Sometimes referred to as play yards, playpens are small "pens" or enclosed structures with an open top, designed to keep babies and small children safe while playing. Many parents utilize playpens to protect their children from danger and to keep them from getting into things when they must attend to tasks around the house, when they need to take a phone call, or when they need to leave the room.
Playpens should always be kept a safe distance from surrounding furniture, items that tiny hands can grab and pull into the playpen, and any object that could be used to help the child climb out unbeknownst to parents or caregivers.
While most people place toys inside playpens to keep children busy, toys that are too large or small, too hard, or too soft should be avoided. Children can become injured, can smother or choke, or can use such a toy to climb out of the playpen.
Playpens come in handy for outings to the beach, the park, or to take along on trips as a portable crib for napping or spending the night at Grandma's. Still, pillows and soft, fluffy blankets inside playpens can create hazards. Babies and toddlers can smother easily, so bedding should be limited.
Years ago, playpens were made of wood slats, but modern playpens usually have mesh sides, which can be lowered to fold the playpen, making it easy to store or to take along on trips. Playpens are very convenient and can be used safely, but certain precautions must be taken.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, offers safety reports and recall information on playpens and cribs, and the following warning has appeared on playpens since 1985:
"NEVER LEAVE an infant in playpen with SIDES DOWN. Infant may roll into space between mattress and loose mesh side, causing suffocation."
Visit the CPSC for more information.
Aside from the playpens babies use for rest and play, there are other types of playpens as well. A playpen can also be the name for a room in which computer programmers work or it can be a mirror of a website that is used to test drive new ideas and work out bugs. The latter is also sometimes referred to as a "sandbox."