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Best Activity Gyms & Mats

November 2016

Before your little one gets mobile, he'll spend much of his awake time just hanging out on the floor, where he'll work on developing skills such as head and neck control, reaching, grabbing, rolling, sitting up, and eventually crawling and cruising. Most parents find it worthwhile to get some sort of activity gym or mat to provide stimulation and/or cushioning for this key development time!

In this guide we'll give you an overview of the key things to look for in a gym or mat, and share our top picks for activity gyms, tummy time mats, and playmats.

JUMP AHEAD:

Note: We developed this list by summarizing TotScoop parent favorites and adding a few hand-picked editor favorites and new releases. Our picks are 100% unbiased — we never accept compensation in exchange for coverage. That said, this page may contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small commission on any purchases that you make (at no cost to you); see our full disclosure.


What to look for

  • Engaging features: Sounds, lights, mirrors, colorful designs, or high contrast colors may hold your baby's attention for longer.
  • Portability: If you want to be able to take your mat on the go and/or put it away each evening, look for a smaller option that folds up without needing to be taken part and possibly also has built-in handles.
  • Ease of cleaning: Ideally you want both the mat and the toys (especially soft toys) to be machine washable.
  • Useful life: Many activity gyms and tummy time mats are outgrown by about six months of age, but some have "grow-with-me" features that allow them to remain useful for longer.

Best activity gyms

A three-month-old enjoying batting at objects in his activity gym!

Activity gyms feature hanging toys dangling from overhead arches or bars, designed to challenge a baby lying on his back underneath to visually track, bat at, or grab the objects above. Many gyms have a padded mat for cushioning underneath, and/or a small pillow or wedge for tummy time and interactive features to engage babies on their stomachs as well. Activity gyms are perfect for babies approximately ages two to seven months.

Popular pick: Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies & Lights Gym

The bright, colorful design of the bestselling Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies & Lights Gym ($43) positively captivates babies. It has engaging toys, lights, and music or nature sounds to keep your baby's interest. Parents report that it can easily be folded down for storage and that babies love the toys included, but that while the mat is easily washable, it doesn't provide much padding.

Portable pick: Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym

If portability is at the top of your checklist, the Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym($40) could be a good choice. It collapses with a simple twist of your wrist, making it easy to fold up and bring along for a visit to grandma's or a friend's house. It doesn't have as many features as other activity gyms and the toys are somewhat basic, but it comes in six affordable designs, there are several loops to adjust toy placement, and it comes with a pillow for tummy time.

Popular, grow-with-me pick: Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym

For parents who are value oriented and like baby items that will grow with a child, the Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym ($35) checks those boxes. The toys are well made and can be moved from the bar above baby's head to loops on the machine washable mat for tummy time. The piano encourages baby to use their feet to explore kicking and can be used for tummy time play as well. While the narrow, somewhat small, and not very padded mat may be outgrown quickly, the piano portion of the gym can be detached and used by a toddler, giving the toy a longer lifespan.

Everyday, grow-with-me pick: Infantino Grow-With-Me Activity Gym and Ball Pit

There's a reason so many fast food restaurants have ball pits: kids love them! The Infantino Grow-With-Me Activity Gym and Ball Pit($45) is an activity mat that converts later into a baby ball pit! The activity mat portion is relatively standard with a few toys on the bar, lots of colors, and some crinkly turtle feet for baby to explore, but then a mesh surround folds up that allows the mat to convert a baby-safe ball pit. One thing to watch out for with this one is that the mat is not machine washable, so cleaning may be a little harder than with other choices.

Premium pick: Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gym

The Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gym ($75) goes easy on the eyes with a woodland-inspired design that both parents and babies love. A mirror and crinkle leaves add some sensory elements to the mat to make tummy time (with the included support pillow) more engaging. Skip Hop offers several other design-conscious activity gyms that are also worth checking out: Camping Cubs Activity Gym, Alphabet Zoo Activity Gym, Giraffe Safari Baby Activity Gym, Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym, Owl Patch Activity Gym.

