Becoming a Patching Parent: Making Patching Fun!
The Children’s Eye Foundation is grateful to have parents willing to share the knowledge they’ve gained while navigating the world of childhood vision. A very big thank you to Gus’ mom, Carrie Groleau for writing this blog series for CEF, which has been endorsed by pediatric ophthalmologists on the CEF Editorial Committee. We know you’ll find her wisdom and insight incredibly helpful on your successful patching experience!
“Successful, compliant patching is all about distraction, stimulation, and having fun! Activities during patch-time don’t have to be planned, and they don’t require spending money or creating projects borrowed from Pinterest. In this segment of CEF’s Series on Patching, I’ll be sharing a list of suggested activities to help you turn ‘Patch Time’ into ‘Play Time!'”– Carrie Groleau, Patching Parent
In my experience, the best patch-time play is simply to explore the great outdoors. Recent studies from the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggest that increased time spent outside can significantly reduce the progression or development of myopia (nearsightedness) in children and adolescents. Read the research here. Just make sure to protect your child’s eyes from the sun’s powerful UV rays with sunglasses, transitions lenses, or a sun hat, especially in the summer months! There are countless physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits to playing outdoors, yet children today spend just half the time outside as the previous generation. Break the mold and get outside! One day your child will thank you.
Here are some ideas for outside patch-time play:
- Play in the yard, visit a park, build a sandcastle, or take a nature hike.
- Stroller rides and walks with an infant carrier offer wonderful sensory stimulation and distraction for a non-mobile infant. Talk about the things you see, hear, feel, and smell.
- For infants and children with extremely low vision while patched, guide their hands along things to feel while describing them aloud.
- Preschool-aged patchers can go on a nature scavenger hunt. Carry a bucket so your child can collect rocks, acorns, colorful leaves, feathers, and shells. Ask your child to describe the way these items look, feel, and smell.
- With an older child, make observations together, play “I Spy” games, and if you’re feeling ambitious, plan a Nature Bingo game with specific items to look for, again encouraging your child to scan and focus with the weaker eye.
- Blow bubbles and color outside with sidewalk chalk.
- Play outside games such as soccer and catch, which require visual scanning and tracking.
- Visit a farm or petting zoo or have your child help with the care of family pets. Spending time connecting with animals is a great way for children to enjoy a variety of sensory experiences with all the smells, loud animal noises, and interesting textures in petting, brushing, and/or feeding the animals.
- Splash around with a water table, go swimming, run through the sprinklers, or play at a community water park. It is fine to patch during water activities but do replace wet adhesive patches after water play is over. Swimming goggles are recommended for patching children who wear contact lenses for vision correction.
Patching while playing outdoors provides plenty of distractions and keeps patching fun. My son Gus knows that he has to keep his patch on to play on the playground, go to the beach, or visit our animal friends at the farm. Before taking Gus out of his car seat or stroller, I will say something like, “We’re at the ______ now. Let’s put on your patch so you can play!” Using phrases like this helps create positive associations with patch time. Remember to keep a close eye on your child’s balance while patched if climbing or running downhill to keep outdoor patching time safe.
Music and Movement
Research shows that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human activity. Considering that the eyes are extensions of the brain and work in partnership to create vision, I have always integrated music throughout play-time—both patched and not—for overall brain development. Whether it’s listening to classical music during quiet play, singing along to children’s songs, or moving to upbeat music in a patch-time dance party, listening to music is a great way to stimulate your child’s brain while providing another element of patch-time fun. You can also add visual elements such as juggling scarves and homemade ribbon dancers to give your child something to focus on while moving to the rhythm.
You can also help explain your child’s reason for patching through singing. Here’s a little song I made up for my patching toddler, Gus:
Patch goes on, it helps your eye see better.
Patch goes on, it helps your eye get strong.
It’s patch-time now, so we will play together
and sing a little song.
I sing this song to Gus every morning while placing his eye patch on, and I change the words slightly as needed throughout the day. If I notice Gus trying to rip his patch off, I change the words to, “Patch stays on…” Similarly, I’ll replace the word “play” to make sense with whatever activity we’re in the middle of doing.
After I sing the patching song during patch application, I sing another song I wrote for when it’s time to put on his glasses:
Glasses on you, glasses on you
Help you see, help you see.
Put on your glasses, put on your glasses.
Look at me, look at me.
I sing this song anytime Gus takes off his glasses and I need to put them back on. These simple, repetitive songs encourage compliance and have helped reduce the number of times Gus pulls off his glasses and patch throughout the day. You can use these songs or make up your own!
