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By Jim Dodge
“My Little Bed” by the Newborne Company was the first commercially successful toddler bed for the juvenile furniture market. The concept of a toddler bed continues to be a much needed answer to fill the needs of young children too old for their cribs, yet too young to comfortably make the transition to a twin sized bed.
Our daughter Holly climbed out of her crib when she was just over two years old. My wife and I searched in vain for an alternative to putting her back in her crib as we realized that she could escape the confines of her crib and climb, or in her case fall, down to the floor. A twin size bed seemed too expansive and high up off the floor for her to easily enter and would have required a guard rail. It was not a solution to our problem. So I went to my workshop that weekend and made her a sturdy little bed out of pine. She just loved it!
Years later, at the 1989 Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association’s (JPMA) annual trade show in Dallas, Newborne displayed my first hand-made prototype of a metal toddler bed. It really was a “sleeper” as nobody had any idea how popular toddler beds would become. Our specialty store customers responded positively to “My Little Bed”, a toddler bed that made the transition between crib and bed. Many retailers were willing to give it an opportunity in their stores.
Initial orders for three pieces turned into re-orders for a dozen beds. It took about six months for us to realize that we had a real winning product.
During the second season, a more attractive arched headboard model was introduced in lots of really neat colors. Dual guard rails with mesh panels were added. The toddler bed was becoming a staple in most juvenile specialty stores and catalogs as well as a handful of major national accounts. At last, toddlers could have their own little beds!
Newborne’s toddler bed established a true product category for the juvenile furniture industry with almost a quarter million beds sold in 1991 and 1992. As can happen to any non-patentable basic concept in a free market, “My Little Bed” was paid the ultimate compliment by becoming copied by at least half a dozen other companies who made metal, ready to assemble furniture, most much larger than Newborne. Just as the climate for increasing market shares became overly competitive, Newborne transferred the marketing rights of “My Little Bed” to The Fisher-Price Company.
That company refined the metal toddler bed design and also transferred the idea into two molded plastic headboard/footboard models. These high-tech versions feature girl-boy themes with wonderful built-in storage compartments for toys.
Other creative manufacturers for quality toddler beds feature attractive designs done in molded plastics. Designs range from classic styling to a new bed with glow-in-the dark features on the headboard. Consumers can choose either traditional styling or novelty designs, such as the race car bed for boys and a canopy model in pink for little girls. A futon variation is also now available.
Although there had previously been heirloom quality toddler beds made from hardwood, “My Little Bed” by Newborne was important for several reasons. At the time it was first introduced, it retailed for under $100; it was a very straightforward square headboard and footboard design. It was specifically sized to accept a standard full size crib mattress, measuring 27″ x 52″, as well as the accompanying crib bedding that included a fitted sheet and quilt.
The perceived value in extending the use of the crib mattress and bedding for a few more years of use on a toddler bed makes practical sense to many parents. Many specialty stores wisely suggest a better grade of crib mattress to their customers, no matter what grade of crib they selected.
As there were no industry standards to go by at the time I designed the toddler bed, I used some of the existing JPMA crib standards, including the required 2-3/8″ spacing between the headboard and footboard slats. Even though the advised threshold age of “My Little Bed” was 24 months, my concern was that parents were moving their children over to toddler beds too early. I suspected that in some cases the old crib was being emptied and readied for another new addition to the family. This is why I support threshold age warning labels on all toddler beds and also advise them to be multi-lingual.
What was important for that first wooden bed that I made in my workshop and the many mass produced metal toddler beds that were shipped into the market, was that the frames were designed to be strong enough to hold an adult’s weight. I believed that the dimension and thickness of the steel tubing had to be strong enough to allow a parent to sit on the edge of the child’s bed and “tuck” them in at night. This was one of the major factors that earned “My Little Bed” the National Parenting Seal of Approval.
Another improvement to the original design was the application of dual guard rails with mesh panels to the bed’s frame. Not only did they serve to enclose the occupant in the bed, they also helped secure the crib mattress to the toddler bed frame so that it could not shift under active use. Many three or four year old kids may see their toddler beds as a play space, even a trampoline! All of the dominant toddler beds available today have addressed this concern with the addition of centering edges or braces, devices that serve to hold the mattress in the proper position.
In terms of early childhood development, I have always felt that it is important for a young children to be able to identify with their own little bed. Their new sleeping environment can give them new independence. It also offers unrestricted access to their own room and beyond!
When parents assemble a new toddler bed in the child’s room, they must also pay renewed attention to a list of potential hazards in the room as well as the entire home. The solutions for this list can include cupboard latches, electrical outlet covers and open stairway protection. With toddlers using their own little beds, they now have unobserved access to many of those problem areas from that the parents had assumed the crib would prevent.
When it is your time to purchase a toddler bed, salespeople suggest that this is also a good time to crawl around the house to again identify and solve potential safety problems with the devices that most stores can readily supply.
It is also a good time to really outfit the toddler bed and crib mattress with fresh new toddler bedding instead of using the old crib bedding. This means supplying a slightly larger quilt that can be tucked under the mattress. It also may mean going from the typical soft pastel colors for infants to the bright primary colors that toddlers like. Making this time period a big deal for the child, even embellishing the room decor, is all part of the transition process. All of the sudden it is no longer a nursery, it is their own bedroom!
One concern that I still have is the tendency of some manufacturers of toddler beds to try to meet extremely low price points in mass market distribution for their promotional models. Today, I often see metal toddler beds on sale for $25 and there doesn’t seem to be much substance to the bed in terms of structure. This makes the product look more like a cot for daycare with no footboard, no guardrails or headboard. I wonder if they’ve gone too far just to hit a low price point.
My original toddler bed was a concept that evolved to create a secure and attractive environment for young children, two to five years of age. It was a defined space that was created to nurture a child’s independence as well as offer security, thereby making the transition from crib to bed the most positive experience possible.
Jim Dodge lives with his wife Michele and their two teenage daughters in Worthington, MA USA. Jim was Vice President and a partner in The Newborne Company for over ten years. He is presently an independent product design and sales consultant in the juvenile and housewares markets.