10 Most Unique and Best Baby Activity Centers
It’s no secret that babies grow fast! As mothers, we love to hold and cuddle our little ones but sometimes we need to put them down for a few minutes. I’ve compiled a list of the best baby activity centers. When you need to put your little one down for a few minutes, baby activity centers are a huge lifesaver! They keep the baby entertained while you do things that need to be done, like take a shower, do laundry, or fix supper.
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What is a Baby Activity Center?
A baby activity center is simply a toy or device that keeps your baby contained within a safe space and entertained while you do other things around the house. They vary in price range and age range. The best baby activity centers for babies that are 3 months and younger are mostly activity mats. Your baby will quickly outgrow even the best baby activity mat. For older babies, the best baby activity centers usually take the form of a walker, a jumperoo, or an exersaucer. Because babies grow so quickly, I have tried to include baby activity centers that grow with your baby.
How Many Baby Activity Centers Do I Need?
The best answer that I can give you is at least one per baby that you have at a time. If you have twins, then you probably already know you need a double dose of everything! For most parents, I would say just one, especially if you invest in one that grows with your baby. For myself, I had a baby activity mat, and another type when they were older.
What Is The Difference Between a Baby Activity Center and Other Toys?
The biggest difference that comes to my mind with a baby activity center is containment. This may not be much of an issue if your little one is not mobile yet, but they will be! Once babies are on the move, a whole new world to explore awaits them. They want to touch, explore, see, hear, and taste everything! The curiosity they display can be absolutely mesmerizing to watch. They get joy out of the simplest things that you and I take for granted. It comes with a down-side, though… they get into everything! The best baby activity centers help keep your little one contained, entertained, and most of all safe, while you are showering, cooking supper, or taking a phone call.
What Are the Benefits of a Baby Activity Center?
The short answer is that the best baby activity centers allow you to get things done. They also help to develop gross motor skills with big movements, as well as small motor skills by reaching and grasping for objects. Many also have lights, sounds, and mirrors to both entertain baby and aid in brain development.
What Are the Differences in the Types of Baby Activity Centers?
I have baby activity centers divided up into 3 categories: Best baby play mats, best baby activity center walkers, best exersaucer, and best baby activity center jumparoos.
Best Baby Play Mats
The best baby play mats are mostly for babies that are between 0-3 months and are not mobile yet. They are great for tummy time activities and brain development. Most will encourage your baby to reach for a dangling toy, which is a developmental skill. Some also have sounds and lights to keep your baby amused and a few will have things for your baby to kick. (Which my babies found highly entertaining!)
Best Baby Activity Center Walkers
The best baby activity center walkers feature a seat on wheels for your little one, usually with a tray of toys in front of them. They are designed to work on carpet or hard floors, like hardwood, laminate, or tile. Many of the complaints about walkers stem around not being very easy to move on carpet. Sadly, that is nearly a universal complaint. Nice plush, fluffy carpets, and wheels just do not make a good mix, no matter how good the walker is.
As the name suggests, the best baby walkers encourage your little one to walk and develop leg muscles. The tray can also be used for snacks. Most of the time, the toys swivel out of the way to allow you to put tasty treats out for your little one. They allow your baby to still be contained, but to have more freedom to explore the house. One word of caution, if you have stairs, be sure that they have a baby gate in front of them! Even the best baby activity center walkers are dangerous around stairs.
Exersaucer seems a funny name, doesn’t it? It literally is an exercise saucer. Exersaucers are close cousins of the activity center walkers but without the mobility. There may be times (for example, if you are showering!) that you do not want your baby walking around the house in an activity center walker. You may want to keep your baby more contained, and an exersaucer is a great way to do that. They have a padded seat that usually rotates 360 degrees so they can access the built-in toys all around. Usually, exersaucers feature a lot of music and lights. The major drawback to an exersaucer is its size. Out of all the baby activity centers, the exersaucers and the jumparoos will be the biggest.
