Back in the day, computer classes were for college and high school students, and maybe, junior high kids. Now, pre-k and preschool tots are becoming fluent in technology before formal school even starts. This means we have to equip our kids -- very early -- so they'll be at ease with computers at home and in the classroom.
As the age of learning computers has become younger and younger, the size of the computers themselves has become smaller and smaller, too. Some of us still have a behemoth in the corner somewhere that works just fine, and we dabble in PDAs and tablets, but how can we choose the best computer for our children? How much hardware, software and memory do kids need to do whatever it is they do with computers? Do kids' computers need to be adaptable and long-lasting or are they bound to have a short life because, well, kids will be kids?
At some point in their education, it's likely that a laptop will just be par for the course at school. Netbooks and notebooks can be grouped with laptops, but some may not have enough features and memory to grow with the advancing needs of school-age children.
So let's look at some specifications: At what age you should buy a child his own laptop and how many bells and whistles does a young boy or girl really need to get started?
Ready for a Kid-friendly Laptop?
Narrowing down an age for buying children computers of their own might depend on how much you're being edged out of using the home computer yourself -- and how good a time it is to take advantage of a child's enthusiasm for computers. Giving a child his or her own laptop also depends on how responsible the individual child is and how willingly they follow the rules you set down. A laptop doesn't exactly require the care and attention of a puppy, but it isn't a baseball card or doll, either. Knowing how well a child will care for a laptop may be one of the biggest factors.
Whether or not to buy an inexpensive laptop in case it takes a beating or to buy a more expensive model that will last and grow with your child is also important. And looking for a solid manufacturer's warranty guaranteeing replacement or repair of defective parts is one "should" of buying, no matter the cost of the laptop.
Whether you're still on the fence about buying a computer for the young ones in your family or have already decided to get them plugged in and wired on their own machine, maybe we can help as you narrow down the options, next.
Kid-friendly Laptop Features
What exactly is a "kid-friendly" laptop? Are there features that separate computers for grown-ups from those for kids? Many major retailers in the United States now have sections online and in-store labeled "kid-friendly" and others call out the features of some of their regular, all-ages computers as being suitable for kids. Laptops in both of these categories might include:
- fun colors and designs
- software for kids' activities
- capability for playing videos and games
- a Web cam and microphone for communicating with friends and family by video
- durable, smudge-resistant casing
- easy-to-clean or "wipeable" keyboard
- parental controls such as a pre-set Web browser for kids that blocks objectionable Web sites
- an operating system and platform tools such as Windows Home, with Office or Student, or a Mac OS
- educational software
Another feature of kid-friendly computers that is often common with laptops of all kinds is the ability to withstand a certain amount of force or impact in case a laptop is dropped, for example. Some computers even come with a sensor that protects the hard drive on impact [source: Tynan-Wood]. Even without such a high-tech option, most laptops will be better protected in a backpack or travelling around the house if they're transported in a padded or hard case, just in case.
We'll look at personalizing and loading up those kid-friendly computers, next.
Laptops for Learning
Children just a few months old can start navigating and keyboarding in age-appropriate ways while having fun. Most kid-friendly laptops will have educational tools such as word processing options, easy-access and easy-to-filter Web surfing, and a host of add-on applications from dictionaries to games to encyclopedia-type content. At home, all of this is really in the hands of parents, and the amount of memory, space and play time that goes to gaming and socializing is up to you. Schools are also part of the computer learning network for kids, though, so working with your child's curriculum and making supplemental information available is likely part of helping with homework.
Keeping all of this in mind, it may also be a good idea to include your children when shopping around for a kid-friendly laptop. They don't always know more about computers than their parents, but they will be able to show you what they know, what they like and what they think they need. Letting kids help in getting up their own laptops also allows for learning and growth in independence while teaching about boundaries. Offering choices for different Web sites to bookmark and software to upload lets young people take some ownership of their own computers. And, kid-friendly does, after all, include a lot of things outside of learning that are fun for kids.
- Bradford, K.T. "The Best Kid-Friendly Netbooks for the Holidays." LaptopMag.com. Nov. 24, 2009. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://blog.laptopmag.com/kids-netbook
- CBS News. "What If Every Child Had a Laptop?" CBSNews.com. Feb. 11, 2009. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/20/60minutes/main2830058.shtml
- Crook, Jordan. "Toshiba Announces Updated Kid-Friendly Laptop." TechCrunch.com. Sept. 27, 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/27/toshiba-announces-updated-kid-friendly-laptop/
- Rosenblatt, Seth. "KidZui: The Internet for Kids." CNET.com. Dec. 8, 2008. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://download.cnet.com/KidZui-The-Internet-for-Kids/3000-2132_4-10884184.html
- Schofield, Jack. "Wanted: A Laptop for a Child." Guardian.co.uk. Nov. 24, 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/askjack/2011/nov/24/ask-jack-laptop-for-child-wanted
- Tahnk, Jeana Lee. "Best Family-Friendly Desktop and Laptop Computers." http://www.parenting.com/gallery/best-laptop-computers-kids
- Tynan-Wood, Christina. "7 Top Computers for the Holidays." GreatSchools.org. 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/great-gifts/high-tech-toys/slideshows/5095-7-top-computers-for-the-holidays.gs?page=1