The benefits of using high contrast toys and resources with baby's
Why is black and white good for babies?
When my son Alfie was born, I knew NOTHING about how beneficial black and white was for babies. I remember that I was given a black and white book in a pack from my health visitor but she never explained why it was included. When Alfie was around 3 weeks old, I noticed that he seemed to really be drawn to my grey contrasting curtains. He would fixate on them for a while before looking away. It was at this point that I started to research about visual development and how beneficial black and white for babies was.
When babies are born, they do not see the world like we do as their retina is not yet fully developed and they can only see clearly around 10-12 inches (which is why they love being close to you). A baby’s retina at birth can only detect large contrasts between black and white, so, if you have a beautiful pastel nursery, at this stage, it will do nothing visually for your baby as they may only see them as one shade all merged together.
Over the next few months your baby’s brain is going to develop rapidly; which is why it is important to include visual stimulation. *Research has proven that black and white contrasting shapes and patterns register the strongest on a baby’s retina which sends stronger signals to their brain. Stronger signals mean more brain growth and faster visual development. Your baby’s retina and brain will thrive if you provide them with continuous visual stimulation through simple black and white/light and dark pictures and bold, contrasting shapes and patterns.
From around 10-12 weeks old, your baby may be able to distinguish the colour red; so this is a great time to introduce black, white and red toys and resources, try and resist toys that are colourful and pretty at this stage; as mentioned above they won’t offer anything visually for your baby. From around 5 months old your baby will be able to distinguish a full spectrum of colour, so this is a good time to introduce those toys and resources that are bright and colourful.
Activities to try:
- Using black and white patterned cards or books is a great way to introduce visual stimulation with your baby. You can do this by either laying your baby on their back and holding the cards/books in front of them around 8-12 inches away from their face or during tummy time and placing them in front of your baby so they can see. Just allow your baby to focus on the image; showing them only one card or one page at a time. If they look away, then swap the image or turn the page. It is important to recognise the signs that your baby is becoming over stimulated; if they show signs of over stimulation then just stop the activity.
- Over time you can progress this activity by moving the cards slowly from side to side. Movement will easily catch your baby’s eye so by gently moving cards/books from side to side will help improve tracking skills.
- Surround your baby’s play area with black and white toys and resources and place them in the area during periods of being awake and alert.
- Hang items like a sensory scarf from a baby gym and watch your baby fixate on them.
- Do you own any black and white pattered or striped tops? If so, try and wear them as much as you can around your baby.
- Maintain the right distance – Whether you’re placing something in front of your baby to look at or whether you are moving a toy in front of them – remember to stay around 8-12 inches away from their faces so that they can see clearly.
So, in those early weeks, it is so important to introduce contrasting blacks and whites into your baby’s everyday activities to support their visual and brain development. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had incorporated more into those early days with Alfie, or wish I had known about the benefits when I was pregnant. This is why you will now find on the website a growing collection of black and white toys and resources; including a newborn black and white specific sensory box with a detailed guide on how best to introduce all of the items to benefit your baby. You will also find some free downloadable high contrast visual cards for you to print out at home.
*Information reference – Dr Bill Sears