When Can Baby Play on an Activity Mat or Play Mat? (Milestones)

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The AAP recommends starting tummy time as soon as their umbilical cord falls off. As you look across the room at the boxed activity mat you received at your baby shower, you wonder – when can baby play on an activity mat or play mat?

Babies can use activity and play mats beginning on their first day home from the hospital, but they will not fully enjoy the features of the mats until they are able to support their upper body by pushing themselves up onto their hands. This normally happens at around 3-6 months and will allow your little one to fully interact with the play mat.

Read on for more information on when your baby can use activity or play mats and how they are great tools for your baby’s development. You’ll also find information on two highly recommended and reviewed activity mats.

What age can babies start using a play mat or activity mat?

There is no specific age requirement for using a play mat or activity mat and babies can begin using them from Day 1.

Many parents begin using play and activity mats for tummy time shortly after birth. However, babies will not enjoy the full range of fun offered by play and activity mats until they are around three to six months old.

At this age, they will be strong enough to push themselves up on their hands and interact with the toys, lights, and sounds of the mat.

Do newborns use play mats?

Newborns can use play mats as long as they are supervised, although they will not yet be able to fully appreciate it.

Many parents use play mats for tummy time for their newborns since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends tummy time beginning on the first day home from the hospital after birth.

When do babies enjoy using a play mat?

Even as a parent, baby mats look like a lot of fun and it can be confusing or frustrating if your little one doesn’t seem to be enjoying their time in it.

Typically, babies most enjoy using a play mat when they are 3-6 months of age.

During the 3-6 month stage of development, babies are able to open and close their hands, support the weight of their head and shoulders, raise their upper body, and take swipes at appealing objects and dangling toys making this the perfect age to encourage their development through the use of a play mat.

Potential benefits of babies using play mat or activity mat

Using a play mat or activity mat has many developmental benefits for babies including cognitive growth, physical exercise, sensory stimulation, and hand-to-eye coordination.

Development benefits of using a play mat or activity mat include:

  • Cognitive growth – Play and activity mats help babies understand cause and effect.  They’ll wonder how the dangling toys, mirrors, lights, and sounds work and seek to find answers.  This requires persistence, staying focused, and memory.
  • Sensory stimulation and awareness – Play and Activity Mats provide babies with a variety of colors to see, materials to touch and feel, sounds to hear and enjoy, and textures to touch and feel.
  • Physical exercise – Play and Activity Mats give babies the safe space and interest for the playful exercise and muscle development that is essential for their health.
  • Improved motor skills – Those dangling toys, mirrors, and textured pieces on playmats and activity mats are there  for a reason.  They encourage your baby to reach out, touch, feel, kick, and grasp them! This form of play encourages their gross motor skills and their muscle development.
  • Hand-eye coordination – For your baby to reach out and grasp the dangling toys on their play or activity mat, they must pay attention to the location of the object and put both of their hands together over it. Playing on play or activity mats will help encourage this important fine motor skill over time.

The best options for baby play or activity mats

If you have decided to buy your little one a play or activity mat, you may be wondering which ones have the features that will be the most helpful for your baby’s development. The good news is that play and activity mats come in a variety of designs and with a selection of toys that encourage babies to play and interact.

You’ll want to choose a play or activity mat that has a well-padded mat that provides a safe surface for your baby. Also essential is that the playmat itself is washable so that it can be sanitized.

Fisher-Price Rainforest Music Lights Deluxe Gym

Our first choice for a play mat is the Fisher-Price Rainforest Music Lights Deluxe Gym. This version is an Amazon Exclusive item, although Fisher-Price offers similar activity mats through other retailers.

Features:

  • Includes 10+ toys and activities including a soft monkey, mirror, soft jingle lion, rollerball snail, and clacker zebra
  • Plays music and has dancing lights
  • Baby can play in one of three ways: On the back, tummy, or bring detachable take-along toys on the go
  • Music and lights respond to your baby’s movement and kicks
  • Plays music for up to 20 minutes
  • Removable toucan with detachable wings that plays tunes and has lights
  • Toys can be linked to mat or giraffe to encourage babies to push up on their tummy
  • Baby can interact with the toys, colors, textures, and sounds to boost sensory development
  • Fast and easy assembly

Extra Value: At around $60, this playmat comes highly recommended and has five stars on Amazon with 10,000 reviews.

Featured Review: “Omg my baby goes nuts with this thing. He’s 3.5 months old now and has been using it for a couple of weeks. He looooves it. The toucan music is great and he loves that the beak lights up. We even remove it to take for bath time haha. He loves the hanging toys and the mirror. The zebra and blue monkey are his favorites. I love how they’re all detachable, we take them and attach them to his car seat and other toy bars too!!”

Pros: Top-rated and reviewed on Amazon, this playmat is affordable, appeals to senses, promotes cognitive development, and active play.

Cons: A few Amazon reviewers thought the removable toucan is cheaply constructed.

Splashin’kids Inflatable Tummy Time Premium Water Mat

This play mat is filled with water for a fun, stimulating, and comfortable experience that can entertain your 3+ month old while helping them develop their head, neck, and shoulder muscles.

Features:

  • The water-filled Splashin’ Kids play mat is a helpful tool for improving baby’s hand-eye coordination, fine motor, and social skills
  • Brightly colored and water-filled, it’s a sensory delight that enhances baby’s sensory and cognitive development
  • This fish tank wonderland fascinates babies with cute floating sea toys that baby’s try to catch and grasp
  • Provide hours of stimulating and healthy fun
  • Easy and quick assembly
  • Completely portable, simply drain water and fold up
  • Large roomy play size area allows for active play
  • Comes with six brightly colored toys
  • Environmentally friendly and BPA Free

Extra Value: Extremely budget-friendly at just $20, this playmat comes very highly recommended and has four and a half stars on Amazon with over 1,000 reviews.

Featured User Review: “As a therapist, I know the value of tummy time and how important it is to the development of gross and fine motor skills, as well as exploration of a baby’s environment. Assistance with extending tummy time will help a baby develop well long term and this product keeps them engaged on their tummy for longer. Great product!”

Pros: Top-Rated and reviewed on Amazon, this playmat is affordable, appeals to senses, and promotes both cognitive development and active play.

Cons: A few Amazon reviewers thought the lack of stability makes it unsafe for small babies.

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