“Sea Otters At Play” Sherpa Blanket by Christopher Lyles
Pink? Blue? Something new? There’s a lot of buzz about which colors are the best for your baby’s new room, and it’s well known that the first months and years of your baby’s life are important for cognitive development. So will painting your nursery a particular color or pattern help jumpstart their thinking?
The answer is—no one really knows for sure. It’s never actually been studied. What we do know is that babies don’t fully develop their understanding of color until about 5 months old, and we also know that stimulating your baby early on can help develop synapses in their growing brain. So while your instinct might be to start planning the color of your nursery first, looking at patterns and other design elements may be more impactful in the first few months.
Babies are little learning machines. While at first, they can’t see color at all, soon they’re separating color into categories and deciphering patterns. The best thing you can do to encourage their learning is give them things to learn.
When it comes to room decorations, that means adding mobiles, patterns, and designs. Like any other skill, learning how to view moving objects is hard work, and adding a slow-moving mobile above their crib is a great way to give them the opportunity to practice. Babies are also interested in the edges of things. It takes time to figure out where one thing ends, and another begins. Painting stripes on a wall can help them learn to separate colors.
Artwork by Alexandra Ball
As your baby grows, moving objects and the edges of things will become child’s play. From there, they’ll be working to recognize more and more complex shapes and designs. Choosing nursery art for the walls, for their lampshade, for their pillows, blanket, and clock will give them interesting designs to engage with.
It’s okay if the art goes over their heads at first. Research shows that babies pay attention to things that have a level of complexity appropriate to their cognition. Simply put, if it’s too simple, it’s boring, and your baby will ignore it. If it’s too complex, they won’t get a handle on it, and they’ll also ignore it. As adults, we understand this distinction well. We don’t pay too much attention to 2+2 or to mathematical descriptions of the fractal movements of a liquid on a curved surface—but balancing our bank accounts? We’ve got that.
What is “too simple” and “too complex” will change as your baby gets older, so it’s a good idea to err on the side of complexity. Designs with many colors and interesting shapes should hold their attention for years to come. If you talk to your baby about the design, naming the shapes and animals within it, and telling stories about them, you can help develop their language abilities.
Okay, so there’s no hard rules on which colors work and which colors don’t. That’s fine. Even if this exact question hasn’t been answered by pediatric researchers, others like it have. From there, we can make an educated guess.
So, what do we know? For one, babies look longer at certain colors than they do at others. Which colors babies like best is hard to say, because it changes from study to study and baby to baby, just like with adults. The bottom line here is that your baby will grow to like certain colors more than others.
We also know that babies don’t start distinguishing colors for at least the first few months of their development. So, you’ve got time to choose. When the times does come to make a decision, don’t worry—you really can’t get it wrong. See if you can find a color your baby likes by watching what they’re interested in. If there’s a blanket or a toy they really love, try that color.
“Silly Sharks” Sherpa Blanket by Emily Dove
At the end of the day, there’s no rule saying your baby’s nursery needs to be a certain color. There’s no proof that painting your little one’s room crimson will get them into Harvard. But, adding patterns, mobiles, and designs to your baby’s room as they grow will give them something to explore and understand. Still, the best thing you can do to help your baby develop is also the easiest. Just love your baby—hold them, pay attention to them, talk to them, sing to them, play with them, read to them, play them music, and show them the wonderful world outside. If you do all that, your baby’s cognition will come along just fine, no matter what color you paint their room.
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