We're Loving: The City Gym Play Mat

The search for the best play mat/play gym is over. I can close all the tabs and mark this project done. And the chosen one is: The City Gym from Oops!

I'd been looking at a few of the usual brands and had almost gotten a play mat by Tiny Love (another brand we like) when we found this one at The SM Store (It's also available at SM's Baby Company—Oops is exclusively distributed by SM). I've been eyeing this Swiss brand since I first featured some of their products in a New Mom Must-Haves feature for Smart Parenting magazine in 2013. I love how their designs are modern and design-y, while still being fun. The colors are bright but not neon and not limited to the primaries or the rainbow.  Call me selfish, but I like my baby gear to be pleasing to my eyes, too. Not that the other play mats weren't also adorable (Skip Hop and Infantino also have great designs). Every mom has her own preference. But the City Gym had the features that were in my must-have list. 

My Perfect Play Mat Checklist

1. A versatile play mat
Top priority for me was for the play mat to be engaging enough on its own, even without the overhead toy bars attached. Because we like to travel as a family, I wanted a mat that could be folded into a portable size. I'd considered buying a play mat that didn't come with an overhead bar, thinking I could get a play gym separately (like the lovely wooden one from Ikea), but the added expense and hassle gave me second thoughts. I love that the City Gym's mat is independently interactive. The play mat itself has different areas that J can interact with as he grows such as a crinkly dog ear, a squeezable car that glides, and a turtle with a peek-a-boo mirror under its shell. These are attached to the mat itself, so even if Ate E takes apart the bars or steals borrows (or eventually loses) all the hanging toys, little J can still enjoy mat time. Note: The mat is supposedly machine-washable, but I'd probably have it hand-washed in case of spills to keep the mirrored areas from getting scratched.

Crinkle, crinkle, peek-a-boo!

2. A tummy time pillow
I'd considered buying a separate tummy time play mat with a pillow, or just a pillow, after I saw these interesting tummy time games on CanDo Kiddo. I'm so happy that the City Gym already comes with a pillow. Tried it out with one of the mirror areas on the playmat and J stayed on his tummy for a lot longer than usual without asking for a break.

Peek-a-boo! Oh, it's you again!

3. A mirrored toy or surface
Babies love faces, so mirror play was one of the activities I'd wanted J to be able to do on his play mat. The City Gym has not one, not two, but three mirrored activities: the large mirror we used for tummy time, the peek-a-boo turtle mirror I mentioned, and a hanging sun mirror. Lots of opportunities to catch a glimpse of his adorable face!

Who's that good-looking guy over there?

4. A sibling-friendly space
Seeing how obsessed E is with "her baby", I wanted a play mat they could share. This mat is just big enough for story time and a snuggle. 

5. Multiple toy loops for positioning options
One of the blog posts I read for research emphasized the importance of placing visual stimulation on both sides of the baby's head, not just right above. This motivates the baby to turn his head and helps minimize head flattening. Aside from the loops from which the three included toys are hanging, the bars also have extra looks lower down and to the side where you can add your own toys. 

6. The bonus: Batteries not needed!
The other play mats with their lights and sounds were definitely enticing, and two years ago when E was a baby, I would have gone for that. But we're trying a different, less stimulated playtime approach this time around. We often feel the need to entertain and excite babies to keep them happy and enhance their learning, but a few years ago I'd read something that changed my perspective and made me realize that everything is brand new for babies! Janet Lansbury writes:
Infants and toddlers, when allowed to explore without adult interference or interruption, are endlessly curious about details of life we have long ago stopped noticing: the corner of the wall molding, dust particles in the sunlight, ceiling fans...for an infant they are a buffet of different patterns, colors, sizes, and textures that make up a diverse world. 
Babies are so easy to overstimulate, which, it turns out, makes them retreat and shut down, the opposite of what we want. To quote Lansbury quoting Magda Gerber, "...entertaining kinds of toys...cause a passive child to watch an active toy." I like that the City Gym lets the colors and shapes and natural or baby-led movements and sounds stimulate the baby in a developmentally appropriate way. Plus, with all the electronic toys Ate E has accumulated, it's a relief to have one less set of batteries to recharge. (We're not quite 100% in our commitment to overhaul our playtime and ban electronics, but if you want to explore the idea, this is an interesting read).

Baby-powered, not battery-powered 
So, what about J? How did he like his new hangout spot? What do you think?