Best Baby Activity Center Jumparoo
A jumparoo is a hybrid cross between the jump toys that attach to a doorframe and an activity center. A jumparoo usually stands on its own legs, so it does not need a doorway. It has toys around it and is a seat suspended on covered springs that attach to a main frame. They are typically very stable and feature the usual sound and light toys that other baby activity centers have. Instead of walking, the baby sits with their feet barely touching the floor and can bounce up and down.
Without Further, Ado, My Top 10 Most Unique and Best Baby Activity Centers!
Best Play Mats:
- Multifunctional as a play mat and cart cover, and high chair cover
- Stars: 4.4 (66% 5 star reviews)
- 4 removable toys
- Machine washable
- Spot for Mom’s smartphone
- Safety harness for cart cover and high chair that is covered when used as a play mat
- No batteries required and can be rolled up for storage
- The activity mat part does not have the overhead bar that most include for encouraging reaching and grasping.
- One of the reviewers said that it did not fit Target shopping carts well, and it was a bit hard to put on other carts because it was a bit stiff.
My Personal Note: With my first baby, I used a cart cover quite a bit. I found this baby activity mat unique because of its versatility since it serves not only as a cart and high chair cover but also a baby play mat. It rolls up very small for easy storage and it also gives you a safe, secure place to put your smartphone while still letting your little one watch it. Sesame Street podcasts anyone?
- Comes in gender neutral and pink
- Stars: 5 (88% 5 star reviews!)
- Has kick toy to increase baby interaction
- Learning content changes to meet baby’s current stage
- Detachable keyboard
- 5 repositionable toys hang down, including mirror, rattle, teether, crinkle toy, and monkey cymbal
- Sounds and lights
- 4 AA batteries required (included)
- The ONLY negative thing that I could find on the reviews was one person said they wished it were a little bit wider to accommodate rolling over.
My Personal Note: I absolutely LOVE the piano that comes with this one that the baby can kick. Often, when they are very tiny, they cannot successfully reach out and grasp objects, which leads to frustration, BUT they can kick! When the baby kicks an object and it makes a sound, it encourages them to kick more. Kicking builds up leg muscles and keeps them entertained for longer periods of time. The keyboard detaches as well, so they can still play with it when they are older. This is my pick for the best baby play mat.
- Multi-functional as play mat, excersaucer, and play table
- Appropriate for ages 0-24months
- Machine washable seat pad and playmat
- Seat turns 360 degrees
- Rocks, spins, and bounces
- Different height adjustments
- Stars: 4.3 (62% 5 star rating)
- 11 age appropriate toys
- Weight capacity: 26 lbs
- 9AAA batteries required, but not included
- From reading the reviews, it is a beast to put together, they suggested watching the youtube video for assembly
- Some of the reviewers also reported the activity table being a bit unstable and flimsy
- Some of the toys are easily removed
- Does not bounce well
My Personal Note: 9 AAA batteries seems like a lot of batteries to me, and makes me wonder if it eats them for breakfast like Wheaties. Still, I liked that it was multi-functional and was rated for the 0-24 months. I think it’s pretty cool that it goes from play mat, to excersaucer, to play table. 2 years is a long time for a baby toy. I liked the different height adjustments and the fact that it does fold for easier storage and transport. To me, one of the major drawbacks of most exersaucers is that they are so large, and this one solves that issue by folding.
- Multi-functional as playmat and excersaucer
- Stars: 4.2 stars (62% 5 star)
- Appropriate for ages 0-12 months
- Different height adjustments
- Colorful light show with sound has a quiet mode
- Seat rotates 360 degrees
- Comes in green and blue
- The seat is not as padded as some of the others
- Some reports of music becoming non-functional after a few months
My Personal Note: Again, I like this one because it has a play mat and an exersaucer. I also liked that it comes in different colors and the height adjustments. In the review that said the music was no longer functional. I wonder if they might have accidentally triggered the quiet mode? I like the fact that it had a quiet mode because there are some times that you do not want to hear the same music again over and over, or that you need to concentrate on something. So many baby toys have music that it gets distracting, yet you still need something to keep the baby entertained, so the lights continue to work in quiet mode.
