A play mat or baby gym is a must-have item. It’s a comfortable spot where your baby can play on their tummy, reach for toys, and practice rolling over.
One of the main benefits of a play mat for baby is that it encourages your little one to interact with their surroundings. It’s also a great way of helping your baby reach development milestones and develop the muscles they need to sit up and crawl.
What is a play mat?
The designs and features vary, but most play mats or activity gyms share these characteristics:
- A comfortable surface with foam, pillows, and soft fabrics.
- Different fabrics and textures to encourage tactile interactions and discovery.
- A bar with dangling toys to encourage baby to roll over, plus reach and grasp objects.
- Some play mats have additional activities, like mirrors, lights, sounds, built-in musical instruments, and more.
- You can typically collapse the bar with dangling toys and fold the mat to store and transport the play mat for baby easily.
When should you introduce a play mat?
You can start using a baby gym as soon as your newborn is comfortable with lying on their back without being swaddled. Your newborn might not interact with the toys and different textures yet, but looking at the dangling toys can be a fun activity during their alert time.
Babies get the most from play mats once you can start introducing tummy time. Tummy time can begin at 3 months of age. Limit sessions to five minutes at a time, and start with three short daily sessions. You can gradually work your way up to an hour of tummy time a day.
Baby will likely begin rolling over on their own at 4 months of age. An activity gym is perfect for tummy time because your baby will feel comfortable, and the different toys encourage them to roll over on their own.
The dangling toys will encourage your baby to reach and eventually sit up, a milestone they should reach by the time they’re 6 months old with a little help. Your child will also practice standing on all fours and rocking back and forth to reach the different toys, a movement that eventually turns into crawling.
By the time your baby is 9 months old, they will start crawling and might surprise you with their speed! Crawling is usually a sign that your little one has outgrown their play mat.
They will probably get bored with the activity gym and decide to go explore the rest of the room. It doesn’t mean you should completely eliminate the play mat, but don’t force your baby to stay on it if they want to move around. Consider upgrading the baby gym with new toys and activities, since it’s still a good way of developing important motor skills.
What Are the Benefits of a Play mat for Baby?
A play mat for baby is a must-have item for several reasons:
- Convenience. Play mats are portable, lightweight, and easy to fold. You can set it up at the park or at a friend’s house to keep baby busy and happy.
- Safe space. The soft texture and supportive foam or pillows help your newborn learn that they can feel safe, even when you don’t hold them. Your baby can practice rolling over and sitting up away from hard surfaces.
- Sense of touch. Baby gyms use fabrics, plastic, soft toys, and different textures to encourage babies to touch and explore. Newborns are curious, and their sense of touch is an important way for them to explore the world. An activity gym is a fun way of introducing new experiences, and you can describe the different textures to promote language skills.
- Cognitive development. Babies can benefit from a wide range of stimuli. Play mats provide the stimulation they need through bright colors, textures, lights, and sounds. There is always something that will grab their attention and make your child’s alert time more stimulating.
- Motor skills. Grasping is a major development milestone that your baby should reach between the ages of 3 and 5 months. The dangling toys encourage your baby to reach and eventually grasp them.
- Hand-eye coordination. Grasping is not easy, and it will take awhile for your newborn to develop hand-eye coordination. A play mat for baby promotes hand-eye coordination because there is always something different to interact with.
- Muscle development. Tummy time helps with neck, shoulder, and back-muscle development. Your baby needs to develop these muscles before they can roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk. A play mat helps with muscle development by providing a comfortable space where your baby can stay on their tummy and perform a wide range of movements to interact with the toys.
A play mat encourages your baby to explore their surroundings. It will keep them busy with toys, textures, sounds, lights, and more. It’s a fun way of bonding with your baby, and it promotes motor skills and muscle development.
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