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Growing gadgets: More toys, furniture and gear adapt with maturing children

Smart-Trike makes a line of moveable kid equipment that transitions as the child grows. The 3-in-1 Zoo Ladybug tricycle converts from a stroller with a canopy and harness for older babies to a tricycle for toddlers. It retails for $130. Photo courtesy of Smart-Trike Changing table by Baby's Dream

Kids grow like weeds - expensive weeds that need new stuff with every developmental marker hit.

And these days more products are hitting the market that adapt to a sprouting weed, allowing parents to invest in fewer items and get more use out of what they buy.

One of the most prevalent is the convertible crib, which can change from an infant's crib to a toddler bed and eventually serve as an adult-size headboard and footboard.

Baby's Dream started the whole convertible concept about 15 years ago, says Donelyn Oliver, owner of Wizard of Kids in Fargo. She says the founder was concerned about the environmental impact of using natural resources on a short-lived furniture piece.

"It grows with the child. It doesn't end up in the landfill," Oliver says.

She points out the furniture is all-wood and sturdy. "There can't be particle board in it. You can't cut corners with this stuff and expect it to last a lifetime," Oliver says.

The store also carries a changing table that can be turned upside-down into a dresser. There are two sets of tracks so the drawers can be flipped.

Jessica Benson of Fargo bought a convertible crib and changing table for her son, Gabe, now 7. She used it as a crib for daughter Nora, now 4, and is now using it as a bed for Gabe. The changing table is now an armoire. She says the rich mahogany color fits in her home and doesn't look "babyish."

"We really liked the fact you can buy it once and it grows with the child," Benson says. "It's not something you need for only two years."

Now parents have more options for longer-lasting baby products. One-size cloth diapers feature rows of snaps to fit babies from newborn through toddler. Walmart sells adjustable-length hangers that extend to fit infant, child or adult clothes.

Smart-Trike has created a line of moveable vehicles that grow with a child. For example, the Smart-Trike All-in-One model, which retails for $200, has six different configurations for ages 6 months to 2 years. It starts as an infant rocker, transitions to a stroller, a ride-on toy and then a toddler's four-wheeled scooter.

Toys "R" Us has carried three different models of the Smart-Trike, retailing from $109 to $129, for about a year, says spokeswoman Adrienne Giordano.

"You're really getting a lot of value out of this one product," Giordano says. "From our perspective, it's great when items transition with the child or go to different formats."

In fact, the baby- and child-focused retailer has a "grow with me" category.

One item in that category was a popular 2010 holiday item, Giordano says. The Fisher-Price Stride to Ride Dino can be used from 9 months to 36 months. The small green dinosaur has a rolling wheel base. Its back legs split apart to use as a walker. When pushed together, it's a ride-on toy. Fisher-Price also makes a grow-with-me skateboard/scooter for ages 4 to 6 and a musical table with snap-on legs for age 6 months to 3 years.

The Toys "R" Us website now sells a transitional high chair. It converts from a traditional high chair to a low chair to a toddler table with chair.

Oliver says she's still trying to find a high chair that looks nice and works for kids of several sizes.

She's seen several attempts, but not a perfected version yet. "I think it's a great application for Grandma's house," she says of an adjustable high chair.

Bobbi Paper, injury prevention coordinator with Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo, says car seats have also started to extend height and weight ranges, responding to a trend of bigger babies and kids.

Paper says there aren't any inherent safety issues with convertible or grow-with-me products. But parents do need to use the items according to manufacturer instructions, including age, weight and developmental guidelines.

"As long as they're using them as the manufacturer suggests, there's nothing wrong with using these products," Paper says. "Manufacturers are starting to realize parents don't want to spend money every few months or every year."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556