What Should You Include on a Younger Child’s Computer

This is a question I get from parents all the time, with two follow-on questions: At what age does a child need a computer at home, and what should be included?

starter computer
Just the basics

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. MS Office or compatible (Google docs, Open Office). This will provide a word processor, a spreadsheet application, and presentation software.
  2. If your child must have MS Office for class projects and units, 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.
  3. MS Publisher is a great extra (though pricey). It enables students to create magazines, newsletters, trifolds, cover pages and more.
  4. Download FREE software such as Google Earth to enhance learning.
  5. 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.
  6. Include a DVR, which will record DVDs and CDs.
  7. Include headphones (so his sounds don’t bother you) and a microphone. Each is less than $10.
  8. 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.
  9. Email access. By third grade, require homework be submitted via email. He’s old enough to understand it, and will appreciate the beauty of never losing his paperwork.

That’s enough for now. Any questions? Leave a comment. I’d be happy to tell you more.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at herwriting office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Author: Jacqui
Welcome to my virtual classroom. I've been a tech teacher for 15 years, but modern technology offers more to get my ideas across to students than at any time in my career. Drop in to my class wikis, classroom blog, our internet start pages. I'll answer your questions about how to teach tech, what to teach when, where the best virtual sites are. Need more--let's chat about issues of importance in tech ed. Want to see what I'm doing today? Click the gravatar and select the grade.