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

Which baby gym to register for.

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. Because they're not all made the same!

(and because my pediatric Occupational Therapist / child development nerd brain looooves to get super analytical about baby gear and toys!)

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 flat mat underneath. An activity gym over an infant lounge pillow, foam wedge, activity chair or other infant positioner is NOT best for baby's development.

One of the biggest developmental needs your baby has from the moment he exits the womb is to MOVE. Infant positioners, pillows, and chairs restrict your baby's freedom of movement and limit the sensory inputs he gets.

From a nerdy biomechanical standpoint I am saying that your baby cannot fully move his shoulders, hips, knees and neck in these devices. From an even nerdier sensory-motor standpoint I am saying that your baby cannot feel the impact that his movements have on his body (his weight-shifting on the floor under him), cannot feel his joints stretch to their full range of motion and other important early, early, early sensory processing skills that are really important for development.

The word "nest" or "lounger" on the box is a give-away - turn around and run from these products. Activity gyms are for active awake times, not loung-y times. 

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

I know, I know - you can only have one most important thing. But in this case, 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 his 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 not just 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 NOT JUST 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 flexibility of 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 - because flat spots CAN be fixed without a helmet! Learn how.

Tip #2: Find A Visually Simple Activity Gym

Your baby's play in the first weeks under their gym will consist primarily of LOOKING and wiggling. Science shows us that newborn 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). Curious to see what your activity gym might look like through newborn eyes? Check this out!

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?

Tip #3: Get An Activity Gym With Removable Toys

As the weeks go by, your baby will then begin to BAT and SWIPE and GRASP at objects in an activity gym. So having the flexibility to change the target to keep things interesting and developmentally-appropriate for your little one is important. It's also helpful for simplifying your activity gym by reducing the number of hanging toys to help your little one focus and be challenged to get precise with those reaching and grasping movements.

A pet peeve of mine is when activity gyms are designed to be SOOOoooo cute for grown-ups but designed without baby's perspective in mind. 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? 

Tip #4: Avoid Light-up or Moving Mobiles

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 all the time.

You want to be able to encourage baby to find a VARIETY of head positions - both for her development and for her head shape.

Tip #5: Look for Easy-to-Separate Parts

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. 

Good Activity Gyms For Baby's Development:

baby registry tips - best baby activity gyms.

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

LoveEvery Play Gym - mind-blowingly well designed both from developmental and aesthetic perspectives; watch me gush about how great all the features of this gym are for babies in this Facebook Live broadcast

Skip Hop Explore-and-More Amazing Arch Activity Gym - the whole arch shifts side to side, perfect for head-turning, sidelying, Tummy Time and seated play

Haba Color Fun Play Gym - nice wide frame with variable toy placement and and sides perfect for taping pictures to

Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym - offers variable toy placement AND nice incentive for baby to stretch and kick those legs

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

If you or someone you love is handy, this DIY Wooden Activity Gym from Eak! A House! offers lots of real estate for moving toys and taping pictures to the frame.

I've created a free resource just for you. Choosing the best baby gear should be about SO MUCH MORE than what's cute and convenient. This free resource will give you: 

  • tips for buying strollers, high chairs, sleep gear and more from a developmental perspective

  • specific products I use and recommend as a developmental professional and mom

  • confidence that you're making choices about "baby stuff" that give your baby the best start

CLICK HERE to get the guide or click on the image below:


Related Articles: