These Sites Can Help You Find Cheap or Free Eye Exams and Glasses for Kids

Boy doing eye test at optometrist
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The solution to the problem of elementary school students who struggle with reading could be right under — or rather, on the bridge of — their noses.

That’s right: eyeglasses.

According to Andrea Thau, O.D., president of the American Optometric Association, one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem.

While most schools offer the most basic version of an eye exam, Thau said they create a false sense of security, leading parents to believe that their children have been screened without catching significant problems.

“Making a comprehensive eye examination a priority this year is one of the single most important investments you can make in your child’s education and overall health,” she explained. “A comprehensive eye exam is the only way to properly diagnose and treat vision and eye health issues.”

The Difference a Pair of Glasses Can Make

In 2014, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore conducted a study to find out if something as simple as eyeglasses could account for the disparity in reading performance between students from poor households and those from wealthy ones.

After screening several hundred second- and third-graders and giving glasses to the students who met the “uniquely liberal prescribing standard,” the researchers tracked the kids’ academic performance over the course of a year.

Even with a relatively small sample size, Politico notes, the results of the study were significant, as reading proficiency dramatically increased among the students outfitted with the new glasses.

In 2016, the Baltimore City Health Department, the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, the Johns Hopkins School of Education, national non-profit Vision To Learn and eyeglass retailer Warby Parker teamed up to create a program called Vision for Baltimore, a three-year initiative that aims to screen 60,000 kids at 150 schools for poor eyesight.

As of mid-August, the program has screened nearly 18,000 kids and handed out almost 2,000 pairs of glasses.

“We all know the need is there,” says Austin Beutner, chairman and founder of Vision To Learn. “We have a lot to come, not only in Baltimore.”

How to Find Eye Exams and Glasses for Your Child

Vision for Baltimore plans to serve Baltimore-area schools through to the summer of 2019.

Much of the funding comes from Baltimore’s health department, while the research team operates on donations and grants. While organizers hope to expand the project to aid even more cities and communities, the process may not be quick.

Until the program is expanded or until a similar program is initiated in your own town, however, parents and caregivers can take advantage of these resources now to access the tools (namely, eyeglasses) that will help their children succeed in school.

  • In many instances, Medicaid will cover routine vision services for children. Be sure to check your specific state requirements.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) is a state and federal partnership program that provides low-cost health insurance for children in families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance. In most states, children enrolled in the program qualify for free eye exams. Search for Children’s Health Insurance Plan plus your state to see what options are available to you.
  • Similarly, sites like EyeBuyDirect or Zenni Optical allow you to purchase children’s frames and prescription lenses for as little as $12. Plus, they often offer coupons and discount codes to bring that total down even further.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.