Kids beds are available in a huge variety of shapes, colors and sizes, and it can be tough to figure out which piece is right for your child's room. While the look of the bed – the shape, color and design details – will be what you notice first, the underlying materials, construction and safety features matter more than looks.
Here's what to consider when you select a kids bed, and how to choose the best bed for your child's needs.
Choosing beds by age: What size bed is best?
Whether your toddler has outgrown his crib or your older child needs an upgrade, thinking about both his needs now and in the near future will help you choose the right bed. According to Consumer Affairs, the typical kids’ mattress lasts about 10 years, and so does a kids bed made of quality materials and construction.
A sturdy toddler bed that is close to the ground will serve your child for 2-3 years. You will incur an additional expense when that bed gets too small – and have to buy a larger bed and mattress anyway. Some kids do well when they switch immediately to a larger bed like a twin (equipped with safety rails if needed), while others need the easy access and secure feeling a smaller, toddler sized bed allows.
Because your bed purchase has the potential to last for a decade, choosing the right size is essential. A twin bed may seem huge for a now-small child, but he’ll grow into it very swiftly. Twin beds are the most popular size for kids and teens, but if you have the space, it is also worth considering a Twin XL (for extra length), Full or even Queen-sized bed. The right bed will be able to accompany your child to their first apartment, so investing in the right piece from the start results in long term value and savings.
Age also matters when it comes to choosing a safe bed; the top bunk of some bunk beds may be too hazardous for smaller children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under six should not be allowed to sleep in or access the top bunk. You know your child better than anyone, so if you need to extend the “no top bunk” rule until a later age, then do so.
What are the best kids bed materials?
While your first instinct is likely to choose a bed that looks great and that matches the style you’ve chosen for your child’s room, the actual construction of the bed matters more than looks. A poorly constructed bed may look great the day you assemble it, but over time, the slats will slide, the joints will loosen and the frame could become unstable. Most kids don’t just slip into bed and lie still under the covers –they jump in and on the mattress, play vigorously and even move the bed around the room, so a poorly built or designed frame is a safety risk and a poor investment.
When you’re choosing a kids bed, the materials the bed is made from and the manner of construction both matter. Both wood and metal can be used (together or individually) to create strong beds and frames that hold up to real use. It is important to look under the bed and at the unfinished parts – if you see particle board or another composite material that is not solid wood, move on.
Solid wood, either pine or hardwoods, can last for decades. Visit an antique store and you’ll see dozens of headboards made from maple, walnut and other hardwoods. They may be out of style or an unusual size, but chances are these old pieces are still in perfect working order, thanks to the tough hardwoods used in construction.
Metal beds for kids can also be durable, but will be significantly impacted by the design of the bed itself. Metal bolts can come undone over time, creating a bed that starts out firm and secure but ends up a wobbly mess. Any metal bed you consider should have multiple connection points at the headboard, footboard and along the sides. The slats should lock into place if they are metal or have a dedicated track if they are wood.
What’s wrong with particle board?
Cheap particle board that is painted to look like wood will retain its appearance, but the points that attach the bed frame to the head and foot board will often erode over time, resulting in a shaky, rickety bed. Painted board is fine for decorative elements and attachments, but should not be used for the bed’s structure; this includes the frame, slats and the connecting points on the head and footboard.
When the sides of the frame are attached to the head and foot board, they should be connected to solid wood, not plywood or particle board. Both of these inferior materials are made of composites – small chips and pieces of material merged together; the end result just isn’t as durable as solid, hearty wood or thick, durable metal.
What Style of Kids Bed is Best?
There are many styles of kids’ beds, aside from a standard twin size bed. Some of the most popular and fun styles include:
Ideal for shared bedrooms with limited space, the bunk bed is a childhood classic consisting of two bed frames stacked on top of each other with access to the top bed via a ladder.
The biggest benefit of a bunk bed is that you can maximize the vertical space in your child’s room, allowing more space for play. However, there are risks associated with bunks such as injury from falling off the top. Do not let kids under five use the top bunk, and ensure the protective railing extends at least eight inches above the mattress.
