Play Pens & Play Yards

Parent Q&A

  • Hi there,

    We’ve seen a lot of ads for the California Beach Company pop-up tents. We’re a family that likes adventures, camping, parks, the outdoors and in non-COVID times, flying to see family. Has anyone purchased one? What do you like about it? What do you dislike? What sold you on it? We have a regular pack and play, so trying to figure out if it’s worth getting.

    Thanks for any ideas and advice on what makes it easy to get out with a little one!


    Get it!! It is so easy to pop up and take down. We have one of those ones you have to turn just right to get in the bag and it was such a headache, especially as my daughter got older and could walk away while I tried to get the tent back in. The CA beach company tent is so easy. Now, it has some weight to it but nowhere near as heavy as a pack and play. We use it for the beach and backyard. We got ours as a gift and I am very happy with it. 

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Baby proofing and playpens

July 2012

I am a first time mom with a crawling 8 month old who is constantly on the move. We have done basic baby proofing but I have found that that doesnt seem to help ease my mind as she still finds new ways to potentially hurt herself (we dont have a devoted playroom). I know I can't bubble wrap the living room but I dont want to constantly run after her because we would otherwise have to gate off large areas of the living room (fireplace, etc). Have others tried using one of the large 8 panel play pens or play yards? I could put this in the living room and play with her in it without pulling her out from under furniture, etc. but the idea feels a little odd (like a pen for a dog). I am using a small play yard I use when I have to wash dishes, run to the restroom, etc. Have others used a large playyard and would you recommend it? I hope seasoned parents can shed some light on baby proofing. -anon

Realizing that this stage only lasts a while, like maybe a year, might help. What we did was put all the delicate and potentially dangerous items in the fireplace and put the fence around that. Great to also have a play pen or crib or someplace safe for those ''I just need a minute'' moments, even if baby screams in protest the whole time. Still safe. Soon s/he'll be asking for the car keys, so keep it in perspective! Good luck.

My son is 8.5 months old and sounds EXACTLY like your daughter--the other moms in our playgroup call him ''the little tornado.'' He is constantly on the move, and he's fast, and loves to climb--so I have an idea of what you're going through.

Initially I was against the idea of a playpen, but we got one about a month ago and it has been a lifesaver. It's in a central location in the house, so there's always activity going on around him while he's in it, and it's big enough for one or two adults to get in there with him and play too. He actually seems to enjoy it quite a bit--he can pull up and cruise around the perimeter as much as he wants. (Sometimes he actually ''asks'' to go into the playpen! I think he gets that it's an area especially for him where he can do anything he wants to.)

One caveat: I never put him in it and just leave him there (except for one-minute bathroom runs); I'm always in sight if not playing with him directly. Which, I think, helps contribute to his feeling that the playpen is a fun place and not a site for confinement.

I hope this helps, and feel free to get in touch if you want more info (or just an equally spirited playmate for your little one!) Wendy

Absolutely get a big set of gates. We did this and it was WONDERFUL. We got used PlayZone panels, a total of eight I think, and we used the couch as one wall so our son could pull himself up there. He had nearly the whole run of the living room except the dangerous stuff. We could walk in and out of the room at will instead of worrying about him every minute, and he had loads of room to play. I brought it to the park once for his first birthday party, and to a very kid-oriented wedding as a safe space. Was so sorry to have to pass it on when he outgrew it. Please don't think of it like an animal pen. So unrelated.

HI, I have 18-month-old twins and we used a superyard when they were first moving aorund a lot. It took them a few days to get used to, but they actually liked having a safe, confined place to play in-we never had to say no to them. As they got more mobile and active, we expanded their playspace so that they had one gated room (yes, we had four gates in our house!) that was completely safe. Now they have two rooms and the superyard surrounds the tv. It makes me feel really comfortable becauase I know I can be in the kitchen or bathroom and not worry about their safety. And they don't have to be told ''no'' constantly. You might check out this website for more on creating safe play spaces: twin mama

We never used a play pen, mainly because our kids would have hated it and just cried. But here are some ideas for you.
- Get some of those movable gates you can place in doorways to keep the baby in the room you are in. As long as you are on the same side of the gate, they are usually happy.
- We placed a movable gate across our fireplace to block it off. Not pretty, but it worked. I think there are also official baby proofing options for fireplaces.
- Get an exersaucer. Kids love them, they are stimulating and it keeps the child in one place while you do what you need to do. I bet you can even find a used on in the marketplace email. Good luck! Babyproofing Mama

