Activity mats, playmats, baby gyms all refer to the same thing. They may not seem like a necessity to you until you get one.
When I got one for my daughter, she did not seem to have much interest in it at first. But after a while she got used to it and started enjoying every moment she spent on it.The bright colors and little hanging toys keep babies entertained. They also help to stimulate the development of their motor and sensory skills.
Play gyms can be used from as early as 0 months. However, choosing the best playmats for newborns may come with a few challenges. You may find yourself wondering how safe is an activity mat or how long will the baby use one before he or she outgrows it. We have therefore prepared this comprehensive guide to help you choose the best and also answer some of the pressing questions you may have regarding the activity mats.
Editor’s top 5 best playmats for newborns comparison chart
|Baby Einstein Caterpillar & Friends Play Gym||•Melodies
|Play Gym by Lovevery||•5 Developmental zones
|Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick n’Play Piano gym||•Detachable Keyboard
•Light up piano keys
•4 music settings
|Tiny Love Gymini Lights and Music play mat||•Developmental toys
•Music touch pad
|Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym||•Musical sheep
• Light up star
Reviews of the best playmats for babies
This is an ocean-themed play gym with toys like crabs, whales and sea turtles, which create a cheerful environment for the baby. The moment you place the baby on the mat, he immediately gets curious and starts reaching out for the wide variety of multi-sensory toys around him.
Its most prominent feature is a brightly colored orange star which produces jiggling music and lights up. Its bright color encourages the baby to reach out and touch it, which in turn activates the classical melodies and lights up.
The star can be detached from the mat and attached to the baby’s crib or carrier.
Another attractive feature is the mirror. Babies enjoy seeing their reflection on the mirror and this adds to the amount of fun they can have on this mat. Apart from helping them to recognize their own faces, mirrors encourage curiosity. Curiosity increases the baby’s desire to explore and they start reaching out to touch the other ‘baby’ they see in the mirror.
While looking at her/himself in the mirror, the baby tries to produce sound and giggles and this encourages speech development and social skills in babies.
The playmat offers great tummy time for the baby too. It is soft and comes with a whale-like prop up pillow that the baby can lie on during tummy time. You can also remove the hanging toys and place them on the mat for the baby to play with during while lying down.
- Very portable hence good for traveling
- Washable material
- The toys are detachable so they can be removed and attached to the baby’s crib, carseat or carrier.
- Toys can be cleaned easily using a damp cloth and mild soap
- Does not take up much space
- This playgym cannot be used on hardwood floor alone but you can place a blanket or foam pad underneath.
The Play Gym by Lovevery: Best for stage by stage development
This play gym was designed by child development experts with all the activities that contribute to the development of a child in mind.
It has a teether made of organic cotton and teething rings that are BPA free for those days when your little one starts teething. It has a battling ring that the baby can battle and practice to grasp in order to sharpen his/her motor skills.
When your baby starts rolling, the organic cotton ball will come in come in handy. It is also shaped in a way that the baby can grasp easily as he practices to crawl.
There is a mirror card on this mat as well. As we explained earlier, mirrors play a very important role in helping the baby recognize his face, and develop speech and social skills.
A unique feature on this play mat that you will hardly get in other mats is the cards. The black and white cards attract the attention of the babies and help them learn how to focus on images.
The common objects cards, which include pictures of a ball and a dog etc, will be really helpful when the baby starts learning his first words. Moreover, the body parts cards will help them to learn about the various parts of the body such as mouth, eyes, and hair as they grow older.
This activity mat also comes with an activity guide to help you engage your baby with the appropriate age activities as they go through the different stages of development.
- Easy to clean by simply wiping with a damp cloth
- Once you remove the legs and the stiff card holder, the whole mat can be machine-washed and air dried
- It is very easy to assemble
- Has a variety of bright colors
- Toys are detachable
- Can be placed on the hardwood floor since it is well padded
- Not easy to travel with
- Relatively expensive
Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick ‘n Play Piano Gym: best for motor skills development
This activity mat stands out from the rest due to the keyboard. If your baby is a kicker, this gym will offer so much fun for him or her. The five keys on the keyboard light up when kicked and produce different melodies. This encourages the baby to kick, which strengthens the leg muscles.
The fact that babies can play with their feet while lying down or doing tummy time makes this play gym one of the best playmats for newborns from around 2 months.
Most importantly, the keyboard is detachable so you can remove it to create more space for the baby to play. The baby can also play with it separately as he or she gets older. You can also bring the keyboard along with traveling for the baby to play.
It also comes with 5 different toys including rattles that can be removed for the baby to play with separately. There is also a removable mirror to help the baby start recognizing themselves.
One of the factors to consider when buying toys for the little ones as we discussed in a previous article, is that the toys should grow with the baby. This mat offers a variety of activities for different stages of development; hence, it grows with your baby.
