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Dangling Delight: Why a Mobile Is an Ideal First Toy

When a newborn isn't eating, sleeping, or crying, he spends most of his time looking around  -- which is why a mobile attached to his crib is an ideal first toy.

"The shapes, colors, and movement will fascinate him," says Dorothy Singer, a developmental psychologist at Yale University. Place the mobile no more than 12 to 18 inches from his face, since that's as far as a newborn can see. Once he can sit up (at around 6 to 8 months), reach it, and possibly become entangled in it, remove it from the crib and mount it higher up.

To maximize viewing pleasure, select a mobile with:

HIGH DEFINITION

Young babies are drawn to contrasts, so a black-and-white model is ideal at first. Starting at 6 to 8 weeks, babies begin to see and be attracted to bright, primary colors. (Skip pastels for now  -- it's not until 6 or 7 months that infants respond to such subtle shades.) "Vivid hues help develop a baby's visual ability," says Singer. "As the mobile moves, he'll track it and learn how to focus."

GOOD DIRECTION

The best mobiles are designed to be seen from your baby's point of view: The patterns on the objects face downward, not outward toward an adult's line of vision.

FACE VALUE

Babies are born with an innate love of faces, whether animal or human, real or illustrated. When Madeline McCarthy was 6 weeks old, her mom, Kathy Kelleher, of Santa Monica, CA, hung a mobile that featured a baby-safe mirror. "Madeline loved watching her face move," she says.

SPIN CONTROL

Mobiles that automatically twirl or play music offer more stimulation than the silent, static variety. But if you opt for a stationary unit, you can always give it a gentle nudge or open a window and let it get some natural play in the breeze.

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