Routines: Playpen time – Toys and starting late

An example of my playpen ready for playpen time. An attractive selection of age appropriate toys - not too many - of different types.

My toys are stored in plastic crates so that a good selection of toys of a variety of types are all ready for me to pop into the playpen. Crates are rotated from day-to-day so that interest in the toys presented stays high for quite some time.

For those of you who have older babies or toddlers who have not yet been introduced to playpen time, here are some notes on starting late.

Starting late:

For a baby or toddler who has had a lot of freedom, the transition to a playpen can take a little time.  Make sure it is a good time of day to begin (not when they are hungry or tired) and start will a small increment of time – even 5 minutes. Put in a small basket of toys, or a toy or two in each corner of the playpen, instruct the child that they need to play here and that Mummy will be back to get them in a little while.

Yes, they probably will cry and that’s ok. If you are consistent and stick with it, your child will come to play happily for this time. You may like to play a CD or favourite book on tape, letting you child know that they can come out when the CD or story finishes or set a timer and tell them that playpen time will be finished when the timer beeps. Having a cue of some sort to signal the end of playpen time is helpful in the training period because it lets the child know that it is the signal, not their crying, that has decided playpen time is over for the day.

Start with the small increment of time and stick to it, coming in immediately once the signal sounds (timer beeps etc.) and with a happy face and positive tone say something like “Playpen time is finished, you can come out now.” A well fed, well rested child, with age appropriate toys is not harmed in any way by a little time in the playpen, in fact it actually helps them to develop those all important concentrating skills that will enable them to learn so many important things later.

Initially, have playpen time 2 or 3 times a day for 5 minutes. Once your little one is used to spending this short period of time in a playpen, gradually start to extend the time. Once they are spending longer blocks of time in the playpen, reduce the number of times in a day you use it to two and then once a day. By around 12 months all of my children would happily play in the playpen for around 45 minutes which extended to an hour by the age of 18 months. I have watched them examining objects with intense concentration, seen the cogs ticking as they use it in different ways and investigate everything about it. Babies and toddlers often do not do this for longer than a few moments unless you create situations that foster this skill.

Once a child is characterised by happily spending time in a playpen then on odd days you can make exceptions when they are not happy eg. extra tired, sick etc.

Although you may be thinking “My boisterous 12 month old will never do that” let me encourage you that they will. There will certainly be a transition time involved, however if you are consistent, playpen time will be a pleasant time for you both.

Introducing playpen time as part of a daily flexible routine will greatly improve the success you have with it. Trying to implement one planned moment in a day of chaos and unlimited choices for a child will be very difficult.

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4 Responses

  1. What is the purpose of playpen time that you can’t get with a safe, larger area in which to play? My DD has intense concentration without me having to do anything other than give her something interesting and rotate toys. She’s 2 now and has been making toy stew, toy soup, and toy tea for about an hour.

    My 9 month old (at the time) could have easily climbed out of that. I can’t imagine a toddler in there. At 18 months I could leave her for some unsupervised play in the living room.

  2. Thank you for your comment. It’s great that your toddler is able to focus and concentrate when she chooses to do so – it’s such an important skill. A question I would ask though is would she happily concentrate on that activity if you initiated it and told her that she needed to do so; that is when it was your choice, not hers? I’ll be writing about choices over the next day or so which will give you a better idea of where I am coming from with this question. My children could probably climb out if they really tried, but I am teaching them the importance of obeying Mummy in preparation for later obeying God. I believe that a child who learns to submit to their parents will more easily submit to God later.

  3. I can suggest activities, yes. Just last week I made some sidewalk “paint” with cornstarch, water, and food color, brought her outside, gave her some brushes and let her explore to he hearts content. I played with her some and then sat and relaxed. She incorporated rock painting into the play too. A year ago we had a giant cardboard box that she played with for weeks–exploring it in and out. If I want to show her something, I just show her because I think she’d enjoy it or I want to share it and think she is ready to understand. Occasionally, she isn’t interested in a particular activity, but having preferences is perfectly normal.

    I suppose, you are right, I could have taught her not to climb out of it and not to throw the toys out of it. But, it doesn’t seem right to me to use confinement to do that. Especially since it was more important to me to encourage her to how down safely from stairs and couches after she climbed up to sit on them. 🙂 In addition, I want her to be able to sit down in an open area with all temptation around and still focus. That’s just the world we live in.

    I suppose I don’t feel I need to create an artificial situation in order to teach her to listen or to have her obey unimportant things — it is the big things that matter. I *want* her to know the difference. Decision making and judgment are infinitely more important to me. She already has an innate desire to please and to mimic–I want to cultivate that. Plus, there are opportunities all around me.

    I want to be able to ask her to stay in a room when I ask her too of her own will while I go put some laundry in (from ages crawler to early walker or so I just took her with me so that she could see where I was going, what I was doing, the sounds she would hear, and get a sense of the fact that we would come back). At around 18months I gave her the choice of coming with me or staying in the living room. Now, I can start sorting the laundry and she knows the deal and waits for me. When she’s older, I expect she’ll want to help me.

    I also have a lot of books, dvds, and cds well within reach but she doesn’t touch them. Occasionally, she shows interest but I tell her those are not for touching and she’s developed the understanding and impulse control to walk away (when she was 9 months obviously I had to show her not tell her 🙂 ). In the store, I choose to let her follow me and to learn limits as we come across them. All kids want to touch the thousands of wonderful things, so I prefer to direct that desire to helping me put things into the cart, or show her items she can safely touch and put back gently and which items are off limits but she may point to and ask me about. After all, I take things off the shelf to look at and put them back. I model that behavior so I must teach her how to use it. Now, when I ask her to put something back, she proudly does so on her own. We have more trouble with clothing stores simply because we hardly go there, but she’s learning limits there too.

    Teaching moments happen every day, kwim? 🙂

    • There are a lot of great skills here that you are teaching your daughter which is fantastic. Many of the things you mentioned are necessary for all children; learning to stay in an area without boundaries, participating in household chores and eventually helping with them, learning how to move about safely (down from couches etc.), focussing with temptation and distraction around you and learning what items they do and don’t have the freedom to access. There are reasons other than purely concentration that I use a playpen and perhaps my post on choices will explain that a little more.

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