9 years ago when I had my first child, we were staying in a rented place waiting for our new house. Due to proximity to work and also caregiver arrangements, we stayed with my parents on weekdays in their HDB 5 room flat and weekends at our HDB 3 room rented flat.
As my son grew from a newborn into an active infant who could crawl really quickly, we realised that we needed to give him ample space to explore and build his motor skills. However, at that time, play mats were almost unheard of and had to be specially ordered in from Korea. They were also, at that time, beyond our budget.
In the end, we settled for 2 sets of Haenim Play Yard (8 panels) and 2 single size Seahorse foldable mattresses. The mattresses were firm yet soft BUT the bedsheet were slippery. Well, budget limited, so we made do with what we had.
Those ABC foam mats were out of our consideration as they had a weird smell and we were worried.
Then move forward to son #2 in 2011, we had a little more to spend & now we had our own space. We looked into getting proper play mats this time and got a few to try out. It was really trial & error for us.
Let me share about our trial & error experience to save you the money & time going around getting something that is worth it.
- Simple basic one-sided foam mat – $59.90 at baby fairs
- Textured foam mat – $50 for 2 sets at baby fairs
- Parklon – Prize varies depending on size, thickness & print chosen – $200 – 300++
- Thick foam mat – $69.90 at baby fairs
- Yelly Mat – The Intelligent Talking (IN SIX LANGUAGES) Mat – $329 at baby fairs
The Simple Basic One-Sided Foam Mat
This was a gift from Ahjussi’s friend. While it was in the packing, it looked promising. However, when we opened it up, we were extremely disappointed. It was THIN, hard like cardboard and is super slippery. My mum almost slipped on the mat several times. There was zero protection from bumps or knocks as there was hardly any cushion.
This is probably more like a picnic mat than a play mat.
Total fail. Don’t waste your time and money on this.
Foam Block Mats
These are similar to the regular ABC foam mats, but they have been ‘upgraded’ to make it seem more educational and less ‘cheapskate’.
Surprisingly, there isn’t any weird smell like the cheaper ABC foam mats we know. This quality is better (maybe the price also reflects that since the normal ABC foam mats are only $10/set).
I liked that there’s a small corner build up with foam shapes for Meimei to play. As you can see, she is attracted to the foam shapes.
Bad point will probably be that the animals on the mat are made of smaller foam pieces. Some are dangerously small in my opinion and we were worried Meimei will learn to peel them out to chew on them soon. (And we were right.)
It doesn’t help that the design has small holes which will trap dirt easily too. Can’t imagine if I’m the one cleaning this daily. (This set is left at my mum’s place and my mum’s maid cleans it weekly since we only visit on weekends.)
But I do like the different textures on different pieces of the foam mat. Meimei was curiously feeling them. BUT, it leaves a nice imprint on their faces if they sleep face down on it too.
Would you like honeycomb cheeks or zigzag cheeks, Meimei?
Overall it is good for occasional play and learning textures, but to be used daily really won’t make practical sense on the cleaning side. And I really wonder how much saliva and stuff are stuck between the pieces (the grooves) too.
Parklon is a well known brand from Korea. Another well known brand is LG. They have mats of varying sizes and thickness.
Ours is 12mm thick and I’ll be honest. It does cushion a bit but not as good as 15mm. 20mm is too thick (feet sinks in and may trip easily over the edge of the mat). 15mm is the perfect thickness in our opinion, but it was pricey when we bought the mats in 2012, so we got 12mm.
The mat is a great play area for our kids. We don’t have to worry about them throwing toys and causing neighbours to run up to complain.
They play safely within the confines of the mat & the play yard while we are busy with housework or cooking.
My maid and I wipe the mats daily but we noticed due to the special embossing, dirt gets trapped easily. We have to rub very hard to get the dirt out.
This is a close up look of saliva + dirt trapped in the embossing. It is really not easy to rub it to clean between the grooves.
