Playmats or baby gyms are amazing tools to stimulate your baby's senses, entertain them during playtime and develop those all-important cognitive functions like logic, coordination, and self-awareness.
Why are playmats good for babies?
- Learning about 'cause and effect' - Activity mats can help your baby from when they are first born. At around six weeks, they will help your baby start to develop 'cause and effect' as they realise if they push the toys on the hanging mobile, they will move.
- Developing your baby's vision - Your baby is born with pretty blurred vision, meaning they can only see a few inches in front of their faces. As they grow, they'll start to take an interest in different shapes and colours, which means most playmats are designed with a variety of bright, eye-catching toys for your baby to focus on.
- Developing grasping skills - You'll already have noticed your baby's grasping skills - reflexively grabbing on to anything in their palms. As your baby grows up, you'll notice your little one reaching and grasping at the toys hanging on the mobile, even if they aren't interested in them when you first introduce the mat.
- Developing self-awareness - Another feature you'll spot on a lot of play gyms on this list is a small mirror. Your baby probably won't notice herself in the mirror until shes around four months old, when you might notice her starting to reach up at it. As she grows, your baby will interact more with her reflection in the mirror, making faces and smiling at herself.
- Developing motor skills - Stimulating toys from activity gyms are great for your baby's development, but also for use during tummy time. You should always use a playmat or blanket for tummy time, not a sofa or raised surface. Tummy time is important for helping your baby develop those all-important fine motor skills. Lie with your baby and encourage her to look up at you, or the toys hanging over the mat.
Which is the best baby playmat?
With plenty of different options available, finding the best baby playmat for you and your baby can be difficult, so we've done some research to help you choose.
By far one of the most popular baby gyms on the market, this musical mat helps your baby through several developmental milestones including lay and play, tummy time and sitting up. The dangling toys help develop self-awareness and hand-eye coordination, whilst the mat also helps develop motor skills by kicking and reaching for the piano keys. The musical effects also help your baby understand cause and effect.
With adjustable, moving arches, this playmat will keep your little one entertained from day one. It encourages fine and gross motor skills, with a bird toy, lights, and music. You can record your own messages for your little one on it!
The Dynamic Gymini was the bronze winner in the M&B Awards 2019 Best Baby Toy category.
Our real-mum tester Nicola said: "I would definitely recommend this product. I loved how it folds away easily and how the little parts can be taken off and taken with you when going out. You can use it at home, in the car or take it out in the changing bag. The mat is washable which is a must with little babies and it is a quick-drying material which means you can wash it and be ready to use it the next day."
A simple, double-sided mat that is great for little ones - plus, it's really easy to fold up and store, or to take with you on-the-go. One side features black and white designs, with hints of red - perfect newborns - while the other side has a colourful print with characters and sounds to explore.
Our real-mum tester Lisa Merrikin said: "I would definitely recommend this to all my friends and family. The design is brilliant, I love that you can turn it over. It folds up really well. It's small enough that it can easily be placed in my washing machine. It also doesn't take to long to dry. The material is very soft , and my little one loves laying on it."
This sensory mat won the 2017 Bronze Best Baby Toy category in the M&B Awards.
This adorable activity mat might be on the expensive side, but it sure has the reviews to prove its worth. Parents love how creative the gym is, with fireflies that light up upon touching and an adorable wigwam design that you won't mind leaving out in the nursery. It will aid your babies through all their major milestones from lay and play to sitting up with more than 17 developmental activities. Easily assembled and taken down for cleaning, it's a great gift to add to your baby wishlist.
With a cute whale prop for tummy time, this nautical playmat will last you through till your baby is ready to sit up. The overhead arch includes rattles, teethers, flashcards and a bead chaser. It also includes a 3-in-1 starfish toy that plays classic melodies and lights up for 20 minutes. The starfish can even be attached to your crib or carrier to keep your little one entertained on-the-go.
A cute baby gym from a brand you can trust - Freddie the Firefly from Lamaze featured on our best baby toy list, and this mat is just as great. Packed with different features to aid your baby's development, the 3-in-1 gym is not only great for tummy time, it comes with three different toys that can easily be clipped off for on-the-go fun. We're huge fans of this bright baby gym, and our panel of mum testers loved the large discovery mirror.
Adjustable walls act as a barrier during playtime - a great option if you're worried about those balls flying all around the living room, or your baby moving too much during tummy time. It could even be used as a ball pit for a toddler, lasting you through many developmental years. This gym includes an electric toucan that plays over 20 minutes of melodies, a soft elephant and a monkey bead chaser. With jungle-themed toys and leaf-shaped teethers, this play gym has more than you can ever ask for.
If you're looking for a playmat for on-the-go, this is a great choice, as it deflates for easy transportation. Your baby will look so cute and snuggly inside this multi-sensory play gym. Giving them a relaxing place to lie or sit this soft, inflatable ring includes four toys and eight activities around the nest for your baby to interact with. Focusing on improving hand-eye coordination and manipulative skills, it will help cognitive and physical development.
Suitable from birth, your little one will love this activity mat. Designed to facilitate tummy time, the gently rotating octopus strengthens your baby's core while stimulating them with squeaky, crinkly toys. The spinner is removable, so the gym can be used once they can sit up too. This gym promotes more exercise than other play mats, making it a great help for physical development.
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