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The Theory in black & White

Have you ever noticed how babies are drawn to books with black and white pictures? Although they don’t always appeal to adults, these books capture the attention of babies.

Before they’re born, babies can tell the difference between light and dark. At birth, a baby’s eyesight is still developing. Babies' eyes haven’t yet learned how to work together, this will come over the next few months. Although babies are able see, the world is still quite blurry. Babies can see best at around 6-8 inches, which is roughly the distance where babies are held for feeding. When a parent (or anyone!) cuddles the baby for a feed and looks closely at the baby, the baby can begin to focus on the parent’s face and get to know their facial features. Some scientists have suggested that this limited vision, and ability to see around feeding distance, is a biological trait that evolved to help babies feel safe and secure with their parent, whilst limiting the sensory input of the wider world.

A baby's colour perception is also limited at birth. Although there is varying evidence about which colours baby can see, there is wide agreement that babies first see white, black, and shades of grey. There is evidence to suggest that red is one of the first colours a baby will see, and the contrast with black and white makes it easier for babies to detect.

Spending time close to your baby, and face to face, is a great way to stimulate the development of their eyes

To help support your baby’s vision development, cuddle up and spend time looking at each other. Your baby will focus in on your face – and even imitate simple actions like sticking out your tongue. Spending time close to your baby, and face to face, is a great way to stimulate the development of their eyes, but also to help you and baby feel close to each other. As time goes on, and your baby’s vision gets clearer, you’ll even notice him or her turning their head towards your voice and tracking you with their eyes.

As young eyes are developing and learning to focus on the world around them, black and white books with simple lines and bold patterns are easier for babies to see. The bold images stand out against a typically blurry world. A black and white book gives a baby a chance to see clearly and experience part of the wider world.

Babies are never too young to enjoy a book! Choose one with bold, uncluttered images, and simple shapes and patterns. This will help your baby learn to focus. Take the time to tell babies about the pictures. If they’re simple shapes or patterns, describe them. You can even take your baby’s hand and gently trace circles, squares, wavy lines – anything! This will help your baby learn more about what they’re seeing, but most importantly, they will love hearing your voice.

Extract Tracey Cooper

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