Monday 23 April 2012

These Are a Few of My Favourite Things

Culturebaby and I thought that every now and then we'd share with you some of her favourite cultural things. Other than the song My Favourite Things, which incidentally is (go on have a little listen), there are lots of books, songs, pictures and toys that have caught her eye/ear/little fingers/mouth.We'd love to hear about your favourites too.

Immediately on leaving hospital, we were excited to find that already Culturebaby was fascinated with black and white images. I had read an interesting book during the grumpier stages of pregnancy (when I read a lot on child development in an attempt to ignore the neverending sickness and heartburn and look beyond the scary birth ahead). It is called The Social Baby by Murray and Andrews. Using mainly pictures, it looks at how babies communicate from the very first stages, and how to pick up on these signals. It explains that in the first weeks of life babies see differently to us and are most attracted to people's faces, bold patterns (especially black and white) and contrasts between light and dark (that's why babies stare at windows). It also notes that the best distance for a baby's focus in the first few weeks is 22cm (just the distance from mummy's face while feeding - clever mother nature!). I also read a rather dense but fascinating book called Montessori from the Start. The book discusses the importance of giving babies toys with a purpose, and again talks about mobiles (the first they recommend being black and white with flat geometric shapes), mirrors and reflected light. "The baby gradually develops focus on a moving object, tracking of an object, and perception of colour and depth." It's worth getting the book just for the rough and ready diagram of psycho-motor development (hand, body and brain development - what to expect when...)

We had therefore stocked up on some black and white books and a mobile for over the changing table before Culturebaby arrived. My friends also clearly understood my geekiness and we received some lovely black and white pressies. It was worth the planning. At 5 days old Culturebaby was already turning her head and concentrating on a black and white frieze for a couple of minutes. It was so exciting to watch!

If there was a world championship in charity book shopping, my mum could represent the British heavyweights at the very least. Despite being amazed at the seemingly untouched range of discarded books she constantly finds, my mother has exploited the opportunity (and the bargain bin) and has created an entire library for Culturebaby. She also found Culturebaby's first favourite book: Ladybird's First Focus Patterns. It doesn't seem to be in print anymore, which is a shame, but there are many very similar products, such as her cloth cot book. The Pattern book was simple but brilliant (see pics) - it folded out into a frieze and could be propped up round the side of her crib or round her when she was lying down - and she loved it! Her other favourite, which we put down the side of her changing table, was a brilliant book I bought at the Tate Modern called Art For Baby. I have become rather an evangelist for it as it is both beautiful and engaging - a book (with frieze) containing monochrome images by famous artists. Ohana (1999) by Takashi Murakami was a definite favourite for Culturebaby. 

There is a fantastic range of great black and white books and products out there and here are a few more of Culturebaby's favourites:
  • Spots and Dots (Art Baby) - Spots and dots are, as you would expect, the eponymous heroes of this one, starting in black and white and building into two or three contrasting colours. It's rather hard for parents to find much to say about it, other than repeating 'spot' and 'dot' in a seemingly obsessive manner, but Culturebaby really looked hard at it. It was really good for the first few weeks as it is so simple;
  • Black and White (Amazing Baby) - This is one of the loveliest we have as it has cut-outs for little fingers to explore and a rhyme to engage baby and keep mummy sane!
  • Animals (Brighter Baby) - This beautiful book, a present from a friend, is a work of art, and was also the first book that Culturebaby turned the pages of (at 3 and a half months). She liked to flick them backwards and forwards... and eat them of course;
  • Baby's Very First Book (Pets) - This series is great as they are cloth books (great for turning, crunching and chewing) and also have a mirror on the front (containing that perenial baby, and providing endless fascination and conversation for Culturebaby). To be frank, these are rather dull for adults as they contain three words and have no apparent link between the image of said pet and random pattern, but Culturebaby loved them;
  • The Baby Shapes Pack - This is a great resource. It contains a make-your-own black and white mobile and four booklets of progressively complicated patterns in black and white. Culturebaby was mainly interested in looking sideways at the beginning (so friezes were better), but when she started to look up, the mobile was great. I planned on making one for myself, but when I saw this laziness won;
  • Babies seem to be fascinated with other babies and, surprisingly to me initially, Culturebaby really loves (and still does), books containing black and white photographs of baby's faces. This Little Baby and Baby Boo are both great, and there is rarely anything I've seen as cute as my friend's little boy going through his This Little Baby book and kissing each page goodnight...
  • There are also some great black and white toys and playmats around. The first thing that Culturebaby grabbed and held was her black and white Lamaze (we LOVE Lamaze) zebra rattle.
However, if you don't have a champion charity shopping mother and a long suffering husband who continues to be worried but tolerant of the increasing number of bookshelves in our house, or if you are one of those domesticated-types who can operate a sewing machine, there is so much you can make yourself. My mum and dad created a number of home-made black and white posters for me as a baby. I don't know if it is because we have a photograph of it, or because I remember, but I can picture distinctly one with a round smiley face - so it must have had an impact. You can also make mobiles and buy stickers to customise walls and furniture. And of course this applies to everything. One of the best things dad made for my brother as a baby, and did again for us, was to create a mobile from Christmas baubles on fishing wire. Cheap and beautiful, but very colourful too... so of course that's another (technicolour) story...

"The development of the child during the first three years after birth is unequaled in intensity and importance by any period that precedes or follows in the whole life of the child." - Maria Montessori


  1. This is so good! Quite irrelevant to my life right now, but so interesting. However, it might not be too late to get through to my daughter (15) using monochrome mobiles bearing subliminal messages.....

  2. great article, my son had the same scrunchy book that culturebaby has in the top photo. We made our own black and white mobile for our son when he came home from the hospital, using coat hangers and bits of scrap paper, he loved it. I'm going to share this post on my tamingthegoblin FB page.

    1. Thank you. Just been reading your lovely blog too- looks like we hang out at similar places! Very impressed with you making your own black and white mobile. We did a next stage one out of wire and glass Christmas baubles, which was pretty effective and easy to do...


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