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COVID-19 means several Engadget editors have had to start teaching their children at home while juggling work. Naturally, this was a great time to embrace the gadgets we already own to help our kids stay engaged. We’ve put out a call asking our publishers to tell us which devices have proven to be critical over the past year. Hopefully some of these will be helpful to you as well.
Apple iPad with Folio
The option that all parents of the staff immediately recommended was Apple Basic iPad with Folio keyboard. I’ve spoken lyrical before about how I think Slate is – with a few exceptions – the perfect computing experience. In terms of cost, style, and safety, the entry-level iPad makes a great first computer, especially if you let young children use it.
Not only do you get the security of iOS and the control given to parents, but kids really like using them more than laptops. Mine does, at least, and they find the touchscreen easier to manage than a “real” computer while they are learning to read. It also helps that a number of the literacy games my older child plays are much easier to use when you swipe your finger across a screen.
Be careful, I normally tell anyone looking for the Apple Folio Keyboard to wait for a major shopping vacation. Big retailers like Best Buy are heavily discounting the case when purchased with the iPad because it’s honestly way too expensive to buy full price. If you can’t wait, however, you should check out Logitech Slim Folio, which is bigger, more durable, and a bit more friendly to little fingers.
Kiwi Co. is a company offering a regular subscription kit, designed to help young children learn the fundamentals of STEM. Terrence O’Brien, supposedly “sucker for a good subscription box”, uses them with his son, and they are both very attached to the challenges offered. Crates also become more complex as your child ages, which helps them gradually develop their skills.
And it’s not just the STEM topics these kids can tackle, with Maker Crates letting you indulge your creative side by making clay pots and perforated pillows. Atlas Crates, on the other hand, can use the game to educate your child about the wonders of geography and travel.
“Toys [right now] are simple but adorable – made of felt, cardboard and wood, ”says O’Brien. And “they come with a little book on the theme of this month, whether it’s the Moon, simple machines or friendship,” he added. And O’Brien is excited about what’s going to happen when his son gets older, and the packages get a lot more sophisticated. Projects for older children include sets that help you build your own trebuchet, hydraulic arm, or walking robot.
Puro Junior jams
If you try to work in the same room that your kids are in for their lessons, you may find yourself distracted by what they’re doing. That’s why, as long as you keep an eye on what they’re doing, it may be worth buying your child a decent helmet. Devindra Hardawar is a huge fan of Puro JuniorJams Headphones, a pair of bluetooth and wired bottles for children.
Puro’s selling point is that its headphones are capped at 85 dB, which the National Institutes of Health listing as the upper limit of how much power you should go to. The boxes are also designed to grow with your child the way they do, with Vegan leather ear cups designed for comfort and decent stretch. They also fold up to help you easily travel with them on those rare occasions – at the moment – when you feel like you have to get out of the house.
The Bluetooth 4.0 packaging means the cans should have a wireless range of around 30 feet, making them long enough to run your own silent nightclub. When the weather is rough and shelter orders are in place, it can be difficult to get your kids enough exercise. That’s why being able to schedule a dance party is a great way to burn off some of that hectic energy.
Children’s Kindle Edition
The first time you watch a Children’s Kindle Edition, you might be wondering why you would buy it over the regular version. After all, it’s the same as vanilla 10th Generation Kindle that you can get back for a lot less money. It has the same 6-inch, 167ppi front-lit display, the same processor, and the same 8GB of onboard storage. So that’s a bit of a tear, right?
Not really, and mostly because for the extra twenty dollars you not only get a great color, but you also get a two-year “worry-free warranty”. Which, in Amazon parlance, means that if your rugrat breaks its Kindle within the first two years of its possession, it will replace it, no questions asked. In addition, you will benefit from one year Children + subscription, including an extensive library of child-friendly literature.
There’s also a gamified component, where your budding readers can get badges when they hit certain targets. And there is an additional set of tools to help kids identify words they are having trouble understanding in terms of missing terms. Plus, you know, all of that data can filter to your account, allowing you to keep an eye out for areas where they are struggling to offer further help.
Hape wooden easel
There are a lot of children’s easels available on the market and I use an Ikea model with my kids. Devindra Hardawar recommended Hape’s version and, just looking at the list of products, I’m already jealous of the model he uses. For starters, it’s height adjustable, which means you can extend your legs from about 37 inches to 43 inches, growing up with your kids. Second, the side of the whiteboard has magnetic strips on the top and bottom, which helps keep the paper roll in place.
Of course, most easels hold the paper under or beside the chalk tray, which means your kids can pull it across the room on a whim. Here, the roller is mounted on top of the easel, making it a bit easier to keep the roller out of smaller hands. Oh, and the bottom tray comes with paint cans and paint cans holders, which makes life a lot easier when it comes to painting.
Having an easel for home schooling might sound backward, but we use ours a lot to help with letter formation. It’s also an easy way to draw pictures for guessing games (who needs to buy a copy of Pictionary when you have a board and some imagination?) With kids. Not to mention that my kids love to play at school, taking turns as a teacher and doodling over the board while I try to work while sitting on the couch nearby.
Google Arts and Culture Expeditions
Sometimes, as a homeschooled parent, you just have to drop out of the program the school offers. You just have to try and share with your kids some of the things we can do when this is all over. Google artistic and cultural expeditions are great for this, especially when it comes to piquing a child’s interest in a topic.
Expeditions allow your children to explore the collections and exhibits of some of the world’s most prestigious museums. Several others offer Street View tours, allowing you to walk around the buildings as if we weren’t all confined to our homes. This is something my daughter loves to do, wade through public spaces and point out the cool things she notices.
A few weeks ago, I started talking to my kids about the British Science Museum, based in London. I proposed to my wife years ago, and we were able to show them exactly where, before heading to the virtual space room tour. It got the kids interested enough that I started showing them videos of SpaceX launches and landings. From there, we started talking about gravity and the pitfalls to getting out of it. Something that has been primarily enabled by Google’s artistic and cultural expeditions.