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Our babies' fitness is important. We want them to enjoy their tummy time, to flex their little muscles and to focus their eyes.
So here are the best baby play mats and activity gyms to try this year. If it also buys you five glorious minutes to go to the loo, then who could possibly complain?
1. Best overall play mat and activity gym: Tiny Love Gymini Kick and Play Baby Play Mat
Price: £49.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“It’s nice to contain the mess and it makes for easy tidying come six o’clock. It all gets chucked back on the mat and folded away.”
With friends and relatives asking to buy gifts for your newborn, for Mumsnetters the Tiny Love Gymini Kick and Play is a great addition to any home.
Related: The best baby bibs for weaning.
This extra large play mat is suitable from birth to 12 months and is a popular choice for active babies that like to grapple with toys, chew teethers and are alert to what’s around them. Some Mumnetters say that their babies loved this product right up until the moment they could sit up unassisted, which makes it excellent value.
This interactive play mat includes baby-activated kick and play music, and lights that start up at the touch of a little foot or hand. Wherever your baby looks, there are bright colours and diverse textures in the mat’s fabrics and dangling play mat toys. The option to have a closed or open border and a wind chime are the primary attractions here.
This mat has a slightly bigger footprint than competitors’ products, even when packed away. So that’s definitely something to bear in mind if storage and space is at a premium.
The electronic light and music toy is activated by touch and, with repetition, babies grow to understand that, by kicking the Kick and Play response pad, they can activate the lights and music. This is a milestone for babies, understanding that their physical actions can control and shape their environment. Once they’ve got the hang of it, they’ll never stop.
- Generous padding
- Good selection of toys
- Easily packed away
Does everything a play mat needs to do and more.
Age: Birth to 12 months
2. Best play mat for development: Baby Einstein Rhythm of the Reef Play Gym
Price: £71.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“DS loved his Baby Einstein one. Spent up to 10 minutes under there which was great for me. He loved the music box in the middle of the stanchions.”
The manufacturers describe this as ‘baby’s ultimate tropical play gym,’ a somewhat niche boast, but the trusted brand that is Baby Einstein has made an ideal gift from a doting grandparent, relative or friend for a newborn or young baby.
Related: Best playpens for babies and toddlers.
The highly musical Rhythm of the Reef Play Gym treads a nice line in engaging babies without over-stimulating them, keeping the accent on relaxed play. There’s much to see, pull, rattle, bang and nibble here but in a gentle way and with music that won’t send you round the twist.
It’s worth noting that the Baby Einstein play mats are more compact than comparable gyms and activity centres, which can be great for family visits.
- Soothing lights and decent tunes
- Varied toys and activities
- Engaging flashcards
Great for engaging babies and an ideal gift from a grandparent, relative or close friend. Wipe clean only.
Age: From birth
3. Best play mat for tummy time: Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Musical Rainforest Infant Activity Gym
Price: £58.18 | Buy now from Amazon
“We had a Fisher-Price one. DS could reach the toys from a few weeks old and got a lot more out of his than his friends with fancier gyms got. So my advice is to get one with low toys.”
Fisher-Price has a number of simple, solid activity gyms within their 3-in-1 range, and the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Musical Rainforest Infant Activity Gym comes in at around half the price of many luxury baby gyms.
There’s lots going on to actively stimulate babies to practice pushing up and to build their core strength and hand-eye coordination.
The Activity Gym folds in half when not in use and the mat can be machine-washed, easily removed and stored away, which is great news if your cats or dogs happen to colonise it, or there are the inevitable baby dribbles or sick on the mat.
Fisher-Price also offers low cost, additional toys which can be clipped onto the arches, which is a huge plus because it expands the lifespan of the gym.
- Easy storage and cleaning
- Cheap additional toys
- Easy to wash
- Stimulating activities
In terms of price, flexibility, comfy padding and washing, this is an activity gym that ticks all the right boxes.
Age: From birth
4. Best budget play mat: Early Learning Centre Blossom Farm Flower Play Mat
Price: £37.49 | Buy now from Early Learning Centre
We think that the simplicity of the Early Learning Centre’s Blossom Farm Flower Play Mat is its greatest asset.
The hard-wearing, washable Early Learning Centre’s Blossom Farm Flower Play Mat is short on gimmicks but big on value. Four is the magic number when it comes to hanging toys, giving little hands and feet plenty to aim for, while bright colours and bold fabric illustrations keep young ones engaged rather than over-stimulated.
