Developing the Observing Eye April 29 2014

Reviewing the text for translation into Spanish for the Online Waldorf Library (OWL) of a book with the EYE so prominent in the title (Developing the Observing Eye, a Waldorf Publications  book for parents and teachers) reminded me of the recent and dramatic increase in eye-afflictions in the young.  From my first class of students to my second, the increase in eye disorders was remarkable.  Ordinary eye exams indicated that most children had better-than-average eyesight.  But something seemed still "off" in tracking, focusing, and, well, in seeing. 

One very warm hearted behavioral ophthalmologist, the late Dr. Swardwout, became my long-distance friend in diagnosing children's difficulties.  He appreciated that we were working with first and second graders instead of seventh and eighth graders whose self-esteem had already been bashed by years of struggle, feeling "stupid" when the problem was only mechanical.  Many of these problems are correctable with special lenses or eye exercises. For example:

  • The recent, extreme frontal focus induced by long car rides, screen viewing, computers, and lack of time in the green outdoors, are creating new problems of peripheral vision muscle tension that make it hard to sit still or see completely, Dr. Swartwout explained. There are lenses that can relax the peripheral vision muscle and exercises that help a child use these muscles more frequently. (Walks in the woods are also helpful!)
  • One bright little boy in my class was always behind in his book work because his ocular focusing muscles were delayed, making it take a full 30 seconds for him to refocus from distance to close (board to book). 
  • "Tracking" is a specific eye function necessary to good reading and difficult for some youthful eyes, not yet ready for such strenuous focus. 
  • One little girl, when trying to read, would look at her page and then look in the air, frustrating tutors and teachers.  When asked why she looks away from the page she answered, "Because the words jump around when I look at them but when I see them in the air they stay still and I can tell what they say."  

An "Observing Eye" can help us see what little ones need to feel confident in reading and get the help they need in physical relief of mechanical eye afflictions, brought about by our fast-paced, modern lifestyle.