How To Buy Computers For Kids In 2016

When it comes to kids, adults sometimes don’t realize that computers can be an avenue for creativity and open-ended play, just like a bucket of blocks. This is one issue that concerns me as the debate continues about screen time and how much is too much. For the past year, I have been researching tablet computers for kids and one thing is certain: not all screen times are created equal. If anything parents need pointers on identifying when screen time is productive and when it is not.

Thus, I sought assistance from Jay Melican, the Maker Czar (this is his actual title) at Intel, who works within Intel INTC -1.57% and with outside partners on programs that help inspire creativity, enthusiasm for learning, and invention with the Intel Galileo and Intel Edison platform technologies. Like many adults today, he too began using computers in college but finds that children have different relationships with computers than their parents do. Parents’ perception may blend in with previous notions of excessive t.v.-watching. “It’s really thinking about that as a box that you’re sitting in front of rather than as a computing tool embedded in your life and is now among the options of creative tools, like paper and crayons,” he said.

If you are a parent who shares this perspective, you may be shopping for a computer for your child right now. If so, here are some of the gems I’ve found this year arranged in accordance to questions to ask to ensure that early computer experience a productive one.

1. Does it have a pressure-sensitive stylus?

I prefer this tool for children for multiple reasons. First, this is the one connection point that links off-screen and on-screen activity together. The pressure-sensitive stylus offers palm recognition technology so that children can write on the screen just as they do on paper, you want them to rest the side of their palm on the tablet surface. This is also the proper handwriting posture.

Two Windows tablets, Microsoft Surface 3 ($499 pen and keyboard are separate purchases) and the Toshiba Encore 2 Write 10 ($399; keyboard is a separate purchase) and the ASUS ZenPad S 8.0, an Android tablet ($299; pen and keyboard are separate purchases) offer great doodling and handwriting experiences. All three are powered with Intel Atom processors as well. Being able to use a pen to write means that you don’t have to know how to type to write in words. Kids can write in a word and oftentimes, the word prediction will show them the word they want.

You may not want this for your child but after a lot of contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion we need to adapt our teaching methods to fit the current vehicles of communication. True, technology is not perfect but it does have a lot of advantages. Thus, rather than teaching children as if they aren’t living with these advancements already, we need to teach them how to thrive with the tools that are at their disposal today. Additionally, sometimes the stylus can work better than a mouse depending on the activity, kids are working directly on their screens these days so moving away from the workspace to move a mouse is more cumbersome and possibly more painful.

The stylus used with the Asus ZenPad S8.0 is fabulous. The great draw of Androids with pressure sensitive styli is that there are a plethora of open-ended creative apps that allow your child to draw, paint, and build. At this point, I can’t say that the digital version is not as good as the real thing because, we must remember that we are saving paper and drawing and building type activities is not limited to the supplies we have at home. Exposing children to both creative outlets, physical and digital, could actually enhance their play.

To read the rest of this article, published in Forbes, please click here.