Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

August 6, 2009

When’s the right time to buy a laptop for your kids?

Filed under: Technology in the Home — Erin @ 3:01 pm

With the summer winding down and school just around the corner, many parents might be considering buying a laptop for their child. The recent onslaught of cheap and durable Netbooks available brings the question to nearly every parent’s mind:

Is now the right time?

The Disney Netpal in Princess Pink

The Disney Netpal in Princess Pink

Just this week, Disney has begun shipping its first line of laptops geared towards kids ages 6 – 12. The “Disney Netpal,” released in Princess Pink and Magic Blue, comes equipped with web-safe browsing and email, WiFi capability, USB connectivity, and a 0.3 megapixel webcam. On top of being marketed as sturdy and spill proof, the laptop weighs only 2.20 lbs and features an 8.9 inch display. The Netpal is just the latest to join the ranks of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) and Classmate PC in the growing market of laptops for kids.

While none of us at Zoodles have had the chance to play with one yet, the $350 Disney Netpal inspired us to find out what kinds of questions parents should be asking themselves before reaching into their wallets to buy a laptop for their child.

Here’s what we found:

First, it’s really important to think about why you want to buy a laptop for your child in the first place, and what needs in your home you think it will fill.  Is your child watching too much television?  Many parents have the desire to replace television time with something better for their child, but just don’t have the time to find it.  As a quick fix, many parents feel that buying a laptop will do the trick, and that having a laptop will automatically make their children more prepared academically.  And yes, while research does show that having and using a computer in the home is positively correlated with academic achievement, there’s no distinction made between desktops and laptops (1). Keeping that in mind, there’s no reason why the desktop that you already have in your home needs to be replaced or supplemented.

Instead, what really matters is the kind of content that you’re putting in front of your child. A 2005 study from the Journal of Research in Childhood Education showed that kindergartners who frequently use educational math and literacy software or games are more likely to have high academic achievement (1). What this means for you as a parent is that getting your child off the TV isn’t enough, their time needs to be supplemented with interactive educational material to really make an impact.

Another reason many parents consider purchasing a laptop for their child is because they want him or her to be in a safe, contained online environment. Contained in both senses of the word – parents don’t want their kids to get access to inappropriate content, but they also don’t want their kids messing with Mommy or Daddy’s personal websites and applications!

The problem with buying a laptop to alleviate this fear, however, is that it has the potential to open a whole new panoply of other dangers. A laptop enables your child to use the computer anywhere they want, including a friend’s house, or their bedroom, where their online activities go unsupervised. In fact, Common Sense Media suggests keeping computers out of kids’ bedrooms until late middle school, when your child is old enough to understand basic Internet safety. If you’re ready to have that discussion with your child, take a look at some of the ground rules recommended by Common Sense Media to get started.

Here at Zoodles we believe we address both the concerns that might drive you to purchase a laptop. We not only provide your child with educational math and literacy content, but we contain your child in a safe and engaging online environment that you can always control and monitor, no matter what kind of computer they’re on, or where they might be playing. So whether you decide to take the plunge and buy a Disney Netpal or not, Zoodles has you and your family covered.

(1) Judge, Sharon. 2005. “The impact of computer technology on academic achievement of young African American children” Journal of Research in Childhood Education. (2005). Print.

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