Outdoor play activities that help prevent childhood myopia
“Don’t sit too close to the tv; you’ll ruin your eyesight!”
I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard this in my childhood. On occasions, I would find myself so engrossed in what was happening on screen, that I would move closer to block everything else out.
Surely, there’s some truth to the conventional wisdom because I frequently find myself warning the same to my children. Except with various media pads becoming part of ordinary childhood, it is increasingly challenging to completely prevent up-close viewing.
This ‘advice’ started in the 1960s and whilst there might be some truth to it, it is mostly considered a myth now.
There are however numerous physical, emotional and cognitive reasons why children should have a lesser amount of screen time and spend more time playing outdoors. Among these evidence-based facts is that outdoor play could improve children’s eyesight.
Research has shown that the amount of time children spend playing outdoors in natural daylight is thought to have a significant protecting effect and understood to decrease myopic refractive correction in the future.
What is myopia?
Myopia is known as near-sightedness or being short-sighted.
It is a vision impairment where the affected person struggles to see clearly from a distance without visual aids but can see well up-close. It occurs when the eyes grow too long, which means that they are incapable of producing a clear picture from a distance.
Myopia is believed to start in early childhood where many children consider blurry vision as the norm. Therefore, regular eye examinations are imperative. Recent statistics show myopia to be a worldwide epidemic possibly because children are thought to be spending more time indoors, playing with screens.
Genetic factors also play a significant role in whether a child is short-sighted too.
Preventing myopia through outdoor play
A leading theory suggests that when children are exposed to bright natural light when playing outdoors, this inspires the release of dopamine from cells in the retina. Dopamine then starts a molecular signalling cascade, which ends with slower, normal growth of the eye, resulting in no myopia. This theory appears to be backed by research from animal models, which shows that natural light exposure helps to prevent myopia.
Several studies have shown that children who spend more time playing outdoors in brighter light have little need for vision correction and visual aids.
3 activities to improve children’s vision
Now that we’ve established that children can stave off myopia just by playing outdoors in the brighter light, here are 3 outdoor play activities that can help to develop children’s vision.
1. Balance Beams
One activity used in a visual therapy is walking back and forth on a balance beam to improve visual perception skills. Most playgrounds incorporate some sort of balance beams these days.
2. Trim Trails
Trim Trails are great for developing space perception and coordination. They also include a variety of challenges and require children to navigate their way around each challenge to move from task to task.
3. Playing Catch with a Ball
A simple game of playing catch the ball can improve children’s depth perception skills. If they struggle, then shorten the distance and use a larger ball. It requires a multitude of skills, hand-eye-coordination, focus, dedication and gauging the distance too.
During the Winter, it may be difficult to schedule outdoor breaks around the limited daylight hours. Whilst it may be tempting to reduce outdoor play breaks or opt for indoor breaks, this could be detrimental to children’s vision.
Outdoor bright light is proven to be beneficial in preventing myopia and in effect improving children’s eyesight. When outside in the playground, children can further improve their visual system by engaging in a range of targeted play activities.
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