Take Breaks Using the 20-20-20 Rule
Frequent eye breaks, even short ones, are greatly encouraged when doing consistent near work so children are able to relax their eye muscles and provide ocular accommodation, otherwise known as the ability for eyes to appropriately adjust focus to a specific distance. Without breaks among hours-long near-work sessions, these ocular muscles, like any other in the body, will fatigue.
Patel suggested the 20-20-20 rule, which means that every 20 minutes, children (and adults, for that matter) should take a 20-second break by looking off into the distance approximately 20 feet away. This rule obviously applies when spending time in front of a screen, but it actually is important for any work within an arm's length, whether it's working with math problems, reading a book, or studying flash cards.
"For kids, it's hard for them to know the distance, so it's you telling them, 'Look out the window' or 'look down the hall,'" Patel suggested. I found that playing a game of I Spy out the window was a more engaging way of achieving this break than suggesting my child look at the trees.
Patel recognizes it might not be feasible for parents to monitor their kid's day in 20-minute increments. "It's a lot of stress for parents," she said. "Like, 'Do I need to referee the entire virtual school situation?'"
Patel suggests teaching children how to apply the rule themselves. Start by setting a kitchen timer or setting up a home device like Alexa with ongoing timers. For older children, remind them of certain clock markers, like 9:15, 9:35, 9:55, and so on. "Also, if they are reading a book, get them in the habit of taking this break every two chapters, or however long it takes them to read for 20 minutes. If it's an actual book, use paper clips throughout the pages to denote when to take breaks — something to help the child remember."