Kids are device-hungry nuts these days. Seriously, WTF happened to Sesame Street and a book before bedtime? But we digress.
Technology has changed a lot since you were small. Your kids have probably mastered the features on your iPhone better than you have due to constantly asking to play with it. And when you do eventually get it back, it’s a sticky mess covered in slobber and other unexplainable slimes. But in the age of touch screens and constant connectivity, there’s not really a way to say “no” without feeling like a parent from the dark ages. Even the animals in Zootopia have smartphones. (Yes seriously.)
Enter kids’ tablets, the happy medium between giving your kids the access to tech that they want, without turning them into a technology zombie. (You know what we’re talking about — those kids who have their faces glued to a smartphone while they get pushed around in a stroller. It’s weird, right?)
Kids’ tablets go far past keeping them occupied during a long car ride (though they also do that, which is nice). Researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an independent research lab focused on emerging education technologies, have done numerous studies involving tablet learning with kids from ages 1-7. In this story on Amplify, executive director Michael H. Levine explains that while technology itself isn’t a huge game changer, “tablets in particular have the potential to open up the world’s rich store of information to willing minds and expert instruction.”
Essentially, when a kid gets to use a fun touch screen and doesn’t feel like vocabulary words or numbers are being forced down their throat, it makes them a hell of a lot more excited to learn. Kids are actually interacting with content (especially when games or characters are involved), making the learning experience richer and more memorable.
And yes, we said age 1 up there — even a toddler with developing motor skills can use a touch screen, and young kids can show what they know and how they learn with a finger swipe. That’s never been possible before.
Other Cooney Centre projects, including one entitled “Learning: Is there an app for that?” have found that kindergarten through third grade students who used tablets at school saw higher test scores than those who didn’t use tablets (specifically early literary assessments). They were also able to recognize 20% more vocabulary words due to an improved ability to recognize sounds and represent sounds as letters. Tablet learning is the new Sesame Street, y’all.
Okay, tablets are good — but how do you choose the right one?
Most tablets made specifically for kids will already be equipped with built-in parent accounts, timers, and pre-selected websites or apps that are strictly for kids. Easy enough.
General purpose tablets aren’t a bad choice at all — many sites name the iPad as one of the best tablets for kids even though it’s technically for everyone. These won’t have the same built-in parental controls as tablets specifically for kids, so you’ll need to get creative if you’d rather your kid not have unlimited access to the internet. Apple and Android have features that can filter or block content and prevent purchases, but the closest thing you’ll be able to get to close monitoring is by installing parental control software.
Things to keep in mind: Screen resolution (depending on the amount of movie watching and gaming they’ll be doing), storage (they’ll probably have more apps than you do), intensity of parental controls (for obvious reasons), and rugged-ness (because kids are basically adorable destruction machines).
An A+ choice in the world of kid tablets is the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, the version of the infamous Fire Tablets made exclusively for kids. It’s equipped with one free year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited and a headache saving two-year worry free guarantee.
Education stuff: Instead of rummaging through an overwhelming app store to find a few kids’ apps, Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is Amazon’s all-in-one subscription service made specifically for kids ages 3-12. It offers over 15,000 kid-appropriate books, movies, TV shows, and educational apps and games with character favorites from Disney, PBS, Nickelodeon, and more. After the first free year, you’ll need an Amazon Prime membership to enjoy all of the perks.
Parental controls: Parents can set time limits in general or for certain apps, which will automatically block access when the time is up. Amazon knows 12-year-olds don’t want to see the baby stuff, and that 3-year-olds don’t want to see the reading stuff. Age Filters ensure that your kid only sees age-appropriate content so that you don’t have to constantly monitor what they’re looking at. Parents can also give children selected access to extras like Netflix or YouTube in Freetime.
The best part of this gig is the 2-year worry-free guarantee — AKA a parent’s peace of mind. As Amazon says, “sometimes ‘oops’ happens,” and for any drops, bumps, spills, or other accidents that happen in the first two years, just send the tablet back and Amazon will send a new one for free — no questions asked.
Durability and specs: The first thing you notice are those colorful rubber cases, complete with an ultra shock absorbent bumper the whole way around for insurance against tough love. The 16 GB internal storage is a decent size, plus a 1280 x 800 HD screen, and up to 12 hours of battery life.
