This is a question I get from parents all the time. First, at what age does a child need a computer at home, and second, what should be included?
I’ve addressed why children as young as second grade would benefit from a computer at home in this article. That decision made, let’s look at what should be on a school-age child’s computer. I’m talking about fifth grade and under.
Every parent I know wants to get what their child needs, as affordably as possible but they don’t want to save a few bucks at the expense of their child. Here’s my suggestions:
- Start by talking to the classroom teacher. What are their expectations of the child. If they’re like the ones in my school, they will want access to basic software and the internet for research, maybe email. That’s it.
- You’re wondering whether a desktop is good for your child, or do they need a laptop? There are lots of reasons why a laptop might be a good decision for your particular family dynamics, but in general terms, a desktop is fine for a younger child (K-5). They don’t need to take it to friend’s house for group projects much until they reach middle school, and I would not suggest gearing a more-expensive laptop decision around an occasional project. I guarantee, the teacher won’t.
- There are other reasons why a desktop is a good decision. It is more durable (it isn’t carried around, so can’t be dropped). If the monitor breaks, you don’t have to replace the entire computer–just the monitor. Because it’s cheaper, it can be replaced if your child somehow destroys it or part of it (this should be expected of new users). And, a desktop has a larger hard drive, more memory and more drives/ports for input devices. That makes it more adaptable to unexpected needs.
- Now you need to select which level of desktop your child requires. Does he need the basic $350 on sale version or the everything-in-it upgrade? Start simple. Basic. See what the child uses, what else he needs before making an expensive decision. Most kids are fine with the lower end of productivity. Some, though, want the works. You’ll know by the time you’re ready for an upgrade.
Once you’ve selected your computer, here are your needs:
- MS Office or compatible (Google docs, Open Office). This will provide a word processor, a spreadsheet application, and presentation software.
- If your child must have MS Office and you are trying to fit the price into a budget, start with Office Web Apps, the free online version of Office. It’s compatible with MS Office, much like it but more limited. A good starter.
- MS Publisher is a great extra (though pricey). It enables students to create magazines, newsletters, trifolds, cover pages and more.
- Download FREE software such as Google Earth to enhance learning.
- You’ll need the biggest standard hard drive, the most standard memory (4 gig or more), a front-positioned USB port (I have 4 in front and 4 in back and use them all–whatever is standard is fine), standard screen, standard mouse. Remember: Your child is not yet a power user. Give him the basic and see what he uses. If he decides to be a movie producer, you’ll need more power.
- Include a DVR, which will record DVDs and CDs.
- Include headphones (so his sounds don’t bother you) and a microphone. Each is less than $10.
- Internet access. There are a variety of methods to manage this for your child. The only bad decision you could make is precluding your child from using the internet because you’re afraid of what’s out there. Fear of the unknown should not be a factor in this decision.
- Email access. Many teachers (like me) require homework submitted via email. Even if your teacher doesn’t this year, s/he might next year, so include this in your software package.
That’s enough for now. Any questions? Leave a comment. I’d be happy to tell you more.
–reprinted with permission Ask a Tech Teacher © 9-4-10