Perhaps the most difficult demographic group to prepare for is children. Their needs are constantly changing as they age, grow, and learn. The sheer number of variables involved can be mind boggling, but with enough planning and foresight all their needs can be met. We have eight children under the age of 12 still at home (with three grown and gone), so this is something we have given much thought to.
If you are of child bearing age and still have your God given equipment, you must prepare for infants. Even if you have stocked birth control, it is not foolproof and a child can result. If you can not have children, you should still prep the bare minimum because if society falls apart there is a good chance that children in need will be looking for homes. We live in a perverse generation, and while we often think of the animals that will be abandoned and roving, in reality there will also be needy children. Whether their parents left them through choice or died, children will need cared for, and all Christians should be willing to take on that responsibility as much as they are able. It is better to have prepped ahead, then to try to make do after.
Infants and Toddlers
Prepping for an infant is not difficult and does not have to be expensive – all of their needs can fit in one large Rubbermaid type tote. You truly do not need the majority of things most baby magazines tell you to get. If you do not plan on having children, just the barest of basics should suffice. If children are in your plan, then you should prep more. If you never need the preps – someone will and they will be valuable trade material.
The first thing needed is a good book! Emergency childbirth is good, but there are more comprehensive ones out there if you want more information. We have home birthed several of our children without a midwife. Hopefully your normal preps call for 4×4 gauze pads, betadine, and other medical supplies. Cord clamps are nice, but clean cotton cording works too. A nasal syringe should be included. Most home birth books and web sites give a list of supplies – use common sense so you don’t oversupply.
At a bare minimum you should stock 3 dozen cloth diapers (less may be needed depending on laundry facilities). These can be obtained cheaply or even for free. Try looking at thrift stores, requesting them on FreeCycle, or even making your own if you sew (directions can be found online). I purchased 6 dozen Chinese pre-folds eight years ago. They are now on their fifth child and still going strong. To go along with the diapers, you will need 3-5 diaper covers in each size. Fleece and fabric are all the rage – but they are bulky, expensive, and I think they wick moisture resulting in more leaks. I have used nylon pants for years. They are very inexpensive new – I pay $3 for 2 pair. With proper care (rinsing or wash and line dry) they last forever. Avoid the plastic Gerber type pants at all costs. While cheap, the plastic degrades and they split. Diaper pins are inexpensive. I prefer to order the old fashioned metal ones as they last longer, can be sharpened when they get dull, and can be used for many things besides diapers (what man wants his overall strap held on with a yellow ducky?). I am still using the same metal pins that I bought for baby #1. For inexpensive new diapering items, check babybestbuy.com.
Feeding an infant should not require any special preps, since in a perfect world Mom will nurse the infant until it is ready to eat table foods. We have never fed a child infant juice, baby cereal, or the awful looking jarred baby food. Since we do not live in a perfect world, we should take a few minutes and dollars to ensure that baby can be fed if something happens to mom. I suggest the baby bottles that take the disposable bags. The bags are cheap and eliminate the need to carefully wash or sterilize bottles. In a pinch, the bags can be washed and reused. We have stocked 5 bottles, an extra 20 nipples, and 500 bags. Infant formula is very expensive and has a short shelf life. While not ideal, infants can be fed goat or cows’ milk (you can pasteurize it on the wood or Coleman stove if worried about the health of the animal). If a dairy animal is not an option, you can stock canned milk and corn syrup and make your own formula. A simple web search will give you several different recipes for what the old timers fed their babies. If even that is not an option, you can successfully raise a child without milk – although I certainly do not recommend it. My husband was highly allergic to all dairy (they even tried mare’s milk). They would boil beef, grind it, strain it, and feed it to him in a bottle, then supplement with calcium drops. Please remember that these methods are only to be used when the alternative is death. Once a child can eat table food, it will eat what you do. Our two year old loves enchiladas and chili. Our 8 month old eats anything we feed her. Children learn to be picky – they are not born that way.
Clothing an infant is the simplest of all and does not require any large cash outlay or space. For infant clothing, pick up some cotton baby gowns with elastic at the bottom and socks. A child can wear those for the first 3 or 4 months. I recommend a good quality baby sling (I use the Maya wrap) or a 4 yard length of heavy duty cotton that can be tied into sling formation for carrying baby. Wearing your baby will keep it warm and safe. Babies do not require swings, playpens, and jungle gyms. They require warmth, food, and lots of love.
