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Carley Roney

Professional Baby Expert

Best Baby Activity Centers & Best Baby Play Centers

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When it comes to baby play gear, there seem to be two main functions to look out for: entertainment and smarts. In other words, you want to make a space where baby has fun and learns something while you can focus on dinner or some adult conversation for a sec. There are about a billion options for baby play places, so really pay attention to what each offers before you splurge. I’ve rounded up the best activity centers, play yards, and infant gyms out there in terms of form, function, and features.

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Choose the best baby activity centers with the help of our expert advice on the ones that are safe, educational, and of course, fun. The best baby play centers give you time while your infant plays and learns how to navigate the toys.

Best Infant Activity Centers by Carley Roney

The Best You Can Get

  • Shangrila Activity Mat with Portico Toy Arch

    Carley says: The Shangrila Mat gets extra points for cool colors and reversibility - just flip it over and you’ve got a whole new play-space. One side is extra-soft and fuzzy with bright colors, and the other has a wacky black and white motif (great for visual stimulation). The floor toys vary enough to keep things interesting, and the arch, which helps hold the mat down flat, has a few dangling clips for attaching toys from above as well. (You’ll have to buy hanging toys separately.)

    • Reversible mat
    • Interchangeable floor toys
    • Easy to assemble and store
    • Removable toy arch
    • Uber-plush
  • Friendly Toys Little Playzone with Sounds and Lights

    Carley says: This super-popular play yard is less of a cage or bed than other options and is more of a little enclosed playground. It has a nontoxic, smooth surface, which makes it great for contained play outside (it’s pretty convenient that it wipes clean too). There’s a fun activity wall to keep baby engaged, and it’s big enough to fit in other goodies. To stretch the space farther (say, to give more room for two kids or to fit a parent in at playtime), there’s an extension kit sold separately. Or, to double the fun, lots of moms purchase two of these suckers and hook them together.

    • Indoor/outdoor
    • 13 sq. ft. play area
    • Safety lock
    • Wipes clean
    • Activity wall
  • Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard in Bugs Quilt

    Carley says: The Pack ‘n Play has been a favorite for infant travel, showing up on shower registries everywhere. It’s easy to pop up and take down, so baby has a little entertainment center/bed wherever you go. The roominess and mesh walls keep baby contained (but not trapped), and it’s big enough that other activity toys will fit inside.

    • Mesh walls
    • Thick padding
    • Stable frame
    • Super-roomy
    • Fun toys on walls
  • Evenflo SmartSteps ExerSaucer Entertainer

    Carley says: Evenflo pretty much set the standard for stationary activity centers, and this one is their best seller. The name “Entertainer” pretty much says it all: There are over fifty sounds and eighteen activities, along with a spinning seat, spring-loaded legs, and a rocking base. The ExerSaucer will never be accused of being stylish (the colors are pretty loud), but it does provide a great educational outlet for baby - giving you a few hands-free minutes. Hallelujah!

    • Swivel seat
    • 3-position height adjustable
    • Folds for storage or travel
    • Max. baby height: 30 inches
  • Baby Einstein Discover and Play Activity Center

    Carley says: This activity center gives baby a ton of options in terms of playthings, and everything is easily accessible due to the cushy swiveling seat. Babies really seem to dig the variety of cool - AND educational - toys that cover pretty much all of the bases: textures, shapes, animals, colors, language, bored babies here.

    • Rocking swivel seat
    • Height-adjustable
    • 9 developmental toys
    • Stable base

You will be happy with any of these

  • Bright Starts Around We Go! Activity Station

    Carley says: While more activity centers surround baby with toys on all sides, this one is reversed. All of the toys are in the middle, and baby’s seat rotates around the edges of the “station,” offering easy access to a ton of toys. You can lock the seat at the snack tray or piano, and the whole seat comes off to turn the station into a toddler toy. It does take up a lot of space, but if you have the room, it’s a winner.

    • Over 20 toys and activities
    • Removable seat
    • Dishwasher-safe snack tray
    • Lets baby “walk”
  • Combi Jazz Play Yard Deluxe

    Carley says: Face it: Combi is just plain cute. They really win out with their cool colors and fresh designs. This play yard doesn’t give you as much room or portability as the Pack ‘n Play, but it does have changing table and bassinet attachments, as well as cool music and vibration features. The bassinet has a big canopy with dangling toys, and the unit has built-in wheels on one side for easy scooting.

    • Lightweight
    • Built-in wheels
    • Bassinet included
    • Built-in changing table
    • Music and vibration
  • Bright Starts Baby’s PlayPlace

    Carley says: The PlayPlace’s soft walls are nice for keeping baby gently contained once kicking and rolling begin, and the cocoon-like environment makes it great for naps. There are seven cute toys and multiple songs and sounds to keep baby engaged, and you can adjust its shape to suit your little one’s size.

    • Reconfigurable walls
    • Parent-activated lights and melodies
    • Open end for easy diaper changes
    • Tons of activities and toy loops
  • Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe - Lights and Music

    Carley says: This baby gym is jam-packed with all the bells and whistles. There’s music, lights, mirrors, rattles, pull toys, a teether, multiple textures, hanging toys... the whole shebang. Everything is arranged according to baby’s developmental stages, so the idea is that baby will use the gym to improve skills AND give you a few minutes of quality time with your new novel. Will this mat actually make baby smarter or stronger? Who knows? But it sure is fun.

    • Mozart and nursery tunes
    • Baby-activated lights and sounds
    • Lots of developmental toys
    • Textures for tactile stimulation
  • Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Kick and Crawl Aquarium

    Carley says: By far the least costly item on this list, this Fisher-Price gym is simple and sweet, but it really does the trick. Babies love the beach ball action (they can kick it or bat at it with their hands), and the dangling ocean-themed toys are a big hit too. Even better, the play mat easily converts into a mesh tunnel complete with a peek-a-boo porthole - perfect for baby’s crawling stages. (Who doesn’t love a tunnel?)

    • Toy bars with detachable toys
    • Mirror
    • Converts to tunnel
    • Beach ball for kicking

Related Articles

The best baby activity centers keep baby safely playing while you're cooking dinner or relaxing for a moment. These best baby play centers also should provide some educational fun that helps them learn and build their coordination. With these best infant gyms, you're sure to get everything done and not feel guilty for letting your infant play alone.