What Babies Can See
At birth, your baby can see at a distance of about 10 inches. Beyond that, things can get pretty blurry, and color vision isn't well developed either. Vision improves as your baby grows and eye cells mature. By about 2 months of age, he'll probably be able to see red, orange, green, and yellow. By the time he is 4 months old, he'll be able to discriminate all colors in the spectrum, and his vision will be nearly as developed as an adult's.
Newborns like to look at what they can see—so it's no wonder they seem to prefer high-contrast, black-and-white designs. They also seem to have strong preferences for certain patterns, especially faces.
"Babies seem to have an instinctive preference for faces, preferentially orienting to any oval with two spots for eyes and a line for a mouth," says Dr. Lise Eliot, author of What's Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life . "Beyond this, they like bold patterns like a checkerboard or bull's eye."
Is High Contrast More Stimulating?
Anything your baby enjoys looking at will stimulate her visual development—and chances are she will enjoy black-and-white patterns, especially for her first two months. So if you've found a cool black-and-white poster or a rattle with a high-contrast design, that's great. But is your baby missing out if you don't provide lots of black-and-white infant gear? No, says Dr. Eliot. "There is nothing magical about black and white," she says. She notes that any high-contrast object, whether a toy, a face, or the shadows made by crib bars, will hold your baby's attention. "Basically, if babies don't get contrast in their toys, they will find it in other, natural stimuli."
"A baby isn't losing anything by not being offered specifically black-and-white toys," agrees Penny Warner, a child development instructor at Diablo Valley College in San Ramon, California, and the author of Smart Start for Your Baby. "The best toy for babies is a parent's face," says Warner. "It's animated, there is contrast—that's where [your child is really] going to start working on perception."
And don't forget about bright colors! After all, says Warner, color sensitivity develops rapidly. "The more color that is continually introduced, the more rapid gains babies make with being able to contrast [colors]," she says. By around 4 months, your child will be able to see and enjoy an entire rainbow of colors.
Using Black and White
You can use the natural appeal of high-contrast patterns to encourage your baby to play. Warner advises using small toys, such as rattles, to help develop visual acuity. "Use a toy that is about the size of a palm, so that it doesn't go out of your baby's range of vision ... hold it about 10 inches away, and move it," says Warner. "This will help promote your child's ability to start tracking, start looking around." In addition, mobiles are also great for very young infants. Warner advises making sure the mobile's designs are large enough for your baby to see and are pointed in the right direction.
And remember, there's no toy out there that can compete with a loving caregiver. "Best of all are real people who look deeply into [babies'] eyes and talk or coo or sing to them, providing a mixture of visual, auditory, language, and social stimulation," says Dr. Eliot.
Toy Safety Tips
Use these guidelines when selecting toys for tots:
- Be a label reader! Look for safety labels on products and heed them.
- Toys intended for children younger than 3 should be large enough that they can't become choking hazards and should have no small removable parts. When in doubt, use this simple test: Can the toy fit through a toilet paper tube? If so, it's too small.
- Be especially cautious with toys with cords and strings—they can become wrapped around an infant's neck.
Use these guidelines for cleaning your little one's toys:
- Toys should be cleaned when they are obviously soiled, when your baby is recovering from an illness and if other babies have played with them.
- You should always clean toys according to product labels. As a general rule, however, fabric toys can be washed in the laundry using hot water. Small plastic toys without batteries can usually go in the dishwasher. If the toy has batteries, wipe the outside clean with dish soap and water, then allow to air dry.
- After plastic toys are thoroughly cleaned, sanitize them using a solution of 1/4 cup of household bleach in 1 gallon of water. Dip toys without batteries in the solution, then allow to air dry. Toys with batteries can be wiped off with the solution, then air dried.
And use these tips for maintaining your baby's toys:
- Keep up with recalls.
- Check toys frequently for damage. Broken toys should be thrown away.
- Babies grow up, but toys don't. Be continually mindful of age limits, especially for items such as crib mobiles, which should be removed from the crib once your child is able to pull up on her hands and knees.