Are baby gyms worth it? Are they really necessary for your baby?
Would it hold your little one’s attention long enough? Is there an alternative to expensive baby gyms?
I’ll answer those questions and more in this article.
But first, let’s get into the basics.
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What Is a Baby Gym?
A baby gym (also called an activity gym/ play gym/ Montessori play gym) is a developmental plaything that newborns up to 1 year old can play with. It has age-appropriate toys that are either hanging from an arch or are within the baby’s reach.
Some come with a variety of toys and even include a play mat, like the Lovevery play gym.
Its arc is sometimes made of wood, while others are made of plastic.
Its purpose is to offer your baby opportunities to engage and explore their senses.
Playing in a baby gym can help your little ones learn new skills and reach their developmental milestones.
Benefits of Baby Play Gym
Activity gyms or Montessori play gyms can offer a lot advantages to your baby, including but not limited to the following:
Safer, Age-Appropriate Toys
Play gyms are meant for younger babies, so there’s a higher chance that they are safer, even for newborns.
Some are made of organic materials, making them non-toxic. Which gives you peace of mind that your baby won’t get any harmful chemicals from mouthing the baby gym toys
Encourages Tummy Time
Newborns can already do tummy time, even on their first day home!
They can also see if you’re close enough to their face so you can already put them on a baby play gym and let them look at the toys that are hanging on the arch or are propped up and are surrounding them.
Doing so can encourage them to do tummy time.
Prevents Getting a Flat Head
Providing your baby plenty of supervised tummy time, instead of just letting them lie down on their back all day, can help prevent them from getting a flat head.
Provides Sensory Stimulation
Activity gyms provide all sorts of toys that can engage a newborn’s senses.
These include different textured cloths for touching, colorful toys for seeing, items that crinkle and/or make a sound for hearing, and more.
Improves Gross Motor Skills
The toys in an activity gym can help develop your baby’s gross motor skills.
Babies can be encouraged to reach and swipe at the dangling objects, open and close their hands, grasp teethers, bring it to their mouth, raise their heads, and such.
Improves Hand-Eye coordination
Over time, your baby will learn how to grab the objects dangling a few inches from them.
They will know how to do it with ease, they will be able to gauge how far is the object, know how to hold the object and bring it closer to them and how to transfer it from one hand to another.
And all of that (plus more!) will improve their hand-eye coordination, a skill necessary for them to interact with their environment and to perform tasks on their own, such as holding their own milk bottle, teether, etc.
Boosts Cognitive Development
Play gyms have a variety of toys, including cause and effect toys and items that basically help improve their cognitive development.
And while newborns or younger babies can’t fully grasp yet the concept of cause-and-effect, they will eventually understand that for every action that they do, there will always be an outcome or effect.
With enough practice and time, they’ll know that when they scrunch the crinkly cloth in the play gym, it makes a sound. When they bat at the dangling toys handing on the activity gym, it will move.
And so on and so forth.
Provides Freedom and Movement
Staying in a crib or crib alternatives all day can be quite boring.
And we now know that babies can get bored so if you hear them getting cranky from their crib, even if they’re well-fed and well-rested, they might just want some stimulation and excitement.
A baby play gym allows them some freedom and opportunity to look and move around and just have fun exploring and playing with their environment.
Encourages Independent Play
This is the greatest benefit you both can have from a baby gym!
Not only will it entertain your baby but it can also encourage them to play on their own, right from the get-go.
What To Look For In A Baby Gym
The topmost feature to look at when choosing a play gym is how safe it is for your baby.
Its arch should be durable and stable enough that it won’t easily topple on your newborn.
None of its parts, including toys, should be spoiled, have splinters or things poking out, or are broken.
Play gyms can come in a variety of sizes and while the smaller ones are more affordable and can fit smaller spaces, your baby can easily outgrow them.
The bigger ones, the ones that can actually turn into a teepee, are bigger and can have more space for your baby to move and roll.
An ideal activity gym is non-toxic and doesn’t contain any material that can potentially harm your baby’s health in the long run.
Wooden baby play gyms are the best kind to have, as they are free from toxic chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, heavy metals PVC, etc. These chemicals are detrimental to your newborn’s health.
Wooden activity gyms are also made from sustainable materials, with a baby safe-finishing, and they don’t use glue for construction.
They are also more durable and more beautiful than plastic and are environmentally friendly.
A baby play gym that comes with a bundle of toys is ideal to have, so you don’t need to research and look for an appropriate toy for your newborn.
Toys that are safe and can easily be attached and removed from the arch are also great to have.
And it goes without saying that it should be stimulating and entertaining enough for your baby’s development.
A baby gym that can easily be wiped is more convenient to have, with toys that can also be spot cleaned or better yet, can be chucked in the washing machine for cleaning.
A baby play gym with an adjustable arc that’s portable and can be stored and carried on vacations and traveling is great to have.
One that can also be used even after your baby has outgrown it, is ideal to have. Some can be used as a tent for toddlers, while others are just completely useless or uninteresting for older kids.
