Buying something for your baby to use long term is always difficult. Parents feel the pressure mount to find something that somehow manages to be both durable, but cost effective, and educational but fun and entertaining. With advice coming in from all angles, there are even parents who doubt the necessity of a play mat at all – while others consider it essential. This review of five of the best baby play mats lists some of the key qualities different options have, and most parents will find that the description of at least one just clicks with them, and would be the perfect addition to their nursery. All of these choices are amazing baby play mats that parents and babies love, so whatever you end up choosing, your baby will be able to enjoy hours of learning and developing through playing.
What Are the Benefits of a Baby Play Mat?
Not even the most devoted parents can hold their babies in their arms at all times, and during those moments when you do need to be able to use our hands, it’s not always ideal to put them down n the crib where they may lie and fuss and cry, and where you can’t keep an eye on them as well as if they’re in the living room. Having a place that is engaging and entertaining to pop them down when you need to makes your life easier, and stops your baby from fussing when not being held, as they’re too busy having a great time.
While nothing can beat one on one face time with Mom or Dad, a baby play mat is a great addition to help promote your child’s development on several different levels. First, and normally the most obvious is the fact that baby play mats are visually stimulating, with bright contrasting colors, and toys placed close enough to your baby’s head that even their newborn blurry vision can take them in. This visual stimulation links with their rowing gross motor skills, hand eye coordination, and muscle development. As they accidentally at first kick and push at toys, they consciously try to reach them again when they realise how fun it is, and make a concentrated effort to aim with their hands and feet. When they manage to grab something with both hands, or move their hands across the midline of their body, they’re actually strengthening their middle brain, which is required to start crawling.
Cognitive function is also developed as most toys that hang off the frame over the baby mat have dual features – they look good but also make a funny sound, or flash and light up. When your child realises that they like the look of a frog as it spins, or the music that goes off when they kick a giraffe, they are beginning to grasp the basic elements of cause and effect, and this is great for their growing brains, and helps them to learn and understand behaviour as they get older. Many of the skills that are encouraged by a baby play mat are actually being built for use as your child gets older, but these skills give them the best possible start.
Also essential, as most parents are now well-aware, is tummy time. Having your baby spend some time on their front as part of their daily routine can be tough for parents to implement, as some babies do hate it, and no parent wants to risk their baby’s health and safety on a hard floor or old carpet. Having a baby play mat is a great comfy spot to host tummy time, and as the base of the mat is normally decorated with bright colours, and the removable toys that clip onto the frame can be put on the floor, you baby is encouraged to try and lift their little heads, while the attractive design means that they will be happy and engaged while on their tummy, rather than distressed and unhappy. Tummy time prevents flat spots, strengthens the back, neck, and arms, and also is key for the skills required to crawl, and eventually walk and talk.
While the above information shows how amazing a baby play mat is for your child, they are also great for parents as they provide minimal extra work. Mats tend to be machine washable, and your floor is protected from any spills or accidents your child might have. Most mats are also portable and can fold up nice and small, so can easily go to grandma’s house too.
In fifth position on the top 5 baby play mat list, there’s the Baby Einstein Caterpillar and Friends Play Gym. This is a super cute gym, which currently has a 4.5 star rating, and would make a great choice for most babies as there are so many different ways to use it, your baby will stay engaged, and not become tired or bored. These options include the fact that there are eight different melodies, and two modes of play, one short, and one long. This means that the music can play in short bursts in response to your child’s movement, or it can play continuously for 20 minutes. You can change the settings depending on if you’re hoping to lay them down to be soothed by ongoing music, or get them to wriggle as much as possible in order to activate the music. There are eight links for toys, which can be rearranged to provide a fresh perspective, or the toys can even be swapped out for others for a total change. A mirror helps promote self-awareness, and the flashing star toy is another kind of visual stimulation that kids love.
This mat is great for parents as it can be folded and carried over the shoulder, which makes it great for parents on the go who need something portable, but one criticism this mat has received is that there is not much traction, the mat is kind of slippery. This could make it more difficult for kids to move themselves around as they start to get more mobile.
See our full Baby Einstein Caterpillar And Friends Play Gym Review here.
