If someone had told me last year that I’d be buying a computer for my 5-year-old son, I probably would have LMAO! I mean, I had to beg my parents for a cellphone when I was 16 years old, so I was pretty set on making my kids work hard for any and all pieces of electronics. But folks, it’s 2020 — the year of pandemics, fire-nadoes, lightning sieges, murder hornets and chocolate snow. Anything — including pre-K and kindergarten-aged kids attending school virtually, on a computer — is possible.
Indeed, the pandemic is forcing many school districts nationwide to move classes either partially or entirely online, and even for those who are lucky enough to go back in person, the threat of cancellation is always looming. (Always.) This means many parents are now in the market for computers, headphones, printers and so much more to turn their homes into makeshift classrooms.
Your kindergartener needing all the equipment you used to have in your corporate office? We know… It’s A LOT to take in (and to pay for!), but we want to help you check off everything on your list. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about BTS tech gear in the era of COVID.
I don’t know about you, but I (a Parisian expat, millennial mom now living in Brooklyn) started using a laptop for studying on a daily basis when I went to college. Jeah. Prior to that, everything I did for school was in the good ol’ “pen to paper” format.
But as elementary and secondary schools are gearing up for a vast and unprecedented experiment in remote learning, laptops and tablets have graduated to the status of “school essentials” even for the younger crowds. First graders are attending Zoom classes and asked to turn in math assignments electronically, and kindergarteners are practicing reading on apps like Raz-Kids or Epic. And yes, even preschool is going virtual, with kids <5 using screens to, you know, “work on” their colors and letters while you (try to) get work done. Not to mention all the extracurricular activities, gaming and virtual communication with family and friends. It’s really a different world.
See also: our list of online resources for kids.
Yes, during the pandemic, computers and tablets are becoming kids’ portals to the “real world” (WTF?). Whether we like it or not, our children are bound to be in front of one screen or another more than we would normally like (*so much… sigh). Unless schools around you are offering full-time in-person learning, there’s just no way around it.
We’re going to give you a list of the best kids computers and tablets. But first…
Things to Consider Before Buying
Tablet v. laptop: which one for the younger crowd?
My kids (3 and 5) are pretty nifty at using technology (yes, guilty as charged — I often use screens as childcare these days). They swipe their way through endless game options on the Fire tablet; they use the voice command to open Mario drawing tutorials on YouTube; and they navigate Netflix like pro binge-watchers. But put a computer mouse and a keyboard in front of them — and I can practically see question marks popping out of their heads.
I have no doubt that, as laptops become more ingrained in school curricula, my kids will catch up to my own (adult) computer skills very quickly. But for now, tablets or hybrid laptops that have a touchscreen (or the ability to convert to tablet or “tent” mode) are ideal — and most developmentally appropriate — for the younger crowd.
Research corroborates that touchscreens (vs. laptops with keyboards and a mouse) are in fact ideal for younger learners. Mike Connell, who holds a doctorate in Education from Harvard University and an M.S. in Computer Science from MIT, says that touchscreen displays can facilitate learning for young children (as young as 1 year old!) and are intuitive enough for kids to engage in independent learning activities.
Another study suggests that touchscreen tablets provide a tactile experience that can enhance the learning process for preschoolers who are learning to, for example, write letters. The study also found that young children (aged 0 to 5) who had access to touchscreens tend to perform better than those who used keyboards.
As far as laptops go, it can be tricky to choose the right laptop for a child — they were designed for working adults, after all. But there are a handful of questions that can help you find your match:
- What is it for? Is it primarily for schooling and homework? Or more so for games and videos? Will you need easy and constant internet access? Do you need to pair it with other devices in your home?
For example, if you already have Apple products, the decision may be made for you if you would like the ability to connect all devices.
- How old is your child/grade level? The ideal technologies for younger learners are different compared to what’s best for high school and college students.
- For younger kids (under 9): you may want to opt for a laptop that’s lightweight and easy for tiny hands to carry around, but sturdy enough to withstand falls. A spill-proof keyboard is a must for clumsy youngsters; and so is tablet mode (more on that later).