- Very easy to assemble
- It is easy to pack and carry along when traveling.
- Toys are easily cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth
- The pad is thick enough to place on the floor
- The pad can be removed and machine-washed
- Does not come with a prop up pillow for tummy time
Tiny Love Gymini Lights and Music play mat: Best for interactive play
This jungle themed mat offers around 15 engaging activities for the little one to enjoy without getting bored. It has a variety of brightly colored toys that range from a rattling giraffe, jiggling elephant, vibrating monkey, zebra, and a parrot with the crackling wings.
The sounds produced by these toys drive the baby to want to reach, grasp, kick, or push up, which promotes motor skills development.
There is a hidden musical box with two musical selections. You can choose the nursery rhymes or Mozart music. Research has shown that exposing children to classical music such as Mozart promotes mental development.
The raised flowers on the mat also produce music and light up. This increases the babies’ curiosity wondering where the music is coming from, which helps them to explore.
As the baby gets older, the arches can be detached to create more play space.
Just like all other play gyms, this also comes with a large mirror that keeps the baby engaged during tummy time.
- Easy to fold for storage or traveling
- The pad is machine washable
- Toys are detachable
- The toys are stuffed so they cannot be cleaned by wiping.
Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym: Best for vision stimulation
This is a sky-themed activity mat that features a number of celestial themed toys that keep the baby engaged for long periods of time. The toys which include the light up star, musical sheep, bird rattle, and the squeaking cloud create an interactive environment for babies.
There is a teether that is BPA free; hence very safe for the little one to chew on when they start teething.
The neon pops are good for stimulating the sight of the baby and help them to focus.
Unlike most activity mats that tend to have a small pad; this mat has an oversized and puffy pad with a very plush fabric.
It comes with a prop up cloud shaped pillow, which is great for fun time. It also comes with a sunshine mirror, which is safe for the baby.
This mat also offers a variety of textures which promote sensory development.
- The mat is very soft, which is good for the baby
- It can be placed directly on the floor with no need for extra padding since it is well cushioned
- Toys are detachable
- The pad can be machine-washed
- Does not fold up nicely
Is it necessary to buy the best baby gym for newborns?
Well, from experience I would say playmats are very necessary due to several reasons.
The most important reason is that they enable your baby to start developing certain essential skills quite early. These skills include motor skills, cognitive skills, sensory skills and self-awareness.
As the baby attempts to reach the hanging toys on the mat, kick or raise their legs while playing, their arms, legs and back muscles start becoming stronger.
Playmats are also a good place to put the baby during supervised tummy time as opposed to bed or couch. This helps to develop and strengthen their neck and tummy muscles. With time, the baby learns to lift his head and turn it from side to side with little assistance.
Activity mats come in a variety of bright colors and toys that are quite catching to the baby’s eyes. As the toys swing on the bar, the baby notices them and starts focusing on their movement. This in turn helps to develop their vision.
At what age should my baby start using a baby gym?
Babies can start using play gyms as early as zero months, that is, from 3 weeks and older. This is the stage at which babies start to notice things around them at that age; hence, they will be able to derive maximum enjoyment from the mats.
At first, the baby might not show much interest in but the bright colors and hanging toys will help to stimulate their sight. Soon their sight will develop fully and they will be able to focus and see the toys clearly as they get older.
How can I choose the best playmats for newborns?
Since there is a wide variety of play mats, it is important to consider a number of things that will help to boost your baby’s development during play time.
How bright are the colors?
It is no secret that babies love colors. They are enticed by bright colored items and that is why most baby toys come in a variety of bright colors.
When buying an activity mat, ensure that it has bright colors that will attract your baby’s attention for longer periods. Bright and contrasting colors will definitely grab the baby’s attention.
What type of toys does the activity mat have?
To keep the baby engaged, ensure that the toys on the mat come with a variety of textures, colors, shapes.
Having different textured toys with different shapes will help the baby to develop the ability to differentiate between different surfaces.
Also, make sure that the toys produce different sounds to keep them entertained such as rattling, jingling, crinkling, squeaking, bell sounds and melodies.
Babies will easily get bored too if they keep hearing the same sound over and over again.
Is the toy bar strong enough?
As the babies get older, they may start holding on to the toy bar for support while trying to push up, sit up or stand.
It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the bar is strong enough to hold the weight of the baby.
Is the cover washable?
As the baby gets used to the activity mat, it will obviously get dirty. Thus, you will have to wash it every now and then so make sure that the play mat fabric is easily washable.
Also, it should be easy to remove for washing and put back after.
The good thing is that most mats are made of a material that is machine washable.
How thick is the pad?
I do not like the idea of placing the playmat for babies on the couch or bed due to safety reasons. I prefer it on the floor.
If you plan on placing it on the floor, make sure the mat is well padded or cushioned. If it is not thick enough, add a blanket underneath for extra padding.