You will want clothing for when the child starts moving about on its own – about 6 months or so. When choosing the clothing to stock, try to choose things that are adjustable, can easily be cuffed, and do not have parts to wear out. Baby crotch snaps are notorious for giving out. Avoid “cute and ruffly” and go for “easy to launder and adjust.” Stains are going to come out of natural fibers much easier than polyester and petroleum based fibers, and also darker colors rather than light. Girls can wear overalls, but boys can’t wear dresses. I have also found that it is better to pay more for high quality (even used) than it is to purchase the cheapest clothing. We have OshKosh clothing that is now being worn by an 8th child and still looks new. After using a wringer washer for a year, we also have discovered that the cheaper quality clothing does not stand up to less than ideal washing conditions. If you will be using a wringer, you might keep in mind that they eat buttons and zippers. Perhaps your greatest asset in this area will be the ability to sew – a hem can be put in or let out in moments and can make a pair of pants or a dress last a year rather than two months. You might stock a snap setter and assortment of snaps (less than $30 for all) and also an assortment of buttons for those needed repairs.
Another item you will need is blankets. I love to quilt, and so I usually use quilts and/or crocheted afghans. These have an added benefit of being able to be sewn together into bigger quilts and afghans as the child gets bigger. Two crib sized quilts becomes one twin sized bunk bed quilt, four sewn together becomes a full sized or small queen sized. Again, the ability to sew will serve you in good standing as you can turn old clothing into new blankets.
When choosing clothing, please consider fiber content and your heat source. We heat with wood and only choose clothing that is 100% cotton. Most commercially made sleepwear is made from polyester blends, as per government guidelines. The reason for this is that cotton burns. Polyester has a lower burn threshold, but melts into your skin – which is why airline travelers are encouraged to wear natural fibers. Our oldest daughter has the habit of backing up to the wood stove to warm up in the mornings and her polyester nightgown melted. Since then, we use only cotton.
I shop the local thrift stores when they have $1 a bag days. We also get offered hand me downs quite often and we never turn them down. I have to do a bit of digging, but I have managed to stock clothing from children through adults, including shoes, hats, gloves and winter coats. I only purchase high quality brands that are in good condition. All shoes, boots and hats get sprayed with Lysol. All clothing gets sorted into totes by size and stored in a shed. When a child grows into the next size, we go through the shed before going shopping. In these good times, my daughters and I wear only dresses but I stock only pants for practicality. There have been times when a local house burned down, or a homeless family came through, and I was able to re-clothe them from my shed. I avoid all “stylish” clothing and choose timeless items – jeans, sweatshirts, flannels, etc. I keep a list in my wallet so I do not end up with 20 size 10 winter coats and no size 14. I also limit my “stash” to one tote per size of clothing, and 2 coats per size. When saving clothing that our own children have outgrown we follow the same guidelines – only those in good condition get stored. I do not store summer clothes, per se. We do not wear shorts or tank tops due to modesty. We go barefoot at home on our farm. Summer clothes would just take up space that could be used for winter clothing – which is a necessity. Warm winter clothing is a need, and as such will be good for barter and gifting when it is no longer available new.
Miscellaneous Physical Needs
In addition to clothing and food, we stock a year to 18 months worth of children’s multivitamins and medicines. We keep a close eye on the expiration date and donate them to a children’s home 2 months before they expire if we have not rotated through them (2 months so that they have time to use them). We have a relative living near the border that travels to Mexico once a year for us to stock up on children’s antibiotics, cold medicines that we can no longer buy in the US without being treated like a criminal, etc. Again, these are shipped to an orphanage in Mexico when they near their expiration date. We also keep diarrhea medications and laxatives on hand that are formulated for children. All of these items can be rather expensive, but I would rather spend the money and not need it than need it and not have it. I also stock a quantity of children’s electrolyte powder that can be added to water.
Our children are not allowed to be picky eaters. Because they have been taught to eat everything, we do not worry about stocking special food for them. We grow a large garden and our children have been taught to love fresh foods – people are amazed when my children tell them that Brussels sprouts are their favorite vegetable, or that asparagus is a close second. We try to eat what we store and store what we eat, so our children do not turn their noses up at beans, rice, lentils, and the like. I do stock more fruits and vegetables than I would for just adults, because I think growing children need a more balanced diet.
Once a child’s physical needs have been met, it is time to think of their educational needs. Not only would it be good to school your children in times of societal breakdown for the sake of intelligence, but it will keep the children occupied and give them a sense of normalcy.