Premium, grow-with-me pick: Skip Hop Explore and More Activity Gym

If you love products that grow with your child or are a baby photo junkie, you'll love the Skip Hop Explore and More Activity Gym. The activity bar can be positioned overhead for traditional activity gym use, or to the side for tummy time or sitting-up play, so it lasts longer than the average activity mat. It also has a designated spot to hold your phone so you can snap pics or record a video of your smiling, playing baby — as he gazes into the mirror on the other side. The toys are also well made and have some cute features like a dancing fox and pull-string owl that hoots.

Premium, modern pick: Jonathan Adler Crafted by Fisher Price Sensory Gym

Young babies are captivated by high contrast colors, and the Jonathan Adler Crafted by Fisher Price Sensory Gym ($120) is the modern design answer to stimulating those little minds. A unique perk is that the included tummy time wedge vibrates to calm babies who otherwise would be fussing while on their stomachs. Not that they should have anything to fuss about while lying on this extra plush, satin-bordered mat with music and lights.

Premium pick: The Land of Nod Wee Workout Wooden Baby Activity Gym

The Wee Workout Wooden Baby Activity Gym from The Land of Nod ($89 for the frame only, $123 with your choice of toys) is a gorgeous, all-wood alternative to the more plasticky and noisy activity gyms out there. Land of Nod lets you choose from several different rattle sets, all made with a 100% knitted cotton shell. The frame is made of plywood and low-emission-engineered wood frame. No mat is included with this gym, so it should be paired with one (see some options below) or can simply be set on a soft surface.

Splurge pick: Finn + Emma Organic Cotton Wood Play Gym

For an eco-friendly, non-toxic gym that isn't an eyesore, the Finn + Emma Organic Cotton Wood Play Gym ($135) is a finely crafted option. Every portion of this gym is thoughtfully sourced, from the fair trade toys hand-knit by artisans in Peru using 100% cotton and stuffed with 100% wool to the hardwood frame to the formaldehyde-free glue and non-toxic finish. It comes in a range of wood colors, and different toy sets are available. No mat is included, but it can be paired with one (see some options below).

Best tummy time mats

Tummy time mats are specifically designed to distract and entertain your baby during tummy time (which most babies hate!), to increase the amount of time they will tolerate. If you already have an activity gym, you may not need extra gear from this category, but these items may be useful to provide a change of scenery and motivation for little ones who are really not fans of tummy time.

Value pick: Infantino Pat and Play Water Mat

Once your baby is holding their head up during tummy time, the Infantino Pat and Play Water Mat ($6) is an interesting toy that will encourage baby to use their hands to play and can introduce some sensory play. The little, whale-shaped mat can also be used with a high chair once your child is able to sit up.

Everyday pick: Boppy Mini Tummy Time Pillow

Smaller than a standard Boppy Nursing Pillow, the Boppy Mini Tummy Time Pillow ($20) is specifically designed to prop babies up during tummy time when they can't quite hold themselves up yet. Two removable toys provide some distraction from tummy time torture.

Everyday pick: Skip Hop Tummy Time Mat

The very cute Skip Hop Tummy Time Mat ($27) comes with a pillow to prop up baby as well as a few fun toys, and the mat itself captivates babies as well. Parents report that this mat isn't padded enough to be used on a hard surface alone for an extended period of time, but will work on a carpet or for a shorter stretch. It's on the smaller side, making it easy to take on the go.

Best playmats

Playmats can provide cushioning on hard surfaces (very helpful for early rollers, crawlers, and walkers, who tend to topple over a lot), insulation from cold floors, and a clean place to set baby down. There are some larger mats that are intended to serve as a more permanent feature of the playroom, while others are smaller and can easily be folded up to take with you on the go.

Portable pick: Tiny Love Super Mat

If you have a small space or are looking for something to take with you on the go, the Tiny Love Super Mat ($38) is a nice choice. It's a medium-size (59" x 39") quilted mat with good padding and a number of built-in toys. The mat easily rolls up and has handles for carrying. Also check out Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo Mega Playmat for an similar and identically sized mat.

Value pick: Prince Lionheart Develop Mat Shapes

For a nicely padded mat that can be used indoors or outdoors, the reversible Prince Lionheart Develop Mat Shapes ($25) is a great, affordable choice. This mat is big enough (3' x 5') to provide plenty of play space for a somewhat mobile baby, yet can also be rolled up and stashed away easily. It's double sided, with high-contrast red, white, and black on one side and a vivid, colorful farm scene on the other side. The surface material is wipe clean which is handy because, you know, babies.