I would go ahead with the play pen. Yes, it's a little weird at first, but once you get used to the idea (which happens pretty quickly) it allows you and your child to enjoy playing instead of spending all of your time re- directing, prying her off of stuff, etc. We had this one ( security-child-protection/summer-infant-secure-surround- play-safe-30-in-play-yard-160014.html) and liked it because it has a door panel that makes it easy to get in and out. If you can, buy one used on craigslist. It's cheaper and it won't be such a big loss if it doesn't work out (like if she spends all of her time in it trying to climb out of it). We didn't use ours as much as I had hoped because our house is so small (under 600sq ft) and there just wasn't enough space. If you've got enough space, I recommend getting some extension panels, too. Without them, I found it doable, but tighter than I would have liked when I was in the play pen with my son (and if you add more panels, the bigger space will make it feel less dog-pen like). Anon

The Little PlayZone has worked really well for us and was recommended by my parenting teacher for just this thing. I actually bought two to make a bigger space and use the extra two panels to visually block other areas that I don't want our baby to go into. Since it is bottomless and we have wood floors, I got some cute rugs from Costco and then put toys in it for her. We have been using it since 6 mo when I could put her in there to run to the bathroom or answer the door or cook dinner, and now my 18 month old chooses to play in there, as do our friends' kids, ages 4-8 years.

You can get a new one from the One Step Ahead catalog (and probably all the big box stores online) but I also just saw two previously owned ones for sale at They Grow So Fast, the consignment shop in Lafayette. s.

We used the panels - 8 or 12 of them - when our kids were crawling / toddling and basically ''fenced in'' our living room, with a comforter on the floor. It was easy for adults to walk over the barrier, and the kids got maybe 36 sf of play space. It's only for a little while - why not? Been there

Childproofing a small home - use a playpen?

Jan 2008

hi, our baby is quickly growing, and we need to childproof. unfortunately, our home is less than 600 sq ft, so we pretty much have no space. and childproofing is pretty much impossible since our living/dining/kitchen area has an 'open plan.' (our bedroom is filled with all our beds.) so we thought about maybe getting a superyard XT and make a circle in the middle of our living room area.

is that big enough for a baby to roam in? do i need to get multiple interlocking playpens? it's tough to watch the baby constantly, so i need some advice on:
- how to handle childproofing a small home.
- how much you liked a playpen situation.

please no comments about moving to a bigger home, as it's already quite expensive to live around here. thank you in advance for your replies. kim

I can relate to having a small home with a toddler. I don't recommend a playpen, because that will just take up precious real estate in your living room. You will need to keep an eye on your child pretty much all the time - that's just part of parenting a toddler. That said, there are a few things you can do in a small space to help keep your little one safe and occupied. First, move all of your unsafe kitchen items to a few high/locked cabinets or drawers. Let your child explore the rest freely - your child won't be harmed by kitchen towels, table linens, tupperware, pots and pans, plastic utensils, etc. You can do similar things in your living room. Lock up unsafe/breakable/valuable things, but let your kid have fun with books, magazines, old cassette tape cases, etc. Once you've done a little childproofing, try to create mini play areas in each of the spaces you spend time in that have appealing items for your child to play with and show these areas to your child to encourage him or her to play there. We have mini play areas (eg. the bottom shelf of a bookshelf)in our kitchen and living room areas, and our child usually goes to those areas first to find things to play with. In terms of further childproofing, what you need to do depends so much on your specific home environment and your specific child - observe your child to see which dangerous things he or she is attracted to and deal with potential problems as they arise. On those occasions when we've needed to restrict our child's movement, we've found the high chair or crib (with toys or books for distraction) works just fine for a few minutes. Fellow Mom of a Toddler

I also live in a small house (1-bedroom with crib and bed in the same room). We set up a play yard in our small living room using those Super Yard XT gates and it worked great. I think we ended up buying two boxes. We have a futon mattress in the living room which lays in front of the sofa. The gates completely surround the futon and the ends of the gate are stuck in between the futon and the sofa to create one large circle. Our son is now 19 months old and we are just thinking about taking it down since he spends more time outside of the yard than inside of it. He never liked to play in the pack and play, so this play area worked great for us. All of his toys are in there, and during the day when I work from home, we keep the play pen gate open so he can walk around where he wants to with the nanny. I think around 15 months, my son figured out if he pushed on the fence hard enough, he can get out, but that was out only issue with the yard. I hope this helps. anon

