Three different play options for lying on back, tummy time, and sitting up. Take-and-play toys, dancing lights, and crinkly features keep baby entertained. Motion activated or long-play music settings. Mat portion wipes clean or can be machine-washed.
Sometimes the toucan comes off a little too easily. Arches can make storage challenging.
Features a soft, inflatable structure that's perfect for tummy time. Colorful floating objects have a cute ocean theme that captures babies' attention. Sturdy material resists leakage and is free of BPA, lead, and phthalates. Quite affordable.
Although made without harsh chemicals, the play mat has a strong plastic odor that takes a while to fade.
Easy to assemble and very sturdy. Doesn't play music; perfect for parents who don't want to hear the same tune all day long. Balls can be stored inside frog if babies aren't able to play with them yet. Can fold flat for transport.
Balls might be a bit flimsy for stronger babies who like to squash things.
Parents love that it comes with a tummy time pillow; babies with reflux can prop up on it. Batteries last a long time, even with consistent use. Thick enough to use on hardwood floors without extra padding underneath. Can control the volume of the music.
A bit on the pricey side for some. Takes up a bit of room, even when folded. Arches don't fold at all.
Babies can lie down and play with the piano keys and hanging toys. Older kids can carry around detachable keyboard. Can choose between short-play tunes and longer ones up to 15 minutes. Mirror can be placed wherever with the Velcro strap. Batteries are replaceable.
Some feel that added lights would enhance the music. If not assembled properly, baby can kick or pull it down easily.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
The reality of having a baby is that you can’t hold and entertain your child all the time. Setting your infant down on a safe, interactive baby play mat can be a real sanity-saver – plus, this frees up your hands to make dinner or send that important work email.
Babies need a lot of stimulation. Their little brains are developing and so are their motor skills. Play mats provide a range of sensory experiences from sight to sound to touch. Most play mats come with dangling toys, lights, or mirrors that your baby can grasp to practice hand-eye coordination.
Especially if you’re a first-time parent, choosing a baby play mat from the dizzying array of choices can be overwhelming. Our guide has all you need to know about baby play mats before you buy.
Snap-together play mats
A basic play mat to cushion your child from hard flooring, a snap-together play mat has interlocking foam tiles that resemble large puzzle pieces. Each piece comes in a bright color or with fun image. These play mats are buildable, and you can cover quite a large surface area or just a corner of a room.
Play mats are sometimes called play gyms or activity gyms. These mats have a hanging system on an arch or intersecting arches with suspended toys or other child-safe objects just in reach of tiny fingers. Plush or crinkly toys offer a variety of textures, and child-safe mirrors or light-up toys provide visual engagement. Babies can enjoy these features on their backs or sitting up.
Musical play mats
Some play gyms also offer a musical component, like a large-keyed piano that a toddler can bang on either with feet or hands. These pianos will also play tunes, and you may find your little one squawking gleefully along.
Tummy-time play mats
Most play mats have a brightly colored base with either patterns or images for visual engagement. Some are quilted or have sewn-in fabric animals to add texture and cushion. Placing your baby on her stomach will encourage her to build her head, neck, and trunk strength to prepare for crawling. Tummy-time play mats sometimes come with a special pillow for added support, which also relieves reflux-suffering babies.
Folding/travel play mats
Many play mats fold up for storage, but if you’re looking to travel with your baby’s play mat, either across town or across the world, look for one that comes with a sturdy travel bag.
Adaptable/transitioning play mats
Play mats with pop-up walls and fencing provide safety for your child as he transitions to crawling and toddlerhood. Other transitioning play mats may offer developmentally appropriate toys and features in an adaptable, three-in-one design.
A baby can enjoy a play mat from birth through toddlerhood. There are certain features, however, that are more age-appropriate than others. If your baby is three to six months, a mat with tummy-time features is desirable until your baby can turn over on her own. At that point, a mat with a hanging system of toys will be more fun for her. Once she starts crawling, a mat with walls will keep your toddler contained in one fun-filled area.
Play mats have either fabric or foam bases. Look for foam that’s non-toxic – free from chemicals like BPA, PVC, and phthalates as well as latex and lead. Cloth play mats are commonly made from polyester and may also contain harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is the safest play mat material. Some mats are thinner than others, so if you’re placing the mat on a hardwood floor, select a fabric mat with cushion or padding.
Size and shape
Play mats are generally rectangular or oblong ovals. Play mats with activity gyms tend to be smaller, only two or three feet long with a slightly shorter width. The largest play mats are foam, and a snap-together play mat can be custom-sized for a desired area.
Not all play mats fold up, especially those with arches. If you want to take your baby’s play mat on the go (or want a mat that takes up less space in a closet), choose one that folds up flat. For traveling, choose a play mat that comes with a travel bag or carrying case.
Reversible play mats are generally fabric and have different patterns on each side to add variety.
Add-on toys attach to an arch or intersecting arches over the play mat at different heights. These toys are either plastic or fabric, or a combo of both, and tend to be brightly colored. Fabric toys are often crinkly or squishy for when your child is old enough to sit up and touch them. Mirrors and light-up toys are popular attachments as well.
Machine-washable play mats make cleanup easy because you can pop them into the washing machine after a mess or spill. Waterproof play mats make it easy to wipe up spills and accidents.
Many baby play mats are themed. Ocean, zoo, and safari themes are just a few examples of a wide range of themed images and toys.
For an entry-level activity play mat, expect to pay around $24. Foam tile mats start at $14 and go up to $40.
Mid-range activity play mats, including musical ones, range from $40 to $60.
A state-of-the-art play mat made from quality materials or a transitioning three-in-one play mat can be purchased for between $60 and $100.
Play mats exceeding $100 tend to be from luxury, eco-friendly lines. These extra-large, rug-like mats typically don’t come with activity gyms or toys.
Q. How is a play mat better than a bouncer or a swing to keep my baby occupied?
A. While bouncers and swings are great ways to keep your baby happy and keep your hands free to get some work done, they don’t offer the variety of stimuli that baby play mats do. Baby activity mats offer more toys and also more visual stimulation, both above and below, than a swing, which might come with a couple toys, if any. Play mats tend to be more interactive, developing your child’s important motor and hand-eye coordination skills. Tummy-time mats also offers an important strengthening component that swings and bouncers don’t.
Q. What’s the difference between a play mat, a play gym, and an activity mat?
A. Strictly speaking, a play mat is just the foam or cloth surface you lay on the ground. It is designed to be visually stimulating for a baby. A play gym is the mat plus an overarching system of dangling toys or toys attached to other parts of the mat. Play gyms will encourage babies or toddlers to work their developing muscles by reaching or kicking toys. An activity mat is a fabric mat with animals or flowers sewn into it that may squeak or crinkle or provide other sensory experiences other than sight.
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