Newborns and small babies need a lot of holding and holding. However, they also need to “work out” to strengthen their muscle and motor skills. That’s why we need toys such as baby activity gyms, playmate, bouncers, or jumpers to keep the little ones moving. An activity gym, or playmat, is more than just a toy to keep your baby entertained and busy. It provides a safe and easy way to stimulate your baby’s physical and cognitive development. So what are the best activity gyms for babies?
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1. Best Activity Gyms for Babies: Fisher-Price Kick and Play
Why Is It the Best?
- Multiple ways to play
- Detachable and changeable components
- Lots of music and sounds
Many parents rave about this gym mat. For under $40, there are too many good things to say about it. The age range for this gym is fantastic! It is suitable for newborns all the way to toddlers.
For newborn babies, you can place them on the mat and let them observe the hanging toys and listen to music. When they are about 4 months to 5 months old, they will start to practice grabbing and kicking. The hanging toys and the piano keyboard are great for their active body. By 6 months to 7 months, your baby will be able to sit without assistance. Then you can adjust the angle of the keyboard so that they can play while sitting. For toddlers, simply detach the keyboard and let them carry it around. Another great thing about this activity gym is that the toy arch can be configured differently. In addition, the mat can be detached. It offers flexibility for different ways to interact with the baby.
2. Best Combo Activity Gyms for Babies: Bright Starts 5-in-1 Your Way
Why We Love It?
- Activity gym and ball pit in one
- Walls can be folded up or flattened
- Can play music and melodies
If you feel more comfortable placing your baby in a guarded area, go with an activity gym with walls. There are quite a few 3-in-1 or so-claimed 4-in-1 activity gym and ball pit combos in the market. But this one is no doubt the best option.
This playmat has bright and busy patterns that attract little babies’ attention. The top bar has 12 activities. In addition, each side of the pole has multiple ribbons to hang toys. You can place the toys at different locations or add your own toys. When your baby can sit up without assistance, this activity gym is a great place for her to play with all her toys without making a mess. You know how babies like to drop things!
The walls of the activity center can be taken down. It instantaneously converts into a bigger play mat.
3. Best Teepee Activity Gyms for Babies: Skip Hop Baby Camping Cubs
Why We Love It?
- 17 activities included
- Decent size for infants and toddlers
- Cute design with adorable toys
If you are on the hunt for a unique and special looking activity gym, a teepee is a good choice. We recommend this teepee for parents who are into camping and wildlife themes. This baby gym has 17 developmental activities. It comes with a light-up firefly and a plush bear pillow for tummy time. This teepee measures 36 inches in all dimensions. It is one of the few over-sized playmats available in the market.
4. Best Wooden Activity Gyms for Babies: HAN-MM Wooden Baby Gym
Why We Love It?
- Made with unfinished wood free of chemicals
- Hanging toys can be used as teethers
- Easy to assemble and store
Some parents prefer baby items made with environmentally friendly material. Rather than plastic, they prefer wooden play gyms. Wooden gyms are usually free of toxic or harsh chemicals.
This wooden gym is made with unfinished wood. Its surface is sanded and polished to create a smooth touch. In addition, the hanging toys are chewable and can be used as teethers. The wood bar on the top is a great place to hang additional toys such as cloth books.
5. Most Comfortable Activity Gyms for Babies: Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud
Why We Love It?
- Multiple activities for stimulation
- Large oversized mat
- Plush mat and toys
If you are looking for extra comfort for your little baby, this oversized multi-function activity gym is your best choice. Measuring 36 inches by length and width, this is one of the few large activity centers available. It is big enough for laying, tummy time, crawling, sitting and rolling. Ideal for small babies and toddlers.
The mat and toys are made with soft material. The gentle texture is wonderful for your newborn baby’s delicate and sensitive skin. Light-up star, singing sheep, squeaky cloud…these are all great components to help stimulate your baby’s vision and hearing.
Guide to Selecting the Best Activity Gyms for Babies
If you search online, you will find at least millions of results for activity gyms. However, not all activity gyms are created equal.
When you shop for an activity playmat or gym, make sure that you evaluate it from a baby’s standpoint, not only yours. You may love something that is fancy and cute, but it is not necessarily beneficial or safe for your baby
1. Look for a playmat that lies on the floor instead of on a bouncer or a stand.
The whole purpose of a gym mat is for your baby to move around freely. A mat on the floor is safer. In addition, floor mat activity centers are more flexible. The mat and hanging toys can usually be configured in multiple ways.