- Stars: 4.2 (62% 5 star reviews)
- Playmat and saucer
- Grows with baby
- Can plug in smart device
- Wipe clean playmats; removable washable seat
- Lights and sound
- Seat rotates 360 degrees
- Max weight: 24.2lbs
- Not a jumper
- Critical reviews feature not enough padding in the seat and the mat being a bit flimsy.
My Personal Note: For the most part, I love Baby Einstein stuff. I find the music is less annoying, as it tends to be classical music, and I have had good luck with their products keeping younger babies engaged for longer.
We called this one, “The Orbit”.
- Unique design. Baby walks around table
- Stars: 4.5 (80% 5 star review)
- Sitting to standing walker
- Lets baby walk, while still keeping them contained
- Max weight 25 lbs
- Seat can be removed when baby outgrows it
- Good for sibling play!
- 3 C batteries required
- 15 different activities
- Rated for 6-36 months
- Some reports of not having all the screws for assembly when it arrived
My Personal Note: This unique activity center intrigues me! It is unlike the traditional walker in that the baby can only walk in a circle around the table. I would guess that it would be great for sibling play as well, where baby can be on one side and the sibling on the other. I also liked that you can detach the seat when the baby outgrows it and it turns it into a baby activity center table.
- Stars: 4.2 (68% 5 star reviews)
- Has bar behind it so that baby can use it as a push toy
- Machine washable seat
- Folds down for easy storage
- Multiple height adjustments
- Removable music tray that plays classical music
- Removable Toy station
- 2AA batteries not included
- Different toys and theme than any other walker.
- Some reports of it not rolling well on carpet. (I think that will be the same for all the walkers. Wheels and soft fluffy carpet just don’t work well together.)
My Personal Note: I love the theme of the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” and the fact that it has a push bar on the back of it. I thought that made it unique! Baby can still use it as a push toy to increase their confidence while walking.
- Stars: 4.3 (62% 5 star reviews)
- 2 removable, swing open activity trays
- 4 Disney themed toys
- Folds quickly and compactly
- Machine washable seat padding
- 3 height adjustments
- Sounds and lights
- Batteries not required
- Weight limit: 30 lbs
- Reports of it not rolling well on carpet. (I think that will be the same for all the walkers. Wheels and soft fluffy carpet just don’t work well together.)
- Most of the complaints in the critical reviews were for it either not coming with the correct parts or being hard to assemble.
My Personal Note: This is an adorable walker! I like the Disney theme and the pink color. I also like that the activity tray swivels out to reveal a snack tray underneath. It was my daughter’s first walker and brings back so many memories!!
- Stars: 4.8 (83% 5 star)
- Baby jumping activates sound and lights
- Machine washable pad
- Folds for storage
- 3 AA batteries required
- 360 degree Rotating seat
- 25 lb weight limit
- *My Pick for Jumparoos*
- Takes up a lot of floor space
My Personal Note: If you add the 4 and 5 star reviews together, it’s 94%! It’s tough to find a bad review on it unless you are specifically searching for one. This looks amazing! If I was buying a jumparoo, this one would be my personal pick!
- Stars: 4.4 (67% 5 star reviews)
- Seat rotates 360 degrees
- 5 height settings
- 3 activity stations and 12 activities
- Extra loops for hanging favorite toys
- 3 AA batteries required, not included
- Weight recommendation: 15-25lbs
- Lights and sounds
- Multiple languages
- One spot where baby’s arm can get stuck between the toys
- Have to partially disassemble it to fold it for storage
My Personal Note: I like that this one has classical music, and it’s the only one I found with multiple languages. I also like that there are 5 height settings so that it can grow with your baby. This also allows it to be more specifically adjusted to fit each baby better.
50+ Activities to Keep Baby Busy Without an Activity Center
Even though we have reviewed the 10 most unique and best baby activity centers, you may not have one on demand or even want one! Never fear, there are plenty of ways to keep your baby busy even without an activity center! As always with babies, these activities need to be supervised by an adult.
Baby activities for: 0-3 Months
At 0-3 months babies are still trying to make sense of the world. They are developing their vision and neck muscles. This phase is sometimes referred to as “the 4th trimester” Babies are learning so rapidly, they sleep a lot to help them process all the new information.
