Hitting the Gym: Baby Gyms and Play Mats
When it comes to entertaining your baby, play gyms (a.k.a. play mats, activity gyms, developmental gyms, etc.) are usually a huge hit. They have a lot of benefits for you too. Before your baby is rolling and crawling everywhere, you can safely set your little one in or on their play gym and know they can't fall or hurt themselves; this gives you a little time to do a few things around the house, eat some lunch, and whatever else you need to do.
There are hundreds of choices for you in play gyms. Hundreds. Here is a list of features you can look for. Note the features that you find most appealing, and then you can start from there.
- Mat versus no mat: Some play gyms are just a bar that you position over your baby with dangling toys. These are nice if your baby enjoys lounging in a Boppy or sitting up in a Bumbo. Others come with mats the baby lies on. Sometimes the mats are textured or have flaps that the baby can explore during tummy time.
- Lots of colors and textures: These stimulate your baby's senses. Different textures are present in dangling toys or the mat itself. Some textures and surfaces that babies enjoy include smooth, fuzzy, crinkly, sparkly, plastic, and plush.
- Sounds: Some play gyms come with music, just like some swings and bouncers. They play computer-generated tunes and sometimes nature sounds. Other gyms provide different sounds through dangling rattles, toys with bells in their bellies, or squeaking shapes and faces.
- Dangling toys versus no dangling items: Some mats are just mats, intended mostly for tummy time or lounging. Others come with toy bars that allow your baby to watch, bat at, and grab and chew on different toys. Some even have mirrors attached so your baby can discover their beautiful face smiling back at them.
- Tummy time pillows: Some gyms come with small, curved pillows that your baby can lie on for tummy time.
- Foldable: Many gyms are folded down easily for travel and storage.
- Themes: Nearly all gyms have a theme: farm, marine, jungle, etc. You can find some gyms that match your swing, bouncer, or car seat.
Play gyms range in price anywhere between $20 and $100, and of course, there are a few super high-end models. I wouldn't spend a whole ton on a play gym, however, because soon enough your baby will be on the move and the play gym won't capture their attention as it once did. Find one that fits your needs and your budget, and I'm sure your baby will have a blast.