Similar to a bunk bed, loft beds are the ideal space-saving solution for your kid’s room. Also known as a cabin bed or mid-sleeper, it consists of a twin bed that is elevated to create a top bunk without a sleeping area underneath.
Loft beds can come in a range of heights, making them suitable for kids of all ages. Taller lofts are ideal for older kids and teens as they can comfortably fit a desk and chair underneath, while lower loft beds are excellent for toddlers and preschoolers, who have extra space to play or build a fort.
One thing to keep in mind for loft beds is that they should be firmly attached to the wall to prevent tipping due to the slightly weakened structure.
Trundle beds are a versatile sleeping arrangement for your kids by offering two beds in one. The second bed rolls out when it’s time to sleep, and neatly slides back under the bed frame during playtime.
Trundles are a safer option than bunk beds for a shared room or sleepover and often come with added storage drawers underneath. However, the smaller bed may need a specially sized mattress to fit underneath the other bed, and you will need adequate floor space to roll-out the second mattress, so it is not ideal for very small rooms.
Storage beds are either twin, loft, or bunk beds with added storage underneath. The rolling drawers or hinged frame can be used to store clothes or spare bed linens, but also make a great way to organize toys for an uncluttered floor.
There are very few disadvantages to having extra storage in your kid’s room. However, storage beds are often more expensive than other bed styles, and poor-quality beds can have issues with hardware and moving parts, which may limit the functionality of the storage space.
For any kid who has ever dreamed of sleeping in a race car, a novelty bed offers you the opportunity to make their dreams come true. Available as a twin, bunk or loft, novelty beds come in a variety of fun themes and often have additional interactive features such as integrated night lights, sound, and play equipment.
While novelty beds can help to create a fun room for your kids, they tend to be larger than a standard twin bed and not well suited to a small room. Choose a novelty bed with age-appropriate features. Some beds, such as a bunk with a slide, can pose a risk to younger children. Another thing to consider is the materials used in the design. Often novelty beds are made from molded plastic, which may not be as durable as other materials such as metal or solid wood.
Spotting quality: What to look for in a kids bed?
The materials the bed is made from are just the beginning. You should examine the construction of the bed itself, even if you have to ask the store to remove the mattress to do so. You should see a tough frame with evenly spaced slats. Slats should be about 2-2 ½” apart to allow for both air circulation and plenty of strength. Even if the bed you are choosing is made from a hardwood, the slats will likely be pine; pine is soft and flexible enough to offer support without breaking in beds of any size. Check the following areas and points to be sure the bed is ready for safe, long lasting use:
- Check the corners of the bed where the frame connects to the headboard and footboard. These should be true 90 degree angles and should have a brace or secondary support. A diagonal piece that spans the corner or metal bracing should be used for added strength.
- If the sides of the bed are directly connected to the headboard (instead of being a separate structure) then they should be bolted in place with metal connectors. The wood in this area needs to be real, dense pine or hardwood; plywood or particle board will erode over time.
- Give the bed a wiggle – the entire bed should move when you slide the headboard or footboard across the floor. If it wobbles or shifts instead, choose a different bed.
- If the bed is a bunk style, then the ladder or stairs should be permanently attached to the frame; they should not wiggle or move out of place when used. The ladder should hold a large adult with ease (so minimum size of 250 lbs) and you should not be able to shake or slide it loose.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, beds have two main safety issues. Most kids that are injured by beds either fall from a top bunk (or from a regular bed being used as a trampoline) or are injured when a bed collapses. Because of this, the construction of the bed as described above is essential. A bed made from solid, reliable materials and with the right approach to construction will offer a safe place to sleep and give you peace of mind about your child's safety.
Looks and design matter, but choosing your child's bed based on his age and future use, the materials and construction quality and with safety in mind will ensure he has a comfortable spot to sleep that will last for years to come.