Father Geek: Tablet, Laptop or Desktop for a Child?

   Posted March 21, 2011 by David Kirk in Apple Mac

My kids are old enough to have had access to computers for several years now. I have learned the hard way what is the best device for each age range. From broken keyboards to Angry Birds, this is just one father’s recommendations about which digital device to provide a child.

My children have been exposed to computers from a very young age. I taught my little man his alphabet while creating an iPhone application. My daughter had an old CRT that look up half her desk for several years. Now that I reflect back on how my children used and abused their computers, I feel that my experiences might help future parents not make my mistakes.

First, let me start off with some negatives.

Laptops are not easily repairable. My six-year-old daughter was very comfortable showing my two-year-old son how to use her laptop. However, as soon as she stepped away for a second, he pried several of the keys off. While I was searching for ways to repair the device, they shattered the laptop shell trying to push the screen too far back. Epoxy kept it on life support, but it was finally executed with a glass of spilled milk.

Desktops can be loud and slow to boot. When my daughter was five, she had a desktop with a CRT on her desk. It was not internet-enabled but had several educational games on it. If we left it on, she would wiggle the mouse to wake it, and proceed to play for a while. However, the fan was loud and random enough that it was difficult for her to sleep with it going. Plus, we did not like the idea she could just pound away on her computer during nap time. If we turned it off, by the time it powered up, she was already bored and onto something else.

Tablets are not computers and do not teach current computer skills. Several kids I know received tablets instead of computers over the summer. The parents are now complaining that their kids are borrowing their computers to work on Powerpoint presentations and Word documents. In most school curriculums now, computer skills are being emphasized. It is not uncommon for a child to be required to bring a USB drive to class. A tablet is not yet a computer replacement.

children on laptop

Here are some more positive experiences:

Tablets and desktops are very damage resistant. My son just recently left my iPad outside all night. A little sleet, a little hail, and a hard freeze were all taken without any long lasting effects. We’ve had my tablet at swim meets and soccer games without any issues. My daughter’s desktop keyboard received various damage on several occasions. When I could not repair it, a keyboard replacement is certainly cheap and easy enough. Almost anything should be replaceable on a desktop. It may break, but it should be easy to repair.

Laptops and tablets allow closer supervision. I allow my children on the internet, but I often want to actually see what they are doing. I can ask them to work on it wherever I am. If I am cooking dinner, they can work at the kitchen table. If I am watching a ball game, they can work on it in the living room. If their friends are coming over, I can put it up in the closet. 🙂

playing on ipad

Tablets are incredibly easy to use. Extremely young kids can figure out how to use a tablet computer. In fact, many tablet apps focus on kids learning numbers, letters, and shapes.

So based on my experiences, my recommendations are the following:

Tablets: A tablet is a wonderful device for a family. A child far below reading level can enjoy it and learn from it. Likewise, it will double as a video player for those long trips in cars and planes. Once your child is old enough to understand that things are breakable, your family deserves a tablet. I believe children as young as two can learn from playing with tablets.

Laptops: Once a child can be responsible with their possessions, they are old enough for a laptop. I love laptops but they are breakable and require a fair bit of carefulness. For example, my son is five and I probably step on his Nintendo DS in the floor about once a month. I let him use some of our laptops in the house, but only under very close supervision. My daughter is older and we have trusted her with laptops in her room since she was six.

Desktops: In my opinion, a desktop is a wonderful option for families with multiple kids or with children that have a destructive side. Some kids just break stuff. My son loved to rip the heads off action figures and pull tires off of Matchbox cars. A centrally located desktop allows the development of essential computer skills while also allowing for easy repair and upgrades.


About David Kirk

David Kirk is one of the original founders of tech-recipes and is currently serving as editor-in-chief. Not only has he been crafting tutorials for over ten years, but in his other life he also enjoys taking care of critically ill patients as an ICU physician.
View more articles by David Kirk

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