time.
#4. Place a mobile over your baby's crib
Mobiles are a great way to develop the muscles that help your baby's eyes track objects. When your baby is first born, they can only see 8-10 inches away, so the mobile needs to be pretty close to them for it to be seen. As they get older, make sure that the mobile is out of baby's reach so they don't pull it into their crib. At night you can shine a light on the crib to create moving patterns on the ceiling and walls.
Newborns can only see black, white, and red for the first 3 months of life. Make sure that you have a mobile that is black and white otherwise the shades of grey that your baby will see on a pastel mobile won't be contrasty enough to be noticeable.
#5. Use high contrast cards regularly
High contrast cards are black and white images that you can use to strengthen your baby's eye muscles. The are perfect for tummy time or propped up in the crib.
You can build your baby's eye muscles used to focus by holding a card 10 inch away and slowly moving it towards their nose, then back to the starting place. You can do this after a diaper change or during floor time on their back.
When your baby is 3 months old you can use the cards to build tracking skills by moving a card left to right and then up and down.
Your child doesn't have to be baby to benefit from these exercises. These are actually a few of the exercises that my son did during visual therapy. If I had know to do these exercises when my son was little, he likely would not have needed 1 1/2 years of therapy.
Want access to more information like this?
Create a free account with Fledglings' Flight and get access to 4820 screen-free, play-based exercises. That is 100-200 exercises each month that you can start doing with your baby from the day that they are born to help them to develop into the best version of themselves. In addition, your free account gives you access to 1200+ articles on child development to keep you informed while you help to navigate your child's developmental journey.
How to Purchase High Contrast Cards
Fledglings' Flight newborn subscription box comes with our very own High Contrast Cards. You can also purchase them by clicking the link below.
How to the Customizable Mobile
Fledglings' Flight newborn subscription box also comes with a customizable mobile from Denmark. You can hang high contrast cards or photos of family members to the mini clothes pins. It is streamlined and elegant enough to match any decor. If you want to purchase the mobile, click the link below.