The activity mat (sometimes called an “activity gym”) is baby’s first fitness center and used from 0-6 months. Think of it as a home gym; it stimulates baby’s senses and lets her flex all kinds of muscles. She’ll get to practice tummy time and swat at dangling toys to explore hand-eye coordination, depth perception, and cause and effect. Pediatricians love activity mats because the floor is really the best place for baby to stretch out and move. But remember, these mats are legitimately stimulating, which means babies can only handle small doses.
KEY FEATURES: You can go basic to more tricked out, but the good news is an activity mat won’t break the bank. It also won’t enhance your home decor (unless your home decor is brightly colored stripes, polka dots, and geometric shapes – then it will be perfect.). Try to just embrace the bonkers aesthetic; after all, the bold visuals are what keep baby so rapt. Since activity mats are easily foldable, you can stash them out of the way whenever you want.
OUR PICK: You really can’t go wrong here, but we love the Fisher Price Rainforest for its ability to grow with baby over the years. Ideally, you’d grab two of these: the Rainforest for home and the $28 Piano Gym to keep at Grandma’s. All three listed below are machine-washable.
This mat is a bit more expensive than other models, but it has over 10 activities, including motion-activated toys, lights, animal sounds, and a mirror. The removable texture toys (including a crinkly leaf which is weirdly satisfying to smush) will still appeal even once baby enters toddler-hood, especially the pièce de résistance, the musical toucan. For better or worse.
This one’s super streamlined with only 5 activities including music and a large mirror, but the main event here is a piano keyboard that baby activates with her feet. This mat is narrower than most, so once baby starts rolling over (and over, and over), she will have outgrown this thing, space-wise. But a major plus in the cuteness category: once baby can sit, you can remove the arch and have her sit upright at the piano like a regular Ray Charles. The detachable piano is a great toy in and of itself and can grow with baby into toddler-hood.
This plush and easy-on-the-eyes mat is a departure from its garish brethren. Its relatively neutral color palette will appeal to those who cringe at the thought of their home being overrun by crazytown baby gear. BUT, keep in mind that without the bright colors and bells and whistles that the other mats boast, older babies may lose interest. But the younger set will keep busy with a musical sheep toy, a light-up star, cloud squeaker, bird rattle and baby-safe sunshine mirror. Arches are removable.