Engadget editors talk about homeschool tech essentials

What we’re using to keep our kids stimulated.

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COVID-19 means that several Engadget editors have had to start homeschooling their kids while juggling work. Naturally, this has been an excellent time to embrace the gadgets we already own to help keep our kids engaged. We put out a call asking our editors to tell us which devices have proven themselves essential over the last year. Hopefully some of these might be helpful to you as well.

Apple iPad with Folio

Apple iPad
Apple

The option that all the parents on staff immediately recommended was Apple’s base iPad with Keyboard Folio. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how I think the slate is — with a handful of exceptions — the perfect computing experience. In terms of cost, elegance and safety, the entry-level iPad is a great first computer, especially if you’re letting young kids use it.

Not only do you get the safety of iOS, and the control afforded to parents, but kids really do like using them more than laptops. Mine do, at least, and they find the touch-first display easier to manage than a “real” computer while they’re learning to read. It helps, too, that a number of the literacy games my eldest is playing are a lot easier to use when you’re swiping at a screen.

Fair warning, I normally tell anyone looking for Apple’s Keyboard Folio to wait for a major shopping holiday. Big retailers like Best Buy heavily discount the case when bought alongside the iPad, because it’s honestly far too expensive to buy full price. If you can’t wait, however, then you should check out Logitech’s Slim Folio, which is chunkier, more durable and a little bit friendlier to smaller fingers.

Kiwi Crates

Image of a Kiwi Crate tinker-crate
Kiwi Co.

Kiwi Co. is a company offering a regular subscription kit, designed to help young kids to learn the fundamentals of STEM. Terrence O’Brien, a self-confessed “sucker for a good subscription box,” uses them with his son, and they’re both very much into the challenges on offer. The crates also get more complex as your kid ages, helping them grow their skills gradually.

And it’s not just STEM topics that these kids can cater to, with Maker Crates allowing you to indulge your creative side making clay pots and punch needle pillows. Atlas crates, meanwhile, can use play to educate your child about the wonders of geography and travel.

“The toys [right now] are simple but adorable — made out of felt, cardboard and wood,” says O’Brien. And “they come with a short book about that month’s theme, whether it’s the Moon, simple machines or friendship,” he added. And O’Brien is excited by what’s going to happen when his son gets older, and the packages get a lot more sophisticated. Projects for older kids include sets that help you build your own trebuchet, hydraulic arm or walking robot.

Puro Junior Jams

Image of two children wearing Puro's kid-friendly Junior Jams headphones
Puro

If you’re trying to work in the same room as your kids are taking their classes, you can find yourself getting distracted by what they’re doing. That’s why, so long as you’re keeping an eye on what they’re doing, it might be useful to buy your kid a decent pair of headphones. Devindra Hardawar is a big fan of Puro’s JuniorJams headphones, a pair of Bluetooth and Wired cans for kids.

Puro’s selling point is that its headphones are limited to 85dB, which the National Institutes of Health list as the upper limit for how loud you should go. The cans are also designed to grow with your kid as they do, with Vegan leather ear cups designed for comfort and decent expandability. They also fold down to help you travel with them easily on those rare — for now — occasions when you feel compelled to get out of the house.

Packing Bluetooth 4.0 means that the cans should have a wireless range of around 30 feet, making them plenty long to run your own silent disco. When the weather is rough and the shelter in place orders are in force, getting your kids enough exercise can be tough. That’s why being able to schedule in a dance party is a great way to burn off some of that restless energy.

Kindle Kids Edition

Kindle
Amazon

The first time you look at a Kindle Kids Edition, you might be wondering why you’d buy this over the regular version. After all, it’s the same as the vanilla 10th-generation Kindle which you can pick up for far less money. It has the same six-inch, 167ppi front-lit display, same processor and the same 8GB of built-in storage. So it’s a bit of a rip, right?

Not really, and mostly because for the extra twenty bucks, not only do you get a nice color, you also get a two-year “worry free guarantee.” Which, in Amazon-speak, means that if your rugrat smashes their kindle within the first two years of ownership, it’ll replace it, no questions asked. In addition, you’ll get a year’s Kids+ subscription, including a vast library of kid-friendly literature.

There’s also a gamified component, where your budding readers can get badges when they hit certain targets. And there’s an added toolset to help kids identify words they struggle with to help them understand the terms they’re missing. Plus, you know, all of this data can filter back to your account, letting you keep an eye on where they’re struggling to offer additional help.

Hape Wooden Easel

Hape
Hape

There are plenty of kids’ easels available on the market, and I’ve been using an Ikea model with my kids. Devindra Hardawar recommended Hape’s version and, just looking at the product listing, I’m already jealous of the model he’s using. For a start, it’s height-adjustable, meaning that you can extend the legs from around 37 inches up to 43 inches, growing along with your kids. Second, the whiteboard side has magnet strips top and bottom, which helps hold the paper roll in place.

Of course, most easels hold the paper underneath or beside the chalk tray, meaning that your kids can pull it out across the room on a whim. Here, the roll is mounted at the apex of the easel, making it a little bit easier to keep the roll out of smaller hands. Oh, and the under tray comes with both paint pots and paint pot holders, making life so much easier when it comes to paint time.

Having an easel for home schooling may seem retrograde, but we use ours a lot to help with letter formation. It’s also a simple way of drawing pictures for guessing games (Who needs to buy a copy of Pictionary when you’ve got a chalkboard and imagination?) with the kids. Not to mention that my kids love to play at being at school, taking turns being the teacher and scrawling over the chalkboard while I’m trying to work sitting on the sofa nearby.

Google Arts and Culture Expeditions

Still taken from a Google arts and culture expeditions screenshot
Google

Sometimes, you as a home-schooling parent just have to abandon the curriculum the school is running. You just have to try and share with your kids some of the things that we’ll be able to do when all of this is over. Google’s Arts and Culture Expeditions are perfect for this, especially when it comes to sparking a child’s interest in a topic.

The expeditions empower your kids to explore collections and exhibitions from some of the world’s most prestigious museums. Several more have Street View tours, letting you wander around the buildings as if we weren’t all confined to our homes. It’s something my daughter loves to do, pawing around public spaces and pointing out the cool stuff she notices.

A couple of weeks back, I began telling my kids about the British Science Museum, based in London. I proposed to my wife there years back, and we were able to show them exactly where, before heading into the virtual tour of the space hall. That got the kids interested enough that I started showing them videos of SpaceX launches and landings. From there, we began to talk about gravity, and the pitfalls of escaping it. Something that was mostly enabled by Google’s Arts and Culture Expeditions.

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