And there’s plenty of scope to add your own accessories and change things around when the time comes to do so. With a lamb, a cow, a dome-shaped mirror and a star-shaped teether onboard, all the essentials are covered. In a world of clutter and excess, what else does your baby really need?
- Easy to customise
- Everything you need in a simple mat
Easy to put together and a simple, effective solution, happy owners say that the ELC Blossom Farm Flower Play Mat is just as popular out in the garden on a sunny day as it is indoors. Remember to clip a muslin or baby towel over the arches and make a mini-tent for lots of shadows. Not machine-washable.
Age: Birth to 2 years
5. Best for lively babies: Bright Starts 5-in-1 Ball Activity Play Gym
Price: £59.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“We got it as a gift and DS (now two) STILL plays with it as a ball pit!”
If your baby is the one that doesn’t sleep when you’re trying to catch a coffee with your mums’ group (whose babies all seem to have settled nicely), we think the 5-in-1 Ball Play Activity Gym from Bright Starts could be designed for you.
The 48-inch jumbo mat and play gym has adjustable walls that keep boisterous babies safe during both playtime and tummy time. The magical addition of 35 colourful balls instantly transforms the baby gym into a bouncing ball pit and this is something that significantly extends the lifespan of the Bright Starts 5-in-1 as well as allowing for some social activity when the time comes.
This activity gym comes with engaging toys, including a plush elephant, a monkey and an electronic toucan, that will serenade your baby with over 20 minutes of merry melodies.
Perhaps most important of all, there’s a character-themed bag to help your baby to put in and take out toys from their containers. As life skills go, tidying up after yourself is definitely something that should be encouraged.
- Jumbo-sized mat
- Can be transformed into a ball pit for older kids
- Good selection of toys
Good all-rounder with longevity and social play built in.
Age: From birth
6. Best baby-to-toddler play mat: Infantino Grow-With-Me Playtime Teepee Gym
Price: £65.98 | Buy now from Amazon
Infantino have really tried to tackle the issue of the short lifespan of a lot of baby mats and activity centres by creating this multi-functional gym that transforms from an infant’s mat into a young child’s play teepee. And it’s a very good effort indeed.
In its basic configuration, there’s a fairly standard offer: four bold hanging toys, including a squeezy musical elephant and a large mirrored mobile. But the versatility of the Grow with Me Playtime Teepee Gym is built into the architecture of the structure itself.
At the first signs of your baby becoming mobile, you can close one side of the gym to create a crawl tunnel. The pleasant play teepee reveals itself with the unfolding of the gym's sides.
Batteries come included, which is an unexpected touch.
- Contemporary, fresh appearance
- Thoughtful design
- Emphasis on longevity is good for your pocket and for the environment
Ability to transform mat into a crawl tunnel and teepee means this activity centre ages better than many.
Age: 6 months to 3 years
7. Best play mat for newborns: Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick 'n' Play Piano Gym
Price: £62.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“We had the Fisher-Price play mat with piano at the bottom for DS2. It’s been broken down into bits at different stages and the toys have been added to a highchair toy from Mamas & Papas. The piano is still played most days even though the rest of the mat went to a good home at about nine months.”
The Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick 'n' Play Piano Gym is a bonafide Amazon hit with over 4,000 reviews, with 88 percent of them at five stars.
Related: The best tummy time toys.
As a gym combining a piano and five hanging toys, it promises a genuine workout for your baby, accompanied by a musical accompaniment that is self-generated by their kicking feet against the keyboard’s keys. Perfect for budding musicians.
- Each toy offers different tactile and visual interest
- Activities well thought through for various developmental stages
- Musical learning from the start
There is one consistent moan here and it's that the surface area of the activity centre is quite small once the piano and overhead arches have been added in. But the consensus is that, while this is a gym that really captures the imagination of newborns, there’s enough interest here to keep baby coming back for more for at least six months.
Age: From birth
8. Best play mat for stimulation: TEMI Baby Gyms and Activity Play Mat with Music and Light
Price: £44.99 | Buy now on Amazon
If your little one wants stimulation, they’ll be mesmerised by the music and lights of this TEMI baby gym.
Featuring a colourful pastel palette, there’s lots of interaction for the baby in this fun, playful activity centre.