I would try it without the playpen first. We have a small house, too. It never occurred to us to not let our child (now 2 1/4) move freely around our house--it's his house too! Take some standard precautions: block electrical outlets with covers or heavy furniture; secure bookcases (or other things a baby could pull over) to the wall; bundle up electrical cords and get them out of the way as much as possible; get cabinet locks for low cabinets that contain things you don't want the baby to get into; move sharp/chemical/fragile items up high or into high cabinets out of reach (and move innocuous things like toilet paper, tupperware, towels, etc. into unsecured low cabinets/drawers); put corner protectors on sharp table corners. As your child grows, you'll see what else they get into and address it. In our case, for example, we discovered we needed to move the cat's food and water (irresistible!) onto a dresser for half a year or so, until our son was old enough to have the self control to obey our ''no'' and resist playing in the water. If I really needed to secure my son for a few minutes, e.g., to keep him back while I took something out of the oven or to take a shower, I put him in his crib or high chair. Then, as your child grows in their understanding and self control, you teach them what's okay to mess with and what's not, with time and repetition, by saying ''no'' and taking them away from stuff until they get the picture. It helps if you can redirect them to something similar that's their own. For example, when our son tried to take books from (our) bookshelves, we redirected him to HIS books on HIS bookshelf. In the kitchen, we have a whole cabinet of drawers. Rather than secure the drawers (but with dangerous stuff removed, of course), we designated a few of the drawers as his (marked with stickers and filled with a rotating assortment of this toys and safe things to play with), and every time he opened one of the drawers that wasn't his, we said ''that's not your drawer, that's mama and papa's drawer; which is your drawer?'' He learned quickly what was his and what wasn't. Don't worry!

A playpen is dependent upon how adventurous your child is - which is probably very. I found that mine just climbed, sometimes right in front of me! Now, the interlocking type playpen works much better. It supports you in utilizing the space you have for multiple purposes. You can easily move, adapt, expand, etc. to meet your child's & your needs. Also, it confines your child to a pre- determined safe area versus trying to foresee every possible danger over the whole home.

Besides, there is no such thing as child-proofing a home: children are naturally inquisitive & can make the most non- threatening & seemingly innocent thing into an object of destruction. They are just inventive & intelligent. They are here to create & learn, so it will save you a lot of stress to ''do what you can & can (throw away) what you can't'' as Sister Mary Margaret Pouncil once told me when I was a young mother.

Also, keep the play area stocked with toys that teach, like tried & true manipulatives for their age range. But introduce only one or two at a time, so they don't get bored as quickly. And take something out as you place new things in, so it can be recycled as a new toy later. It keeps them interested & gives you a moment to focus as well. Lastly, music music music. Different rhythms for different times. You'd be surprised at how it will keep them busy, focused & occupied, not to mention preparing them for learning & teaching them how to keep a schedule. I pray this helps. Peace & blessings!

Childproofing and deciding whether or not to get a playpen/yard are not the same thing in my mind. The playpen worked for my active girl for about 3 months, and only for short periods like I needed to saute something or take something out of the oven or grab a shower. They take up a lot of room, so I don't see how they would work in your space. Maybe a pack n' play for temporary restraint. But you will have to have your home be kid accessible for at least 2-2.5 years. You need to do things you can live with.

Some of the stuff we did: We put caps on all the outlets and the movable gaurd ones on two that we access all the time. We put kid-thwarting covers on the light switches to prevent ''lights on, lights off, lights on, lights off'' play. We earthquake tethered all of our bookcases and appliances (don't forget the TV) so they didn't move when climbed on, we took off all table cloths and decorations that were under 4 ft. We took off books from the lower shelves and used them for toys (so you aren't constantly reshelving) or used a piece of fabric we liked to look at for 2 years and used it to cover the lower shelves (one corner had velcro so we could lift it up and get at the books, but out of sight is out of mind for tiny tykes). Then we got safe, sturdy step stools and kid chairs and taught her how to be safe because they WILL climb, you can't stop them, but if they get used to doing it more or less safely , it helps. have fun with your kid!

