Old play pens are nothing like today's newer models.

The Best Play Yards for Toddlers

by Shara JJ Cooper

Play yard is today's term for a play pen. While not a requirement to raising children, they are sanity-saving gear for many moms. They keep your little one in a safe, contained area so he can play quietly while you catch up on your to-do list. Choosing the best play yard isn't always easy. They come in numerous styles, and the price range is diverse. Ultimately, moms need to choose the best play yard for their needs.

1. Safety

The best play yards for little ones are the safest. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the safest play yards are the newest. Their regulations were updated as of February 2013 to include regulations that play yards have side rails that don't form a "V" shape when folded. A tight "V" shape can entrap and strangle young children. Newer models also have stronger brackets so they don't crack and feature a stronger play yard floor.

2. Adaptability

The ideal play yard for many moms is a play yard that can grow with their child. Some play yards have extra features, like a changing table or bassinet. While they won't hold the weight of most toddlers, they do help you get your money's worth during your little one's infancy. Extra features can also include pouches and storage areas on the outside of the play yard. This lets your little one have easy access to his toys while he plays.

3. Portability

Most play yards are designed to be moved from one location to another. However, they aren't all equal in this regard. Test out your play yard to see how portable it is. The best play yard can be folded in one hand while you juggle a wiggling toddler in the other. You will also want to consider the size when folded, especially if you have a compact car and a lot of baby gear.

4. Second-hand

The ideal play yard for some moms, is a second-hand one. These play yards are often inexpensive, if not free. For many families, free is the best option. If you are looking into a used model, examine it carefully. It should have top rails that automatically lock when it's assembled and also have tight netting. Your little one should not be able to get his foot, fingers or head through the netting. Feel the inside and outside of the play yard for any rough spots due to wear or hardware that is coming loose. Check the CPSC website for potential recalls on the specific used model you're considering.

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