By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
It’s inevitable. Your children are going to enter the technological age whether you like it or not – And much sooner than you’d think. Despite your best intentions to keep the myriad of technological devices in your life at bay, your kids are going to be showing YOU how to use your iPad before you know it! I’ve explored a few different options in my quest to do what’s technologically best my 2-year-old and 4-year-old and I’m here to share my thoughts on the subject with you…
Chances are pretty good that if you own an iPad, you’re sharing it with your preschooler, whether you want to or not. You can almost always find a free or relatively inexpensive app ($2 range) to satisfy any whiny toddler for as little or as much time as you’d like and more often than not, you can actually convince yourself of the apps’ educational value. The battery life is good, the images on screen look nice and every member of your family can enjoy its many benefits. But it won’t be long before one iPad is not enough and even the best sharers (you included) will have one too many meltdowns disrupting your otherwise peaceful household. Obviously, buying multiple iPads is the way to solve this inevitable problem. But you may find this solution to be not only financially problematic but morally questionable as well. If that’s the case, and the less expensive but still expensive iPad mini doesn’t exactly quell your anxieties about your kids having these fancy tablets for themselves, there are some other viable options out there.
The MEEP!, for instance, is a kid-friendly, durable tablet that takes the benefits of other tablets and targets it specifically to kids. But whereas my 2-year-old is almost too comfortable on the iPad and other similar devices and may accidentally purchase a $9000 armchair on them, the Meep is all about the child’s entertainment and learning experience, not about mom and dad’s latest download. This rugged Wi-Fi enabled touch screen tablet is designed for kids age six and above that runs Android™ 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). There’s a vast library of 50 preloaded games, apps, eBooks and more. You can download hundreds of action packed games and challenging learning activities and also purchase apps from the MEEP! store using virtual coins. It contains 4GB internal storage and an SD™ card slot, cloud-based parental controls, a .3MP video camera, and the ability to stream content to your television through HDMI. Visit http://www.radioshack.com and http://www.meeptablet.com.
If you’re looking for something smaller and more portable that allows your child to practice their fine motor skills and video gaming talents, the Nintendo 3DS is a must-have. Although you have to purchase games individually (each in the $15-$35 range), the 3DS takes gaming to a whole new dimension – the 3rd dimension – and no special eyeglasses are required! It features a 3D upper screen, touch lower screen, new input & controls, inward-facing camera, 3D Depth Slider to suit your 3D preferences, wireless switch, dual outward-facing cameras, Augmented Reality (AR) Games and built-in applications, circle pad, gyro sensor, motion sensor and pedometer. This gaming device truly puts our generation’s Gameboy to shame. It comes with a charging cradle, AC adapter, Nintendo 3DS stylus, six AR cards for use with augmented reality games and a 2GB SD card for storing photos, music and downloadable content. Visit http://www.radioshack.com and http://www.nintendo.com/3ds.
LeapPad2 and InnoTab2
Very popular, readily available and from reputable brands, the LeapPad2 and InnoTab2 both provide children with an educational but fun tablet experience which can be monitored by the parents. It’s more economical to purchase upfront (both sell for under $100) and they both come with a few apps that sound pretty cool (i.e. Cartoon Director on the LeapPad2 sounds truly inspiring), but you might want to invest in rechargeable batteries and an SD card to expand storage. Also keep in mind that the licensed character games and e-books your children will no doubt want cost about $15-25 each and apps are $5 and up. In other words, you could end up spending close to the amount of other tablets and not get nearly as much content as they have. But with a camera, video camera, photo viewer, video player, MP3 music player, e-reader, art studio, games, and microphone already on the device, your kids will be set even without all the external bells and whistles. Both the LeapPad2 and InnoTab2 are learning tablets designed to make kids happy while keeping parental concerns (i.e. education) in mind. Visit http://www.leapfrog.com and http://www.vtechkids.com.
The Kindle Fire (HD is 16GB, non-HD is 8GB) is a nice option for loyal fans of Amazon (especially Prime members who get lots of perks and discounts) who want an iPad-type experience but don’t want to spend so much money on a device for their kids (hello… 2 Kindle Fires for the price of one iPad mini – score!). But unlike the iPad, the Kindle Fire offers Kindle FreeTime that is password protected and contains free kid-friendly games, apps, e-books (including some audio e-books) and video (Remember “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”?). You can also set up profiles and time limits for up to 6 kids (with reasonably priced subscription plans). And Kindle makes it pretty easy to get its content onto your other devices like your iPhone. This is one device that won’t collect dust when your kid loses interest, if that ever happens. From movie rentals to lending libraries to Facebook, YouTube and thousands of movies, games and apps, you’re sure to get plenty of use from this tablet no matter how old you are and for a pretty reasonable cost compared to other kid-friendly gaming devices and tablets.
It might seem crazy to get each of your kids such an extravagant, expensive and fragile device to call their own. It might go against all of your better instincts as a parent who wants to keep life simple and screen time limited. But after the 100th sibling screaming match, the 10th bad road trip and the 3rd torturous plane ride to Florida, you might start thinking it’s not such a bad idea anymore. And most likely, your kid might actually learn something valuable while using one! For better or worse, the tech world has given you an array of options to choose from (I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s actually available). It can be overwhelming to compare them all but I promise you, there’s certainly a device out there to suit your family’s technological needs.