Most public libraries offer a variety of free educational programs for children of all ages. Check your local library’s event schedule, which may include activities such as weekly story-time, kids’ crafting sessions, shadow puppet theater, Lego building events, free movie screenings, and more. Many library children’s departments include safe, inside play areas as well. Home improvement stores like The Home Depot and Lowes offer free monthly building events which are appropriate for children ages 3 and up. Check your local newspaper and community groups on Facebook to learn about other free children’s programs near you.
Patch-Time Books and Toys
Children who patch respond well to developmental toys that engage multiple senses as playability doesn’t rely solely on sight. Choose toys that will allow your patching child to hone fine and gross motor skills while strengthening vision at the same time. Below are suggestions for toys suitable for patching children in various ages and stages.
When selecting books and toys for a patching infant, look for items that feature high-contrast images, bright colors, mirrors, lights, music, and larger or textured pieces that are easy to hold and see. I highly recommend SmartNoggin Toys, products from the Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson collection, and Baby Einstein musical toys for babies aged 0-12 months. Other great options are Lamaze developmental toys, infant play gyms, and baby activity stations. Play peekaboo and read books featuring high-contrast images, photos of other babies, and simple text.
Toddlers and Preschool-aged children:
For toddlers and preschool-aged children, I recommend brightly colored or textured balls, ride-on toys, light-up toys, such as VTech toys, instruments, chunky wooden puzzles, sorting toys, stacking toys, and hide-and-go-seek games with plastic eggs or other brightly colored objects. Building toys such as wooden blocks, Lego Duplos, and Magnatiles are excellent for patch-time play. Fat Brain Toys makes a variety of products well-suited for visually-impaired children of all ages, including Squigz and the Spinagain. Try sensory play with dry rice and beans, water, water beads or sensory beads, Kinetic Sand, and Play-Doh. Other fun patching activities include painting, coloring, making tissue paper art, and lacing wooden beads on shoelace string or plastic pony beads on pipe cleaners. All of these activities will help strengthen hand-eye-coordination and fine motor skills. At this stage, read books with colorful pictures, flaps that lift, and feature rhyming text.
Elementary school-aged children:
When selecting toys for a school-aged child, look for toys that are both educational and entertaining. I recommend building toys, including Lego Junior and Lego Classics, Goobi, and Magnatiles. Popular STEM toys including Snap Circuits, magnetic building sets, and Osmo encourage hand-eye-coordination and develop fine motor skills. Other fun patch-time activities for older children include painting, coloring detailed pictures in “adult” coloring books, creating jewelry, making collages with images cut from magazines, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and taking photographs or creating movies with a digital camera or smartphone. Other patch-time play ideas include playing “I Spy,” hide-and-go-seek, board games, Connect Four, card games, and checkers. Look for high-interest books that feature large print and fewer words per page for patch-time reading.
Appropriate, monitored screen time can greatly benefit a patching child. Not only is watching a favorite program or playing a video game an excellent distraction from wearing the patch but engaging in screen time can actually strengthen a child’s eyesight through visual scanning and tracking of moving people and objects on screen. Download interactive apps onto an iPad, tablet, or computer. Look for apps and games that provide contrast, bright colors, larger text and basic images. Newer research has shown that dichoptic video games (where each eye sees a slightly different target to be able to play the game) can be effective in addition to patch time. Some examples are the Lazy Eye Games and virtual reality games played with a VR headset. When it comes to screen-time, remember the 20-20-20 rule! For every 20 minutes of staring at a computer, tablet, or television screen, have your child take a 20-second break to focus on something at least 20-feet away to prevent eye strain and fatigue.
Now, go get patching and have some fun!
In Part 4 on next week’s blog we’ll wrap up CEF’s Series on Patching and I’ll be discussing advocacy and patching support!
If you’d like to learn more about Gus and our daily adventures in patching, follow us on Instagram @patchwithgus where I chronicle our vision journey and provide additional patching support.
Enter our Giveaway!
CEF is so excited to offer our first ever giveaway! Sign up for the newsletter from the Children’s Eye Foundation or like us on Facebook for your chance to win a fabulous patching prize pack! Each action gets you an entry into our drawing. Giveaway winner will be selected on May 31st!
Our Super Patching Giftset includes some amazing items to help you and your child on their patching journey. Total approximate value is $300
- Hardback Copy of Jacob’s Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw
- Patching reward poster, coloring and activity book, My Patching Booklet, and 1 box of unisex adhesive patches from Ortopad USA
- Complete adhesive patch collection from See Worthy Patches = 4 boxes of 50 patches for 200 total patches
- Framehuggers patching gift set including custom Framehuggers fabric patch for glasses with color and design of choice, Headhuggers glasses retainer, and patching reward game
- Eye Power Kids Wear awareness t-shirt of choice with accessories pack
- Custom patching doll from The Giggle Worm on Etsy
- Parent gift from Carrie Groleau @PatchWithGus, including patching reward stickers from PaperLemonadeCo on Etsy