- For older kids (9 and up): you’ll probably need to consider storage and bluetooth capacities (although, if there tends to be multiple ongoing zoom meetings — school, work, etc. — you may want to invest in a bluetooth-enabled laptop or tablet for headphones), processing speed and performance to facilitate multitasking (think multiple browsers opened and having to switch between apps regularly).
- What kind of security features does the device have? Kiddos are curious — they get distracted easily. And given how quickly they pick things up, don’t be surprised when they type (or voice command) their way to obscure YouTube videos.
If you select a device with solid digital security, including parent controls and effective antiviruses to protect against malware, you can mitigate this universal problem. If you’re worried about your family’s privacy, you may want to invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which makes it harder to be tracked online.
- What’s your budget? Prices vary greatly, from around $200 to well over $1,000. Consider the kind of investment you want to make. Of course, the more features you want, the more costly it will get. Another thing to consider: will you need to buy more than one laptop to accommodate more than one kid? This may influence the amount of money you’ll want to spend per device.
Best Laptops and Tablets for Young Children
Before we advise which laptop or tablet to buy, we need to tell you: check with your school. Most schools do lend devices to families who need them for the school year. Plus, they may have special requirements and model recommendations that would guide your purchase. AND… they may have student discounts!
With that said, we’ve probed the interweb to find the crème de la crème of computers and laptops. Here are our picks, organized by age ranges, from cheapest to most expensive.
For children under 5:
Made specifically for kids, this tablet is not a toy, but it’s not for school either. If you have a preschooler and need educational games to entertain and engage him while you work or do housework, this device may be the right fit for you. Weighing slightly over 27 ounces, it comes with a kid-proof case and a built-in stand.
With Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (free for the first year when you purchase the device), the tablet features 20,000 books, movies, TV shows, apps and games for kids 3 to 12. One of the best features? You, the parent, can curate the content your children can access based on their ages — meaning you can trust that your kids won’t surf their way to some obscure video game or video. And yes, you can use Zoom on this newer version (HD8).
You can also limit screen time, set educational goals and curfews, and manage content for up to 4 children (though you’ll probably want one device per child… you know, for your own sanity). And don’t worry, in-app purchases require parental approval.
The Fire tablet comes with a two year warranty, so if it does break despite the case, you can return it, and Amazon will replace it.
Apple iPad Mini ~ $349+
Just to be clear, the iPad Mini is not designed for kids (like the Fire Kids, above), per se. But the size (and its 10.9 ounces weight) is actually quite perfect for tiny hands to handle and carry around, and with a protective case, it can withstand bumps and falls… and even spills. Did we mention you should get a protective case?? Yes, anyone who’s accidentally destroyed an Apple screen after dropping it on the floor knows the depths of this pain.
In fact, the cases that are available for the Mini really turn it into a kid-friendly device:
The Mini is perfect for little ones to access a wealth of online content: Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix and many iOS compatible apps, ABC Mouse. Beware of YouTube, which is peppered with ads.
You can also childproof any iPad (Mini or otherwise) by turning on restrictions and parent controls, restricting iTunes and in-app purchases (trust me, you WANT to do this!), and so much more. You can even restrict content based on age and limit web/browsing access only to sites that you pre-select.
*If you have an older child, you could also opt for a regular iPad or an iPad pro paired with a keyboard — perfect for schoolwork.
For children 5 to 9 years old:
Acer Chromebook Spin 11 ~ $299 (Also available on Amazon)
My 5-year-old son used this laptop for a few months this year, and it did the job pretty darn well. First and foremost, the keyboard is spill proof, and it feels rugged and sturdy, which means I didn’t have to worry much about rough handling. With a Google operating system, the apps and interface feels familiar, even to someone (like me) who uses Apple products on the daily.
I particularly love how versatile the Chromebook is: you can use it as a laptop or a tablet, and you can set it up in tent mode, which is ideal for Zoom/virtual classes. My son was able to watch his teacher, with a pen and notebook right by his side. The tablet mode was especially useful for reading electronic books, completing math assignments or playing educational games (his little brother (3), too, used it for this purpose). Finally, it comes with a stylus to write on the touchscreen display, which is really conducive to creativity.
