While there are hundreds of suitable playmats available online, I would recommend trying out the Magic Stargaze playmat by Mamas & Papas. Not only is it the most attractive looking baby mat I’ve seen, but it is also very engaging–keeping my baby active, entertained and happy.
I know it’s pricey. That was my main hang-up when I purchased it for my little one. Also at the time it wasn’t available on Amazon or many other websites I would generally use to find decent reviews, so I had very little information to go on. The store I ended up purchasing it from has a great return policy–I could return the product within 30 days if I had any problem with the product (even if I just didn’t like it).
The first thing I noticed after taking it out of the box and assembling the pieces, which took about 20 minutes with no instruction manual, was how great the materials are. The mat itself has squeakers, ribbons, mirrors, and crinkle paper sewn in. The colors are great. I was a little worried when I saw all the purple, but together I think it looks very gender-neutral. The mat also comes with a very plush tummy-time pillow, hanging mirror, and four toys that can be attached to the mat or the bars.
Installing the batteries was a little difficult. You need to use a coin or wide flat-head screwdriver to get the battery compartment open. Once you figure it out, you’re good to go. You will need 3 AA batteries as they are not included. I used rechargeable batteries, which worked great. I was very happy to discover the music has 4 different tunes you can choose from, as well as an MP3 jack to play your own music. The speakers were surprisingly good for a baby toy, too. I didn’t really use the MP3 capability as I enjoyed the music that came with the mat. Additionally, there are cartridges you can purchase separately with different sounds. All cartridges can also be used with other Mamas & Papas Magic products. I don’t own any of the other products, so I can’t rate that function, but it seems like a great bonus.
I purchased the mat when my baby was about 3 months old. I turned on the music and lights and placed my baby underneath. He immediately began kicking the foot-plate and smiling up at the “stars.” If I were to rate this product on baby-enjoyment alone, it would definitely get 5 stars. My baby loves his playmat. He spent several 15-minute intervals per day on his mat kicking away at the plate and hanging attachments making the “stars” light up.
The first real negative I discovered about this product is that it is “spot-clean only.” Yuck. My baby spat-up on his mat several times a day and after several spot-cleaning attempts, I decided to throw it in the washing machine on a cold, gentle cycle and then hung it up to dry. It came out of the washing machine looking brand-new as far as the colors, ribbons, and squeakers were concerned. However, the crinkle paper moved and got bunched up around the outside, and the mirror got some water behind the surface that I couldn’t get out. I would definitely recommend spot-cleaning, but if you have a spit-up covered mat like mine, I would maybe try hand-washing it in the tub to preserve the crinkle paper and mirror.
The second con I discovered is that there are 3 hanging attachments for your baby to kick at. Unfortunately, the third one (orange) was too far away for my baby to kick and too high for him to swat with his hands, so he could only really hit the first two. I also tried turning my baby so his head was under the hanging attachments so he could hit them with his hands, but then again the first one was too close to his head so he couldn’t really see it to hit it and the third was still too high and far away. Until my baby was about 5.5 months old he really couldn’t hit all of the attachments.
And then came my third negative. Once my little one turned 5.5 months old, he was rolling all over the place and wouldn’t stay still long enough to play with the mat. I ended up taking the canopy off and just letting him use the mat to roll around on and grab at the ribbons and squeakers. By 6 months he was too mobile to even keep the mat out.
So, with that in mind, I would still highly recommend this mat. It really engaged my baby and got him moving and kicking and possibly helped him start rolling and crawling a little early. He enjoyed tummy-time on the included pillow and exploring the colorful mat. It looks great and held up well, even after the washing machine, twice. And the music never started driving me crazy, in fact it may have been a little calming. My one recommendation would be to purchase it sooner, rather than later, so you can get more use out of it before your baby just wants to crawl around the house. Again, I do think the price is a bit high, but I do plan on using it for any future children I might have. The quality is excellent and should last several babies.