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Some parents love having a playpen, playard or pack n’play for their little one. For others, it’s not something they really want. Therefore, you may be wondering if a playpen is something you may need for your little one.
There are three main types of playpens you can buy; plastic, fabric/mesh or wooden ones. Let’s explore these in more detail and what purposes they serve to help you decide what may work for you.
What is a playpen?
A playpen is an enclosure for a baby or young child to play in safely. They are helpful when a parent/carer is occupied with something like cooking, garden work or cleaning for example. You still need to keep an eye on them of course, but won’t have to worry about them getting into danger! Children may not like to be in them for extended periods of time, but a short time is usually fine. Playpens can be great fun for your baby and they do not have to be boring! It means your baby can play and explore while you get a job done, all in the knowledge that they are safe.
What is the shape of a playpen?
Playpens come in all shapes and sizes. The traditional playpen is rectangular and quite similar to a crib in design, but perhaps bigger. Modern playpens are sometimes square, rectangular or even hexagonal or octagonal in shape. There are plenty of playpens that can be converted into different sizes and shapes by adding or taking away a piece to suit your needs and space.
Types of playpens
It’s already clear that there are different types of playpen to cater to each family. Let’s look at the materials that playpens are made from.
Plastic playpens are a popular choice because they are both affordable and versatile. Many can be adjusted and converted into different shapes and sizes. The sides can come with built in toys like wheels, cogs and small puzzles. However, plastic playpens are quite heavy, so don’t expect to move them around regularly. Most plastic playpens are big and will take up some room to use and store. Check the dimensions carefully before you buy one to be sure it will work in your home.
Wood is the traditional material for playpens. The lovely thing about wood is that it blends well with your decor and looks nice. Wooden playpens are usually spacious and give babies enough room to play. They are functional in design and do not often have additional toys built into the sides like some plastic ones.
Mesh and fabric playpens are great for travel or moving around your home. Some smaller ones are commonly known as a pack and play (which is often associated with the manufacturer, Graco). They are light and often collapsible for storage too. Pack and plays are only slightly bigger than a crib and will not entertain a baby for as long as a larger playpen, especially as your baby grows and moves more. Other mesh/fabric playpens are larger and offer more play space.
What age are they for?
Playpens come into their own when babies start to roll over and crawl around, this is from around 6 months old. Children will grow out of their playpen at different times based on their personalities and physicality. You will know it’s time when your child starts to unlock the door of a playpen or climb over the top to escape. Some children will do this as early as 18 months and others will hold off until they are older. Keep an eye on them and adjust your set up as they grow.
How do you choose a playpen?
There are a number of factors to consider when you choose a playpen. Think about the space you have, the design you like, the features you want it to have, the material and your budget.
How much do playpens cost?
Playpens vary in cost depending on the style and brand you choose. They start at around $60 and can cost up to $200+ for playpens with certain features. The standard travel pack and play costs between $80 and $150 based on the features you pick. It is worth shopping around for deals and looking for second hand options, especially for a heavy duty plastic playpen that will stand the test of time.
How big are they?
A travel, fabric or mesh, “pack n play” playpen is approximately 40 inches long by 28 inches wide. These are the smallest of the playpens on offer. Other fabric and most wooden and plastic playpens are bigger in size. In contrast to a travel playpen, the most popular plastic playpen on the market is 61 by 61 inches. There is much more room for toys and play space in one of these if your home has room for something of this size.
What are playpens made of?
Playpens are made of plastic, fabric or wood depending on the design, purpose and brand. They are all durable and do the job, but have different pros and cons based on your space and needs.
How can you store them?
Fabric/mesh playpens are designed to be collapsed and moved easily. They can come with storage bags and fit easily in a closet or car to take from A to B. Some wooden playpens can be collapsed and folded, but others cannot and will need to be taken apart with tools.
Plastic playpens are designed to fold away however they are heavy and take up room in storage. You probably won’t want to get them out and put them away each day.
Are playpens safe?
A playpen is safe so long as it is a good quality one with no tears, rips or broken parts and the babies inside are still supervised. Never leave your baby unattended in their playpen and keep an eye on them even as you take on another task. It’s important to stop using it when your baby has outgrown their playpen because they can climb out or tip it over.
Some people worry that playpens become overused and relied upon versus parents/carers spending focused time with their child. In reality, playpens are a great resource to keep your baby safe while you take on the day to day tasks we all have to do. No one should keep their baby in a playpen all day, but a short time can be beneficial for you both.
Are all playpens the same size?
No, playpens are not all the same size. Some playpens are only slightly bigger than a standard crib and others are quite big with lots of room to play and spread out. The right size for you depends on the space you have available and your needs. Wooden and plastic playpens are usually larger than fabric/mesh ones.
Conclusion – Are they necessary?
Playpens are not necessary for everyone. Whether you need one for your family depends very much on your needs. You may want one for travel, when you stay away from home in hotels or with family and friends to keep your baby safe. Some travel playpens can also be used as travel cribs, which is handy.
Others like to have a playpen set up to help them make it through the daily tasks we all need to do at home. It’s not easy to keep on top of house and yard work with a young baby and a playpen helps many people get it done. On a similar note, parents with more than one child benefit from using a playpen. For example, when your older child wants to play with Lego and there are small pieces everywhere, it is a big relief to know your baby is safe in their playpen.
Let’s clear a few things up and make sure the information you need about playpens is clear. Time for some FAQs.
A playard and a playpen serve the same purpose, to safely contain your baby or young toddler. A playard may be bigger than a playpen, and more features, but otherwise they have a lot in common. Some playards (and playpens) have design features to entertain your baby such as cogs to turn and buttons to press.
A baby can sleep in a playpen so long as they do not have toys and soft furnishings in there with them. Some playpens double up as travel cribs and are safe to sleep in. As long as they have a mattress and they’re in a safe location, playpens can double up as a crib, which can be useful for daytime naps.
A crib is a safe place for babies to sleep in and has a mattress. A playpen is a safe place for babies to play in. A playpen may double up as somewhere they can sleep so long as the pen has a mattress and is clear of obstacles, such as toys, when they nod off.
Graham is a father of two who founded Dadometer to share his parenting journey with other moms and dads.