How To Pick The Best Baby Activity Gym For Your Baby's Development

Not All Baby Activity Gyms Are Created Equal

Search Amazon for "activity gym" and you'll get 30,000 results! Eek! Before you let baby registry overwhelm set in, let's take a look at a few key factors to consider that will help you find the best activity gym for your baby's development. Lucky for you, they're not all made the same. 

The #1 Thing To Consider In A Baby Activity Gym

Your baby's activity gym needs to rest flat on the floor. What do I mean? It should either be a free-standing structure or have a simple mat underneath. An activity gym over an infant lounge pillow, foam wedge, activity chair or positioner is just a fancy Baby Holding Device. It will restrict your baby's freedom of movement, limit the sensory inputs he or she receives and will not, despite the name, promote the activity that floortime play allows and that your baby needs. The word "nest" on the box is a give-away - turn around and run from these products. 

The OTHER #1 Thing to Consider In A Baby Activity Gym

A pediatric OT's tips for choosing the best activity gym for healthy development. CanDo Kiddo

I know, I know - you can only have one most important thing. But really, to this Occupational Therapist, these two things are tied for first. Your baby's activity gym needs to have a wide range of positions to hang toys. And I mean literally WIDE. 

This is super-important because belly-up play under the activity gym can easily put the same pressure on the back of your baby's skull as being on the back to sleep. YOU DON'T WANT THAT!

How can you possibly avoid pressure on the back of the head in belly-up play?! Promote the early motor skill of head-turning by hanging toys from your baby's activity gym everywhere except directly above her. From day one. For all babies. I'll say it one more time for emphasis - hang toys from your baby's activity gym everywhere EXCEPT right above baby's head. You want lots of real estate on the perimeter of the gym, close to the floor to promote head turning. This toy placement is also great for baby lying on her side and in Tummy Time - both very important positions for healthy development. And in the event that your baby is one of the nearly 50% with head flattening, this feature will also enable you to be strategic with toy placement to encourage baby to turn away from that flat part of the head. Learn more about why flat heads matter

Watch how simple black and white pictures taped to a baby's activity gym in a wide variety of positions encourages head turning:

Find A Visually Simple Activity Gym

Your baby's play in the first weeks under their gym will consist primarily of LOOKING and wiggling. We know that babies are near-sighted, color-blind and most attracted to high contrast, simple shapes (especially faces and, in my experience, anything that resembles a boob). So look for a gym that is visually simple. Even better, find one made of a material you could tape your own pictures to! You can make it perfect for your newborn's vision by taping simple black and white pictures to it. Want free printable Black and White Play Cards?

Get An Activity Gym With Removable Toys

As the weeks go by, your baby will then begin to BAT and SWIPE at objects in an activity gym - but only if they can see and reach them. Look for an activity gym that allows you to place only one or two dangling toys at a time. Ideally, you want these toys to match your baby's development - visually simple, high contrast, and possibly making a simple sound (like a bell or rattle). Look at the toys from a baby's perspective - do they hang oriented toward a baby under the gym or toward adults in the room? And don't get a gym with a light up or moving mobile in the center. I think my overuse of bold and italics probably made it clear several paragraphs ago but I'll say it once more - you don't want the main focus of your baby's attention to be right above her face.

Get A Gym That Easily Separates From The Mat Below

You'll definitely want to include tummy time in your child's time on an activity mat (right, right?!) and helping your baby to roll back to belly and belly to back is hugely valuable for motor learning and development.  An activity gym that easily separates from the blanket or mat below it enables you to facilitate rolling and face-to-face time to extend baby's playtime. 

An OT Mommy's Favorite Activity Gyms

Choosing the Best Activity Gyms for Baby's development. CanDo Kiddo

This portion of the post includes affiliate links. I only link to products I use or love. See my disclosure page for more information.

CLOCKWISE from the top image:
DIY Wooden Activity Gym from Eak! A House! - lots of real estate for moving toys and taping pictures to the frame
Sassy Grow With Me Development Playmat from Amazon {affiliate} - remove that netting, lay baby across the mat and you have 2 awesome arches on each side of baby and nothing above her head
Cariboo Activity Gym from Amazon {affiliate} - tons of room for moving toys to the sides and taping pictures
Tiny Love Move and Play Playmat from Amazon {affiliate} - the whole frame shifts side to side, perfect for head turning, sidelying and Tummy Time
Leka Gym from IKEA - this was our pick and we loved the wide frame for taping pictures and the plastic spinners on each side just above the floor

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