Baby Play: Play Mats

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

In most of my baby play posts, I talk about items that are easy and relatively cheap to replicate, often with items found around the house or at Dollar Tree. I love using play items like cereal boxes and straws and taped toys because they provide parents with ideas that they can easily recreate on their own and remind everyone that baby toys don’t have to be super expensive.

However, if a library has the budget, it can also be nice to provide some of those more expensive play items. For more affluent parents, you are providing them an opportunity to test out some baby items before making the decision to purchase something. For those families with less funds, you are giving their little ones an opportunity to interact with a type of toy they may not be able to experience at home.

Play mats and soft climbing and building blocks are perfect examples of more pricey baby play equipment that may not be ideal for many homes. In addition to being expensive, these take up a lot of room (storage is a definite consideration for a library as well).

Due to the size of these items, babies interact with these tools differently than they do with many of the make-at-home play ideas. Those make-at-home activities almost always focus on fine-motor skills and sensory exploration; play mats and equipment help develop large gross motor skills, for crawlers, wobblers, and walkers.

Recommended Play Mats to Purchase

Play mats and equipment are not cheap–a good collection could cost your library $200+. However, for our library, these items have become a staple in all of our baby storytimes. The mats and climbing cubes are used 2-4 times a week, with at least 10-15 babies interacting with the equipment per storytime play session. Since purchasing our set late last year, these tools have been used in at least 100 programs, including weekly storytimes, preschool and school-age programs (as parts of obstacle courses), and special baby and toddler programming.

IKEA PLUFSIG Folding gym mat

PLUFSIG Folding gym mat, green, 30 3/4×72 7/8 “ – $34.99

My coworker found these fantastic folding gym mats at IKEA. They fold up to a reasonable size (18″ W x 31″ L x 5″ D), allowing us to stack them on top of each other in our storytime cupboards. We wipe them clean each week.

BestMassage Gymnastics Mat Gym Mat Tumbling Mat 4 Pannel Foldding Gymnastic Tumbling Mat – $78.99

If you aren’t near an IKEA or are looking for something a little bigger, these mats may work for you. Keep in mind that they are larger (they fold to 24″ W x 48″ L x 8″ D), and they cost twice as much per mat as the IKEA mats.

They are thicker mats, providing more support on hard floors. They will cover a larger area. They can also be wiped clean.

ECR4Kids SoftZone Foam Big Building Blocks – $79.99

We currently own one set of these foam building blocks. These are great for baby play, as older babies are able to stack the blocks into towers (that aren’t too heavy when they inevitably fall onto another baby), and younger babies are able to crawl onto these and sometimes pull themselves into a sitting or standing position using the blocks.

Just like the mats, these wipe clean easily.

Milliard Soft Foam Toddler Stairs and Ramp Climber Gym Toy – $72.99

The exact ramp and stair set that we currently use isn’t available, but this set is very similar and would be a great addition to a set of soft climbing equipment. Our ramp and stair set is much more popular than the building blocks, as babies immediately see the stairs as a crawling or walking challenge. Our ramp has often turned into the setting of various science experiments with babies rolling balls and wheeled vehicles down its smooth surface.

Based on the description, this set also has a bottom strip that allows you to connect the stairs to the ramp. Our set does not have that option, and we have always used them as two pieces (though often positioned them like in the above picture).

These can also be wiped clean.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What can you build with the blocks?
  • Can you walk up the steps?
  • How far can you throw the block?
  • Can you stand on top of the ramp?
  • How fast can you make a tower?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:


In Front


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