Generously-sized buttons that light up activate the music, putting babies in control of the action, and giving them sensory stimulation. The activity gym comes with five detachable, stylish toys, including an owl that rattles and a soft heart that squeaks when it’s gripped, making this a great choice to keep your baby entertained while they learn and play.
This is a winner precisely because it’s so well conceived both in terms of its design and multiple ways to play, but there have been some notable gripes in the reviews about a lack of robustness in the quality.
- Kick and play piano which has three modes. Puts baby at the centre of the action as they control the sounds
- Easy to assemble and fold
- Range of toys included
An all-singing, all-dancing product design for babies that parents and young ones will love.
Age: From birth
9. Most stylish baby gym: Scandiborn Sebra Soft Baby Gym in Morning Beige
Price: £144.95 | Buy now from Scandiborn
This Scandi-style play gym is an oasis of padded comfort that’s ideal for a cosy, stylish storytime, and we think its subtle design will go well in the most attractive of homes.
Scandiborn have used premium-quality hanging toys for sensory stimulation. While your baby will appreciate the tactile qualities of these strokable, furry characters, parents will love the lack of clutter and easy-on-the-eye appearance of this updated classic of the genre.
It doesn’t come cheap though – at just under £150 it’s the most expensive play mat on our list, but if you’re wanting something well-made and minimalist, this is the best option for entertaining your baby while still keeping your living room looking sleek.
- Simple solution
- Heavily padded
- Nostalgic design
- Beautifully designed hanging toys
Scandiborn are not reinventing the wheel here, but their Sebra Soft Baby Gym is a smash hit with its luxe combination of top-grade materials, stylish good looks, easy assembly and portability.
10. Best designer baby mat: Large Melbourne MOD Play Mat
Price: £129.95 | Buy now from Munchkin and Bear
As concepts go, the Large Melbourne MOD Play Mat couldn’t be any simpler. It’s a practical, one-piece, easy-to-clean, large-scale overlay covering that protects your baby, and your boards and carpets, as they play.
It is expensive, but on the other hand this non-toxic, Australian ‘mat masquerading as a rug’ has years of life built in. With its classic scalloped design of greys, blues and muted tones, this is a solution that is unequivocally designed to last.
As a play mat, the Melbourne will take the chill off cold, hard floors and save your carpets from the thrills and spills of drinks, sick and dribbles. It is a great option for a young family that doesn't want to compromise on style.
- Doubles as a large scale exercise mat for baby yoga
- Reversible and genuinely attractive design
- Protects carpets and boards (and children!) from spills and scrapes
The Melbourne MOD Play Mat has all the functionality of industrial flooring and all the style of the best of statement rugs.
Age: Not stated
Related: Best baby toys for 6 to 12 months, all chosen and recommended by real parents on our forums.
Which baby play mat is best?
We found that the Tiny Love Gymini Kick and Play Baby Play Mat was the best play mat for babies. There's lots for the baby to interact with and the kick and play music pad makes this a clear winner. Take it from this Mumsnetter:
“I used a Tiny Love one for my DD's and it is great. Everyone I know with babies has that too.”
Why are play mats good for babies?
All baby mats, gyms and activity centres serve the same purpose. They offer an opportunity for your baby to explore the world around them in a safe, soft and stimulating environment. They also provide visual and sensory stimulation and are ideal for tummy time to help strengthen neck and stomach muscles.
How long should a baby use an activity mat?
You can start to use mats, gyms and activity centres from six to seven weeks old. While some play mats are outgrown by the age of six months, some play mats go all the way up to two years of age.
Read next: 9 best baby mobiles to buy in 2021.
How do you choose a baby play mat?
So let’s focus for now on the first six months or so of babyhood, when a slightly squishy surface filled with crinkles and some hypnotic high-contrast hanging toys could be your personal parenting saviour.
We are here to let you in on a secret. A play mat, an activity centre and a baby gym all function in pretty much the same way – all that really changes are the bells and whistles. Sometimes real bells and whistles. And some of them are worth paying a little extra for.
What makes a good baby play mat?
The best play mats are the ones that offer multiple ways to stimulate the baby, and help them learn about sound, touch and sight as they play. We also recommend choosing a mat that's easy to care for (machine- washable ones are best), and one that can be packed away easily.
How we chose our recommendations
Our recommendations have been compiled with reference to Mumsnet users’ own experiences of using the products themselves and from reputable sources such as consumer review sites, national media, and specialist magazines and websites.
Why you should trust us
We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.
Read next: The best potties and toilet training seats.