I did notice that the streaming sites and apps tend to load with ads, but Mashable wrote that the security features coming with Chrome OS should be enough to keep viruses at bay.
Note that the response time does slow down from time to time, and we had to restart the Zoom app on a few occasions. But all-in-all, the Acer Chromebook, which weighs 3 pounds, is responsive and a solid option for your little scholar that, at $299, won’t break the bank. You can also opt for a bigger screen, if needed.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet ~ $399 (available on Amazon for $439)
Another affordable convertible option, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a tablet that, with its detachable keyboard and kickstand, can also act as a computer. The keyboard is small (some of the keys are half the size of regular keys), but that’s no problem for tiny fingers. In fact, it may make for a better fit.
At only 2 pounds, it is very easy to carry around, even for little ones. Reviewers have said that the audio is decent and the display is colorful. That said, there is no headphone jack — something to consider if you know your work meetings and your children’s Zoom classes will overlap.
The battery life on this thing is excellent (up to 13 hours), which makes for a very good portable and on-the-go option. The Lenovo Duet comes with only 64GB of onboard storage, which isn’t a lot, however the 4GB memory should be sufficient for schoolwork and media streaming. Thankfully, the device comes with a one-year free trial of Google One (cloud storage). Overall, we think this is a solid option for the younger crowd.
If the small screen is a deal breaker to you, we suggest opting for the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook, which you can use as a laptop or tablet, and in the display/tent mode. A definite step up from the Duet, this device comes with a 15.6 touchscreen 4K display, which guarantees clear virtual classes. The chassis is made of aluminum and durable, and its 10-hour battery life is solid. It is a bigger investment ($799), but it’s a more substantial piece of equipment.
Microsoft Surface Go 2 ~$399 (bundle with keyboard available on Amazon for $591)
This popular tablet comes with a keyboard and stand to offer laptop versatility. The new Surface Go model is faster than its predecessor and has a long battery life (13 hours).
The machine itself is less than 2 pounds and ultra portable, which is ideal for little hands. It also comes with a camera app that has the ability to scan documents and whiteboards — clutch for students to quickly turn in assignments.
Multiple professional reviewers agree the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a respectable device as an inexpensive – and surprisingly powerful – computer for kids to use for school.
Reviewers praise the screen and audio, while others say that the machine can be a bit sluggish and that the battery life isn’t as good as advertised. But for kids, this is a very nice option.
Asus Chromebook Flip C434 ~ $589
Laptopmag voted the Asus Flip “the best overall laptop for remote learning.”
It’s got a strong aluminum frame and a sleek premium design, and yet it still only weighs 3 pounds. Its versatility (laptop, touchscreen tablet and tent mode) makes it a perfect choice for remote learners of virtually (no pun intended) any age. The larger 14-inch touchscreen display is great at keeping younger ones engaged while allowing older students to multitask and get sh*t done.
The Chrome OS security is solid, and the operating system is pretty intuitive, especially for those who are used to the Google interface. Reviewers also appreciate the long battery life.
Complaints: some argue that the keyboard is finicky and that its bright setting isn’t bright at all; others say it’s on the heavier side.
Google PixelBook ~ $850
For your older kids… this laptop has everything a student needs while remaining simple for the working parent nearby to navigate. Overall, reviewers give this laptop an A+ for its performance and its security. The keyboard and keypad response time is quick; and according to Mashable, “it’s beastly enough for school projects, streaming, and running multiple apps at once.”
The 12-hour battery life, in and of itself, is a selling point, and the fact that it only weighs 2.4 pounds makes it a great contender for young students — easy to haul around without breaking anyone’s back. Though it doesn’t have the ability to morph into a tablet, it does have a touchscreen, which makes it suitable for younger children. We love the Hush Keys feature to quiet down the keyboard — genius.
Some reviewers complain that the speakers are subpar, and the limited ports are a bummer. But overall, this is a solid machine that can grow with your child.
For Kids 10 and older:
Apple Macbook Air ~ $899
At only 2.8 pounds, the infamous Macbook Air made all the “best of” lists. If you already have other Apple hardware and need MacOS, this may be the device for you, and luckily it’s the least expensive laptop in the Apple family. The display is gorgeous, and the keyboard is responsive and, according to reviewers, a pleasure to type on.
