As my daughter reached the age of 5 months, I could see she was starting to get bored of her activity mat. After all, she had been staring up at the same mobile practically her entire life. She was also quickly developing a sense of curiosity that our beloved activity mat just couldn’t fulfill anymore. That’s when I started on my search for the perfect baby activity table or activity center.
Babies are learners. They need plenty of stimulating activities to help them grow and adapt to their brand new world. While playtime with Mom or Dad certainly fits the bill for this, you can’t be your baby’s only source of entertainment.
Activity tables and centers are the perfect spots for your little one to develop important fine motor skills such as the pincer grasp, grabbing, pulling, reaching, etc. Both baby activity tables and activity centers are equipped with a variety of different toys, fabrics, lights, sounds, and more that provide a wonderful way for your baby to learn and develop through touch, texture, colors, patterns, movement, and music. Not only are they a great entertainment center, they also provide a safe and secure space for your baby to explore. This gives you a chance to potentially sneak in a quick shower or snack – something every parent will agree is a big plus.
Carry on reading or jump straight to our number #1 pick on Amazon here .
Table of Contents
- What’s the Difference Between an Activity Table and an Activity Center?
- What Should I Look for in an Activity Table?
- Here’s How I’ve Determined the Best Activity Table
- Our Top Picks for the Best Activity Table of 2020
- #1: Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center (Best Overall)
- #2: Summer Infant Pop N Jump Portable Activity Center (Best Portable)
- #3: Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center (Best for All Stages)
- #4: Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table (Best Wooden Activity Table)
- #5: Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn (Best Budget-Friendly)
- #6: Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station (Best for Toddlers)
- #7: Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table (Best Water Activity Table)
- Are Activity Centers Good for Babies?
- When Can a Baby Start Using an Activity Center?
- Can I Put the Center in My Baby’s Playpen or Crib?
- Verdict: Your Best Baby and Toddler Activity Tables
What’s the Difference Between an Activity Table and an Activity Center?
Activity tables and activity centers can both offer your little one unlimited entertainment. So what’s the difference between them? Activity centers generally involve placing your little one in a fabric seat in the center of a round table of attachable toys, music, etc. It allows parents a safe, stationary place to place their baby when they may need to get something done around the house. The optimal age for activity centers begins at around 4-6 months, depending on the center.
Activity tables, on the other hand, may be a better choice if your little one has already begun trying to stand or move around while holding on to furniture (also known as cruising). There is generally no fabric seat with an activity table. Instead, your little one is free to explore and cruise around the table at their own pace. This does mean, however, that a parent may need to keep a closer eye on their little one, in case he or she tries to wander off!
In this article, for the sake of simplicity, I use the term activity table o refer to both baby activity tables and activity centers.
What Should I Look for in an Activity Table?
There are many things you should look for when picking which baby activity table is right for you and your little one. Most will do a great job of holding a baby’s attention for some time. They’re all colorful, with plenty of fun toys. But what separates the good ones from the best? Here are a few things I have found are most important when looking for a baby activity table.
Criteria #1: It grows with your baby
Like I said before, babies are learners. They grow and learn brand new skills every single day (sometimes overnight, it seems). Your baby at 5 months, for example, is a completely different baby at 8 months. Therefore, there is little sense in buying a baby activity table that your little one may only be interested in for a couple of months (trust me – I’ve been there). You’ll want, instead, to invest your money in something that can grow and adapt alongside your baby. This means that a good baby activity table provides different toys and sensory objects for different stages of development. This can also mean it converts from a sit-to-stand, and then sometimes even to a mobile activity center. The bottom line: you’ll want a baby activity table that your little one will enjoy for years to come.
Criteria #2: It’s safe
As a pediatrician, I can’t give the green light on toys or activity tables until I know they are safe. Luckily for me, pretty much every baby product is tested thoroughly for safety before making its way to you and your little one. Still, always check the manufacturer’s recommendations for safety before buying an activity table of your own. Not all activity tables have the same age and weight limits, for example. And while I know parents tend to keep a close eye on their babies, always look for a baby activity table that has features to keep your baby safe.
Also, while baby activity centers are a perfectly safe space for your baby to explore, keep in mind that your little one should only spend about 10-20 minutes in the activity center at a time, 2-3 times a day, at the most. This is because babies are stationary while in the activity center, which means they aren’t able to move around to explore and develop their gross motor skills (crawling, rolling, etc.). Prolonged time in that fabric seat can also put stress on the hip joints, leading to hip dysplasia, which is an abnormal growth of the hip joint.
That being said, baby activity centers are still a fantastic way to incorporate fun and developmental motor skills into your baby’s routine, if used properly!