Overall, good investment. Our set is already 4 years old. However, it is tedious to maintain and 12mm isn’t thick enough for us.
Another foam mat
This newer mat is like a hybrid of Parklon and the cheap cardboard mat earlier in this post.
It’s thick and nonslip but the edge finishing makes me shudder. We have battled bedbugs before and one look at the mat screams “BED BUGS HIDEOUT” to me. The binding at the edges are hotspots for bed bugs to breed. Not every family has bed bugs hanging around, but it is so common now to bring bed bug home unsuspectingly!
Also, if the edges are dirtied, they can’t be washed.
Overall, this is a pocket-friendly option if you don’t have OCD on cleanliness.
As parents, we always want the best for our kids right?
And so we traveled to Korea to search for anything that can possibly be better than the mats we can find in Singapore.
And we chanced on Yelly.
The first thing that attracted us to Yelly was the surface of the mat. It was smooth and no deep embossing which makes dirt get trapped easily!
And the Korean staff was holding a little egg with a duck perched on top. What was it? Hmmm… We stopped to pay attention to the staff promoting Yelly.
IT WAS SINGING!
Talking mats are not new to us but what caught my ears was the pronunciation of the words in English. The recording was done by native speakers of English and they do not have weird accents!
So we asked for the Magic Sound Pen and tried it out ourselves.
Tapped around the different alphabets and pictures and we were sold. My first question: How heavy is this?
And I was wondering if we had enough check in luggage weight for the mat. (Sadly, we bought many other things during our trip too, so we shipped Yelly back.)
The animals had either sound effects or short facts about them. While I was still amazed by the product, the staff said: The reverse side has different songs & facts!
So we quickly checked out the reverse side: WORLD MAP!
Music unique to different countries, quick facts and so much fun!
9 year old Big Boy loves this side of the mat.
It’s great for children of varying ages!
And the best part: SIX LANGUAGES!
The main language of the set is English. You can select other languages like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Vietnamese (World).
Children do pick up languages fast with early exposure, so Yelly is a great educational tool to start off at home!
My favourite is that my maid can use Yelly to teach my children the correct pronunciation without any weird accents.
And guess what? My maid picked up some Chinese and Korean in the process too!
Looking closely, the edges are all neatly sealed and easy to clean. No potential bed bug hot spot! We actually change her diapers on the mat now as she loves wriggling and crawling away. Diaper changing anywhere else is too dangerous (fall off, hit her head, etc).
And since the mat is waterproof and extremely easy to clean, any ‘accidents’ during diaper change doesn’t make us frustrated at all!
And this is 15mm thick, which was the perfect thickness we were looking for all along!
We are in love with Yelly and it is the best investment so far for Meimei’s learning and development. She loves the songs and is always eager to hold the Magic Sound Pen even though she doesn’t really know how to play with it yet.
There’s so much more I can go on & on about Yelly because we are really so in love with it, but I think it is best to let you explore it for yourself and feel the difference. Price wise I will be honest, it is a little more pricey compared to other Korean Play Mats. But if you compare carefully based on same size & thickness, Yelly is only around $30-50 more than the other brands. Just top up a bit more and you get the educational component on top of just having a regular mat!
And there are posters which also work with the Magic Sound Pen!
If you are wondering what’s the big deal about having a play mat, here is a quick summary:
(1) Allows a safe space for your child to develop motor skills at their pace
(2) Encourages your child to be physically active
(3) Together with play yard, allows caregiver a safe spot to leave baby for quick toilet breaks
(4) Establish a play area with the mat to keep your house neat & tidy
I’m very convinced that Meimei’s motor skills are faster than her peers because she had ample opportunity to explore her surroundings without us being ‘helicoptors’.
From the time we got home, Meimei’s day hours are spent mostly in the living room on the play mat. She naps there, we do diaper changes there too.
Check out what Mummy Ellie has to say about Yelly too!
Mother of 3 & Owner of TLO.com.sg