A lot of baby gear can be garish — bright colors and eye-popping designs stimulate a child’s development but might not fit your design scheme — and baby play mats can be some of the primary offenders. For those looking for play mats and floor mats that are both padded and good-looking (and safe for your child to spend a lot of time on), we spoke to editors and bloggers about their favorite cloth and foam mats for children that would look great not only in a nursery but also in your living room.
Best play mats for babies
Most play mats for babies include a fabric base with an overhead “gym” attached (and are commonly known as play or activity gyms), but for those looking for just a mat, Fatherly deputy editor Matt Berical recommends this extra-large mat from Tiny Love that features built-in activities and a variety of textures. “It’s a large, quilted mat that works as a portable play space for kids,” he says. “It’s made to help kids move around and interact, and it folds up really small so it’s easy for parents to pack in a bag whenever they go somewhere. It’s also machine washable.”
If subtle design is what you’re after, Berical likes this circular mat from Pehr. “This is a very plain, design-friendly play mat with no bells and whistles,” he says. “It has a really nice hand-screen printed design. And it’s made out of cotton, is very gentle, and is available in a few colors. It’s something that a lot of parents like because it fits in everywhere.” The quilted circular mat features delicate line drawings of sea creatures on one side, while the reverse is patterned with stripes. Ashlee Neuman, the Bump’s senior editor, also recommends Pehr’s play mat in the Noah’s Ark pattern, which has colorful animals on one side and stars on the other.
If you want the dual functions of an activity gym and a play mat, Berical recommends Skip Hop’s Baby Treetop Friends Activity Gym, a popular choice among parents. It features a round, padded, machine-washable surface with a couple of activities as well as an overhead gym with dangling toys that can be set up and removed in two minutes. “It’s a really nice padded activity mat with additions that everyone really likes. The consensus is that even after kids have passed that stage, there’s still a use for it,” he says. “It packs up really small, is comfortable, and is made with friendly materials.”
Berical also likes Lovevery’s play gym, which was designed by child developmental experts and features a removable overhead gym made of sustainably sourced wooden legs and accessories like an organic cotton Montessori ball, a wooden batting ring, and a teether, all washable. “It’s comfortable for the baby and there’s a lot of clever developmental aspects to it,” he says. “It’s just a good-looking and well-designed piece of equipment for your child.”
Best floor mats for toddlers
For older kids who simply need a protective surface to play or learn to crawl on, foam floor mats are your best bet. But pay attention to what they’re made of. Los Angeles-based El Abad, founder of the blog Land of Mom and the Happy Mom Conference, advises looking for mats that are eco-friendly, sustainably made, and have no chemical odors. Design is also a priority for Abad: “When it comes to home design, I love having things for babies, but I want them to fit into our home décor and furniture pieces and don’t want them to stick out like a sore thumb,” says Abad. “Even in the play area, I like things to be neutral and kept really clean so I don’t want anything too busy-looking or too colorful. Something that can actually look like it could be a beautiful rug is what I ended up choosing.” That would be the play rug from L.A.–based company Ruggish. Made from non-toxic memory foam that’s free of BPA, phthalates, lead, latex, formaldehyde, and EVA, it features a double-sided design that resembles a rug on one side and has a graphic, interactive toy car track on the other. “The track is on a gray background and is still very neutral-looking. It’s not very colorful but it’s fun. My little boys love driving their little cars on there, and it made them want to crawl against it.” When kids grow older, turn it over to the rug side to create an adult-approved play surface in the family room. Neuman also recommends the Ruggish, calling it a “splurge, but oh-so-cute.”
Another great reversible one-piece option is this foam mat from Little Bot recommended by Neuman: “It’s a super-chic reversible foam mat featuring high-contrast geometric patterns in neutral tones.” It’s also non-toxic.
Little Nomad also makes play mats that resemble rugs. Instead of being one piece, though, they are made of two-foot square jigsaw tiles that seamlessly interlock and are also expandable. Recommended by both Otto and Neuman, who describes it as “a durable foam mat that has the look of a beautifully patterned rug,” it’s another great option for parents who want a more subtle mat in their living spaces. It’s also made with premium quality, non-toxic EVA foam.
Another jigsaw-style play mat that’s a hit with parents is Skip Hop’s Geo Foam floor tile set, recommended by Otto, Neuman, and Greenpoint store Flying Squirrel’s owner Kate Schmitz. “Skip Hop play mats are very tasteful instead of being horrible primary colors,” says Schmitz. They’re the most adaptable, too, and come in a variety of muted colors. And because the pieces are not square, “you can arrange them to create a pattern of your choosing, like chevron stripes,” according to Neuman. Otto agrees: “Because they can be reconfigured, you can also change the look of them,” she says, depending on your child’s needs. Arrange them into a longer piece to create a hallway for a crawler, for example. “And there’s enough range [in the colorways], where if you have a gray couch and you want something to match, you can find something.” The mat comes in black and white, gray and white, or white, peach, and gray combinations.
Best tumbling mat
For older kids, a tumbling mat — which resembles the folding mats found at gymnastics studios — is a safe choice. According to Otto, “They are much more durable, and a kid can do a somersault or cartwheel on them pretty easily, whereas a floor mat is much more tailored for kids 2 and under.” While many of them come in primary colors, this one by Design Skin features a pastel palette that Berical recommends.
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