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The Best Back-to-School Learning Tech For Kids

Education

| By Amy Vagne | October 6, 2020

The practical advice parents need when shopping for back-to-school kids' tech, from learning, tracking and music devices to smart watches, laptops and tablets.

Shopping for school supplies? As digital learning becomes a more integrated part of school studies, it is important you are choosing the right digital devices and accessories, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. With so many different products on the market, where do you even start? And how do you make the difficult decisions around how much to spend and which brands are best? We asked Sandy Young, Merchandise Business Manager at Officeworks, to guide us through the often intimidating world of kids' tech.

Laptops and Notebook Computers

For word processing, online research and editing photos and videos on the go, a traditional laptop can’t be beat. For this reason, most high schools recommend students invest in a quality laptop or notebook to see them through their secondary studies. But there are hundreds to choose from and prices vary widely.

Your first step should always be consulting with the school, or its booklist. “All schools make their own choices in terms of what devices they want to use within their own network. It’s so dependent on what the school chooses,” says Sandy. If the school suggests a particular brand or model, great – the guesswork is done for you. If not, here’s Sandy’s hot tip: “All the major brands have appropriate hardware for any school-age requirements, whether it’s HP, Lenovo or Acer. It’s really about what’s right for the customer; what needs they’re trying to address.”

As for budget, Sandy says that performance is closely linked to price. “There are some great-value options available, like the HP Stream.” Before you make a purchase, keep in mind battery life and wireless capability. “From a battery perspective, it needs to last a minimum of six hours; it’s got to get through the whole school day without needing to be recharged,” says Sandy. “And it needs to have dual-band wi-fi. That makes sure the device will connect with whatever wi-fi frequency the school operates on.”

Other considerations in the decision-making process are size and portability, particularly if your kids are catching public transport.

Back to school tech for learning: the best laptop brands and devices to buy for kids

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Tablets and iPads

Primary schools are leaning towards iPads and tablets as ideal multi-use devices for younger kids, says Sandy. “They’re lightweight and intuitive, so it’s easy for the kids to engage with far less intervention from the teacher.” When choosing a tablet for school, it’s essential to keep battery life and wi-fi connectivity in mind, as well as a weight and size that are manageable for your child. “You don’t want them loaded up with a device that’s too heavy, particularly if kids have got a reasonable commute on buses and trains or even walking,” advises Sandy. For younger children, looking after an expensive digital device might be a challenge, so don’t scrimp on purchasing a protective case, which Sandy believes is an essential for any kids' tech. “It’s super-important to have some kind of protection for the device. There are so many cases out there, even waterproof ones. I highly recommend a rugged case that can withstand knocks and bangs, as well as accidentally getting knocked off the table in class.”

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Chromebooks

If you’re not a techie, you may not have heard of a Chromebook. But according to Sandy, these Google-based devices have taken off in the past few years, especially in primary schools, thanks to their lower price points and streamlined functionality. “They run on the Google Chrome operating system and work very differently to Windows devices,” explains Sandy. “Everything’s cloud-based on a Chromebook, so the device doesn’t need to have as much storage on board or as much computing power.”

The benefits are pretty clear; Chromebooks are mega-efficient and tend to have a longer battery life. And because you’re always working in the cloud, you can log on to any device using your Google account and all your work is instantly available. Most of the Google apps allow for real-time collaboration, too, which makes it hugely beneficial as a kids' tech device for class group work or receiving teacher feedback. “Many schools are choosing Chromebooks and using the Google classroom environment because it’s a really simple way to manage students’ work and the submission of homework,” says Sandy. The only potential downside? Chromebooks need to be connected to the internet, so they’re not very useful if your wi-fi drops out.

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SEE ALSO: Let the Geek Guide You: Buying a New Laptop Computer

2 in 1 Devices

Can’t decide whether a laptop or a tablet is a better choice for your primary-schooler? You don’t have to. 2 in 1 devices are a handy hybrid, boasting the creative benefits of a tablet combined with a fixed keyboard for a more traditional computing experience. “The right 2 in 1 device could give you that stretch and longevity in terms of transitioning into high school,” explains Sandy. “If you pair a 2 in 1 with a stylus, it allows for more creative use with freehand drawing and sketching and you can take physical handwritten notes as opposed to always typing on the keyboard. It’s a really good way of bringing those two worlds together.”

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Smartphones and Mobile Phones

Investing in a smartphone for your child? It’s an often-contentious issue, but there are no hard and fast rules. Some parents may not see the need; others may think it’s a convenient way to keep tabs on kids once they start travelling solo to and from school. If you’ve decided to take the leap, Sandy has some useful advice. “There’s so much value that’s available across the Android ecosystem. You can pick up a Nokia mobile phone for under $200. It obviously doesn’t have all of the amazing features that the big flagship Samsung and Google phones might, but it provides the basic functionality that parents are looking for when they’re getting the kids their first mobile phone.” Brands such as Vivo, Oppo, Motorola and even Samsung offer smartphones for under $400. And when you’re ready to go, remember Officeworks offers affordable mobile phone plans with no lock-in contracts.

Back to school tech and the most suitable and best value mobile phones to buy for kids

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Smart Watches

If a smartphone isn’t the ideal investment for your primary-school student, a smart watch could be a happy middle ground: a portable, wearable kids' tech device that keeps them happy (hello step-counting and activity tracking!) and also gives parents peace of mind about keeping kids safe and in touch. “The Spacetalk smart watch is definitely the best option for young kids. It’s a smart watch, but it has restrictive capabilities [that allow you to] pre-set the phone numbers, so kids can call Mum and Dad, grandparents or the neighbour,” explains Sandy. “It’s also got in-built GPS, so you always know where your kids are when they're on their commute to and from school.”

For older kids and teenagers, it makes sense to choose a smart watch that links back to their mobile or tablet device. “There are so many products available from Fitbit to Garmin to Samsung to an Apple Watch. Most products are fantastic and have similar functionality, from activity tracking to GPS to managing calls and reminders,” says Sandy.

Back to school tech devices for kids: how to keep them safe with a smartwatch

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Accessories and Extras

Expert advice on the best kids' tech devices and accessories for school students


Before you finish shopping, consider all the extra tech gear kids may need to get optimum functionality of their tech set-up. Headphones are practically an essential nowadays, with students and parents working and learning from home together. “I’d suggest on-ear or over-the-ear headphones – they’re more comfortable than earbuds for long periods of time,” says Sandy. “Choose a pair that’s got an inline microphone because kids will often need to use that, particularly as remote learning is happening again in Victoria. There's a need for them to be able to communicate through video platforms.” And a need for you and the rest of the family to be able to concentrate on your own work without eavesdropping on an English lesson!

Another essential purchase is protective accessories, such as screen protectors and grips for smartphones and cases and sleeves for laptops and tablets. “These help keep devices safe, particularly when your kids are in transit to and from school. They can help avoid those accidental mishaps,” says Sandy. If you’re purchasing a tablet to be used at school, a powerbank is a wise investment, too. “These provide portable power and they’re handy to have as part of the kit just in case your kids forget to charge a device and they need to top up the power at school,” says Sandy.

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