Standard play yards aren't simple rectangular pens with mesh sides. While very basic styles are still available, the standard in play yards now consists of models that include mobiles, bassinets and changing stations to meet the multiple needs of busy parents. With the right accessories, standard play yards can function as a bassinet in a parent's room, or as a secondary napping center on another floor of the home. Likewise, the changing station attachment serves as a convenient area to not only change diapers, but to store diapers and supplies as well.
Mobiles and other soft toys, music, vibration and canopies are additional features offered by some play yards, making it a more entertaining space for a baby than the basic wooden versions with rails we used to know as playpens. The new standard in play yards is perfect for families who live in larger or multi-level homes who can use a secondary changing station, or for parents who plan to use the play yard as an in-room bassinet for a few months before using it as a safe play space when baby is older.
Graco is arguably the most well-known and prolific manufacturer of play yards, so much so that Graco's trademark Pack 'n Play name has become synonymous with play yard and playpen. At the time of our visit to Graco's website, we found 87 variations of the Pack 'n Play -- all various combinations of the 12 styles and dozens of patterns offered. Pack 'n Plays are tremendously popular among reviews; we found recommendations for seven different Graco Pack 'n Plays during our research.
Among the most popular Graco Pack 'n Play models is the Graco Pack 'n Play Playard with Automatic Folding Feet (*Est. $70), which offers a bassinet attachment approved for use for babies less than 15 pounds. It weighs 21.1 pounds, sits 29 inches high and is 28.3 inches wide and 39.9 inches long. The Graco Pack 'n Play Playard with Automatic Folding Feet is recommended for children less than 35 inches tall who are not able to climb out. This playpen's sides are released with the push of a button, and the wheels and feet collapse to make it fold more compactly. It includes a carrying bag for easy storage or travel. Although it doesn't offer a changing station, it does feature a toy bar with soft, removable toys to provide entertainment for little ones. All four sides are made of mesh, so caregivers can see in, a baby can see out, and the play yard has plenty of ventilation. The Pack 'n Play Playard with Automatic Folding Feet is available in seven different patterns.
With the attachment, the Graco Pack 'n Play can double as a bassinet. Nearly 190 reviewers on Walmart.com give the Pack 'n Play Playard with Automatic Folding Feet a perfect five-star average rating. It gets similar high regard in 160 Amazon.com reviews. Reviewers say this playpen is easy to set up and take down, and the carrying bag makes it easy to transport. Many reviewers note using this play yard for traveling or for overnight visits to grandma's house, and they say it's very convenient for the price.
If you're looking for the convenience of an extra changing station, the Graco Pack 'n Play Classic Playard in Brentwood (*Est. $115) offers all the features of the Playard with Automatic Folding Feet and more. The bassinet in this model, which is recommended for babies up to 15 pounds, has quilted bumpers for added comfort, along with a quilted mattress pad. Instead of a stationary toy bar, the Classic Playard in Brentwood features a musical wind-up mobile for added entertainment. Like the Pack 'n Play with Automatic Folding Feet, the Classic Playard offers wheels, a carrying bag, push-button fold for easy teardown and mesh on all four sides for ventilation. The play yard is safe for use with children less than 35 inches tall who cannot climb out, and the changer is recommended for babies up to 25 pounds.
The Classic Playard comes in 12 patterns, although the features vary slightly between patterns. The Emelia and Abbington versions, for example, have a silent mobile but offer an electronics feature that plays music and soothing sounds, and the changing station has three cubbies for keeping diapers, wipes and other essentials close at hand. Other styles offer diaper stackers instead of cubbies for storage. The Classic Playard weighs 29.7 pounds, sits 31.3 inches high, is 28.3 inches wide and 39.9 inches long.
The Pack 'n Play Classic in Brentwood has an average rating of 4.5 stars out of five on Amazon.com, based on nearly 85 owner-written reviews, plus more than 50 people at Target.com give it an equally high score. Parents love the convenience of having an extra changing station, although a few say the changer is a bit wobbly and slants a little when a baby is placed in it, so the baby rolls slightly to one side. Owners say this model is a snap to set up and tear down, although one parent notes that the bassinet attachment won't fit in the carrying bag with the rest of the play yard. Reviewers say the bassinet is sturdy, and they like the added features that come with this play yard, including the mobile and music.
Despite the popularity of Graco's wide assortment of play yard options, the more expensive Chicco Lullaby LX Play Yard (*Est. $165) gets the most favorable reviews among both professional and owner-written review sources. It comes in 12 patterns and offers a thickly padded mattress and bassinet. A toy gym entertains a baby in the bassinet, and it can be used as a play mat. A remote control programs music, vibrations and a nightlight, allowing parents to control these soothing features from across the room or without getting out of bed at night. This play yard also offers push-button folding like the Graco models and has a carrying bag. Specifications are similar to that of Graco's models as well: The bassinet can be used with babies up to 15 pounds, the changer with babies up to 25 pounds and the play yard itself with babies up to 30 pounds. The unit itself weighs 33 pounds, is 31 inches tall, 28 inches wide and 40 inches long.