We have always home schooled, so we have a certain curriculum that we like. Last year we felt our other preps were sufficiently in place and it was time to look towards schooling. We sold an asset and used the money (just under $3000) to purchase the school books for every child from now until 12th grade. It seems silly to have the high school books for our 8 month old, but we do! Our chosen curriculum is mostly non-consumable and is one of the more affordable ones available. You might need to spend much more than that if you use a consumable curriculum. One good thing is that it will not go to waste – we would be buying it anyway, just not all at once.
If you do not already homeschool, or can not manage to spend that chunk of money, you can still provide for their educational needs. Our local school district has one weekend a year where they give away all of their old text books and supplies. We have gotten two complete sets of World Book Encyclopedias on those days. Call your school district office and see if they do the same thing. You could get the books you need, plus teachers editions for free.
I have seen old school books at yard sales and book sales. You could ask on FreeCycle, watch eBay, or check out the local homeschool convention for used book sales. In a situation where the schools have been closed, any book will be better than no books.
Even if you just supply non-fiction books and biographies, your children can be learning while reading a set number of pages or hours per day.
In addition to books, you will need supplies. Each year our local big box store puts crayons on sale 25¢ per box and paper 10¢ per package. Other school items go on sale at the same time. I have 4 totes filled with school supplies. When a local school closed we were able to purchase a chalk board and a hand crank pencil sharpener. This small slice of normalcy will be important to our children if life as they know it has ended.
Toys and Entertainment
Many of today’s children will have no idea what to do with themselves if they find their Gameboys, iPods, and MySpace no longer function. Hopefully, those who are of the prepping mindset have directed their children towards interests that won’t disappear. When choosing play items for our children, we try to choose things that provide lasting benefit hidden behind the fun.
When purchasing toys, we avoid batteries and try to choose ones that have lasting play value. We have extensive collections of Legos, Lincoln Logs, KNex, and the like. We also try to stick with toys that can be enjoyed by more than one child at a time. Our children have always been each others closest “play buddies” so they will not have a hard time transitioning to close quarters.
We generally do not have baby toys. Unwritten parental rules include the fact that babies will want what their older siblings or parents have. They are quite happy playing with wooden spoons, measuring cups, crochet hooks, boxes, and other objects they think they are not supposed to have.
Instead of handing our son a video game with karate killers, we hand him a throwing knife and spend time with him. Instead of an iPod, he got a compound bow and some arrows and a special time with Dad each week. Instead of his own television for his room, he got a chemistry set. Instead of Disney world, we go hunting, fishing or camping. Instead of Harry Potter, we read Backyard Ballistics and made a catapult.
Our daughters have high quality baby dolls instead of Barbie and enjoy sewing clothes for them out of mom’s scraps. They have their own aprons, measuring cups and rolling pins and get to actually cook and make a mess (then help clean it up!) instead of painting their fingernails. (Our oldest daughter is just 10.) They get latch hook rug kits, paint by number kits, and other craft items rather than karaoke machines.
Everything we purchase or give our children is making a choice. It will give them fleeting enjoyment, or enjoyment and knowledge. All of these things can be considered prepping because you are prepping your children – without their knowledge. You are equipping them to handle the changes that life may bring, and if life doesn’t change they are none the worse for wear.
In addition to prepping my children by the things we enjoy and do, I have chosen to store things for their enjoyment also. Yard sales and thrift stores are great places to find craft kits that people bought and never used. Large puzzles are great family activities and can be bought cheaply. I have some games that are new to us stored away for a little variety. Other items in my “entertainment” preps are decks of cards, books and supplies for learning to knit, rubber stamps and water based inks (so they can be recharged with water), a book about making homemade kites from widely available objects, etc. I also have a tote full of gifts for birthdays, Christmas, or special occasions. High quality pocket knives, wind up watches, sewing scissors, nesting dolls, etc. Things that will make a holiday seem normal and special, but that have lasting value and take up little space. One thing I have noticed in most doomer movies and books is that after a few weeks, the hard work is done and boredom and monotony set in. I want to make that transition easier.
In general, I apply the same philosophy when prepping for my children as I do for general preppin: Store what you use and use what you store. I store nothing that will go to waste, even if I have more of it than just my children can use. Cloth diapers can be dust rags, bandages, or traded. The gifts and school books will get used either way. Children are our greatest resource, and we need to be prepared not just to keep them alive, but to let them flourish.