Amazon customer Tommaso Trinchieri writes:
My three-year old loves it. We got him one just before a trip and it was perfect to keep him occupied. The Freetime is great as all the apps are age appropriate and no need to worry an app is not appropriate (the most frustrating thing with other tablets in downloading an app that is too advanced and my kid getting frustrated). The case is thick yet lite, perfect weight and size for his little hands (and nice to know it has a replacement warranty).
Overall, the Fire HD 8 Kids Tablet has a 4.2 out of 5 star rating. Choose from a bright blue, pink, or yellow case for $129.99 each, or get the same tablet with a slightly smaller 7-inch screen for $99.99 here.
Another reliable choice is the Samsung Galaxy Tab E Lite Kids Edition, with the iconic lime green rubber case, a specially curated educational app library, and amazing parental controls. (Yes, that bright green is the only color option right now. Sorry.)
Educational stuff: One of the best features of the Tab E Lite is the Samsung Kids service library, filled with specially curated educational games and books that align with STEM and U.S. Common Core standards. Kids can access hundreds of trustworthy apps like National Geographic, Dreamworks Animation, and Sesame Street (YES). The Google Play Store is still available for kids to access — with parental supervision, of course. The coolest part? The Tab E Lite automatically adapts to your kid’s age, so content will grow with them. (And when Samsung Kids service is turned off, parents can use this tablet like a regular Samsung device.)
Parental controls: Parents can set time limits and hand pick apps for their kids, and then watch their progress on the main dashboard. (It’s basically watching them like a hawk, without them feeling restricted.) Everything is ad-free and in-app purchases are automatically off-limits, so you can be sure they’re not going to any site they shouldn’t be.
Durability and specs: The Tab E Lite features a 7-inch screen, 2.0 MP rear-facing camera, up to nine hours of battery life, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a quick 1.2 GHz Dual-Core processor. It comes with a lightweight, durable bumper case that makes the tablet easy to grip and hard to break. Its 8 GB memory is pretty small, so you’ll want to invest in a memory card.
Walmart customer Travelchic writes:
I bought [this] tablet for my grandsons 3rd birthday. Now he has his own specific childs backpack for it and it goes everywhere with him. He is learning his numbers, colors, shapes, the alphabet, plus a lot more. Definitely one of the best purchases i have made for him.
Overall, the Kids Tab E Lite has a 4 out of 5 star rating. Get it for $129.99 here, and subscribe to the Samsung Kids service for $4.99/month here.
The Kurio Next Tablet is a Walmart best seller and the “balling on a budget” option. It’ll cost you just $79, so if you’re still on the fence about the whole tablet thing, this is a safe choice that won’t break the bank if things go astray.
Educational stuff: This Android tablet is armed with a *free* lifetime subscription to Kurio Genius, an internet filtering system that covers over 1.8 billion websites in 200 languages — all curated by experts so you don’t have to worry about doing the monitoring yourself. Pre-downloaded apps include YouTube Kids, top Google Play games, and educational content. Plus, for the first year, Kurio’s Surprise-A-Week program delivers a new game, app, or e-book to the device for free (that’s 52 new things).
Parental Controls: The password protected Parental Area features time limits, app management, and the ability to create up to eight different child profiles at once. And, thanks to Kurio Genius, parents can let kids surf the web with peace of mind that they’re not on sites they shouldn’t be. With parent supervision, kids can also access the entire Google Play store of over one million apps. If you have any issues, Kurio offers 24/7 live customer support.
Durability and specs: Similar to the cases above, the Kurio Next comes with a shock-proof, spill-proof bumper case to keep the device safe during extreme play. The 7-inch HD display features a blue light filter to reduce eye-strain, so you can feel comforted knowing your kid’s eyes aren’t melting. The tablet is also equipped with 16 GB memory, a front and rear facing camera, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.
Walmart customer happycustomer writes:
My granddaughter (2 1/2 yrs) loves it. I love how it protects her from the internet. She likes several of the pre-loaded games but I like that I can download additional games from the playstore. I did a lot of research before choosing this one. I will say I’m not as impressed with the battery life, but for the amount of time she uses it, its fine.
Overall, the Kurio Next Tablet has a 4 out of 5 star rating. Get it for $79 here and take advantage of Walmart’s free 2-day shipping.
