When babies start crawling they often lose interest in playing on a playmat. You may start to feel like your little one can not be contained! There are more interesting things to explore in your playroom or baby’s nursery like the drawers, vents and shelves (time to get serious about baby proofing).
In this article, we’ll explore when babies stop using playmats and other questions you may have about playmats and their alternatives. Use the table of contents to jump to any section, or read through it all.
What age do babies stop using playmats?
Playmats and play gyms can be useful tools for babies starting right from the newborn stage. Playing on the ground gives babies a good sense of where their body is in the world around them. Their movements may look strange when they are young, however, laying on a flat surface like a playmat helps their brain map out what their body is capable of doing.
Playmats on the floor are also a safe place for your baby to practice tummy time and strengthen their muscles. If your baby shows no interest in using a playmat as a newborn don’t be discouraged. Around three months of age, many babies start to gain more control of their head and neck muscles as they strengthen. This will allow them to increasingly look around at their environment and they will start reaching for toys to investigate them.
Depending on when your baby starts crawling, you may find you’re still able to use your playmat at the 9-12 month mark. Some babies continue to be interested in their playmat once they can sit up fully unassisted and crawl (others, not so much). Sometimes older children become interested in the wooden toys, bright colors and comfortable mat that their baby sibling is using. This can be an added benefit for parents with other young kids who become occupied, at least momentarily, with their sibling’s playmat.
In general, once your baby is able to move around and engage more with their environment, they will grow out of their playmat and stop using it.
What is a baby playmat?
A baby playmat is a soft fabric mat that is usually stuffed with fluffy batting to make it comfortable for a baby to lay on and play. Modern baby playmats often come with collapsible arches that you can attach plush toys, wooden teethers, high-contrast pictures or baby-safe mirrors to in order to encourage play that will strengthen their brand new muscles. They are also sometimes called an activity mat, baby play mat, or activity gym.
Dangling toys above a soft mat on a toy bar or your playmat can hold your baby’s attention for a long time. It’s great for their cognitive development, fine motor skills, visual perception and hand-eye coordination. It also provides a safe space to set your child down. The features of the mats depend on the brand you purchase.
Some baby mats are simply a mat made of foam or fabric with no rods attached to them for play toys.
Baby playmat alternatives
The best alternative to a baby playmat is a baby gym, which is also sometimes called a wooden play gym. It’s basically a station you create or buy that has a soft blanket or mat underneath your baby and rods set up like a small tent to string some toys onto. This allows your baby to reach for the hanging toys above them with their feet and/or hands, allowing them to practice their fine and gross motor skills at play time. They have the same developmental benefits as a playmat.
Another alternative to a baby playmat is an accordion style baby book. These books spread out and give your baby something fun to look at and engage with during tummy time. Check out this article on the best black and white books for babies, it has some recommendations for these tummy-time style books.
Are playmats worth it?
Baby gear in general can be expensive considering how it may be used for a short amount of time. Babies are notorious for growing out of things and phases quickly (clothes, toys, etc.) and playmats are no different. It can, nevertheless, be a great place for playtime in your baby’s first year.
Since most babies stop using their play mat once they begin crawling, they usually have a very limited window of use. However, you can always store them away if you are considering having more children and will use them again in the future. You could also borrow one from friends or family who are not in the ‘baby phase’ anymore. Another option is to buy one second hand to reduce the cost.
It’s going to depend on your personal financial situation to determine if a baby playmat is worth it. However, developmentally it can be a fun space for your baby to learn and explore and most babies enjoy interacting with a playmat daily between the ages of 3 months to the time they start crawling.
In general, I would say that a playmat is worth it because it’s a great way to provide your baby with sensory activities that encourage muscle strength and other important skills in their early months of life.
When to buy a baby playmat?
You can start using a playmat for your baby when they are a newborn but don’t be surprised if you see little to no engagement with the toys or interactive activities on the mat for a while. You could definitely buy a playmat before your baby is born or put it on your registry for friends and family to purchase for you as a gift.
If your baby is born and you’re wondering when a playmat might become beneficial, around 3 months of age many babies are ready to start reaching for toys that dangle overhead from their playmat. 3 months of age can be a good time to buy and start using a playmat.
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