Experts give the Chicco playpen points for its extra-cushy, machine-washable padding and the added features it offers, including music, vibration and the toy gym. Another consumer testing organization gives the Chicco an excellent rating in terms of portability and ease of use, and a very good rating for safety. Senior editors at BabyGizmo.com rate the Chicco Lullaby LX with a perfect five-star rating; the only con they list is that it doesn't include a canopy, which they say isn't essential. In addition, all the accessories fit into the included travel bag, and the wheels remain exposed so the bag can be rolled around instead of carried. The changing table can be flipped away when not in use, unlike other models which require the changing table to be removed for use as a play pen.
Baby-centric site Babble.com says the Chicco Lullaby is the best play yard in terms of aesthetics, although it doesn't finish as their top pick overall. On the downside, they say that while the mattress itself is thick and comfortable, the support mechanism underneath the mattress when it's in place makes it lumpy. Nearly 280 reviewers on BabiesRUs.com rate the Chicco with an average rating of four stars out of five -- not quite as highly as the Graco Pack 'n Play models. Reviewers love the mattress on the Chicco playpen, saying that it's both cushy and sturdy, and doesn't bow in the middle when a baby is lying on it. There are a few complaints about feeling the slats under the mattress when it's being used as a playpen, however.
Feedback is mixed on how easy the Chicco play yard is to set up; some say it took only a few minutes, while others struggled. One reviewer notes that the snaps to attach the mattress to the bottom of the play yard are on the mattress, so if you want to cover the mattress with a sheet, the mattress can't be attached to the bottom. Other than these complaints, the overall opinion of the Chicco Lullaby LX is highly positive. Owners love the stylish look of this playpen and the added padding on the changing table. While it's a bit heavier than some play yards, and therefore not the most ideal for frequent travel, the added weight makes it very sturdy. The machine-washable padding is a big plus for most reviewers.
Most very basic play yards are playpens in their simplest form, with four mesh walls and a thin mattress pad for baby to play. Most basic play yards are easily portable and would work well for travel, although there are other play yards specifically intended for traveling. Rather than the standard 28-by-40 inch size of typical play yards, basic play yards often take a square shape and offer a larger play area. For families who don't need a secondary changing station or wouldn't need a unit that doubles as a bassinet, a simpler playpen will meet their needs.
The Graco Pack 'n Play TotBloc Playard (*Est. $75) comes in three patterns: Bugs Quilt, a colorful pattern with bugs and flowers printed on the sides; Punch Red, a solid, bright red; and Sorbet, a multicolor pattern with more muted tones. This play yard has mesh on all four sides and measures 38 inches by 38 inches. It weighs 23.7 pounds, sits 30.5 inches high, and (like other Graco play yards) can be used with children less than 35 inches tall who cannot climb out on their own. It also comes with a carrying bag for easy travel and storage. The TotBloc has a perfect five-star rating on both Amazon.com and Walmart.com, based on more than 700 owner-written reviews. The Bugs Quilt pattern is more popular than the others; most reviewers are reviewing this version specifically. According to reviewers, the bugs printed on the sides of the Bugs Quilt TotBloc feature activities, including squeaking, crinkling, bells and a mirror. This added feature is a hit; most parents say their children thoroughly enjoy the toys on the sides of the play yard. There are a few complaints that the sides restrict a child's view, however. One parent says her son likes to watch videos, but it's hard for him to see out of the play yard.
Owners praise the bright colors and reasonable price of the TotBloc, as well as the roomy play area. Some reviewers say it would be helpful to have a removable, machine-washable sheet to cover the floor pad, so that it would be easier to keep clean. At least one parent mentions using a regular sheet and tucking it under the edges of the pad. One plus is that the pad is extra-thick, which reviewers like, and it's made of cloth rather than vinyl, so it's more comfortable for a baby to lay on. One parent notes that while the bright colors and fun activities are great for play time, if you plan to use the TotBloc for nap time, they could be a distraction. Several parents mention setting it up and taking it down on a daily basis, and they say it's even easier to set up than other Pack 'n Play models.
The Joovy Room 2 (*Est. $150) also offers 10 square feet of play space in a very simple design similar to that of the Graco TotBloc. With four mesh walls, an easy-fold design and a carrying bag, the Room 2 comes in three colors: black, red and yellow. Solving the problem posed by the TotBloc's lack of sheets to cover the pad, this model comes with one cotton fitted sheet. This play yard is expensive (double the price of the Graco TotBloc), and while extra sheets are available, they're pricey ($40 each).
We didn't find as many owner reviews for the Joovy play yard, but what we did find was positive. Owners say this play yard is very sturdy and heavy, although it is easy to fold and move. Several owners say the sheet that comes with the Joovy is very soft. There are a few mentions of parents using the Joovy for twins because it provides enough space for two babies to play, unlike standard-size play yards, which would be very cramped. Most owners also appreciate the design of this play yard -- the colors are gender-neutral, and as one reviewer notes, "not cutesy." On the downside, several owners say the mattress is thin and hard, so they put extra blankets in the bottom to make it more comfortable. It also sits pretty low to the ground, according to some reviewers, so leaning over the edge to pick up a baby can strain one's back. One parent says her children wake from naps or become scared because it sits so low. However, the Joovy website notes that the low center of gravity offers more stability. It's also heavier than the TotBloc, and some reviewers say they don't travel with it due to the weight.