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12 best baby gyms to help curious tots develop and play

Create a magical space with activities for little ones and toddlers to explore, from music and language to tummy-time toys

Rosie Shephard
Monday 25 March 2019 11:35
<p>Entertain and stimulate budding minds, build core and muscle strength, as well as eyesight and brain development </p>

Entertain and stimulate budding minds, build core and muscle strength, as well as eyesight and brain development

We salute you, inventor of the baby play gym – a safe space where we can put our babies while we enjoy a coffee, and with a bit of luck they will be learning something too.

The best baby gyms are safe, educational and as stylish as possible. Their purpose is to entertain, stimulate, build core and muscle strength, as well as eyesight and brain development – and keep them quiet for ten whole minutes at a time.

Playtime experts, Lovevery, use academic expertise and home grown parenting experience to create toys that give babies’ brains what they crave.

They say: “The human brain has about 100 billion nerve cells, all of which are present at birth but have few links between them. Babies’ brains develop by constructing an intricate communication network. The network’s structure is formed by experiences children have in the first 3 years of life.

“The more you expose babies to how the world works, the richer their neural networks become. These early development experiences don’t just happen on their own; you have to create them.”

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Good baby gyms use science to provide babies with the stimuli they need at each stage of their development. In the first months, they can only see in black and white and can’t focus well, so simple monochrome designs are used. Babies need to build their neck and back muscles, so tummy time aids are also included.

As the baby grows, they start to reach out to grab and bat things, developing their motor skills. Musical toys help them learn cause and effect, and so on. When choosing a gym, look for one that meets as many of these development stages as possible.

We tested the most educational and stylish baby gyms on the market, looking for safety, intelligent design and value. Our little testers were monitored while playing in the gyms to see how they engaged with it, how safe and sturdy it was and how it helped all stages of development in the first year.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Baby Einstein 4-in-1 kickin' tunes music and language discovery gym

This baby gym is incredible value for what you get. It comes with seven hanging toys, a magic touch piano and a prop pillow for sitting up or tummy time. The piano plays over 70 melodies and introduces phrases in English, Spanish and French, and can be positioned for use with hands or feet. It can also be used separately, becoming a much-loved toy once the child is too big for the gym.

The gym itself is colourful yet tasteful. The toys are detachable and designed to stimulate all senses, and there are even flashcards for your little Einsteins and plenty of opportunities for the parent to interact with the little one. Our little testers – both the tiny babies and the older children – were transfixed for hours, and thought the piano was great fun. We were also impressed with the price which is amazing for what you get!

Infantino 3-in-1 jumbo activity gym & ball pit

This gym is ideal for families without a lot of floor space, as it doubles up as a baby gym and ball pit for busy toddlers. It is also ideal for when soft play centres are closed, or if the thought of sharing a ball pit with anyone outside of our bubble fills us with horror.

The gym has five detachable, colourful toys and the ball pit holds 20 balls which can be safely stored in the mesh bag when not being used, which we love. The ball pit net can also be used as a safety net to contain wriggly babies. We love the cool colours and versatility. Our littlest testers were obsessed with the big mirror, and our toddler’s loved it just as much as, which means the price is good for a product that spans a long age range.

Lamaze freddie the firefly gym

Freddie the firefly is a staple of baby life. You can’t go to a café or mums’ group without seeing him, casually hanging from a buggy bar or being gummed by a teething tot. And now he has his own gym! It comes in the classic Lamaze patterns of black, white and dazzlingly colourful, and has three dangling toys which can be used as teethers, crinklers or mirrors. It also has a tummy time/sitting support pillow to work with your child as they grow.

We love that everything detached for on-the-go distraction – as well as the fact that it’s machine washable – and that the frame can also be detached and placed over the changing mat to make nappy changes smoother. It folds in half for quick and easy storage, and although it is loud in looks, it requires no batteries and makes no sound at all – win!

Tinylove black & white gymini

This is more of a baby school than a baby gym. Every detail is designed with your little one’s development in mind. The black and white helps tiny new eyes focus, the arches can be adjusted to match their arm length and also positioned open to make it easier for parents to interact with the baby while playing, while building a connection and emotional intelligence. We could really see our little testers’ brains lighting up as they played with it.

We love that the folding book is designed to stand up, encouraging tummy time, and can also be taken out and about. The shiny, silky and crinkly toys are big which makes them easy to grab, helping to develop fine motor skills. The musical hedgehog helps them to understand cause and effect, and the mat is well padded and comfy. It’s machine washable and looks great too.

Taf Toys all around me gym

Taf Toys are all about supporting babies in the first two years of their lives, right from day one. This shines through the design of this play gym, which has plenty of monochrome black and white to entertain newborns until they start to see colours.  The soft picture board can then be turned around to display bright colourful images, and positioned to the side or above, to encourage movement and prevent flat head syndrome. We also love that the colours aren’t too overwhelming for grown-ups, and that it’s machine washable.

