During the first few months of life, babies need to be held close when they are awake.
Swaddling and rocking may be enough during these early months but sooner than later, most babies will need more play for their overall development.
While the timing will differ from one baby to another, it is normal for most babies to start moving past the mother’s arms after six months.
Once they can sit up, the next step of their development will happen mostly outside the arms of adults and one of the most important things at that time is a baby play mat.
Also referred to as a baby play gym or activity mat, baby play mat is one of the most versatile baby products.
It is specifically a soft, brightly coloured and interactive mat with lots of features. It is the perfect surface for the baby to engage in most appropriate activities.
In the first 12 months of life, the activity mat is one of the best things for your baby.
For most people, the baby play mat is the right place to place the baby when they need to attend to other activities.
For the baby, however, the benefits are endless. Here are the most important reasons every child needs a baby play mat:
1. It Offers Lots of Cognitive Benefits
There are different ways babies learn and play mats can be one of them during the earliest days of life.
Between the 2nd and 4th months of life, babies learn to repeat actions they initially did by chance. This is called ‘primary circular reaction’ and offers cognitive benefits. The baby play mat has several features that encourage this type of learning.
Between the 4th and 8th months of life, ‘secondary circular reaction’ sets in. This begins when a baby starts initiating the actions intentionally.
They may grab, pull, or even kick a toy because they know it may make a sound or light up. This is the point babies learn about cause and effect.
Folding play mats have enough dangling toys and other features to facilitate this development and offer all-important cognitive benefits.
2. It Improves Visual Perception
Generally, newborn babies can perceive objects that are 30 centimetres from their face.
They prefer and are best able to see faces, which is why parents need to spend enough face to face time with them.
They are also only able to see objects that have high contrast colours. The baby play mat is the next best place for the baby to spend time when they are not being nurtured by adults.
Top-quality mats are specially designed with toys that have brightly contrasting colours.
Since depth perception is developed around the 4th month of life, it will be great to let the baby spend more time on the activity mat during this period for full benefits in visual perception.
3. It Improves Grasping and Reaching Skills
From the time they are born, babies are always able to curl their tiny fingers around parents’ fingers.
This, however, have more to do with reflexes than actual skills. They actually have no control over it during the early days.
As they start developing, there is a need for them to learn to control their arm movement. The play mat can help to improve these skills.
With several interesting toys around to play with, babies learn to reach out and grab the objects around them.
As they interact with the toys, cognitive development happens at the same time as their grasping and reaching skills are improved.
A well-designed baby toy will help a baby learn to bring two hands together at the midline of the body.
4. It Offers Gross Motor Benefits
Gross motor development is arguably the most important benefit of a baby play mat.
All the major muscles involved in motor skills (muscles in their arms, legs, tummy, back, and neck) benefit from the activities the baby will engage in while spending time on the play mat.
A properly designed activity mat allows a baby to play on his/her back, left side, right side, and tummy.
Tummy time, which is the time a baby spends on his or her tummy while awake, is particularly one of the most important play mat activities when it comes to gross motor benefits.
It will strengthen the neck, back, and arms. It will equally support the development of skills like rolling, crawling, walking, hands-skills, and several others.
5. Benefits in Self-Awareness
Self-awareness benefits are not often emphasized by most people for no particular reason.
It is, however, one of the benefits of a good baby play mat. Most activity mats have mirrors that let the baby observe himself or herself during play time.
Babies mostly notice themselves in the mirror around 3-5 months. They may stare happily or try to reach out to their images in the mirror around this time.
Between the 5th and the 8t month, they will likely smile and respond more playfully to their images in the mirror.
By the 9th month, most babies will laugh, pat, and make faces at their images on the mirror and this is beneficial to their overall development too.
6. Benefits in Sensory Stimulation and Awareness
There are different ways a baby play mat will help to stimulate the senses of the little ones.
Since sensory stimulation is regarded as the best way to interact and play with babies during the first year of life, the play mat is one of the most important things to have.
Top-quality activity mats feature a variety of textures, colours, and sounds that will attract the baby’s attention and stimulate the senses while he/she is engaged with the toys and the other features.
While visual and auditory senses are prominently stimulated by the play mat, oral stimulation and exploration become possible once the baby starts mouthing the toys.
This will be the perfect time to introduce teething toys.
The baby play mat is one of the best baby products during the first year of life. It offers a portable and safe place for babies to play.
You can place your baby on the mat and attend to other important chores with peace of mind.
It provides stimulation, learning opportunities and activities every baby needs for all-round development.
All you need is to get the right mat for your baby and supervise whenever you drop him/her on the mat.