When Should Your Baby Start Using an Activity Gym?
Some would say starting at 4 months when your child is starting to roll.
But you can already let your newborn use it. As they already can do tummy time when they come home from the hospital.
Having it earlier will also give you a bang for your buck, as your baby can use it longer.
Some parents even said their babies have used their wooden activity gyms even at 2 years old! They don’t necessarily lie down under it anymore though. They just play with it in a different way. Like using it for pretend play, like a tent, etc.
How Do You Use a Baby Play Gym?
You can follow the instructions that come with it but generally, you just prep it first by having a playmat underneath the arch (better if the play gym comes with a playmat).
Then put your baby on the mat and let them look at the dangling objects initially.
Let them settle in and once your baby is comfortable and familiar with it, you can start changing the hanging toys.
You can also add new toys, prop up more books or mirrors or other items, to keep the baby play gym fun and stimulating for your little one.
When Do Babies Outgrow Activity Gyms?
This is actually a common concern amongst parents, as some wooden baby gyms don’t come cheap.
So it’ll be quite a waste if your baby can only use it for a couple of months and gets bored and tired of it.
But how long can babies use a play gym will depend on a lot of factors.
It’s subjective and can depend on your baby’s temperament and personality, size and age, as well as your effort, and creativity in making the play gym more stimulating for a more challenging baby.
Some parents said they were able to use it until their kid was 2 years old.
Others said their babies seemed to get bored with it within just a few months.
While some said both their 1 year old and 4 year old use it together.
Size-wise, baby gyms can only accommodate younger babies or up to 1 year old.
Other parents however have managed to prolong the use of the baby play gyms by turning them into a tent or fort, including them in their kids pretend play, and whatnot.
So it really depends.
FAQ on Baby Gyms
Are baby play gyms necessary?
No, they’re not. Baby gyms or activity gyms are not like newborn essentials.
Your baby can thrive and still meet their developmental milestones without it.
However, they can make parenting life so much easier.
Especially if you’re a new parent with no helper or close relative or friend nearby, to take care of your baby.
So you don’t need to hold your baby, especially if they’re super clingy!
A baby gym can give you some time to free your hands, long enough to do some house chores or work when needed.
How much are baby gyms?
Are activity gyms good for babies?
Yes, they are! They offer a lot of opportunities for playing and learning that can help your babies reach their developmental milestones.
They can also help prevent flat head, encourage independent play, boost cognitive development, and more.
Is there an alternative to baby gyms?
Yes, there is! Just get your baby’s playmat, and prop up some books and toys in front of them, to encourage tummy time.
You can also print some family pictures and simple black and white images and prop them up. Or get a mirror and make it stand in front of your baby.
Those items are enough to turn into a makeshift baby gym.
Can a baby sleep on a play gym?
Yes, as long as safe sleep guidelines are followed. But it’s best to let your baby get used to sleeping in their crib, so they won’t get into the habit of sleeping on their play gym.
Are wooden baby gyms safe?
Yes, they are! They are probably the safest type of baby gym, as most if not all, the materials used for making a wooden baby gym are non-toxic and safe for your baby.
Helpful Tips on Buying and Using Baby Play Gyms
- Buy second hand
If you’re not too OC, you can buy heirloom, quality used toys or the whole play gym bundle/ package at a much lower price on the Facebook marketplace or other websites or platforms that sell used baby gear.
- Ask friends and relatives
Maybe you have a co-worker or cousin who has one and hasn’t used it for years, because their kids have outgrown it.
Ask around. You can also just post on your social media account and directly ask if anyone’s giving away their play gym.
I bet there are some parents who are decluttering and want to get rid of used baby items in the most convenient manner.
So go ahead and ask, the worst thing that can happen is you won’t get any answer and that’s okay.
- Assemble one yourself
If you or your spouse is quite handy with tools and whatnot, just DIY it!
There’s a lot of resources online where you can learn how to make your very own baby play gym.
- Consider your pet
Always factor in your fur babies when purchasing baby items. Especially items that they can easily reach.
Some pets are well-mannered enough to leave alone any baby toys or items.
While others can get a little too excited seeing a play gym and might want to have the toys themselves.
- Place and Budget
Consider if you have enough space for a large play gym and if you have the budget for it.
Think about where to place it.
Is there enough space in the baby’s bedroom? Or would you be taking it out often in the living room?
Can you leave it out in the common area with your pets?
Are you okay with your older kids playing with it, just in case, or is it better if you just keep it in the baby’s room?
So Are Baby Gyms Worth It?
Yes, baby gyms are 100% worth it.
Especially if you can get them early on when your baby can’t even roll and turn yet. So they can use it longer.
Your little ones can get so many benefits out of it, physically and developmentally speaking.
Plus, you don’t need to always entertain them, as they can amuse themselves playing with all sorts of items and toys in the activity gym!
High-quality heirloom baby gyms can also last longer and can be passed on or sold at a decent price, making them value for money.
Check out some non-toxic baby gyms here if you’re interested.