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Preparing for Foster Kids: Versatility in Gear

Like any first time parents, we’ve been scrambling to figure out what kind of equipment we need have in preparation for welcoming little ones into our house. Only with foster parenting we have the added complexity of not knowing whether we’re preparing for a newborn or a 5-year-old, since we’re opening our availability to kids anywhere in that age range. Being placed with a newborn – 1-year-old is less likely than a toddler or young child, so we’re limiting how many infant/baby items we bring into our cozy house at this point. As I’ve been researching, one word keeps coming to mind: VERSATILITY.

Crib to Toddler Bed
Cribs that convert into toddler beds seem to be the status quo these days, and for good reason since most kids are able to climb out of their crib by 2 years. Our SOMNAT has three options: a higher position for newborns, a low position for infants that can sit up or pull up to a stand, and a toddler bed with one crib side removed. (I can’t find any photos online of it set up like a toddler bed… the image on the right is a random Google search image.) Some cribs even convert into twin or double beds, using the crib sides and the headboard and footboard. We had other plans for a big kid bed though.

Low Bed to Loft or Bunk Bed
We decided on the popular KURA for kids too big for the SOMNAT. I’ve seen the KURA bed set up and even customized in many ways. I love that it can be a low bed, a loft bed or a bunk bed. Even in the loft/bunk set up the bed is not very tall so it’s a safer option for young children. According to IKEA the bunk shouldn’t be used for kids younger than 6 but I have friends who have used it with 3, 4 and 5 year olds with no issues. In the high bed position, the square footage under the bed is open for a second mattress or additional floor space. It can easily be closed off on the bottom to create a fun hiding place or to cover up a cluttered toy area.

Convertible Car Seats
Many friends have offered to loan us their car seats. INFANT car seats. Why? Because they’re only used for 8-12 months and then they’re stored for the next kid. When I started researching car seats I was amazed to learn that there are car seats that go from newborn up to 70 lbs—the whole range of kids we’re likely to foster parent! I’ve heard all the benefits of being able to tote a sleeping baby around in an infant carrier but for foster parents, a convertible car seat is perfect. If we have an infant and feel like an infant car seat would be helpful, I’m glad to know that so many people have them in storage. My friend Susan recommends the Britax Marathon because it’s “really sturdy, easy to clean, easy to install & versatile for sizes newborn to 65-70 pounds.” We were gifted a perfect black one. I’m confident that we’ll be needing a second one at some point so if anyone wants to buy us another one, I like this cowmooflage one… just saying. (SIDENOTE: Getting bedding, car seats, strollers, clothing, etc. in unisex colors is obviously the most economical option for any parents who are planning on having more than one child.)

Strollers
There is a lot of room for personal preferences here but I love the simple yet hearty Jeep umbrella stroller my mom and I found at a yard sale recently. (Similar to this, pictured above but black and without all the accessories.) There are lots of fancy stroller options out there, including ones that work specifically with infant carriers, but I survived infancy being worn in backpack-style carrier and pushed around in a simple fabric umbrella stroller. Cheaper, lighter, smaller. I don’t have the age/weight specs on mine since it was second hand but I suspect this will work for all kids 1-5 with no problem. If/when we have 2 kids, I’ll be keeping an eye on craigslist for one of those fancy Sit & Stand strollers (like this one) that can tote two+ kids from newborn – 45 lbs and have lots of storage.

High Chairs
This Eddie Bauer foldable booster seat was recommended to me by my friend K for it’s portability and ease of storage. Our friends Renata and Sean convinced us we should get a Stokke chair. They’re as pricy as the Britax car seats but with sturdy wood construction and an adaptable design to work for an infant, a child and an adult, it’s considered a lifetime chair. We inquired about one on craigslist but didn’t hear back and while we were at IKEA we semi-impulsively (I had it on my baby wishlist) bought the ANTILOP high chair and tray for $25. The seat base is a bit bulky but the legs pop off so it can be stored pretty easily. The style matches our other dining chairs and the tray means we can move the seat around and we don’t need to find a placemat solution, though these work great with our friends’ Stokke. Did I mention the Stokke high chair comes in a bunch of colors?

These are the 5 key pieces of baby/child gear I come up with. Can you think of anything else to add? If you are preparing to become a foster parent or looking for gift ideas for a new foster parent of young children, remember: versatility, versatility, versatility. Books, audio CDs, DVDs, dishes (kids utensils, sippy cups), bibs and classic toys (blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals, musical instruments, cars, dolls) can also be added to the list of items that can be used for a wide range of ages.

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