Public librarians commonly think that helping children get ready for kindergarten is early literacy skills, learning numbers, being able to follow simple instructions, learning to be part of a group. Oregon libraries also help parents meet a kindergarten registration requirement—vision screening.
Why vision screening for preschoolers?
See to Read, a partnership between the Oregon Library Association and the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic at Oregon Health and Science University, is guided by the belief that no child should begin learning to read and write with an undetected vision problem. According to the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, 80% of learning in the first years comes through vision and often children are misdiagnosed with behavioral or developmental issues. See to Read aims to detect vision problems that can only be treated successfully if caught before age 7.
How it works
Library staff schedules a screening at no cost to the library, thanks to generous support from the Oregon Elks. See to Read staff provides a press kit to publicize the event.
The free screenings are available for 3-7 year olds and there’s no registration to participate. Trained screeners from the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic and the Elks Association come to the library with a hand-held photoscreening device. A screening is fast and easy. A child simply looks at the device which looks a bit like a tablet or Polaroid camera. There’s a smiley face on the front to help children know where to look—just stare at the nose. A small or nervous child can sit on their parent’s lap. While they aren’t doctors, screeners can answer questions and refer parents to a doctor if needed.
Since Oregon law requires vision screening for kindergartners, children who are screened for vision problems at an event receive a certificate for school registration.
Libraries are a great place to offer these since we’re open to all, meet a lot of families, and typically have space available (screenings don’t take much). We help get the word out to families that may not know about the school vision screening requirement. And library goals include children being ready to learn!
Oregon isn’t alone in this effort. Libraries in Illinois, California, Wisconsin and others have hosted vision screenings, often partnering with their local Lions Club.
Ideas for getting started
State Elks organizations each choose their charitable projects. If your local Elks club doesn’t have children’s vision screening as a project, check with your local Lions Club, which typically has vision as a top cause.
Some organizations such as Vision to Learn typically partner with schools but may also partner with your library. Local doctors may offer free screenings at their offices such as those affiliated with See to Learn, but it may be easier for families at their public library. A child who comes to the library is comfortable with that space, but may find a doctor’s office a little scary. Ask a local pediatrician or optometrist if they have a photo-screening device. Could they be a guest storytime reader with free vision screening to follow?
Vision screenings after preschool storytimes or other preschool programs are a good match with the built-in audience of children entering kindergarten. Consider including vision screening as part of a summer reading kickoff or end of summer celebration. Kindergarten registration deadlines will differ state to state, school district to school district, but spring through early fall are good times to host.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and V. Outreach and Advocacy
Kate Carter is the Youth Services Project Librarian at Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR. She serves on the ALSC Building Partnerships Committee.