Like all Apple products, it is a bigger investment, but it has the potential to last a while and grow with your children. Do note that this is a good old-fashioned laptop — which means it has no touchscreen ability — and is best suited to grow with older kids, 12 and up.
Dell XPS 13 Laptop ~ $1,099
If you have older kids and are willing to spend more money for more performance, the Dell XPS 13 is the laptop for you. According to Laptopmag, this notebook “is a fantastic performer and the best premium Windows 10 laptop on the market for remote learning.” The Intel Core i7 processor is plenty for any remote work and, with the Iris Plus graphic, is especially good for students involved in graphics, video or photography.
The borderless screen measures 13.4 inches, which makes for a great viewing experience (Netflix for school break? Yeah, it’s bound to happen!). The touchpad is large and, just like the keyboard, is responsive. Reviewers say they love that it’s sturdy without the bulk, while others say that if you are a Mac user, it’s a relatively easy transition, which is great news for Mac parents who will ultimately have to help their children navigate their new toy (did I say toy? I mean, school gear).
Note that the Dell XPS 13, which weighs 2.8 pounds, gets hot when charging, and there’s no USB port. Finally, since there’s no touchscreen or tablet option, it’s definitely a better fit for older children.
Protect your little ones’ eyes: blue-light-blocking glasses
School-aged kids are bound to be in front of a computer screen a lot more than usual, which could lead to an uptick in the number of kids who are becoming nearsighted. That’s where blue-light-blocking glasses come in…
This innovative technology is thought to help reduce eyestrain associated with screen time, which can in turn keep headaches at bay and lead to better sleep at night.
We love the Real Shades specks (~$24), which are unbreakable and come in many different colors. There is this cheap, easy option on Amazon (~$15) (or you can just browse Amazon for other affordable options.) For kids who already wear glasses, check out Jonas Paul, which offer stylish kids glasses with the option of a blue-blocking lens.
HP Tango Printer ~ starts at $149 (HP Tango X available here for $199) (Also on Amazon here)
Designed to work primarily with mobile devices (from laptops to cell phones), the HP Tango Printers are sleek (Apple-like sleek), compact but mighty, and support voice control. You heard me right — these printers can HEAR you.
The Tango is wireless, which means you don’t need to plug in your computer or phone to print things out. I bought ours back in April, and I have to say that I’m impressed. I can even print snapshots I took on my phone. I love that I can easily carry it around and, when done using, tuck it away so that it doesn’t muck up my decor (she said with a pile of sidewalk chalk at her feet).
The print is responsive and quick, though I do feel like we go through ink cartridges very quickly (but this may be an issue with all printers these days). That said, you can subscribe to HP’s ink program to get monthly recharges at discounted prices. The paper tray is in the back of the chassis and only holds 50 sheets of paper, which isn’t that much, but I didn’t really mind since I usually put it away at the end of each school day.
Overall, it’s a nice mid-priced option that can serve everyone in the family.
Just like its competitor the HP Tango, the PIXMA has a small footprint and a robust mobile device support. Meg has this one and loves it. Reviewers rave about the printing quality, especially for photos. Though they say that the output is on the slower side and it’s not ideal for printing large quantities.
This printer also has wireless capacities! You can buy a rechargeable battery to carry it around and use it without having to plug it in — pretty cool! Plus, it has the ability to print from your smart home appliances, like Alexa, Google Assistant and more.
Best Kids Noise-Canceling Headphones
Now that your kiddos are going to be studying at home, you have to prepare for the inevitable: they will get distracted with their day-to-day stuff and everything happening around them. So how does a mama keep her littles focused? Two words: noise-canceling headphones.
Active Vs. Passive Noise-Canceling Headphones
Active noise-canceling headphones ACTIVELY cancel out noise by creating soundwaves that exactly match those of the disrupting outside noise. When these two matching sounds come together, they cancel each other out, leading to the headphone-wearer hearing no sound at all.
