Eat, sleep, repeat — is that how you envision the first few months of your baby’s life going? You might think you are set up with a crib and a car seat, but what about playtime? Cover all your baby’s playtime needs with the best baby play mats.
Babies learn at a fast pace during their first year. One thing that can help engage their senses and let them experience sensory play is a play mat. Even before they can sit, this useful item can keep them amused and help them learn.
My little ones loved their play mat from quite early on. Whether it was tummy time when they were exploring textures, laughing at themselves in the mirror, or biting on the teething ring, they were having fun.
Let’s take a look at how a baby play mat can help your child’s development, and review our top seven choices.
The Benefits of a Baby Play Mat
A baby play mat, or play gym, could be one of the best investments you make for your little one’s development. The benefits include:
- Enhancing motor skills: Play gyms can encourage a little munchkin to reach, grasp, and move around. Toys dangling will tempt them to stretch out and mirrors that reflect their face might make them kick their legs in excitement. All these movements help strengthen the core muscles and those in the neck, arms, and legs.
- Hand-eye coordination: Focusing on getting their hands on the object they desire can improve their hand-eye coordination. It will also help develop the fine motor skills needed to grasp and play.
- Cognitive development: Play mats are brightly colored and have different surfaces to stimulate your baby. Some also feature different sounds and shapes which your baby will learn to recognize.
- Visual and sensory skills: Babies learn to focus on the toys hanging from a play mat which can help their visual perception. Then there are the textures and sounds that stimulate their senses of touch and hearing (source).
- Fun: Babies love to laugh and have fun, and play mats seem endlessly entertaining to them. And there is nothing cuter than the sound of a baby laughing.
Features in a Play Mat
Here are some of the things you’ll find in a good baby play mat:
- A soft fabric mat with some padding will make sure baby is comfortable while on the floor. It’s a good idea to make sure it’s washable (most are) for the inevitable accidents.
- Bright colors and different textures are also a pretty standard feature. There might be flaps that a baby can lift and discover a surprise underneath.
- Sounds from squeakers or crinkly materials can be incorporated. Some mats even have pianos that baby can kick to make them work, or which detach for seated play as they get a bit older.
- Music and lights are another way these mats help engage your baby.
- Hanging toys come in various shapes and sizes. There are often teething rings, soft toys, and mirrors which baby can play with. The bright colors will attract their attention, so make sure they’re hanging close enough for a young baby to focus on (source).
- Focus on portability If you plan on taking your baby’s play mat out and about with you, or even just for packing it away. Some play mats will be more portable than others.
Safety is always a concern for any parent when it comes to play things. It’s good to know that play mats are generally safe for babies. The materials are usually non-toxic, and there are no small parts that can pose a danger.
That being said, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for the one you choose. Some might be suitable from birth and others from 3 months up.
The Best Baby Play Mats of 2019
There are many play mats available, but here are our favorites.
1. Fisher-Price Rainforest Deluxe Gym
A comfortable play mat that has all the bells and whistles your baby could want, including soft toys, moving parts, textures, lights, and sound.
This brightly colored, jungle-themed play mat can be used from birth. You can lay your little one beneath the satin butterflies, soft monkey, and rollerball snail to catch their attention.
Time for tummy play? Attach some of the toys to the giraffe, or attach the mirror at a low level so they can see themselves. Let them experience the different textures of the satin rim or the crinkly leaf.
Then there’s the removable purple toucan. Touch its wing or shake it gently and watch the lights flash while it plays music. If it becomes your baby’s favorite toy, it can be detached and taken with you when you go out.
Over 10 toys and activities will delight and engage your little one as they grow. Toys can be rearranged and placed wherever you want.
- The mat portion is machine washable.
- Folds for easy storage.
- Interactive sounds, toys, and textures.
- Toucan can be set for short play music or 20 minutes of continuous play.
- Baby may have a hard time viewing the toucan while lying down.
2. Fisher-Price Deluxe Piano Gym
Sounds that emit from something when touched and encourage a baby to interact are a good feature to have in a play mat. Combine that with lots of other toys, colors, and textures, and you’re onto a winner.
Might your baby be the next John Legend or Alicia Keys? You can give them the best chance to find out with this play mat that features a fun piano.
It will play 15 minutes of continuous music while newborns lie and look at the dangling toys attached to the repositionable arch. Tummy time will have them reaching out to hit the keys and hear the notes play as they light up. They might even be able to lie and kick it with their feet, building strength in their legs.
Once they can sit, you’re able to detach the piano and let them create their own tunes. There are also settings for animal songs and phrases about numbers, shapes, and colors.
Bright colors and five repositionable toys, including an elephant teether, crinkly panda, and a mirror, add to the fun. A super soft mat, with loops for the toys, completes this baby activity center.
- Removable keyboard for on-the-go play.
- Suitable from birth.
- Machine washable.
- Batteries included.
- Mat is a little on the small side.
3. Baby Einstein 5-in-1 Gym
Best for Long Term Use
Most play mats have a shelf life -- once baby grows and starts crawling around, the chances are they could lose interest in it. There will be other things for them to explore. One that grows with them could be a better investment and keep them interested for longer.
