The 8 Best Kids Playpens
This wiki has been updated 34 times since it was first published in March of 2016. If you want to set your little ones down while you tidy up the living room, cook a quick meal, or just sit back and enjoy some TV, setting them up next to you in one of these kids' playpens is a smart move. They'll keep toddlers from wandering off, and many include fun activity centers for their entertainment, but keep in mind that their safety still depends on you paying attention to them. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
February 18, 2020:
Safety is paramount when putting together a list like this, and it's important for parents to remember that they can't simply plop a kid down in a playpen and expect them to be safe without any supervision. More than anything else, these are wrangling tools that allow you to give your child more freedom than they'd have in a crib or exersaucer, while still keeping them from crawling or walking away from you.
Beyond that, we wanted to make sure we differentiated this list from our list on pack-and-plays, so we removed a few of the portable options we previously included. We also got rid of the KidZone Play Center, as it was virtually identical to the Best Choice Products Indoor Outdoor, except that it was slightly more expensive and had a less thoughtfully designed activity center.
Ease of assembly is probably the next most important feature we scrutinized, with the safety and convenience of the Costzon Baby Playard being undermined by the fact that its big plastic screws seem to come undone on their own almost every day, keeping an otherwise exceptional model from a top spot. We also added the Angelbliss Safety Center, which is geared toward extremely young kids, and that has a pretty simple tool-free assembly process.
Prison For Babies
The child sits in a playpen, and Marty says to him, “You’d better get used to these bars, kid.”
There’s a scene in the first Back To The Future film in which Marty McFly (played by the inimitable Michael J. Fox), travels back to the time when his parents were in high school. While there, he meets the baby version of one of his uncles who, in his future time, ends up in prison. The child sits in a playpen, and Marty says to him, “You’d better get used to these bars, kid.”
It might be a stretch to imply that a child’s exposure to low-level incarceration in their earliest years can lead to a life that eventually lands them in the real slammer, but getting your hands on a high-quality playpen can give your children a leg up in their cognitive development and overall happiness. At the very least, it can keep them safe and distracted while you get on with your important daily tasks.
That latter point is the primary reason that most people invest in playpens. Many offer features that can help engage and occupy a child’s imagination, but all of them effectively create a space in which your child will be safe. So long as you situate the playpen away from anything dangerous the child can reach from within, you can feel free to leave the room for a few minutes without worrying too much about your kid’s safety.
With those extra few minutes here and there, you can get work done around the house, like laundry or cleaning, or even some professional work if your job allows you to operate from home. If your tasks run the risk of taking you away from your child for too long a period of time, make sure you invest in a high-quality baby monitor. That way, you can leave your child in his or her playpen for much longer periods, and still be able to check in on them whenever you like.
What To Look For In A Child’s Playpen
When selecting a playpen for your child, there are a few key variables to consider. Keeping these things in mind will help you take our list and whittle it down even further to just those options that suit your lifestyle the most effectively. Before you know it, you’ll have your little ones safely behind bars.
That humorous notion actually leads us to our first feature worthy of consideration, and that’s the material out of which your playpen is made and the configuration thereof. Most playpens these days are made from durable ABS plastics that are generally free of dangerous chemicals like phthalates and BPA. Kids tend to put their mouths on everything, after all, so surrounding them with safe materials is vital. If this is important to you, double-check the materials of a given model to be sure.
Kids tend to put their mouths on everything, after all, so surrounding them with safe materials is vital.
Whether or not that material is shaped into bars may or may not have a psychological effect on the child, but it’s doubtful that bars would actually create an association with imprisonment. Children don’t have much of an understanding of adult correctional methods. They also spend a lot of time in cribs, most of which also feature bars. If anything, this familiar pattern, combined with a barred playpen’s ability to let in more light than a solid-sided model, should actually provide children with a brighter, more peaceful play space.
Beyond these considerations, it’s worth investigating how a given playpen can be deployed. A few options out there can only stand in a single configuration with a set number of sides. This type of model takes up a specific amount of space. If there’s enough room in your den to house it, but not in another area of the home, your options may begin to feel rather limited. Other models can reduce the number of sides you put up without sacrificing their stability, allowing you to set up a playpen to fit the space or to accommodate more or fewer children.
Depending on the attitudes and behaviors of those children, you’ll also want to pay close attention to the way in which a given playpen locks. Most have been designed to keep children from meddling with them enough to accidentally open them, but only you know your child’s specific level of motor skills, ingenuity, and mischievousness.
The last thing to look for when selecting a playpen for your child is additional built-in entertainment. Some playpens are nothing more than geometric shapes that contain children. Others, however, come with entertaining designs, or even toys and games built into the walls. If you have curious kids that needs a lot of stimulation, this is a great way to distract them without just popping on the television.
A Safer Alternative To The Cage
It’s particularly difficult to pinpoint the arrival of the playpen on the childcare scene, specifically because any enclosure into which a child could be placed for their safety and distraction could be considered a playpen. There are, however, two particular milestones worth looking at, if not for their historical specificity then for their strange insight into the ever-evolving nature of parenting.
A book called The Care And Feeding Of Children popularized the practice in 1894.
The more recent development was in 1902, when the Oxford English dictionary first utilized the word playpen. It’s reasonable to assume that the devices we now call playpens had increased in use in the years preceding this development, as the dictionary world usually takes a little time to incorporate language from the zeitgeist.
The earlier development must seem like a nightmarish torture method to today’s helicopter parents, but it was all the rage for a moment in the late 19th century. We’re talking about airing, a process in which parents would put their children in a contraption known as a baby cage, and hang it just outside their window. A book called The Care And Feeding Of Children popularized the practice in 1894.
It’s author, Dr. Luther Emmett Holt argued that the combination of fresh air and exposure to cold temperatures would both purify a child’s blood and make them more resilient against the common cold. Presumably, the feeding portion of the book contained recipes that build your child’s resistance to various poisons by steadily incorporating them into the infant’s diet.