How to hack a baby’s activity playmat

Thanks to Stef from for this guest post.

While an activity gym can be a great choice for unrestricted play, some can overwhelm babies of certain ages. How do you make one of these playmats work for your baby, plus get more bang for your buck as they grow?

Today we’ve got two activity gym hacks from Stef the Nanny of She transforms two popular baby playmats and makes them work harder from newborn to crawler.

Skip Hop Activity Gym (The one pictured is Alphabet Zoo but you can also do this with any playmat that has a removable cloth base that is machine washable like the Tiny Love Gymini.)

Newborns who cannot yet sit up. These babies need less, not more stimulation. Too much action can make them cranky and unable to focus. By eliminating the twenty toys and do-dads that come with typical activity gyms and shutting off the music you can create a zone of calm where they can focus on one toy at a time, therefore extending their attention span (aka learning to *play* on their own).

  1. Detach the bottom mat of your gym from the cross bars.
  2. Remove any toys that are snapped or stuck on the mat with hook and loop.
  3. Flip it over so the blank underside is showing and reattach it to the cross bars.
  4. Take off all the toys that hang off the cross bars normally.
  5. Add the one toy with a mirror OR a string of plastic links instead.
  6. Place a book or mirror to the side of your baby to look at when they turn their head or when they are on their belly.

Babies that can roll and sit: Now they are more ready for all the toys that come with the activity gym as well as the music it may play.

“Cause and Effect” is one of the most effective ways they learn so placing a burp cloth or favorite security blanket over the cross bars for them to pull down will be a big favorite.

Now you can use the playmat the way it was designed to be used and add on a few of the included toys. I still wouldn’t offer all the toys that come with the gym; there are just too many and babies are content to play with one or two toys if that’s what’s available. If they get used to having a barrage of entertainment they will need it more and more, and become less reliant on their natural ability to play independently.

IKEA Activity Gym aka LEKA

This gym does not come with it’s own playmat. It is pictured above with my own rug.

Newborns who cannot yet sit up: Remember these babies do not need so much stimulation but love to feel enclosed and safe. The IKEA gym has toys that do not hang as low as other gyms which makes them harder to reach for younger babies. Adding a Boppy helps them to reach the toys and adds a feeling a enclosure and safety.

Once they have control of their neck muscles and before they can roll over, place your gym on its side and remove the hanging toys. You can use it to prop up books or a small safety mirror even. The feet of the activity gym on either side will provide the feeling of enclosure that young babies need, making the world around them more manageable.

Stef Tousignant believes we are all caretakers of the human race. She has been caring for children for more than 16 years, is the daughter of an educator, and the oldest of five children. She lives in San Francisco, CA where she loves to draw, tinker, and explore under rocks with her two children in sunshine and in the fog! Join Stef and change the world in just one generation – join the human caretaker revolution today at

Related affiliate link: Baby Playmats on Amazon at a variety of price points

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