Activity gyms traditionally fall under the toy category and you may not consider them an essential item for your baby. However, this could not be further from the truth. An activity play mat can be an important developmental tool for your baby, and should definitely be near the top of your baby essentials list. In this brief overview, we will show you why an activity play mat is so crucial to your baby’s development.
What are the general characteristics of activity play mats?
Activity play mats are usually animated environments that feature bright fabrics and high contrast colours. Play mats are usually spacious allowing baby plenty of space to move around and can include a variety of stimulating devices such as mirrors, teethers, rattles, textured patterns, mirrors, music players and even arches with dangling toys that baby can try to hit or squeeze. All these features help to stimulate your baby and assist their development and learning. Play mats provide a comfortable and above all, safe place for your baby to explore, have fun and learn.
What age range are play mats used?
Most play mats are suitable from birth onwards, some models even accommodating babies that are almost two years old. Play mats are at their most effective during 0-6 months, which is a critical period in a baby’s life when they start to develop fine motor skills and gain awareness of the world around them. Using a play mat will give your baby a safe environment to discover and explore its senses.
How does a play mat help your child develop?
A play mat aids development in a number of key areas including senses such as sight, touch and hearing. Your baby will only be able to see 20-30cm in front of them during the first month of their lives. This means they can make out shapes, movement and bright light sources.
Newborns are also unable to differentiate between colours with similar tones such as red and orange, but are able to see high contrast colours such as black and white. Play mats will encourage your baby to focus on a specific point such as a dangling shape or a contrasted piece of fabric improving their vision.
A number of play mat models also feature mirrors, another great way to improve your baby’s sight. Not only will your baby be fascinated by the reflection, but will also encourage them to adjust their head position, utilising the neck muscles the importance of which is described more thoroughly below.
Touch is another sense that is stimulated by a play mat. Your baby will reach out to touch brightly coloured objects and interesting shapes, improving sensory perception. Textured surfaces such as plush fabrics will fascinate your baby; touching also improves hand to eye coordination.
Newborn babies can hear clearly from birth. Some play mats engage babies with high-pitched sounds and fun music that will grab and focus their attention. Generally, your baby will move their head to locate the source of the sound; this is excellent for developing muscles in the neck. Play mats are also great for tummy time, which is beneficial to your baby.
What is tummy time?
Tummy time is the time your baby lies flat on his tummy and plays. Top doctors and paediatricians recommend that babies get at least one opportunity a day to have tummy time for a number of reasons. Tummy time is an important muscle building activity, which encourages your baby to lift their head strengthening their neck muscles. During 0-6 months, your baby will eventually develop head control, which is a milestone in any baby’s development and tummy time can help achieve this. Play mats help your baby to enjoy tummy time in a fun, safe way.
What are the different types of activity play mats?
If you do some market research, you may be astounded to find so many activity play mat options, all of which possess different features and attributes. The three main types are tummy time mats, activity gyms and large play mats.
Tummy time mats in particular promote head control, usually featuring a cushion or pillow that can prop your baby up; this encourages your baby to look around whilst also providing safety in case their necks get tired. Everything is in touching distance for your baby including toy, rattles and textured fabrics. Tummy time mats may also include a separate stand up mirror that baby can look at while propped up for further stimulation. Tummy time mats are normally suitable for young babies.
Activity gyms are better suited to older babies who can support themselves. The main feature of an activity gym is the multiple arches that dangle toys and rattles. Your baby can lie on his back and reach out to grab the toys. Activity gyms are also good for tummy play with their brightly coloured fabrics and textures to keep your baby amused.
Large play mats are essentially big play mats, ideal for very active babies who like to roll and crawl around. They can feature the same kinds of toys as ordinary play mats with the only advantage being the size.
Are there any disadvantages of a play mat?
Activity play mats are an ideal toy: they help your baby develop, encourage movement and can be a great distraction while you sneak off for a cuppa. The disadvantages of this product are hard to see, however it is important that you buy a good quality play mat to avoid any difficulties or safety issues.
You do not want to buy a play mat that is hard to clean; your baby will spend a lot of time dribbling, eating and sleeping on the mat, so you should buy one that wipes easily or that is machine washable. Another factor is the cushioning of the mat, sometimes your baby’s neck will get tired and they may suddenly have to drop their head, so a soft landing is vital. Activity play mats, large ones especially, can take up a tremendous amount of living space; your chosen play mat should be easy to fold up and store away.
If you want to see a full range of the play mats that we offer check out our Gyms, Playmats & Tummy Time section.