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No matter the age of your baby or the stage of development they are at, every child needs a safe place to play.
Play time is essential to promote proper growth and motor skill development, but laying your baby directly on the floor of your home is not a good idea.
Your floor may not have enough cushion, could be hiding common allergens, or possibly made from materials that can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
This is where a play mat come in handy. It creates a perfect environment for babies to learn through play without you worrying for their comfort or safety.
Best Play Mats and Gyms for Babies
Here you will find a quick summary rounding up our top play mat and play gym category choices for newborns, infants, and toddlers.
The 4-1-1 on Play Mats and Gyms
Different from an area rug, a play mat is usually thickly padded and kid-friendly, meaning it doesn’t slip and is made from non-toxic materials.
With these features, babies and toddlers have a safe place to play without injury from slips and falls.
Play mats are usually ideal for young babies and children who aren’t quite steady on their feet yet (or may only be sitting or crawling), but they can really be a useful play spot for children of any age.
It is best to designate a specific play area in your home, away from sharp cornered furniture and household obstacles.
They create a cushioned barrier between your little one and any sort of hard flooring you may have in your home.
In addition to play mats, play gyms provide additional means of play for newborns, infants, and even toddlers, depending on the type of gym you find.
Most play gyms include arches that go over the play mat with baby-friendly toys hanging down. This allows your little one to lie underneath the gym to bat at toys or look at themselves in mirrors.
There are some unique play gyms – as you will see on our list – which allow for more imaginative play as your child grows or incorporate play elements that stimulate from head to toe (like foot pianos).
What to Look for in a Playmate
Believe it or not, there are many play mats for babies that are made with chemicals and plastics that can be harmful to a baby’s health. This is the last thing you want when your baby will be laying on it, playing on it, and putting their mouth on both the mat itself and the toys that touch it.
Look for a mat that doesn’t have any of these harmful materials, including BPA, formaldehyde, PVC, EVA, and latex. You will also want to ensure it is free from odors and flame-retardant coatings.
One of the main reasons you want a mat specifically designed for kids to play on is that they are usually non-skid. This will prevent them from sliding or bunching, creating slipping and tripping hazards for little ones who may not be so sure on their feet.
Most play mats so have some sort of foam or grip that sticks to the floor to prevent it from slipping. However, there are some that do not so be sure to read descriptions and reviews carefully before making your purchase.
The other main reason you will want a play mat rather than a rug is due to their thickness. Play mats are much thicker than rugs, which is better for little ones who will have a lot of falls.
It’s also much more comfortable for babies who may only be able to lie down or sit; they will not want to feel the hard floor through the rug. Ideally, something that is at least ½” thick is best.
Play areas also tend to be snack areas which means crumbs and spills everywhere, all the time. You can also guarantee that you will encounter spit-up, potty accidents, and diaper blowouts on a regular basis.
Needless to say, your play mat will go through quite a bit of wear and tear along the way. You will want to make sure it is easy to maintain. This means it is either machine washable or easy to wipe down (with a water-resistant surface).
While there are play mats and gyms that are designed with a very specific age range in mind, it doesn’t always make sense to buy multiple mats throughout your child’s infancy and toddlerhood.
A mat that is versatile may be a better idea for the budget hunter. Depending on the size you want, you may want something that looks a bit more like a regular rug. If you want something smaller with just a gym, maybe something that will entertain your baby until they’re ready to walk.
When it comes time to visit friends and family, you will be thankful if you have chosen a mat that is at least somewhat portable.
Most little mats that come with a play gym can easily be collapsed and folded up to take with you. Some of the other smaller mats may be able to roll up and fit into the back of the car fairly easily. Puzzle mats are easy enough to pull apart and pack into a smaller bag too.
5 Best Play Mats & Gyms for Newborns
1. Our Top Pick: Baby Mushroom Baby Bello Organic Play Mat
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Our top pick for best play mat for a newborn is the Baby Mushroom Baby Bello due to the fact that it is 100% organic and hypoallergenic.