Don't stress about the size of your house. It is actually perfectly sized for keeping the baby safe. Personally, I am a childproofing minimalist. All chemicals go into a cupboard that is locked. Anything breakable goes up into higher cupboards. The non breakables (pots, pans, tupperware, etc). Permanent baby gates go at the bottom and top of stairs. Otherwise, I don't worry about it. I keep an eye on my kids obviously, but not for every second. When they were little, they never played with electrical outlets. All wires went into big flexible plastic tubing. I made sure that nothing that I had was a pull down hazard (tv is on a big enough base, etc). My kids are hardly the type that parents hope for (they are spazmatoids with A LOT of energy), so it isn't like they are quietly walking around the house all day. They are turning my living room into a mosh pit and jumping off the sofa arms into it.

I think that a big playyard is fine (pack and plays are way to small -- at least for mine). My kids probably wouldn't have like d it, but I guess if I worked at it (ignored their screams?) for a few days then they would have quit. -anon

We have a small house as well - 2 adults and 2 toddlers in 750 sq ft. And moving was not an option for us, either!

I think the playpen or fenced-off areas are not good long-term solutions. No baby or toddler wants to play *separately* from where the adults are. Unless you have an unusually independent baby, my guess is that s/he is not going to be willing to stay in a playpen very long alone. And that goes for a fenced-off area, too - no matter how big it is and how many toys are in it, s/he will object if you are not in it too! (Say if you are in the kitchen cooking dinner.)

A better long-term solution is to work on your house to make it more baby-friendly. This does take some time, but you don't have to make all the changes right away. Do all the obvious safety things first (i.e., cabinet latches), and then see what kind of specific trouble your baby manages to get herself into (or looks like s/he is headed for), then make other changes. You'll probably have to rearrange your furniture/possessions somewhat - just resign yourself to it and remember that you can have a ''grown up'' house again when the kids are bigger. For example, we got rid of our open CD rack (too tempting to pull all the CDs out over and over) and replaced it with a lockable dresser from IKEA to hold all the CDs. Lots of other stuff (wine rack, books) went up to higher shelves and we bought new, lower shelves that had lockable doors. So in the end we managed to switch out old furniture with new stuff (and made a looooot of trips to IKEA) but didn't need to lose any of our existing floor space. (That ended up going to all the toys, anyway!) Fellow tiny-house dweller

We have a similar set up: Small, open plan apartment, with bed in the living room. Glass and breakables go into upper drawers/cabinets in the kitchen. Lower cabinets are baby-locked OR have safe stuff in them: plastic tubs, pots, pans, screw-top storage jars of rice, flour, sugar. Baby needs to explore. Use a pen, swing or exersaucer for when you have to take a shower or are flambeeing something in the kitchen, but I wouldn't pen baby into such a small area at all times--house is small enough of a pen. Exploration also teaches baby: Oven is on? when baby touched it, it was a huge teaching moment: Don't touch, baby ow! By the time he/she needs to wander more, he'll know not to touch garbage pail, oven, glasses (still working on that with 2- year old). Babies like exploring with pans, small metal bowls, plastic bowls. Regarding drawers: ''Fingers! Baby ow!'' use those teaching moments. It'll be over pretty soon and your baby will know stuff and be confident, feel safe and be an explorer.

Don't forget teaching teach crawler/cruiser how to climb down a step or climb/slide off bed, a key skill.

Basics: put the garbage out of reach (pail resided for several months on the piano and/or diaper changing table), electrical plugs covered, extension cords covered or clamped to baseboards, bookcases screwed to wall. Every few months (or even weeks) as baby develops, check what new babyproofing needs doing, since it comes in stages. small house, big world

Playpen for 6-month-old?

May 2002

I am wondering if I should buy a playpen for my six months old baby girl. I hardly know anybody who has a playpen anymore and I wonder what the reason is. Do most babies like it in there or not or is the playpen more for traveling ? My babie is trying to sit up right know but after a while she falls over and she could of course hit her head on the ground if I would.'t sit with her all the time. I think in the playpen this wouldn't happen because everything around it is soft. I would just put her in there if I do some house work and cooking and I certaintly would always be close by but if I turn my head and she falls over at least she wouldn't get hurt. I would like to know what other parents have to say about playpens. alexandra

We went back and forth on the playpen question for quite a while. In the end we ended up with two. We got the Kidco Play Den, which we use in the study so we can do bills & computer stuff without our daughter getting too bored and we got a travelling one when we went away for a weekend. She only tolerates the small one for a short period of time regardless of what toys are in it. The Play Den worked out really well - lots of room & vertical bars which are perfect to practise pulling up & standing. She first went in it around 6 months & we had the same concerns about her whacking her head. Until she had good balance, we just put pillows against the bars & propped her against them - but only when we were in the room with her!! (Being worried about suffocation.) Now that she is a year old, the big one is still a good place to be, provided she has a good selection of toys & books & she isn't left too long. The only drawback to it is that it isn't very easy to move, even room to room, so you really need to decide where it will be most useful before setting it up. KBracken