Best for preschool aged children, the LeapFrog LeapPad Ultimate is a great starter tablet for kids not-so-accustomed to mobile device life. It’s equipped with a navigation arrow button to assist with the touch screen, a super cute interface, and parental controls are already built in.
Educational stuff: The LeapPad Ultimate is pre-loaded with activities in core mathematics, reading, and science skills, with interactive options in music, puzzles, logic, and creativity to get a head start on critical thinking (separate game cartridges are also available for purchase). The tablet also gives access to the LeapFrog’s new learning subscription service, the LeapFrog Academy. One extra nice thing about the LeapFrog curriculum is its just-for-me technology: Leapfrog follows your kid’s process and automatically adapts the games to match his or her skill set and learning speed.
Parental controls: LeapFrog has pretty much thought of everything with this one, so parents can pretty much sit back — but there is a password-protected parental control feature where parents can customize kids’ experiences, set time limits for playing and for how long they have to wait between playing. The kid-friendly web browser can only go to specific websites, pre-selected by learning experts at LeapFrog, and parents in the reviews love that they can feel safe letting their kid play without constant supervision.
Durability and specs: Your preschooler can enjoy a front and rear facing camera, 480p video recording, five hour rechargeable battery, stylus, and 1024 x 600 7-inch shatter-safe touch screen (not extremely HD, but will a 3-year-old notice?) The Ultimate is LeapFrog’s most durable LeapPad yet, with a rubbery, shock-absorbent case and bumper edges to protect against kids being kids.
Amazon customer Lisa Perkins writes:
My six year old LOVES her LeapPad. She is practicing reading, writing, typing, counting. I love that she gets the support she needs but doesn’t HAVE to use. Battery life is strong, lots of choices for games that are kid friendly and safe. I love the simplicity of the plug and play game cartridges that support specific subjects.
Overall, the LeapPad Ultimate has a 4 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. Get it in pink or green with prices starting at $88.83 here, and check out extra game cartridges here.
Buying for an older kid or advanced learner? Apple’s newest iPad is more affordable than ever and a versatile option that the whole fam can share. There’s obviously no kid stuff pre-installed, but if you are buying it for a little one, Apple has multiple kid-proofing options that can be set and then lifted as they’re grown out of. It’s not the cheapest, but it is a tablet that can adapt to your child for years to come.
Educational stuff: With general purpose tablets, content is up to the user. The App Store has a massive amount of free educational apps and a way more robust selection than most of the kid-specific tablets: Find apps for core skills like math, reading, and science, or hone in on more specific interests with apps for biology, language learning, or test prep.
Kids are also guaranteed to be psyched about the iPad’s augmented reality capabilities and AR apps, allowing them to immerse themselves in the world around them (or planets outside their world, or the ocean below their world). There’s even AR frog dissection.
Parental controls: Nothing is built in, so you’ll have to get hands-on with the kid-proofing. In your iPad’s settings in the Restrictions tab, you can put a virtual lock on any app or make functions off-limits (Safari, the App Store, iMessage, and Facebook are a few you may consider hiding). The “Allowed Content” tab has options for movies or websites, where you can disable specific URLs or allow only G-rated movies to play. (If monitoring kids’ usage more closely is a must, installing parental control software like Kaspersky Safe Kids or Qustodio is a quick fix for an extra security boost.)
Durability and specs: Basically a mini computer, the iPad is decked out with technical details and basically blows the others out of the water. It features a bigger 9.7-inch Retina display, a 64-bit architecture (AKA it’s extremely fast), 32 or 128 GB storage, and Wi-Fi and cellular options. As for durability, it doesn’t come with a case at all. If your iPad will be in the hands of little ones, there are tons of protective kid-proof cases that you can buy separately. You’ll also want a tempered glass screen protector.
Walmart customer JR writes:
I bought this to replace my son’s aging ipad mini. He’s 5 now so I thought he deserved the upgrade. He loves it. I immediately bought a very good case with a built in screen protector because these things are very expensive to repair.
Overall, the new 9.7-inch iPad has a 4.6 out of 5 star rating. Choose from gold, space grey, or silver here, with prices starting at $284. (These may be available for a lower price at Walmart depending on the day, so check back frequently.)
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