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Tablets can be fun, educational gifts

Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service

The Christmas season is fast upon us, and many children and adults alike have put an iPad or similar product at the top of their Christmas wish list.

Shoppers can be overwhelmed with the range of tablet choices, including the iPad, the new iPad Mini, seven new Kindles from Amazon, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Google’s Nexus 7. Soon, the Nexus 10 (a larger-screen tablet) will be added to that list.

Remember that the more gigabytes the tablet has, the more books, music and movies it will hold. Common storage sizes for a tablet are 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB.

Before making a purchase, consider how you want your child to use the tablet. Is it primarily for entertainment such as watching movies on long car rides or doing Facetime chats with friends or family? You may be hoping they will use it for an educational purpose.

Remember that a tablet requires Internet access. Are you going to put it on your cellular service with the rest of the family cell phone plan, or are you going to let your child bum off of free public wireless? Either is fine, but the fact remains, your child can access the Internet with a tablet.

Many parents fail to realize that with these tablets, children have the same access to the Internet as they would on a home computer. They can access Facebook, chat online, download movies, view pornography and talk to the friend you explicitly told them not to talk to -- all from the comfort of their bedrooms.

There are several steps you can take to ensure safe use of a tablet. First, be sure to turn on Parental Controls and Content Filtering. Both can be found by tapping Settings, then General and then Restrictions. You will be asked to set up a four-digit code to access the settings.

After you have activated these controls, set the restrictions for what apps can be downloaded, what web content can be viewed and what MPAA video ratings will be allowed. You might also consider turning off location-based services if you do not want your child’s location to be broadcast.

If you want to go one step further, there are filtering software packages available for iPads and other devices. These include McGruff Safeguard or Safe Eyes Mobile. There are numerous “safe” Internet browsers that can be downloaded as well. They restrict what search results are returned when someone browses the Internet.

Once the device has been configured, it’s time to start downloading those fun, educational apps. Many of the apps are considered some of the best Christmas presents. Obviously, the apps you choose depend on the age of your child, but a few timeless classics include The Monster at the End of the Book ($3.99), Scribble Press (free), Juno’s Piano (99 cents), GrazziliScience ($1.99) and Stack the States (99 cents).

The Monster at the End of the Book allows young children to “knock” on the tablet and help Grover knock down the wall at the end of the book, while Scribble Press encourages kids to write their own stories, complete with custom illustrations. Juno’s Piano introduces young and old alike to the piano, while GrazziliScience helps preschoolers get a head start on scientific concepts. Stack the States allows children to practice geography, and once they have mastered all 50 states and their capitals, they can move on to world domination.

There are literally thousands of educational apps designed for children to use on the family tablet. Consider your child’s interests or areas they need to work on and then hit the app store together to find just the right program. This Christmas, give the gift of fun as well as the gift of lifelong learning.

Source: Tablets can be fun, educational gifts

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