The best baby activity center
Baby activity centers are a lifesaver for the busy parent. They keep your baby safe and secure -- and endlessly entertained -- so that your hands are free to cook dinner or return those work emails. Some activity centers are adaptable, so when your baby enters toddler stage it will convert into a walker or play table.
There are a few different types of activity centers you should know about before making a purchase. Read this quick shopping guide for more info, including what exciting features your babe might enjoy. We've also included our top picks, like this exersaucer by Evenflo with an adjustable design for the different stages of your baby's development.
Considerations when choosing baby activity centers
Types of activity centers to consider
Stationary: Traditional activity centers for babies have a seat in the center of a frame for your baby to securely sit. While the seat is fabric-covered, your baby's feet are left hanging to the open floor. The frame surrounding your tot has toys within reach on one or all sides, and sometimes hanging above on a mobile. Some stationary centers have adjustable legs that can be heightened as your baby grows.
Exersaucer: This type of activity center is very similar in design to the stationary type above, but it includes attached flooring for your baby's feet to rest on.
Stationary jumper: The seats in the center of these activity centers are attached to springs, so your baby can safely bounce up and down while she plays. Some are designed for 360° rotation. They have toys (some include lights and music) to keep your baby stimulated just like with the other types. However, this type is pricier than the previous two.
Convertible: Activity centers that convert to keep apace of your child's development may have two or three uses: a mat play center for newborns, a play table for when your toddler can stand, and a walker for when she starts to walk. Some even convert into an art table for preschool-age children. Though they are the most expensive, convertible/adaptable activity centers extend the usage of your purchase by months or years.
Key features of activity centers
Toys: More toys are not necessarily better when it comes to activity centers. Well-designed and well-located toys can be better than quantity. The best centers allow you to change the positions of toys to keep your baby on her toes, so to speak.
Music and lights: Activity centers that play music are fun for babies but not always fun for parents. If you don't want to hear the same song over and over, select a center that boasts a repertoire of a dozen songs. Often music is accompanied by lights that, like the tunes, require battery power and add to the overall cost of the unit.
Height adjustability: This feature allows your center to "grow" with your baby. Look for models with legs that can be adjusted for height. This will also extend the useful life of the center, giving you more value for your buck.
Seat rotation: Centers with seats that can rotate a full 360° are a great feature that not only adds entertainment value but also allows a baby to track her caretaker around the room.
Portability: Some activity centers are foldable or collapsible, making them ideal for travel to a friend's or grandparent's house. Units with removable toys are also easier to transport.
Baby activity center prices
Depending on the type and features included in a baby activity center, you can spend anywhere between $50 and $100 for a model.
Q. Is it safe to leave my baby unattended in an activity center?
A. While activity centers have been tested thoroughly for safety, it's always best to remain in the room with and keep a watchful eye over your baby. Rest assured that the depth of the seat of these centers will keep your baby secure without the need of a harness, and ones with a wide base don't pose a tipping threat.
Q. Why is there a smartphone holder in my baby activity center?
A. This feature, added to more recent models, allows screen time for your baby. Be aware that your phone is within grabbing distance in these holders.
Baby activity centers we recommend
Best of the best: Evenflo Exersaucer Triple-Fun Active Learning Center
Our take: A convertible exersaucer that'll grow with your baby and boasts many entertaining features.
What we like: Removable toys allow for customization. Three-in-one design can be used as a play mat, activity center, or table. 360° rotation and adjustable height.
What we dislike: With so many parts, setting it up can be tricky.
Best bang for your buck: Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo
Our take: Affordable jumper with a fun rainforest theme.
What we like: Jump-activated music. Seat can rotate 360°. Toys well-dispersed on all four sides. Smooth jumping keeps baby constantly working her muscles.
What we dislike: Rotating seat can "stick."
Our take: A simple yet pediatrician-approved design that gives a "whole body" learning experience.
What we like: Adaptable for extended use through child's development. Converts to a play table for older children. Seat allows for both 360° rotation and bouncing.
What we dislike: Offers less toys and features than other models.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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