Ask the Baby Expert Question #14: What are the best learning toys for my newborn? (Should I get toys with black and white contrast images?)
You may have heard that black and white or simple but contrasting patterns are the most visually stimulating for newborns, followed closely by the color red. But what no one is telling you is that
BRAIN STIMULATION is not the same things as LEARNING.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
What do you think is a bigger problem for young children in schools?
ADHD/ attention span or vision impairments???
Ding, ding, ding! You are correct!
If you didn’t know that the answer is ADHD/attention span and behavioral issues that impact/interfere with learning, then you don’t know an elementary school teacher or pediatric occupational therapist very well! 😉
So…What does this have to do with black and white baby toys?
And this post explains it all.
In a nutshell, black and white contrast or visually stimulating toys and gear DO NOT promote learning in babies under 6 months of age.
On the contrary, these products can cause over-stimulation in early infancy, which in turn causes fussiness and poor sleep habits. Poor sleep is a significant factor related to difficulty with focusing, memory, and learning in the early years. Babies that don’t sleep well can develop major attention span and behavioral problems through toddlerhood and even the elementary school years, high school, and beyond!
Nerdy fact: Babies don’t actually start processing visual information until after six months of age. Vision in the first six months starts with blurred recognition of simple faces and progresses to visual recognition of objects far away versus close to their body. And that’s about it! The first six months, baby’s brains are flooded with information from their other senses like touch, smell, taste, sound, and proprioception (think gravity and pressure).
A Note About Preemie Vision:
Preemies are at risk of retinopathy of prematurity or ROP. Also, babies born with IUGR or significantly underdeveloped lungs are at higher risk too. Why? Because the use of high oxygen environments in the NICU can negatively affect the eyes.
Preemies are also at higher risk of nystagmus–the rapid, involuntary side-to-side movement of the eyes. This is secondary to incomplete development of the optic nerve.
Let me tell you a little secret I’ve learned over the last 14 years…
Too much visual stimulation causes babies and toddlers to AVOID eye contact with the objects or people in front of them!!!!
That’s the result of overstimulation.
So, Mommas and Papas, why are we so obsessed with what our newborn babies can or can’t see? Why do we buy the black and white or high contrast flashcards, toys and books?
Of course, the obvious reason is that parents just want to do what they think is best for their child’s development, AND THAT IS A GOOD THING!
But how do we know that babies are actually learning from looking at these images or other “infant vision activities”? WE DON’T!
Would you believe that a lot of what we buy and do for our newborn babies has a lot to do with false marketing? Scandalous!
Here’s the backstory:
So, several years ago Baby Einstein came out with a whole line of infant toys, cards, books and videos (oh my!) that claimed their products are “educational” and can make babies smarter because of the research they cited showing how they “stimulated” a babies vision and brain. (Specifically the videos.)
What the company (Walt Disney) failed to mention was that while some of their products “stimulated” the brain, this did not prove any educational benefit or actual cognitive processing or learning. In 2006 they had to retract their “educational” statements, and in 2009 they offered a recall and refund campaign.
“When attention got focused on this issue a few years ago, a lot of companies became more cautious about what they claimed,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But even if the word ‘education’ isn’t there, there’s a clear implication of educational benefits in a lot of the marketing.” Click here for the full article.
The problem is, stimulating a newborn brain is delicate. Stimulation can quickly and easily turn into OVER-STIMULATION. And when it comes to newborns, not many people understand the difference between cognitive processing or learning and “stimulation.”
Perhaps we are too hyper-focused (pun intended) on teaching our babies to become geniuses straight out of the womb! Have you heard of the 4th trimester? The first three months of a baby’s life is crazy stimulating as it is!
So if we flash black and white cards or shake fancy bright rattles in their faces with Baby Einstein videos running in the background,
OUR BABIES ARE ACTUALLY GETTING OVER-STIMULATED, AND THEY REALLY AREN’T LEARNING MUCH AT ALL!!
Does this seem far-fetched to you?
Does it feel like I’m raining on your baby shower and the joys of shopping on Amazon.com?
Does it feel like I’m literally sucking the smiles off your baby’s face, or robbing your scarce moments of free time while you pop in a Baby Einstein video?
Tell me in the comments below! Then check out this blog post on the things you can feel confident in buying for your newborns…because who doesn’t love shopping for babies!?!
If you have any specific questions about YOUR baby’s vision or what to buy specifically for YOUR baby’s needs, schedule a free 30-min consult now!