Modern pick: Skip Hop Geo Playspot Foam Floor Tiles

Finally, a playmat you won't be embarrassed to leave out in the living room when guests come over! These floor tiles from Skip Hop (MSRP $79, Amazon $63) are the answer to hardwood floors in modern homes. They feature subtle, on-trend colors; provide good cushioning; and can be rearranged into many different patterns/configurations. We have an email out to Skip Hop customer service confirming the materials used in this mat (most likely EVA foam) & safety test results for this product, and will update this listing once we hear back from them.

Performance pick: Dwinguler Eco-friendly Kids Play Mat

For a large, cushioned, semi-permanent addition to your playroom, consider the Dwinguler Eco-friendly Kids Play Mat ($189). Made in Korea, it's large enough to provide ample play space for your child through grade school or even beyond, and its high-density padding provides excellent protection for wobbly little ones learning to crawl and walk. It is made of PVC, but contains no heavy metals, phthalates, or formaldehyde (see Dwinguler's published test results here. It can be rolled up, but with some difficulty, so it's really best suited for longer-term use in one spot. It's available in a range of two-sided patterns. The Lollaland Play Mat ($150) is manufactured by a sister company to Dwinguler. Another option is the Baby Care Pingko and Friends Play Mat ($88), which offers similar benefits and a much more affordable price, with only a small compromise on quality.

Splurge pick: Baby Bello Organic Play Mat

There's a lot to love about the Baby Bello Organic Play Mat ($230), from its large size (55x55") to its 1.25" of cushioning to its 100% organic cotton cover. The cushioning is provided by "plant-based foam," which is polyurethane foam that "uses up to 1/3 of soybean oil as its polyols"; because it does contain polyurethane, it's not 100% natural or organic, however the company reports that the foam is VOC (offgas) tested. The mat's simple white color provides a nice contrast to most garish baby products, its cover is machine washable, and parents report that it's nice and thick. If you want a "non-toxic" product that is as close as possible to a traditional, high-density foam mat, and aren't willing to accept any compromises in cushiness or convenience, this is best option we've found (but for the next level in non-toxic mats, see below). This mat is also made in the USA — a rarity these days!

Non-toxic pick: Hape Baby Double-Sided Non-Toxic Play Mat

The colorful, reversible Hape play mat ($80) is cushy (0.8" thick) and generously sized (59" x 70"). Unlike most foam playmats, it's made out of PE foam, which is considered safer than PVC. Hape is a brand known for utilizing safer materials and finishes, so this mat seems prima facie like a great choice. We have an email out to Hape inquiring about safety/offgas test results and and will update this description once we hear back.

Non-toxic pick: Pillobebe Corkimat

The Pillobebe Corkimat Original is the premium choice for a 100% non-toxic playmat that comes as close as possible to the performance of a cushy foam mat, while including only 100% natural and unquestionably safe materials. The removable cover is made of 100% GOTS Certified Organic Cotton, while the interior core consists of a mix of natural cork, bamboo fibers, and organic cotton padding. It comes passably close in density and feel to foam mats. Individual tiles measure 19"W X 19"L X 1"H; you'll need to buy and piece together 4 tiles ($172), 6 tiles ($257), or 9 tiles ($385) to construct a suitably large play area (they can be connected using anti-slip Velcro strips). A slightly cheaper version of this product, called "Corkimat Lite," contains 100% polyester padding.

Non-toxic pick: PeppermintPinwheels All-Natural Play Mat

Another great non-toxic choice are the handmade playmats from Etsy seller PeppermintPinwheels. They're not cheap ($200+), but they're handmade in Berkeley, CA with only the safest and highest quality materials to leave nothing to chance. They feature a cotton or cotton/linen top (in a rotating set of prints) and two layers of 100% cotton padding; options to add a waterproof PUL layer and/or a third layer of cotton padding are available. Because they utilize natural cotton as the padding layer, they won't have the same density as any mat containing foam, however on the plus side they are machine washable. Mat sizes vary, but are generally somewhere between 40" square and 60" square.