Before posting anything about visual difficulties in Beijing on the www.beijing-kids website Forum, I checked with a professional.
The optometrist responded by stating that a child's eyes do not mature until age 6-7; "the neural pathways are still developing until that time". She cited China as one location where research studies have found myopia (shortsightedness) to be prevalent in high population centers in which children start academics at a very early age. This echos the findings of Beijing's own research re alarming rates of vision deterioration over a five-year period.
Additionally, the optometrist noted that there is a link between myopia and exposure to sunlight. Eyes need to absorb Vitamin D. Additionally, being outdoors allows for using longer distance focus.
It seems she has said it all. To have good vision, kids need less time on up-close paperwork and more time outdoors.
The reality in Beijing is that Chinese parents WILL start their child in academics at an early age. A partial solution to this dilemma might be to make sure early skills are taught from flash-cards in LARGE print held further from the child. Chinese children are forced to "print" characters in very small boxes in very small scribblers with very thin pencils.
Early printing tools - pencil and paper should probably be LARGE. Korea produces a wonderful type of smooth, wide, triangulated pencil that is easy for young children to work with and that helps promote a comfortable grip. I found none of this suitable type of tool in either Suzhou or Beijing. (Luckily, a kind Korean mother at the Suzhou-Singapore International School realized my appreciation of the Korean pencils and provided a few dozen as a parting gift. These were well received by my Beijing students; some parents balked at such "babyish" implements and remained proud of their 4-year-old being able to print in very tiny letters).
Save the eyes. Super-size!