Parents, breathe a sigh of relief. It’s back to school time, back to structured lifestyles and established routines, back to the 8-to-3 grind and visits to retailers looking to make gains before the Christmas holidays. Back to school means equipping your youngsters with the latest computer gadgets and accessories so your sons and daughters can show off their wares to envious classmates. Besides the trusty Texas Instruments statistical calculator and office supplies, your child is clamoring for a new cheap laptop or desktop computer. Are you willing to dish out the thousands needed to buy the latest tech gear, or do you simply make do with what you currently have?
We take a look at some tech essentials that will help your child thrive in the classroom.
Deciding on a Computer
Since 66% of American households own a desktop pc or a notebook computer, deciding whether to replace an existing system or invest in a second system depends on individual needs. Purchasing a high end computer for your elementary school student’s simple word processing and email needs would be overkill, so using an existing system either at home or at the library would be sufficient under normal circumstances for a young child. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to purchase a portable and compact laptop for a college teen on-the-go, or to upgrade an existing computer if it is not suitable for your middle or high school teen’s increasing homework demands. A decent desktop PC that comes complete with a flat panel monitor and inkjet printer can be had for under $600 and a beginner laptop for under $700, with higher end systems inching upwards of $3000. While laptops may be handy for students on the go, they tend to be costlier to fix, difficult to upgrade and more likely to incur damage through rough handling. If you purchase a laptop for your middle or high schooler, tack on theft or damage insurance to cover non-warranty losses. State Farm offers an excellent Personal Articles Policy which provides coverage of up to $5000 at around $3 a month for computer equipment.
What should you look for when choosing a system? For everyday use, consider systems with at least 512MB of RAM (if you have the extra money, invest in 1GB for speedier performance), two USB ports and 80GB of hard drive storage (120GB or more for space-intensive music or video downloads). New systems normally come pre-bundled with productivity, Internet and either Norton or McAfee antivirus/security software. If you are purchasing a second system, consider investing in a wireless network router to share printing resources.
Choose a computer that will best serve the child’s educational growth. And check with your child’s college for its recommendations on computing requirements. Remember – the introductory laptop you purchase at the beginning of the year for your college student might not cut it for advanced computing or engineering courses next semester or next year.
USB Flash Memory Drives
Whether your child is in high school or college, invest in a USB flash drive. Smaller and sturdier than a CD-R, these portable plug and play storage devices make data transfer between computers easier. USB memory drives provide for easy data storage and file backups, plus it comes in handy for students who don’t want to carry their laptops everywhere on campus and who just simply want to plug into a computer in at the lab and work.
An accessory every young computer owner should have in their possession is one of the most important. Grab a surge protector or power strip when you purchase the new computer. Your student will thank you on a stormy night when the lights go out and the all important essay due the following day remains intact on the screen.
An all-in-one printer might prove useful to the child heading off to college. A multifunction printer allows your student to print, copy, scan and fax papers from one central location. The Canon Pixma MP470 multifunction printer combines nice speed, crisp quality, sharp graphics and a host of extras for under $100. A good rule of thumb is to check out printer cartridge prices before selecting a printer. Some cartridges will cost $50 or more to replace each color or black ink tank, and printing lots of papers and color graphics can end up becoming a costly extra at the end.
A cheap digital camera is optional, but a nice item to have. Any camera from the Canon PowerShot series would be a great beginner for a youngster. Sharp graphics, sturdy design and ease of use make these cameras a steal for under $300.
And how about the cool-looking multi-dimensional player games that your son spends all his time online creating characters and worlds others obsess over? Experts do believe that educational software that forces a child to engage in complex problem-solving activities may have real cognitive benefits. Shoot ‘em up games, on the other hand, provide little cognitive stimulation other than to get the adrenaline going. Moderation is the best policy. Keep computer gaming sessions to less than one hour a day.
The iPod or MP3 Player Accessories
Cheap IPods and MP3 players are as common as the flu, and what teenager wouldn’t like music to go with school work? Portable speakers and docking stations are nice to have, but even more importantly, pack a pair of headphones to avoid alienating grouchy parents and potential roommates.
Cell phones, the ultimate status symbol for children of all ages, are common gadgets in backpacks and pockets and text messaging an addiction. Determining whether a cell phone is essential is up to you as the parent. Some parents like having the peace of mind of knowing they can reach their child anytime.
If you want your child to keep a cell phone for emergency purposes, any working phone with 911 dial-up capability should suffice. If you want your young child to have access only to approved numbers, consider giving the Firefly Mobile or Whereifone Wireless with GPS locator. On the other hand, if you decide on an adult phone for your child, you can keep apprised of their whereabouts by including a phone with GPS locator services, such as those offered by Sprint, Verizon and Disney Mobile.
Check with local school administrators about cell phone policies before allowing your young child to bring a phone to school. Some schools prohibit cell phone use during school hours, as cheating by text messaging has been known to occur.
Back to school may be a financially stressful time of the year, but research and ask questions so you avoid the frustrations of tech envy. Think about the needs and usefulness of the products your children ask for, and verify this with school officials. Time is money, and the more time you save by doing the research first, the happier you’ll be come Christmas.