Our now 9-mo. old is very physically active. We got a travel playard when he was about 5 mo. old thinking we would use it as a playpen when we were at home. We were advised to get him used to it before he became mobile so he wouldn't feel, well, ''penned in'' if we put him there when he could crawl around. I used it for about a month, then when he did start crawling he hated being in there. We do still use it as his bed when we travel, though, and he'll sleep in it just fine. As a safe place to keep him when I have to leave the room for a minute, we bought a ''corral'', a free-standing 8-panel thing that covers a much larger area so he's free to roam around. He's content being in there alone for a short period. I bought it at -Halle

I kept a playpen in our kitchen and put my daughter in there while I prepared dinner nightly. it was such a great help, I would not want to have been without it! I used it until she was walking, after that she was not about to be confined. gael

In my opinion the playpen was a godsend. My son was happy, and I could do other things and know he was OK without watching him every second. We had a folding one that we also used quite a bit for travel--it made a great place to sleep as well as a place to play. Kathy

A playpen is an ESSENTIAL piece of equipment in the parenting arsenal. You simply cannot live without one!!! Where else do you put all the clean laundry? (well, that's what we've done with ours these past years)

My 6mo is right where yours is (actually, she's 7mo tomorrow). What I do is place pillows around her (3 - one to the back, one to the back left and right) or a thick blanket. When we are outside (I'm hanging clothes or in the front yard gardening) I put her on a blanket (on the grass) with the same setup. Then I put her basket of toys in front of her and she ignores them and goes for the grass (or the 2yo plays with her toys). kathy

I still see playpans around, only they're not the ones our parents had for us. They're the Graco 3-way Pack 'N Play that turn from being a bassinet into a traveling crib and playpen. Personally, we used ours quite a bit from the time my son was about 8 months old to 1-1/2 years. As you note, little ones can bump into things a lot, and it's good to have a safe place for them. I didn't put my son in there for more than 20 minutes at a time and rarely twice in a day. It was more for when I was cooking or feeding the dogs and couldn't keep an eye on him. I believe that the negative things you hear about playpens are because of possibility that parents will just leave their babies in there and ignore them, which is a terrible thing to do. But I don't believe there's anything wrong with a playpen for the baby's safety. Put special toys in there that your baby can't get anywhere else to turn it into a special place. Turn on some music.

Another alternative is an Ultrasaucer. It's a circular activity table with Baby's seat in the middle. Baby can spin and bounce. It's good until Baby learns how to walk. I found it a good way for my son to have some safe, protected fun while I was cooking. Good luck. Gwynne

I think that playpens have gotten a bad reputation because of the perception that previous generations left their babies in playpens for hours on end. My daughter is a year old, and I have used the playpen for exactly the resons you describe. Early on it allowed her to sit up safely, and lean against the netting, and now that she is very mobile, I can use it for a few minutes while I boil water, take things out of the oven, or run into another room to get something.

I don't use it for long (maybe a total of 15 minutes a day), and she doesn't seem to mind it (as long as I am in the room with her), and occasionally she even tries to get into it. I try to rotate the toys in it fairly regularly, and give her things like books, etc, that she can use while in one place. She loved being in the playpen while she was learning to stand; it provided lots of surfaces on which to pull up.

What we use is the Pak-n-play, which we also use as a portable crib. One can get real playpens, which are much bigger, but I didn't want to devote that much floor space to it. Melissa T

Our son has always hated the playpen that we have. It's one of those pack-n-play things that we got from a friend, and the only thing I've ever used it for is as a ''holding area'' down in the basement while I'm doing laundry. I put a book in there and he's OK for a few minutes but then he's yelling to get out. He's always been super active [he's 14 mos. now] and since birth has rejected being placed in any confining non-mom's-arms place [carseat, stroller, crib... although he's better at those now!]. My niece, on the other hand, who's 3 now, used to sit for long periods looking at her books, and on the occasions that she found herself in a playpen [like early morning at auntie's house before any adults are awake] has been fine for an hour or so just reading. So, I guess it depends on how you want to use it and what your other ''confining spaces'' experiences have been like. Jean