Playpens: 7 Things You Should Know

smiling child in a playpen

As a baby boy my parents put me in a playpen from time to time. They said it was a great way for me to play with some toys by myself and to give them a few minutes break. Obviously I have no recollection of using one, but I guess I didn’t mind using it…at least I hope so!

In this article let’s look at a few facts and some things you should know about playpens.

Do parents use playpens anymore?

This is one of the most common questions that people ask these days. There is a train of thought that playpens are cruel and not necessary, as it restricts a baby’s ability to explore their surroundings freely. However, a quick search online will show that you can still buy playpens. Also, although I don’t know how many are sold each year, you can see there is still a lot of interest based on the number of monthly searches in Google:

  • Playpen for baby: 16000 searches a month
  • Chicco playpen: 880 searches a month
  • Dream on me playpen: 320 searches a month
  • Graco playpen: 6600 searches a month

What do they call playpens now?

Although the term ‘playpen’ is still used, some people also use the name ‘playard’ or pack n’play’ so it seems the names are interchangeable. The term ‘pack n’play’ is actually a brand by Graco and due to its popularity, it has become a term some people use to talk about playpens in general. Playards and pack n’ plays are very similar to playpens, but they have more features, such as a padded mattress at the bottom, a changing station, a bassinet and extra storage.

When were playpens invented?

According to Wikipedia, the earliest use of the word ‘playpen’ can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1902. However, it wasn’t until 1922 that the first version of a ‘portable baby cage’ was invented by Emma Read. She was living in an apartment block and wanted more fresh air for her children, so she decided to suspend a cage out of her window.  She believed children could play and have a sleep in the fresh air, so the cage doubled as a crib. It seems incredible anyone would come up with such a solution like this. Can you imagine if this would pass modern day safety regulations?

There were various adaptations to Read’s suspended cage over the next few years, particularly in London, but then it became less popular towards the start of WW2.

Can you donate playpens?

There are several places which would love to have an old playpen if you no longer need one in your home. You can try local charities, nurseries, churches or daycares. In fact, if you don’t have the time to visit these places yourself to see if they’re interested in your donation, there are companies like Loadup (in the US) which will come round and take it for you.

Just make sure all the pieces are in working order and you have the instruction manual so it’ll be easier for someone to assemble once they have the playpen.

Are playpens Montessori?

In the Montessori classroom, you generally won’t find playpens. This is because the whole Montessori philosophy is geared around promoting independence in children while providing lots of freedom for their development. Playpens, bouncers and pack n’plays are considered to restrict the movement of a child. It’s also why you often find floor beds rather than cribs, as this also enables toddlers to get up and move around whenever they like.

What are the benefits of baby playpens?

Despite the reservations of many parents about playpens, they do have some benefits:

  • Safety. Once your baby is on the move, it’s important your home is safe and secure so they don’t hurt themselves. While it’s important that your infant is free to explore around, putting them in a playpen for a few minutes ensures they are safe, and it gives you a few minutes rest.
  • Entertainment. Many playpens come with things to entertain your baby and distract them for some time, which can be useful if you need to work on something else for some time, such as doing some housework, preparing a meal etc.
  • Daytime naps. Some playpens (or pack n’ plays/playards) have mattresses so they are very convenient for daytime naps. If they are easy to take apart and assemble, then they are also a great option to use as a travel crib if you’re planning a trip away somewhere.

There isn’t really anything wrong with a playpen providing your baby doesn’t use it for too long. Think of it as just somewhere to place them in a safe space if you need just a minute or two to do something else. You can put some of your baby’s favourite toys and books in the playpen, or use it as a ball pool so they will enjoy spending a bit of time there. Make sure there are no toys which present a strangulation risk, or anything which they could stand on and pull themselves over the sides of the playpen.

Why do babies cry in playpens?

It depends on a number of things. Firstly, if your baby is bored and has spent too long in a playpen, they are obviously going to cry so you can take them out. However, a more common reason why your baby might cry is if they just don’t like it, or if they have a negative association with it. For example, if they are crying or having a tantrum every time you put them in a playpen, they are going to think of this safe space as a place where they get upset.