The hanging toys, rattles and teethers can be removed for washing or taking out and about, and we love how padded the reversible mat is – perfect for tummy time and great for homes with hard floors. There are also extra loops to hang other favourite toys from – a nice touch. If you want a full-on party, add batteries for lights and sound. Or don’t – you’re the boss.

Nattou stuffed play mat

This plush play mat is so snuggly we wish they made it in adult size – we would happily spend an afternoon in there. It’s great for homes with hard floors, and we love how the stuffed sides keep adventurous little ones contained, while acting as a safe place for unexpected naps without fear of rolling out. The arch can be taken off to use the mat as a donut for tummy time and sitting up too.

The four hanging toys include a mirror and can all be detached for separate play. The gym looks beautiful and comes in a variety of colours. If you want a matchy-matchy nursery, it matches other items in the Nattou range. It also ticks the machine washable box.

The Little Green Sheep wooden baby play gym and charms set

This is a great choice for eco-friendly parents who are trying to keep plastic out of the nursery. The arch is sustainably sourced, hand-oiled beech and the charms are 100 per cent cotton or beeswax polished wood, all carefully hand-finished.

The charms are detachable for use on buggies and can be hand washed or wiped. The colours are ideal for those early months when monochrome is so important, and the arch also fits over a play mat or changing mat, so doesn’t add to clutter. We love how beautiful it looks and feels, and how it protects the planet too.

Lovevery play gym

The blurb says it “includes everything, except the baby”, and it really does! It’s designed by experts and academics to cover all stages of development in your baby’s first year. It comes with teething rings, mirrors, flashcards, instruments, and much more, which can all be used independently from the gym. It even comes with a play manual, explaining development stages and suggesting gym activities for each of those crucial first 12 months – like having a live-in nursery nurse.

We love the five exploration zones, which can be hidden and revealed depending on how stimulated your child is. The batting ring is also a nicely subtle-sounding instrument, which is much appreciated by us sleep-deprived mum’s. The cover also makes it a super cute den for when they get a bit bigger.

Stoy rainbow baby gym

Stoy’s rainbow gym is one of their beautiful wooden rainbow products – perfect if you are building a tastefully themed nursery. This comes with three gorgeous wooden and fabric toys that feel wonderfully tactile. Although it is not as versatile or machine washable as some baby gyms, it sure does look pretty, and will do the job of keeping a little one entertained and stimulated while laying down or sitting up – perfect for those early months (when you still care about the nursery looking pretty).

Liewood ernie play gym with accessories

Sustainable and chic, this play gym is ethically produced and looks super stylish, with a cool Nordic design made of beech wood. It has three wipe-clean wooden hanging toys in dino or animal faces, for babies to practice their motor skills on. The wooden legs – which you can simply place over a soft blanket, play or changing mat – are sturdy and safe, and it’s ideal for those early lying down days. It looks like a designer item and feels very sturdy – one that will last for generations – and we love how simple it is to set up.

DockATot personalised deluxe+ dock, arch and toys

This is more of a sleep pod that can be converted into a play gym – perfect for parents looking for versatile products that tick a lot of boxes. The DockATot stage 1 docking station is for babes aged 0-8 months – a snuggly, safe, secure sleep nest that comes in lots of gorgeous patterns.

The fun begins when you add the Toy Arch (£18, Dockatot.com) and toys (£18, Dockatot.com), which are bought separately. Choose from a range of monochrome or colourful, crinkly toys – which are designed to build motor skills and develop baby’s senses in a safe environment – to instantly turn the dock into a gym. These are quirky characters designed by contemporary artists, so watch out, your baby may become cooler than you.

Scandiborn sebra warm grey baby gym

This gym hits the sweet spot between style and fun – the painted wood in cool colours will please style-conscious parents, while the gorgeous birds, bells and mirror will delight your little one. We found that we didn’t want to put it away at the end of the day because it looked so good, and we love how simple it is and how sturdy it feels. It doesn’t come with a mat, but there are matching mats available.

The verdict: Baby gyms

For us, longevity was a big player in deciding our winner – once the baby gym has ticked the safety, educational value and style boxes, we wanted to know if the little testers would still get miles of fun from it once they were moving about. This is why the Baby Einstein 4-in-1 kickin’ tunes music and language discovery gym came out on top. Not only does it entertain and educate them to PhD level, but they will still choose to play with it when they are big enough to crawl away. The Infantino ball pit is also great for mileage.

Help your little music maestro’s brain development with the best musical toys for babies and toddlers that will strike a chord

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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