With newborns typically having highly sensitive skin, a mat with hypoallergenic and cotton materials is a must have.
The 1.25-inch thick foam is plant-based and non-toxic making it not only comfortable but also safe for your baby to lay on and even put their mouth on.
It is not an overly large rug – only a 55-inch square – and it doesn’t come with any toys or a play gym, but with newborns you don’t need much to keep them entertained or confined.
This mat is easy to maintain as well with a waterproof layer and machine washable cover, two necessary features with newborns who are prone to spitting up and diaper blowouts.
Taking the Baby Mushroom mat to Grandma and Grandpa’s house is easy too thanks to its ability to roll up and stay closed with the Velcro fasteners.
- 100% organic cotton cover
- Rolls up for storage and transport
- Plant-based foam
- Machine washable cover
- Superior thickness
- Only comes in one color
- Doesn’t come with any toys or play gym
- Covers a small space
- May slip under foot
- Cover attracts a lot of dirt and fuzz
2. Skip Hop Lining Cloud Baby Play Mat and Activity Gym
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If you are looking for more than a simple mat for your baby to lay on, you can look for one that has a play gym with enough comfort and toys to accommodate your newborn.
The Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud play mat and activity gym offers a place for your baby to have tummy time supported by the cloud shaped pillow.
It also includes multiple developmental toys including a musical sheep, light-up star, cloud squeaker, bird rattle, and sunshine mirror.
It may not be 100% organic, but all of the pieces are PVC and phthalate free.
3. Tiny Love Black & White Gymini Deluxe Infant Activity Play Mat
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Newborns cannot see in color yet, but they do find drastically contrasting color patterns very interesting. That’s why this black and white play gym from Tiny Love is a great choice.
There are toys that support 18 developmental activities, improving on gross and fine motor skills, auditory and tactile senses, language and communication development, and cognition.
One of the great features of this activity gym is the open arch mode, which brings the toys and activities closer for more interaction during tummy time.
4. Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym
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The Infantino Twist and Fold activity gym offer lots of fun patterns and textures to keep your baby’s attention.
It folds up easily for traveling either between rooms or when you decide to take it to the grandparents’ house.
There are four linkable toys that include cute, colorful animals and a BPA-free teether. There is also a large mirror to engage your little one during tummy time.
5. Tiny Love Meadow Days Super Play Mat
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Another great play mat from Tiny Love, the Meadows Days super play mat is a much simpler design with just the play mat and no play gym, though it does come with a mirror and carrot teether.
It is quite a bit larger than the mats that come with play gyms, and it even has a fun pattern with a meadow theme.
Since there is no play gym included, the mat folds up easily for travel or moving from room to room in the house.
5 Best Play Mats for Infants
1. Our Top Pick: Infantino 3-in-1 Grow with me Activity Gym and Ball Pit
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When looking for a play mat and gym for your infant, you want a space with toys for them to lie down and play with as well as an area that invites sitting play as they get a little bit older.
The Infantino 3-in-1 Grow with me gym and play mat is a great option for your baby’s infancy stage.
With the overhead arch, there are 4 linkable toys to grab and bat at while playing on their back as well as a BPA-free teether.
Once they get to the sitting stage, you can transition to the ball pit feature of this product, with 40 balls included which conveniently store in the mat’s turtle head.
- Play mat, gym, and ball pit in one
- Storage in the turtle head for balls
- Comes with 4 linkable toys and BPA-free teether
- Easy to assemble
- Cute design
- Can only be cleaned by wiping down
- Mesh sides don’t provide protection
- Small size
- Hole to store balls is small
- Mat is not padded
2. Baby Care Play Mat Foam Floor Gym
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The Baby Care foam play mat doesn’t come with any toys, but it does come with some great padding and fun designs that are double sided.
These mats are waterproof and easy to wipe down with a damp cloth. They are also made with safe materials that are phthalate, BPA, lead, latex, formaldehyde, and EVA free.
There are two sizes to choose from. The medium size measures about 72.8 x 49.2 inches; the large measures 82.7 x 55.1 inches.
3. Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick ‘n Play Piano Gym
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The Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick ‘n Play Piano Gym is great for stimulating your baby from head to toe.
They can lay on their back and play with the overhead gym arch while kicking at the foot piano or they can sit and play with the piano element which is removable.
There are two color schemes to choose from with a jungle animal theme, one which is a colorful gender neutral and the other a feminine pink.
4. VTech Baby Lil’ Critters Musical Glow Gym
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Similar to the Fisher-Price piano gym, the Vtech Baby Lil’ Critters Musical Glow gym is a great head to toe stimulator.
Rather than the piano being removable, the angle adjusts to support back, tummy, and sitting play time.
More than just music, the piano also offer 3 play modes, with age-appropriate vocabulary and questions for little ones to engage and learn.
5. Skip Hop Playspot Foam Play Mat for Baby
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If you’re just looking for a spot for your baby to play with their own toys that fits into your everyday décor, the Skip Hop Playspot mat may be right for you.
It with 40 interlocking foam triangles and 32 edge pieces in gray and white, allowing you the freedom to create your own unique pattern with a neutral color scheme.
Thanks to the waterproof materials, the mat is super easy to wipe down when messes are made.
Further read: 15 best playards for babies.
5 Best Play Mats & Gyms for Toddlers
1. Our Top Pick: Skip Hop Baby Infant and Toddler Camping Cubs Activity Gym and Playmat
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While this play mat is designed with babies in mind, it really works better for toddlers due to its layout and function.
The toys on the Skip Hop Camping Cubs activity gym either hang too high or too far apart for babies to really enjoy.
However, they are just within reach for toddlers who may be interested in make believe play with the tent design.
It’s not the sturdiest design and will not hold up well if your child tugs on it too much, but it is otherwise a fun mat for children who love the outdoors or parents who enjoy the woodland theme.
- Over 17 developmental activities
- Promotes imaginative play
- Includes tummy time pillow
- All elements are soft
- Made with non-toxic materials
- Toys are hard to reach
- Somewhat expensive
- Known issues with the light-up firefly
- Each element has different cleaning instructions
- Not very sturdy
2. Comfort Design Premium Play Mat
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The Comfort Design Premium play mat is a much more practical option than most interlocking puzzle mats.
There are 13 aesthetically pleasing colors and designs, and the fact that it is all one piece makes it easier to clean and transport.
It is a bit pricey, but as an overall play mat for all ages, it is a great choice.
3. SoftTiles Kids Foam Play Mat
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There is nothing wrong with interlocking puzzle mats though if you choose the right one. And the SoftTiles foam play mat is a great choice.
The puzzle pieces are very big, so they won’t pull apart from each other easily. They also cover a much larger space for toddlers to run around and play.
With 13 color schemes, you are sure to find something that fits your décor and your baby’s style.
4. Prosource Puzzle Solid Foam Play Mat
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If you are budget hunting for a standard puzzle mat for your little one’s play room, the ProSource puzzle mat may be the one for you.
You can choose between 16 or 36 interlocking pieces, depending on the area you are trying to cover.
It is affordable and big enough to support your toddlers active, wide range of play.
5. Baby Folding Extra Large Play Mat
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This folding play mat is great for traveling or moving from room to room thanks to its easy to fold design.
It’s large size (76 x 57 inches) and waterproof materials makes it a great place for your toddler to spend their day playing and snacking.
There are also 5 color themes and designs, each with soft colors that will fit in just about any room of your home.
While we have separated these play mats into age categories, it’s not always practical to purchase a new play mat or gym for every stage of infancy. It is probably a better idea to simply purchase one that will grow with your child.
That being said, our overall choice for the best play mat and gym for babies would be the Comfort Design Premium foam mat.
It may not come with toys or a play gym for newborns or infants, but as long as they have their own separate toys, it is great for all ages.
With waterproof, hypoallergenic materials, it remains safe and clean even for newborns. And its large size gives enough space for crawling, walking, and running.