Baby Einstein has covered all the bases with this 5-in-1 play mat. It has a contoured pillow you can prop a newborn on while they listen to 20 minutes of world-inspired tunes.
Tummy time can be enhanced by hanging the included detachable plush toys, rattle, and mirror within reach. The mat folds out to a 47-inch map of the world. This is great for you to get down and play with your baby as well.
Once your baby starts crawling and toddling around, you can pop up the sides and turn this play mat into a baby ball pit. There are 10 multi-colored balls included and a ball drop canopy. A suitcase-style bag for storing the balls and toys is also supplied.
- The mat can be used later on as an educational tool for learning about the world.
- Large mat when fully open, at 47 inches by 40 inches.
- Toys wipe clean with mild soap and mat is machine washable.
- The play mat is padded for comfort.
- Batteries (three AAA) are not included.
- Links to hold the toys have gaps which means the toys might come off.
4. Tiny Love Gymini
Best for Travel
Off visiting grandma or taking a trip away? A foldable play mat that can go with you to keep baby amused would be a bonus.
This 3-foot square mat has 15 different activities and toys for your baby to explore and play with. There’s an activity center built into the mat itself, which plays music and lights up the flowers at the touch of your baby’s hands.
The hanging toys include a rattling giraffe, a springy-legged monkey, and a parrot with crinkly wings. There’s also a large mirror for your baby to look in and wonder at themselves. Change the toys around to keep them enamored and amused with their different looks and textures.
When it’s bedtime, or you want to travel, this mat and its arches fold flat and the whole mat snaps together. The bonus is the mat is also machine washable — just remember to remove the sound pad first.
- Mat folds easily for storage and travel.
- Extra hoops to attach more toys.
- Batteries included.
- Colorful mat with different interactive areas including lights, sounds, and textures.
- Suitable for newborn babies.
- Music variation is limited to three nursery rhymes and a classical tune.
- Lights can’t be seen if the baby is lying on its back.
5. Skip Hop Baby Treetop Friends
Best for Promoting Tummy Time
Not all babies like lying on their tummies. Sometimes they need some help to get used to this position, where they can strengthen their back and neck. A support pillow can help them handle tummy play.
This nature-inspired play mat from Skip Hop has 17 different developmental activities for your baby. There are five toys, which you can hang from any of the 13 loops on the arches. The mat has different textures, including crinkly leaves and a squeaky flower.
Included is a plush contoured cushion which you can rest baby’s arms over to get them used to tummy time. This will support them and let them see themselves in the mirror inserted in the tree trunk. The mat can be used from birth onwards.
The arches are covered in soft patterned linen and fold away for storage. The mat measures 36 inches in diameter and is machine washable, with the mirror removed.
- Multiple fabrics and different activities on the mat.
- Quick and easy to assemble.
- Large round mat.
- The mat would benefit from more padding.
6. Tiny Love Meadow Days Mat
Best for Twins
Double the trouble and double the fun, twins need more room to have tummy time or playtime together. A play mat that’s large enough for both of them is a must-have.
Entertaining two babies at the same time can be a tough call. This super-sized play mat could be the answer. It measures 35 inches by 59 inches and has 1-inch deep padding.
The mat features different activities and textures for newborns and older babies to discover. Play peek-a-boo with the tree, look at themselves in the mirror, chew on the carrot teether, or play with the crinkly fox tail. There’s also a ring for you to attach their favorite toy.
- Big enough for twins or more than one baby to play together at the same time.
- Brightly colored animal-themed print.
- Soft padding to protect your baby.
- Made from polyester which might be slippery for crawling babies.
- No lights, sounds, or arches to hang toys from.
7. Infantino Activity Gym
Best Gender Specific
Is it a boy or a girl, or don’t you know? You might have put a play mat on your baby shower list. Some people prefer to buy gender-specific items if the sex of the baby is known.
Infantino brings us this baby gym which gives you the option of one more suitable for girls, one more suitable for boys, or a gender-neutral version.
“Pond Pals” will suit either sex. It has bright geometric patterns to attract baby to explore, and a hanging turtle, frog, duck, and fish add to their discovery. “Sweet Safari” is mainly pink in color for baby girls, while “Vintage Boy” is geared more in blues and darker tones for a boy.
This baby gym can be unfolded and locked down in an instant to form arches over the mat. The quick and easy push-and-release mechanism lets it easily fold into a parachute-style shape for storage.
It has a soft cushion to encourage tummy-time play and a large mirror to let your baby see their reflection.
- The toys crinkle, clack, and rattle.
- The leaf-shaped teether is BPA-free.
- Easy to fold and store.
- The fabric can be hard for baby to get traction on.
Time for Play
A good play mat will give your little one somewhere safe and clean to enjoy freedom on the floor. Toys, textures, lights, and sounds will intrigue and enthrall them, while also helping them develop.
Any of the mats we have detailed would be a good choice. Our favorite, though, is the Fisher-Price Rainforest Deluxe Gym.
It has all the options for sensory stimulation that baby will love. It’s also foldable for easy storage and is machine washable.
We hope you enjoyed our run-down of our favorite play mats. Please leave us a comment with your experiences and don’t forget to share.