During your baby’s first year, you’ll spend a lot of time holding your little munchkin close to you, especially in the first three-four months. But, soon your baby will need more than just swaddling and skin-to-skin contact. Once your baby is ready to move from your arms to the next stage of their development, a baby play mat can be a smart (and highly beneficial) investment. Playmats or activity play gyms (as alternatively called) can help in the development of your little one and can keep them entertained.
Baby play mats provide quality tummy time (which helps babies strengthen their neck and shoulders) and they offer features that encourage motor skills development. However, with so many options available on the market, choosing the right one can be challenging. Should you get a model with music and lights, go for intense or muted colours? There are many things to consider when buying, so here’s a bit of help on the matter.
What Should I Look for in a Playmat?
Design & Style
Research has shown that in the first few months of life, a newborn baby can only see shades of black, grey and white. For this reason, a monochrome play mat with contrasting patterns and shapes will give your newborn baby the best visual stimulation. Monochrome visual stimulation will boost your baby’s attention span while also improving their memory.
When it comes to tummy time, building core strength and stability is hard work for your little baby, so a little bit of encouragement is always welcomed. Look for playmats with hanging toys that can be placed at eye level when your little one is on their stomach. Usually, activity toys can be placed on various positions on the arches, providing different physical stimulation.
Playmats for kids can be expensive, so choose one that can be used for a long time. Some versatile options have grow-with-me features so that your baby can continue to use them even when they start sitting up or crawling. Some activity mats come only as blankets, but they are very versatile, as your baby can be entertained for hours. They feature stitched animals that are crunchy and can flap up and down, which makes them an excellent choice when it comes to developing your baby’s fine motor skills and curiosity. If you choose the blanket, you can give your baby their favourite rattle, plush toy or wooden teethers to play with while sitting on it.
Activity gyms are made from different materials which are lightly padded to provide proper support for a laying baby. If you want to provide your baby with only the best, consider the quality of the material your baby’s mat is made from as it can greatly affect their comfort. Some materials are more breathable than others. It’s not difficult to answer whether organic cotton or regular one is better – if you’re trying to keep your baby’s skin healthy (and our environment clean), there are many reasons why you should opt for organic materials.
Why Are Baby’s Play Mats So Great?
As your baby grows, a baby play gym can boost several vital areas of their development while helping them have a lot of fun:
- Cognitive benefits: baby gyms allow your baby to learn about cause and effect, different shapes, sounds, patterns, imagination and self-discovery. Play gyms feed a natural curiosity that is essential for problem-solving and critical thinking (highly important life skills).
- Grasping and reaching benefits: grasping and reaching skills learn your child to hold objects, initiate and control their arm movements and develop the ability to bring both hands at the midline of their body. Play mats also help them develop two-handed coordination (bilateral skills).
- Gross motor benefits: babies use play gyms to develop muscles in their arms, legs, tummy, back and neck. They allow babies to play on their back, left or right side, and tummy (crucial for gross motor skills development).
- Self-awareness and sensory stimulation: baby gyms have small, non-breakable mirrors so that babies can look at themselves and learn self-awareness. It develops the baby’s visual and auditory sensory stimuli, as babies search for sounds that come from dangling toys and look towards the moving hanging objects.
Although play gyms are great for your baby, don’t forget that the very best stimulation your baby has is you. Make sure you spend enough time talking and playing with your little one – your face, touch, voice and smell are your baby’s best natural stimuli.