Baby gyms, floor gyms, activity gyms, play gyms, play mats … Are they just different ways of describing the same thing?

Well, the first four are all pretty much interchangeable. A manufacturer might prefer one phrase over another, but there’s nothing that can really distinguish a floor gym from an activity gym. Playmats, however, are something else. It is generally quite easy to tell the difference between a playmat and a gym. That said, there are also some manufacturers who, perhaps deliberately, muddy the waters and use the gym to describe what is essentially a play mat. And viceversa. So what’s the difference exactly?

A safe place for the child to play

Let’s start by recognizing that mats and gyms both meet the same basic need. They provide a clean, safe and soft surface for your baby to lie on or play on.

The mats come in two main forms. The variety of padded fabric and the type of interlocking foam tiles. Many are variations on a theme, but some are truly unique. One of these is the K’s Kids Big & Big cushions and playmat, which is a fabric padded mat with detachable sausage-shaped cushions that create a protective barrier around the edge of the mat. But overall, the key choice is between a fabric mat and a tiled play area.

Padded fabric mats

The padded mat is available in a surprising range of designs. Rectangular, circular, square, oval … even in the shape of an elephant and giraffe. Some are small enough to fold and put in a bag. Others are as large as the baby bed blankets. Some play mats are nothing more than a patterned piece of padded fabric that your baby can lie down on. Others have strategically placed pads for support or add-ons for recreation, exploration, and learning.

Overall, the textile mats are more suitable for small children. But some are designed to adapt to the growth of the child. The K’s Kids Big & Big cushions and playmat does exactly that: the mat transforms perfectly into a mini sofa or obstacle course.

Interlocking foam tiles

Foam tile play mats are usually available in packs. You can buy just nine or you can cover an entire plan. You can move them from room to room or leave them in place indefinitely. And you can add to your collection as your child becomes more mobile.

Foam tiles are all quite similar in shape, but come with all sorts of designs – numbers and letters are among the most popular. Some of the more sophisticated tiled mats have built-in toys and development activities. Lights, textures, sounds, lots of things to keep tiny hands and minds busy.

So what is a play gym? The main difference between a baby gym and a playmat is that the gym has dangling toys. This is an oversimplification, but when you look at a mat next to a gym on the floor, you can see that a mat is flat but a gym has crossed arches with a series of hanging toys.

Manufacturers like to think that their gyms stimulate baby’s senses and encourage development. They might be right. But this type of training is probably not that different from any other opportunity the child has to look, hear and touch. That said, they’re pretty cool and when my sister offered to buy one for me and our baby, I wasn’t going to say no.

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