There was once a time when your baby would stay in the same few feet of space just because she couldn't go anywhere else. Those were different times, simpler times. Now that your baby can move pretty much anywhere her heart takes her, it's an extra challenge to keep her safe and happy. Hello, playpens.
Playpens are in the same general category as play yards, pack 'n' plays, or travel cribs, but there are sometimes small differences depending on the brand. Pack 'n' plays and travel cribs are generally on the smaller side and look like cribs, meaning they're usually rectangular and raised from the floor. Playpens and play yards can be either raised and crib-like or flush to the floor and gate-like. They're usually bigger than pack 'n' plays or travel cribs, giving toddlers a little more room to play and explore as they get bigger. Some brands will use all these terms interchangeably, and size will vary depending on the model.
The best playpen for your baby in her second year - if you use one at all - really depends on you and her. Something on the bigger side will give you all the benefits of keeping your baby in a safe area without restricting her movement or play too much, but a smaller one will be more portable. Some playpens come with built-in toys and interactive elements, which can be super fun, and almost always have bright, vibrant colors. Throw a few of your baby's favorite toys into the mix, and a playpen is basically a baby sanctuary.
Staying in a playpen for too long could get a little frustrating for your baby, but in shorter chunks of time, it's a great little safe zone. If you need to take a shower, make dinner, tackle some chores, or just rest a little, it can be helpful to know that your baby has a safe place to play or nap, especially if she has been especially into everything lately. They're also good for giving your baby solo space to play on her own and develop the skills she needs to entertain herself.
One thing to note if you'll be using a playpen is that it might be best to avoid using it as a punishment area. If your baby associates the playpen with being punished or bad behavior, she isn't going to enjoy being in there. Instead, use it as an alternate play space. It doesn't just have to be used when you're busy, it can also be a special little space for your baby to take ownership of and be proud of. You can sit next to her and read, relax, or look on as she plays. She can even practice cleaning up the space and inviting you in for special events like tea or trains (if you have one of the bigger playpens, that is). If you're lucky, maybe your baby will even let you borrow the playpen on occasion for a quick nap.