One of my saving graces when Hector was small was his baby playmat / gym depending on what you personally call them. Aside from revelling in his obvious enjoyment of having all of his senses stimulated at the same time…flashing lights and music and spinning things anyone…it meant that I could grab that essential five minutes to catch up on necessary household chores whilst keeping him in my line of sight at all times. Obviously that all changed as soon as he began to crawl…

But where do you begin? There’s so many baby playmats to choose from that it can feel a bit overwhelming; do you go for the woodland or jungle theme? The one with the flashing disco lights or the version with ten different melodies? Worry no longer, we’re here with a list of ten of our favourites for a range of ages and tastes…come and take a look.

For Young Babies

A friend of mine actually purchased this beige farmyard inspired playmat for Hector at my baby shower a month before he was born and it has been a lifesaver from the moment I opened the beautifully wrapped gift. Measuring 1m by 1m, the mat is made from 100% organic cotton with a polyester fill. I didn’t realise until much later that the mat could be used in the wooden playpen also by the same brand but it is suitable for use on its own. We’ve spent many an hour playing on this beauty; it’s comfortable and soft and big enough for mummy to lie down on it too. I can definitely see this being used with baby number two whenever that may happen.

If you’re after something similar but with more sensory aspects to the mat itself then this sensory patchwork number might be for you. Filled with bright and colourful prints, this soft quilted playmate incorporates a baby safe mirror so your littles can view their reflection, soft colourful tactile ribbons to play with and a peek a boo flap. There is even a star shaped teether with a textured surface to help relieve tender teething gums.

Another purchase made early on was this Fisher-Price rainforest inspired gym which mesmerised Hector for minutes at a time. In fact some of my best early pictures of Hector were of him and his dad lying next to each other whilst in ‘the rainforest’. There are jaunty tunes, flashing lights and twirling butterflies to reach for and the soothing sounds of birds and frogs in the rainforest. You can set the volume at different levels (thanks Fisher-Price) and also the songs to play repetitively or only when the baby moves the overarching structure. There are also numerous toys that you can clip on and off so you can reposition them around the gym for variety or even take them with you if you’re on the move. Pretty much every single one of my friends have invested in the self same ‘gym’ for their kids and have loved it.

In a similar vein is Skip Hop’s Treetop Friends Activity Gym which is, yep you guessed it, woodland rather than rainforest themed. This particular product has much the same features as the Fisher-Price product but comes with a supportive tummy time pillow too. It is more expensive however.

If like me you’re a wannabe wooden toy only mama (it lasted all of five minutes in my case although in an ideal world I still hold onto this aesthetic) then you might like this product from Ikea. Granted it’s not technically a ‘mat’ so I have pushed the boundaries somewhat here but it’s a variation on the baby gym/mat combo and is beautifully made from birch with colourful toys hanging down from the main frame.

For Babies Aged 6-12 months

I actually found the period when Hector was aged between 6-12 months really tricky. He was mobile i.e. crawling and later cruising which meant you’d blink and he’d be on the other side of the room. Playmats that required him to actually stay in one position were of little interest to him but he was still too young to really engage with more sophisticated toys.

If only I’d known about Fisher-Price’s Kick ‘n’ Play Piano Gym. The toy is designed to grow with your baby through to the toddler years with four modes of play.

There’s the lay and play mode for smaller babies who can kick at the piano keys and look up at a toy-filed arch. In tummy time mode, the toys can be brought down to the mat so babies can enjoy reaching and grasping at the variety of toys. For older babies that are comfortable sitting up, the piano swivels upwards, allowing babies to play it and create musical fun. Finally, in the fourth mode, the piano is designed to be mobile complete with a large handle making it easy for older children to enjoy the piano fun anywhere. Five toys are also included in the gym; a large sun mirror, an elephant with clackers, rollerball frog, soft crinkle tiger panel with ribbons and a hippo teether.

When Hector learned to crawl, we also invested in these foam jigsaw tiles as a way of attempting to babyproof my mum’s house which has large limestone tiles throughout the bottom floor. They were a bit of a godsend actually both from a cushioning from inevitable bumps and scrapes perspective but also helping to insulate Hector away from the cold floor. There are 28 individual brightly coloured pieces in this set which when pieced together form a huge play mat or whichever shape suits your home layout best and there’s a clear zippable bag to store them away when they aren’t in use.

For Toddlers & Older Children

The concept of a playmat changes somewhat as kids get older and a jaunty tune and some spinning butterflies are not going to keep them entertained for any length of time. I’m lucky in that Hector adores colouring and crayoning so I’d be seriously tempted to get this Aquamagic mat for him when he gets slightly older although it is suitable from 18 months plus. Anything that makes zero mess is a winner in my book.

Hector is also obsessed with anything that moves at the moment, be that planes, trains or cars or anything from the animal kingdom. I’ve been meaning to get him a mat complete with a road or a race track so that he can push his cars along to his heart’s content. The Lekplats rug from Ikea, with latex backing to keep the rug secure, is just the ticket and at £14 is an absolute bargain!

Have you invested in a playmat or two? Which product did you choose and why? Why not tell us your recommendations in the comments box below…