- Sensory bags
- Listen to music
- Tie balloons on a string to an overhead fan and put the fan on low speed
- Open a book in front of them
- Kick at a tissue or waxed paper
- Imitate baby and/or make different facial expressions and watch them try to copy you!
- Read to them
- Baby safe mirror
- Blow bubbles and let them watch
Baby activities for: 3-6 Months
At 3 months, your baby starts interacting with the world. They start to coo and express vocalizations, as well as reach for things. This is also a great time to start building muscles involved in sitting. Another new thing that happens around 4-6 months is baby is introduced to solid foods for the first time. Everything starts going in the mouth! This is a very fun age, because this is the very start of their mobility. Babies usually start rolling over at about 4 months old.
- Playing with a helium balloon (they get the string to pull on and watch the balloon move, you make sure the balloon does not get taste tested.)
- Any sort of grasping activity
- Put an ice cube in a washcloth, secured with a rubber band. Instant teether!
- Toys that make noise or are reactive
- Sit in a boppy pillow or bumbo seat
- Baby pull-ups. (Pull baby to a standing position)
- Ball play (with balls too big to swallow, of course)
- Large blocks
- Fill a kleenex box with fabrics of different textures. Let them pull them out!
- Put some cotton balls in a shallow pan of water and let them play. (Just have a towel down underneath!)
- Baby massage (We do this every thing! My girls still love it at 2.5 and 4 years old!)
- Give them a wooden spoon and let them bang on a metal bowl
- “Conversations” Baby should be really cooing and babbling now! They love it when someone talks with them!
Baby activities for: 6-9 Months
Discovery is the name of the game here! Your baby should really start developing some mobility. He/she should start learning to crawl around this time and start pulling up and/or cruising!
- Dry potato flakes in a sensory bin
- Add water to potato flakes and make a soft moldable “dough”
- Baby bubble wrap art
- Look through a family photo album together and identify everyone. “There’s Mommy!” etc
- Block stacking with large soft blocks. (These are also MUCH easier on the feet at 2 am when they are left scattered on the floor than their small hard counterparts, plus they are easier for baby to handle.)
- Peek-A-Boo with a mirror
- Read nursery rhymes
- Hand puppets
- Clap together in different patterns
Baby activities for: 9-12 Months
Babies are on the move at this stage! In some shape, form, or fashion, your little one is probably mobile by now! He/She may be saying a few words at this point as well! While this is delightful, it brings new challenges with it as well.
- Sit in a laundry basket with a few items of clean laundry. My little one could have sat in there and thrown socks out for 30 minutes.
- Cardboard box play – similar to the laundry basket, but the cardboard box can be colored on, or you can make cut-outs.
- Designated safe kitchen cabinet. I kept my plastic containers in a low cabinet, as well as mixing bowls. My little ones loved exploring it while I was cooking dinner.
- ABC “Soup” I threw a few ABC magnets into the metal bowl once and handed the baby a wooden spoon. It was not quiet, but it was fascinating!
- Large magnets. Again, make sure these are not so small they can be swallowed, but they are quite amusing!
- Ride-on toys
- Push toys
- Sticky ball. Wrap tape tightly around a ball sticky side out. Watch them pass it back and forth between hands.
- Grouped items in a container. Babies love pulling things out of containers. You could do toys of the same color, items of the same shape, etc.
- Simple puzzles with big knobs on the pieces
- Stacking and nesting toys
- “Chase” crawling/walking after baby around the house. Be prepared for squeals of delight and giggles!
- Ride on a baby blanket. Pull him/her around the house on a baby blanket. (Or have an older sibling do it gently)
You’re doing a great job!
Keeping baby busy is not for the faint of heart! The task stretches your creativity and sometimes your sanity. To help you, I have compiled a list of the best and most unique baby activity centers. Baby activity centers include baby activity mats, exersaucers, baby activity walkers, and baby activity jumparoos. Even if you do not have a baby activity center of any kind, there are still tons of things that you can do to keep your little one happy and entertained.
Hang in there, Momma! You’re doing a great job!