When it comes to buying baby gear, a play gym or playmat is a must-have. These baby activity centers help your child reach important developmental milestones while also giving exhausted parents a bit of a break. Plus, since the Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies be put to bed on their backs for safety reasons, pediatricians have advised that regular tummy time is essential for a child’s timely growth and development.
Tummy time helps infants strengthen their muscles so they can lift their heads, roll over and ultimately crawl and sit up. However, some babies object because tummy time is a lot of work! That’s why a good playmat with plenty of activities can help make tummy time fun and productive, and get your baby going in the right direction.
When it comes to choosing a gym there a few basic things to examine:
Padding: Mat must be thick and padded so that the baby is comfortable.
Size: Mat must be large enough to enable your baby to roll over from back to tummy and back.
Motion: The whole idea of the gym is to keep baby entertained and to promote health development. In order to encourage eye tracking skills during the first months the higher-end gyms offer mobiles or some sort of motion.
Activities: The more the merrier! Baby gyms are designed to promote gross motor skills by encouraging baby to reach out. That’s why the gyms offer a variety of toys. It’s important to examine the toys and check out their quality and texture. Cheap gyms use cheap plastic toys while higher-end gyms offer multiple textured plush toys.
Here are some of the best playmats designed with your baby’s development in mind.
Yookidoo Gymotion® Robo Playland
If there’s any baby gym mat that would make a seasoned mother of six believe she needs another child, this is it! Yookidoo’s Gymotion® Robo Playland is the ultimate baby activity center. Parents magazine agrees because they just named it the Toy of the Year for 2015.
The best part about this playmat is the motorized Magic Motion Track™ that drives figures back and forth across the mat, keeping babies attention and promoting eye tracking skills. This is a patented feature and the first of its kind among baby play gyms. It will keep your little one entertained through all three stages of developmental play:
During Lay & Play, the Magic Motion Track™ is above your child between two padded arches. You can attach one of two soft toy robots or a flower face rattle to help develop depth perception and eye movement. There’s also a mirror to entertain your little one.
When your child is ready for Tummy Time, a puppy pillow helps strengthen neck muscles and the Magic Motion Track™ easily connects to the mat so that he or she can reach out for it.
And, during Sit & Play, your child will love taking over and controlling the motorized Magic Motion Track™ by him or her self.
Another big plus is that this baby playmat is super easy to fold up compactly and can be stowed away in your home or even your suitcase so you won’t have to invest in another playmat when you travel or leave the mat out when you’re not using it.
When it comes to cost, the Yookidoo Gymotion® Robo Playland is a great value. At just $70 on Amazon, you’re getting years of play at home and on the go for a great price.
Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe
The Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe baby playmat’s main feature is a musical touchpad that entertains your child with Mozart or nursery rhymes. The bright jungle theme surrounds your child in color. During Lay & Play, your baby can reach for dangling toys including a soft giraffe rattle, a colorful bead teether, a toy elephant and a parrot.
There’s also a mirror attached to this playmat and a peek-a-boo activity. This playmat takes you through just two developmental stages of play: Lay & Play and Tummy Time.
As for convenience and portability? The criss-cross arches break down but can be bulky if you’re travelling in a compact car or on a plane.
Rainforest™ Melodies & Lights Deluxe Gym™
This baby activity center made by Fisher-Price is listed as a best seller on Amazon. Your little one will learn through an array of sensory experiences including 20 minutes of continuous music, rainforest sounds and lights. Soft toys attach to padded arches overhead so your baby can learn to reach and grasp.
These detachable toys can then be linked to the mat when your baby is ready for tummy time. But it does not extend into the Sit & Play phase of development as it was created for just two modes of play: Lay & Play and Tummy Time.
As for portability, the Rainforest™ Melodies & Lights Deluxe Gym™ is definitely a stay-at-home toy built to last. The criss-cross arch is sturdy and solid so it doesn’t fold down completely like the Yookidoo. But at a price of $50 on Amazon, you could spring for a less expensive travel baby gym mat that’s great for use at home during that precious first year.
Caterpillar Kickin’ Tunes Activity Gym™
Baby Einstein is known for its classical music integrations and the Caterpillar Kickin’ Tunes Activity Gym does not disappoint. Eight classical melodies play for your baby’s enjoyment for 20 minutes when parents turn it on. Otherwise, your baby controls the music by kicking it on and off, teaching your child cause and effect and encouraging leg strength.
The overhead canopy is a sensory explosion featuring brightly colored animals, bugs and trees. A bright green mirror and a watermelon teether are also included.
This is a great baby activity center for small areas in the home because it doesn’t take up a lot of space. Although on the downside, as your baby gets bigger and ready for Tummy Time, there’s not much room for them to move around.
But at just $40 on Amazon, this is a good starter baby playmat for folks who live in small spaces or aren’t sure if their baby will want or need a playmat.
Skip Hop Explore & More Amazing Arch™ Activity Gym
The Skip Hop Explore & More Amazing Arch Activity Gym has the usual features including a teething toy and animals that hang over and around your baby for grasping and eye development. In particular, there’s a dancing fox that is sound activated and a peek-a-boo owl that appears at the pull of a string to teach cause and effect. There are not many toys and some of them are too far above for baby to reach.
The main feature that differentiates this baby playmat from the others is a pocket for your smartphone on the padded arches. Family far away can watch your little one or you can turn on the camera and it becomes a mirror for your baby.
One of the downsides of this baby playmat is that it is difficult to disassemble and store. So forget about packing it for travel.
Also, Amazon lists this playmat at $90. Add on the extra toys that you buy separately and you’ll be paying well over $100. This mat has some great features if you’re ok with keeping your playmat set up in the living room or nursery.