We created an inexpensive, non-toxic and attractive "Baby Fun Zone" where our son could play safely and keep his toys. To accommodate his growth from a newborn to a crawler and finally to a walking-destroyer, we added simple elements to the original design.
1. Expedit shelving units from Ikea (4x4, 4x2 and 5x1 sizes).
2. A five-panel, free-standing wooden pet gate from Four Paws: cheaper than anything labeled "child" and nicer than faux-cheerful plastic baby gates.
3. The Panda Mat, a great non-toxic alternative to foam mats.
4. Canvas cube bins from The Land of Nod, which are just as good and one-third the price of the Pottery Barn equivalent.
5. A fake "doorway". We used a hand-me-down Learning Home from Fisher Price.
In the beginning, this is all you will need. But as your baby becomes more mobile (and craftier), it will help to screw the ends of the gate into the shelves. We also put an elbow joint on the corner to give the gate more stability. Baby Fun Zone doubles as a place to keep your sweet child safe while you take that blessed shower.
Eventually, your toddler will break out of Baby Fun Zone entirely. Don’t fight it. Fold one panel of the gate back and put a fake door in its place. The zone is still contained, and your little one will love going in and out through his special door.
Here’s the great thing: These days, even though our son comes and goes from Baby Fun Zone as he pleases, he knows toys belong inside the zone. So even if we take some toys out into the living space to play, when it’s time for clean-up, he (mostly) returns them to their rightful place. He’s never known another way. Easy peasy.