Updated: May 9, 2015
Playpen and Playard Reviews:Parents realize really fast that once their infant learns how to crawl and move around, their job gets pretty tough trying to chase the little guy or girl all over the house. Playpens have been around for decades and they are commonly referred to as playards, baby gyms, porta cribs, play mats, and infant play stations. The ones my parents used to own were big, bulky and not very portable. The modern playpens are extremely portable and usually breakdown into a nice carrying case so you can travel with them quite easily. My wife and I have taken our portable Graco playpen all over the United States when traveling with our 2 young children. It comes in handy when you are staying a hotel or at a friends house overnight. It's very difficult to have a small infant or toddler sleep in a normal size bed, but they seem to like sleeping in playpens.
What features do you want in a playard or playpen? First, you want something that is easy to setup and collapse down. The whole idea of a playpen is that it's portable and easier taken from room to room or when you travel locally or further away. You want the top and bottom rails to collapse without hassle and lock into position just as easily. Since your infant or toddler will be playing in the playard, the mesh sides should be colorful and even have letters or numbers on them for educational purposes. The most basic playpens are just a rectangular shape with a simple floor and mesh sides that you can see through. Some of the more extravagent playards/playpens have music mobiles that attach to the top rail and play music or sounds for your child to listen to. You definitely want the playpen to be large enough to hold some toys in it so your toddler can play safely while you are busy doing other things. I found that chasing my 8 month old son around the house got real old once he mastered crawling, so putting him in the playpen to play was a great solution while I got a few things done. Our Graco playpen was so convenient that we often took it to the park so that our older daughter could play and our son would be safely secure in the playpen with us. Don't buy a playpen unless it has a carrying case for on the go fun. Some of them have wheels on one end so you can maneuver them into or out of rooms and around furniture. The ones with canopies or attachments that block the sun are great for outdoor use in your backyard or at the local park so you infant gets some shade. The Graco Swept Frame Pack 'n Play Portable Playard with Bassinet & Changing Table ($130) is a high end playard that has 3 uses in one and comes recommended by the users at Amazon.com. Graco really dominates this product arena with most of the top sellers on every baby website we visited. Other brands include Evenflo, Baby Bjorn, Chicco, Combi, Simplicity (Fisher Price), Cosco, and Kolcraft. Certainly safety should be a huge priority when shopping for anything baby related and you should always check to make sure the playard you choose is Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (JPMA) approved. The Consumer Products Safety Commission constantly tests kids products for safety and you will find a list on their website of recalls. Other things to look for when purchasing a playpen are ones that have no sharp edges, have built in pockets for storage of bottles or diapers, and is made with material that is easy to clean. We all know that babies make a mess with food and drink, so find a playpen that will clean up quickly. As for reviews, we think Amazon.com offers the best consumer feedback on products on the web. Other sites with playard reviews are Storknet.com, Viewpoints.com, and Heather Corley did a wonderful review on the Graco Pack 'n Play Sport for About.com. Most the playpens we saw were priced between $60 and $100. The more expensive models with music and built in bassinets or changing tables were more like $130 to $150 and the Baby Bjorn travel playpen topped out at close to $175. The biggest disappointment in the bunch was the Simplicity Portable Playard with Electronic Mobile, Bassinet and Changer in Rainforest at $180 and the sides have a tendency to collapse per several reviewers at Amazon.com. It received 1 star (out of 5) from 13 of the 41 reviewers. We looked for reviews from Consumer Reports on playpens and playards but couldn't find any current information. You can browse the top selling playards and playpens online here.