A tablet computer can be entertaining and educational for your children, just so long as it is a controlled part of your overall parenting regime, and not an electronic babysitter. What qualities should you look for in a kid’s tablet?
Ideally, a tablet designed for children is a dedicated device for engaging them and helping with their cognitive development and education. As such, it is different from an adult device, which means that you’ll be looking for different things in your kid’s tablet than you will when buying one for yourself.
Many of the features that you’re looking for in an adult device just aren’t that important in a child’s version. For example, adults love to play lots of games with incredible graphics, at ultra-high resolutions. Kids love playing games too, but are you buying your child’s tablet to be primarily a portable games console, or do you want something that will help them become creative and engaged, and something that you can bond over?
Each parent will have their own priorities, but if the focus is on education and growth, then the kinds of games and videos they’ll be playing won’t need high-end graphics and you can get by with relatively little CPU power, especially when buying a tablet for a younger child.
Here are some other pointers to think about when choosing a kid’s tablet.
Grown-up tech heads like their tablets to be sleek and streamlined, which is why Apple keeps trying to release tablets so thin that they become invisible when you turn them sideways. Kids need the opposite, because large, thin slabs with sharp corners are easy to drop.
Toddlers tend to have gooey hands, and poor computing priorities. At some point you’re going to have to leave your little one alone with a tablet while you go to answer the door, and they will try to put jam on it, see if it floats in the toilet, or feed it to the dog. Your iPad Pro may not handle this as well as you’d like, and costs a lot of money, whereas a dedicated kids’ tablet will not only be cheaper, but will ideally come with a built-in bumper case and a toughened screen.
Do you have the latest Windows hybrid tablet, with a massive 3200 x 2000 pixel screen, and icons so small you can barely see them without a magnifying glass? That’s great for grown-ups, but not so great for a small child trying to carry the thing without dropping it, and improve their hand-to-eye co-ordination.
A kid’s tablet should have controls and hardware design custom-designed for little fingers. Think big, easy-to-push hardware buttons and rounded edges, making it easier to hold and carry. Even better: a built-in handle, or a bolt-on carrying case that makes it easy for little fingers to transport. A kickstand enabling you to prop it upright on the table is also a good idea, so that little hands can concentrate on swiping, poking, and learning.
Companies like Apple and Google try to make tablets that appeal to non-technical users, but they’re still focused on grown-ups. Kid-friendly tablets have their own interfaces, with brightly coloured icons, and simplified approaches that focus only on the kinds of tasks that kids want to do. Everything else is a distraction.
Parents can find child-appropriate software online, but tablets built for kids will often come with a range of apps already installed, offering educational software and games (and ideally the two are mutually inclusive). Educators tend to like Leapfrog because the company writes its own software and uses additional learning tools designed to work with it, like cards that can be scanned by the software, bringing characters to life inside the games.
Vendors also sometimes offer other software such as chore lists and kid-targeted social networks that can be supervised by parents.
Child-friendly tablets are often friendly to mum and dad, too, including parental control software that allows them to monitor the child’s use of the tablet and set restrictions.
Much like bedtimes, chores and curfews, the age of your child will likely dictate how much parental control you would like to have. You can limit time on the device and access to the internet, while also approving games and their ratings. A good parental control system will also let parents control in-app purchases which can easily send your credit card bill into seizures otherwise.
Do you have more than one child in the tablet’s age bracket? Are you monitoring their progress in various educational apps, and are there customization features in the interface? It may make sense to look for a tablet that supports multiple profiles, so that each child can have their own unique experience on the same tablet (and learn some important lessons about sharing, and waiting).
This is of serious consideration for those long drives or lineups at the insurance broker. Having your device die out mid-way through your child building the most epic Minecraft castle ever will not just leave you with a bored architect, but a potentially grumpy one.
There are a variety of dedicated kids’ tablets available with all or at least some of these features included. As a parent, which are most important to you?