A bouncing activity gym has limited space for movement. Most importantly, the motion of bouncer hinders the development of small babies’ motor skills.
You also want to avoid letting your small baby sit for too long. It may harm their back and lead to back pain issues later in life.
2. Avoid playmats with moving mobiles in the center
Yes, mobiles can grab your baby’s attention easily and keep them engaged for a long time. But it keeps their head in the same position for a long time. This can lead to a flat head.
We recommend play mats that have activities from all different angles. This will encourage your baby to move their head and body to discover and explore.
3. Look for gyms made with light material and has a sturdy design
Babies under 4 months old can barely grab anything. Therefore, injuries due to movement is usually not a big concern. When your little tot reaches 5 or 6 months, she will start rolling, kicking, and grabbing. Sometimes, they find creative (and unexpected) ways to use the gym. For example, they may want to push the gym to help stand themselves up.
It is best to choose a gym that is made of fabric and non-toxic plastic. They should also have sturdy construction and design so that they don’t tip over easily.
What Are the Benefits of Activity Gyms?
Most activity mats have components with bright colors, patterns, and shapes. They can stimulate your baby’s visual development. Newborns and small babies are more drawn to high contrast colors such as black and white. As they grow older, they will become more attracted to bright and vivid colors.
Activity gyms can also play music and sounds. They help boost the baby’s auditory skills and language skills.
As your baby’s mobility improves, they will learn to use their arms, legs, hands, and feet more effectively. Activity gyms offer hanging toys for them to interact with. All the activities through playing will enhance your baby’s fine and gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
The key benefits are:
- Strengthen your baby’s neck and shoulder muscle
- Improve your baby’s hand-eye coordination
- Promote your baby’s gross motor skills
- Prevent flat head
What Types of Activity Gyms Are Most Popular?
There are many types of activity gyms on the market today and they all feature different elements. No matter what they look like, their functions are to promote your little one’s muscle strength. If you prefer different styles, here are the most popular types that you can consider:
- Fabric play gyms with arches and hanging toys
- Wooden play gyms
- Play gyms with ball pit combo
- Play gyms with fold-up walls
- Inflatable water mats for tummy time
- Foam exercise mats or rug (some may come in the form of puzzles)
- Plush tummy time play mats
What to Look for in the Best Activity Gyms for Babies?
Look for playmats that are made with baby-safe materials that won’t irritate your little one’s delicate skins. If the gym comes with toys, don’t be surprised that your little one will drool and chew on them. Make sure that they are made with BPA-free and food-grade material. Next, you’ll want to check if the gym has small and easy-to-break parts, as they can become choking hazards. For wooden gyms, environmental-conscious parents can consider the ones made with FSC-certified wood.
There are two aspects to the design of an activity gym: the visual appearance and the construction. Since your 6-month-old has a more developed vision, you want to look for a gym with a wide variety of colors and patterns as they provide more visual stimulation and helps boost cognitive skills. As to the construction, avoid activity gyms that are built on a rocker or bouncer. Not only that they are not safe for your baby, but they also hinder the development of your baby’s motor skills as well. The best gyms are the ones to be used on the floor and provide soft cushions. In addition, gyms that can be configured in different ways or have parts that can be used separately will offer better flexibility and can be used for a longer period of time.
Varieties of Activities
Playmats come in all sizes and shapes. The simplest ones are just a piece of the flat mat with colorful patterns, while the extravagant ones are packed with toys and can be converted to a ball pit or a playpen. Consider the ones that offer different textures, can play sounds, and have the flexibility to customize with your own toys.
Suggested Age Range
Typically, an activity mat can be used from newborn to around 2 years. If you are considering an activity gym with walls, be sure to check the maximum allowed length. As your little one grows, they will get bored just lying on the floor looking at hanging toys. If you prefer a gym that still attracts your future toddler’s attention, consider one that can be converted an activity center or one that can be taken apart to use separately,
Easiness to Clean and Store
Most play gyms are small, light, and easy to clean. If you are buying one that is more elaborate, double-check which parts can be taken off to clean and are machine-washable. If you plan to take the gym for road trips or to the grandparents’ house, there are foldable gyms that are designed just for this purpose.
Overall, the best activity gyms for babies should be age-appropriate, provides adequate stimulation to your little one, and easy to clean and store. The Fisher-Price Kick and Play is hands-down the best one that your little one will adore for years to come.
Cecilia Yeung is a successful entrepreneur and product researcher. She has a background in psychology and children’s education. As a working mother of two, she loves to write about children’s education and development.