Criteria #2: It’s durable
Babies put everything in their mouths – it’s how they explore. And if you add teething to the mix, your baby’s toys better be ready to hold up to some pretty sharp chompers. With that in mind, you’ll want to look for an activity table or center that can stand up to some tough love from your baby. This means that toys on the activity table should be strong and thick. Plastic pieces should be durable, and no small parts can be broken off easily. Think of it this way: your activity table should last you a few years. It should be durable enough to last through the toddler years, and in some cases passed down to the next child.
Criteria #3: It’s easy to clean
Here’s one thing I know for sure: babies are messy. They drool. They leave crumbs everywhere. They poop, sometimes through their diapers. My daughter seems to leave a trail of drool wherever she goes. So for me, having a baby activity table that easily wipes clean was absolutely essential. For ease of cleaning, look for smooth plastic surfaces, waterproof fabrics, and toy components that are easily removable for individual cleaning.
Here’s How I’ve Determined the Best Activity Table
When I looked for our perfect baby activity table, I considered the above criteria, as well as read through hundreds of customer reviews, both positive and negative. I looked at safety features. I looked at a variety of toys and sensory objects. All in all, I find the best activity centers to be the ones that will keep your baby safe and engaged while helping them to develop their sensory and fine motor skills.
Our Top Picks for the Best Activity Table of 2020
#1: Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center (Best Overall)
Recommended age: 4 months and up
Weight limit: up to 28 lbs.
This is the activity center I would choose to keep a baby entertained for years to come, and it’s the one that we own.
It’s perfect for both babies and toddlers, with a wide variety of developmental and sensory toys. It also provides music to keep your baby engaged in different ways. As a bonus, it converts from a baby activity center to a toddler play table with a toddler chair, sold separately. With a stylish and clean design, this is the perfect fit for any family. Read on to see why this is a great choice.
It grows with your baby
Your baby can start using the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center as young as 4 months old. The bright colors alone begin to engage the younger baby, letting them discover different movements, textures, and sounds as they grow and develop. This baby activity center comes with 5 detachable activity stations, each with a different type of play. The stations offer a variety of motor skills to learn, including pulling, reaching, and pincer grasping – motor skills that your baby will discover over time. Not only that, this music activity center comes with a removable musical keyboard that allows your baby to create their own music, and it comes with several fun songs.
The Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center comes with a foot platform that is height adjustable, so you can adjust the table as your baby grows. Additionally, this baby activity center converts to a toddler play table. All you have to do is remove the fabric seat from the center, and the bottom platform comes up to create a perfectly sized table for toddlers to color, draw, or have a snack. Skip Hop also sells a compatible toddler chair, sold separately.
It provides endless entertainment
With 5 different multi-sensory activity stations, each providing 25+ different forms of play, the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center will keep your baby entertained for a very long time. From different colors, textures, lights, sounds, and moveable objects, there is something to encourage each stage of development. The rotatable seat lets your baby swivel a full 360-degrees, providing even more freedom to move about as they please. The musical keyboard can be placed on the foot platform or the upper table, allowing your baby to explore sounds in different ways.
It’s easy to clean
With its white surface, you’d think the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center would look dirty quickly. However, with its smooth finish, detachable toys, and removable fabric seat, clean up is actually a breeze. The fabric seat is machine washable, and a wet fabric cloth easily removes drool or grime from the detachable toys.
Take it from me: my daughter has had multiple blowouts in this activity center, and it still looks good as new!
#2: Summer Infant Pop N Jump Portable Activity Center (Best Portable)
Recommended age: 6-12 months
Weight limit: up to 25 lbs.
The Summer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center is the perfect lightweight baby activity center your little one needs while outdoors or on-the-go. I love this center because it has several different fun and interesting toys, but is also lightweight and portable, so you can fold it up and bring it with you wherever you go. Read below for more details.
It’s lightweight and portable
If you’re someone who loves being outdoors with your little one, or someone who constantly travels, the Summer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center is for you. While the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center is on the heavier side, the Summer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center is much more portable. Coming in at only 9.5 pounds when fully assembled, this product’s pop-and-fold design takes less than a minute to pack up and take with you on the road, to the park, or on vacation. As an extra convenience, it comes with a carrying case with a shoulder strap for easy travel.
One more plus for those planning to use this activity center outdoors: it comes with a UV-protective canopy for those bright, sunny days, to keep your baby safe and cool!
It’s easy to clean
The Summer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center is composed of 100% polyester fiber, making clean up a non-issue. My daughter has spilled milk all over it in the past, and clean up was as easy as a simple wipe down with a damp cloth. Liquids and food don’t seep into the polyester fiber material. If your baby has made an especially big mess, spraying down this activity center outdoors is certainly an option, but its materials are machine washable!
It has unique and entertaining features
TheSummer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center comes with several colorful and detachable sensory toys that provide babies with endless entertainment. From crinkle toys to mirrors, this activity center has diverse features to help your baby grow and develop while having fun. One unique feature is an added jumper feature that babies love!
#3: Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center (Best for All Stages)
Recommended age: birth and up
Weight limit: none
While the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center and Summer Infant Pop N’ Jump Portable Activity Center cover sitting to standing, the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center adds one more crucial stage: tummy time! This music activity center has got your baby covered through all the crucial stages of development, from newborn tummy time to an infant sit-and-play station, to a toddler play table. This one really does it all!
It grows with your baby
You can start your little one in this activity center earlier than most! While the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center converts from an infant seat to a toddler play table, the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center takes it one step further. This clever center comes with a detachable mat on the bottom, which makes for the perfect, comfy spot for your baby to practice their tummy time skills. This play center also has a variety of detachable toys that you can place in front of your little one to encourage them to exercise those neck muscles and look around. So while your baby may still be too young to fully enjoy the stand-and-play aspect, there is still plenty for your baby to love.
Also, once your baby has mastered looking around and is beginning to sit, it offers a 360-degree spinning seat to grab their full attention. The seat is also height-adjustable.
It provides loads of entertainment
Plenty of colorful educational toys satisfy your baby’s curiosity with the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center. With animal-inspired toys that babies can spin, flick, twist, and turn, there’s really no end to the possibilities of play your baby can discover. Equipped with a giraffe rattle, teeter-totter zebra and lion, palm tree spinner, bug shape sorter, elephant bead bar with fishy clackers, a sweet bee teether, and more, your baby will never be bored. The Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center also features a detachable musical alligator that doubles as a keyboard, so your baby can listen to fun tunes on the tummy time mat or when placed in the 360-degree spinning seat.
The Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center also offers stand-and-play toys for older children. These are detachable, so you can add these when your baby becomes a toddler. Finally, the spiral ramp is fun for babies to roll objects down for hours on end!
#4: Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table (Best Wooden Activity Table)
Recommended age: 1 year and older
Weight limit: none
When comparing baby activity tables, this one may come with a heftier price tag, but for parents looking to splurge a little on their baby and toddler’s activity table, the Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table is the right one for them. Read on to find out more.
It’s built with high quality materials
Just when you thought hand-crafted wooden toys were starting to fade away, here comes the Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table, which stands apart from any of the other activity tables on this list. Manhattan Toys tend to be heirloom quality. It’s colorful, easy to clean despite being made of wood, and chock-full of hands-on activities!
From personal experience, I know this particular activity table is easy to clean and that messes slide right off. This wooden activity table is made with durability in mind, and is meant to be passed through generations. The entire table is constructed of naturally finished wood. The details matter here. For example, the visible woodgrain is seen lets you know that you’re dealing with a real wood product. The colorful items scattered throughout this wooden activity table are all decorated with water-based, non-toxic paint. This keeps your child safe because, as discussed earlier, babies and toddlers like to put everything in their mouths.
It’s packed with developmental learning opportunities
This wooden activity table is full of toys with which your kids can practice their fine motor and gross motor skills. There are so many features on the Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table that your little one won’t even realize they’re learning with all the fun they’re having. This should really be called a “learning table” because it teaches kids several key skills: fine motor, gross motor, hand-eye coordination, cause-and-effect, object permanence, concepts of distance and movement through space, shape sorting . . . and the list goes on!
#5: Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn (Best Budget-Friendly)
Recommended age: 4 months and up
Weight limit: up to 26 lbs.
If you’re a parent looking to save a little money on activity centers, the Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn is perfect for your family. Still full of fun and interesting toys that will keep your baby’s attention, this baby activity center will help your baby learn to play and so much more.
This activity center is the cheapest one on our list, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in quality. It’s chock-full of different toys and won’t break the bank. Listed at $60 on Amazon, compared to the other play centers, the Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn is a great value item.
It has plenty of developmental toys
The Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn comes with a wide variety of colorful and bright toys that will teach your little one fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, tactile development, and more. These toys will engage your baby at different stages of development. Once they have mastered one skill, there are several more in store, provided by the 12 different toys on this activity center. The bouncing seat option also lets your baby strengthen their back, neck, and leg muscles.
#6: Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station (Best for Toddlers)
The Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station is the perfect gift for your growing toddler. This science-inspired activity table has it all: bright colors, flashing lights, spinning gears, and music, all to help your budding scientist grow their creativity. Keep reading to discover more about this station.
It’s fun and educational
This table is called the Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station for a reason. Art meets science with this table that features 2 different sides focused on different areas of learning. On one side, your child can satisfy their innate love of learning with cool gadgets that feature spinning gears, a flashing lightbulb, moveable knobs, and pull-able objects. The opposing side will inspire your child’s artistic abilities, featuring a blank canvas in the form of a dry-erase whiteboard. This will allow your child to create endless masterpieces for years to come. Worried about messy paint? There’s no need with the Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station. It comes with mess-free “paint pots” that will teach your little one about color mixing.
The Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station is considered educational for a reason. Another unique feature is that this activity table comes with 65 different melodies from high-quality speakers, and it introduces your little one to new vocabulary in English, Spanish, or French.
It grows with your baby
The Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station caters more to toddlers, but that doesn’t mean younger siblings can’t still enjoy the table as well. Whether he’s stepping or crawling, the activity station grows with your baby. This activity table features removable legs for different modes of play. This lets your child enjoy its cool gadgets while sitting on the floor or standing up, which encourages shared play if younger children join in on the fun.
#7: Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table (Best Water Activity Table)
The Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table is the ultimate water activity table for toddlers, and as Step2 puts it, it “creates a mini water park right in your backyard!” It features a fun waterfall, a spacious design so multiple kids can play, and a no-leak drain plug, so the fun can last longer!
It’s full of endless entertainment
The Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table is the perfect addition to any summertime backyard. It starts with a 2-tier waterfall where kids can scoop water from the bottom, pour it on top, and make it “rain” right back into the waterfall tray. The water cascades down a maze-like ramp back into the bottom tray as kids watch in amazement. This table comes with 13 accessories to add to the fun as well.
It sparks creativity
The fun doesn’t stop with waterfalls. The maze-like ramp is essentially a puzzle in disguise, as it can be rearranged in different configurations, allowing kids to get creative with their waterfalls. And with a 13-piece accessory kit that includes a large bucket, 2 large cups, a rubber duck, 1 frog water squirter, 1 fish water squirter, a strainer, flipper, 2 spinning pieces, and 3 maze pieces, the possibilities are endless.
Are Activity Centers Good for Babies?
Baby activity centers can be a great asset to any growing family. They are convenient and fun, providing many benefits for busy parents. Not only do they help caregivers catch a break by providing a safe and secure play space, but they also aid in cognitive, physical, and motor development.
Most activity centers cover a plethora of learning areas, such as shapes, colors, sounds, tactile stimulation, problem-solving, etc. The amount of brain development your little one goes through in their baby and toddler years is staggering. Activity centers provide a fun developmental tool to encourage learning in your baby, and possibly later on in life as well!
As stated above, when used properly, activity tables are wonderful parenting tools. While many activity centers provide opportunities for physical development (tummy time, sitting, standing, bouncing), these should not replace free play such as rolling, crawling, etc. Additionally, prolonged time in the fabric seat (for example, over one hour several times a day) can lead to abnormal formation of babies’ hip joints. So, while babies will no doubt have a blast playing and learning in their activity center, keep it to the recommended times and always check with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
When Can a Baby Start Using an Activity Center?
This depends on the center, but some (including some of the ones listed above, particularly the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand) can be used at birth with tummy time! Most centers, however, are safe to use starting ages 4-6 months and up, as babies need to develop head, neck, and back skills before they can safely sit in the fabric seat. Once they’ve mastered holding up their head and neck and are learning to sit up, go ahead and start them in the activity table of your choice. Of course, always check with the manufacturer’s age and weight recommendations, as not all baby activity tables have the same weight limits.
Can I Put the Center in My Baby’s Playpen or Crib?
These tables should be safe and secure enough to let your baby play independently, without the need to place the table in a playpen. Furthermore, I would not recommend placing your baby and the activity table in a crib, as most cribs have certain weight limits that both baby and activity table together are likely to exceed, leading to a potentially dangerous situation. Additionally, many playpens are not large enough to contain the entire activity table safely.
Bottom line: stick to placing the baby’s activity table on a flat surface (the floor or ground).
Verdict: Your Best Baby and Toddler Activity Tables
So what’s the verdict? Ultimately, the choice is up to you and your family.
Overall, here are my final recommendations:
If you want the best value for your money, pick the Skip Hop Explore & More 3-Stage Activity Center.
If you need to be outdoors or travel, pick the Summer Infant Pop N Jump Portable Activity Center.
If you want to keep the spending under $65, pick the Evenflo Exersaucer Bounce & Learn.
If you want a high-quality, durable activity table, pick the Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Table.
If you want an activity table that grows with your child, pick the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit-to-Stand Activity Center.
If you need the perfect activity table for your curious toddler, pick the Baby Einstein Curiosity Table Activity Station.
If you’re looking for a great addition to summer fun and are looking for a water activity table, pick the Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table.
No matter which baby activity table you end up choosing, it will be a great one for you and your family. Most activity tables on the market today are safe, fun, and come with a variety of colorful toys that will engage your baby’s attention, encouraging them to develop the crucial developmental skills needed to explore the world. Remember to have fun and keep it safe!