Passive-noise canceling headphones, on the other hand, work simply by sealing the ear canal with either thick foam or tight-fitting earbuds to block out noise — kind of like earplugs.
Generally speaking, active noise-canceling headphones offer better noise reduction capabilities, however, you’ll find that most noise-canceling headphones made for kids are of the passive noise-canceling variety, are much less expensive, and work just fine to block out noise and keep them focused on their work.
Here are our top picks for (passive and active) noise-canceling headphones for tots through teens, from least to most expensive. Note that some are purely noise-canceling, while others offer the ability to play sound (music, plug into devices, etc.) as well.
JLab Audio Buddies ~ $19.99 — BUDGET PICK
For ages 6-16, these corded headphones offer passive noise-canceling and a built-in volume-limiter at 85db. They come in super fun colors, and have “over-ear cloud foam cushions” for maximum comfortability and noise-canceling abilities.
Reviewers love the easy adjustability of these headphones: they fit kiddos with different-sized heads (one mom even said she shares them with her 4-year-old son, and they fit both her and him great!), and children seem to be able to wear them comfortably for several hours at a time.
The JLab Audio Buddies are foldable and durable (an important feature for kids who are not so, um, delicate with their headphones), and their soft, cushiony material makes them a top pick for children with sensory sensitivities who wouldn’t enjoy a harder, firmer material against their ears. Parents recommend these for in-person school or distance learning use.
Snug Kids Earmuffs ~ $25
These are your basic earmuffs that block out both loud sounds (fireworks) and ambient noise (the dishwasher; barking dog, etc.). They work great to keep distractions at a minimum while kids are studying at home.
Note that if your child is sensitive to noise or becomes overstimulated easily, Snug Kids Earmuffs are awesome for that. Many parents who have children with autism, sensory issues, or who simply don’t like loud noises say these earmuffs are a true lifesaver. If you have a kiddo like this who has trouble studying or focusing on school while other noises are happening in the background, these just may be your go-to. While these headphones are suitable for children 6 months of age and older, some reviewers note that they don’t fit great on smaller heads, even though they are adjustable. Not a dealbreaker — just something to know. These headphones are foldable for easy storage.
LilGadgets Untangled Pro Premium Children’s Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with SharePort ~ $49 — EDITOR’S CHOICE
Recommended for children ages 4 and up, these highly-reviewed wireless headphones offer 13dB of passive noise cancellation and are volume limited to 93dB. What’s nice about these headphones is that the ear cups are made of a soft, mesh material that are super comfortable on kids’ ears.
Bonus: LilGadgets has a cool technology called SharePort that allows multiple headphones to be connected to one device without the use of a splitter. Great for siblings, or “pod pals”! Note that these are not foldable.
This is an active noise-canceling headset. Kids can connect wirelessly using bluetooth for up to 18 hours on one charge. BuddyPhones Cosmos have three different volume limiter settings.
Like LilGadgets, if you have more than one child, these are a great pick as you can plug up to four headphones into one device using the stackable audio jack. Kiddos will also love the super fun “color” choices, like Midnight Blue Dragon and Pink Unicorn; and parents will appreciate the anti-allergic earpads, sturdy design and hard-sided storage case these foldable headphones come with (gotta protect this $99 purchase, right?!).
Puro Sound PuroQuiet On-Ear Active Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headphones ~ $138 – LUXE PICK
This is an active noise-canceling headset. These wireless headphones are equipped with bluetooth (hence, the price), and have a volume limiter to keep sound below 85dB. When you enable the active noise cancellation feature, they can make ambient sounds and background noise up to 22dB quieter. The battery will last for 22 hours without the active noise-canceling feature, and 16 hours with it turned on.
While many users love these headphones and say they work awesome for their children, some reviewers note that the noise-canceling feature isn’t as great as, say, Bose, or other brands. In addition, some parents complain that the headphones themselves are oddly shaped (like an egg or a square) and thus are less comfortable and don’t stay on their kids’ ears very well — especially children with larger heads. Note that these are not foldable, but do come with a durable carrying case.
That’s it, folks! Can you believe we’re doing this remote school thing? We will look back on this one day in amazement.
Did we forget any favorites? Tell us what your tech essentials are in the comments below.