In fourth place is the Fisher Price Kick and Play Piano Gym, which is instantly appealing for two reasons. First, Fisher Price is a recognised and well trusted brand of baby products, so many parents feel confident making a purchase from them. Second, this is super cheap, so is amazing value, and a high quality item for such a low cost. This shows that there is an awesome baby play mat to suit every budget, and that the low cost has not even slightly compromised the quality, as this has an incredibly high 4.7 star rating. The stand out point for this product is the piano, which encourages more kicking and leg strength than any mats with just dangling toys. The piano is also an amazing way to teach cause and effect, and the setting of the piano can be altered to play long or short pieces of music when kicked. The hanging toys all look awesome, but also double up as teethers or noisemakers to encourage your child to be as active as possible. As this mat is nice and thick it’s perfect for tummy time, and keeps your little one comfy while on the floor, while also protecting your flooring underneath. The toys are removable so can be placed in cribs, play pens or car seats for more fun, and the large mirror is baby safe, and promotes self awareness. Plus, as baby’s eyesight is wired to recognise faces, as well as contrasting colors, the mirror is an extra form of visual stimulation.
See the full Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym Review here.
In third place is the Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe Lights and Music Play Mat, which is an extremely interactive option, that will capture your baby’s interest for hours and hours of fun. Over twelve hundred parents have tried and tested this baby play mat and then left overwhelmingly positive reviews, culminating in a 4.6 star rating on Amazon. This baby mat has really mastered the features needed to maximise development, right down to really small details. One aspect of this is the fact that the music that is played can be nursery rhymes or classical Mozart, which has been shown to increase IQ. All toys react in some way to your baby’s activity, and so the links between cause and effect are really well established with this mat. Another great feature is the placement of the mirror and lights on the base of the mat, which makes tummy time interesting and encourages your baby to lift their head and look around. This mat is also unique in that it comes with small areas of different textures or sounds, so also encourages fine motor skills, as well as gross motor. This is an exceptionally good choice for babies who just love making noise as literally everything jingles, jangles, or starts playing a tune. One factor parents should be aware of is that some users have experienced great results with their child pulling and grabbing, but there is less incentive to kick than when using other gyms that have toys placed near the feet.
See our Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe Lights & Music Play review here.
The Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym comes in second place, and is included as an option for parents who don’t love baby mats that play music and songs, as some parents are driven to distraction by the same tune being repeated on loop. This is highly recommended by parents, who have given this baby mat a 4.7 star rating, as both they and their babies love it. Many parents are extremely satisfied with the quality of this baby mat, especially as it is made in the USA, which is a factor lots of parents look for. While the color is described as ‘vintage boy’ it is actually very gender neutral, and could easily be a unisex gym thanks to the vibrant yellows and reds included in the design. One of the main things parents love about this play mat is the fact that it can be twisted and folded to open and close – and that can be accomplished with one hand, which makes the life of a busy parent so much easier. The toys for this mat hang on two levels, and so can be rearranged for an entirely new perspective to keep he at exciting and engaging for you baby. Tummy time is a breeze on this particular mat, as it has a great little support cushion for their upper body, making it so much easier to look around and keep their head raised. This mat is also set up to still be useful when your child is at a stage when they can sit up on their own, which means it can last families a long time, and be a consistent source of entertainment.
See our full Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym Review here.
The number one baby play mat on this list is a new and improved version of the classic Fisher-Price Rainforest Baby Mat. The original was a smash hit amongst parents and children, and this one has taken feedback into account, and is now even better. The rainforest design is bright and colourful, and there are a whopping ten activities and toys that come with this play mat, which means your baby can enjoy a variety of activities, and as their tastes change, the toys and activities can adapt to their new favourite things. Many of the toys, such as flashing toucans or cuddly giraffes, become firm favourites, and can be carried around independently from the mat. The base is bright and colorful to encourage tummy time, and includes lots of different textures so there’s something for your baby to explore. Music can be set in a short or long mode, and is activated, along with the lights, by your baby’s movement, encouraging them to wriggle and be as active as possible.
See our full Fisher Price Music and Lights Deluxe Gym in Rainforest review here.
There is no doubt that any one of these play mats would do wonders for your baby’s development, it just depends on the specific toys you’re looking for, for example whether you want music or not, or something specifically for kicking, that help narrow down which baby play mat is the best choice for your specific needs.