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Portables Education Hardware

When Should You Buy Your Kid A Laptop? 856

GuitarNeophyte writes "Marketwatch News reports that some people say that we should be buying our kids laptop computers well before they get into the higher education realm. Even as early as middle school. From the article: 'These days, it's almost unquestioned that college-bound students will tote laptops back to school. For parents of high school and middle school kids, the decision to invest in a laptop is far from given.'"
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When Should You Buy Your Kid A Laptop?

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  • Worked for me (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigwavejas ( 678602 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:05AM (#13278102) Journal
    With the affordability of laptops I opted to purchase my child one as opposed to an Xbox or PS2. My thinking was it allowed him not only to play games, but also familiarize himself with the keyboard, internet, word processing program, etc. He quickly became proficient and amazed me how much I actually learned from *him* about computers. I was a bit reluctant at first letting him use the internet; however, we had a discussion on what's acceptable and I have parental control on the internet. I think in today's society you're doing your kid an injustice if you wait until their high school years to introduce them to this technology.
    • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:12AM (#13278188)
      I'm sure your kid would've amazed you with a desktop as well...I figure laptops are not necessary for children to be exposed to the internet & computing.

      & as far as laptops for college? Unnecessary. I hated it when people were play solitaire in front of me while the prof was attempting to teach.
      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Lally Singh ( 3427 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:32AM (#13278439) Journal
        I find laptops absolutely essential for college. The problem with desktops at school is that you end up working where you sleep. I find it incredibly useful to have one place to work, one place to sleep, and the rest of town to enjoy myself. One coffee shop I frequent (I mean 6 times a week, for several hours at a time), is filled with fellow students just working on their laptops or books & papers. I really can't work nearly as efficiently when my computer's in the same place I relax or sleep -- I've tried!

        And for every ten folks that has a laptop, maybe one brings them to class. The ones that do it for solitaire would be unlikely to pay attention in class even if there was no laptop. OTOH, I've got friends that swear to using tablet PCs as notetaking devices.
        • Seconded. When I had a desktop, I wouldn't get homework done, because I'd be hanging out in the campus coffee shop. With a laptop, however, I actually got work done, because I would do the work on the laptop in the coffee house.

          I never used my laptop in class. That didn't mean I'd pay attention, however. I sat in the back and read SF novels until the lecture got interesting.
        • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:34AM (#13279045)
          I have both a desktop and a laptop. Take either away, and my lifestyle wouldn't work out. I take my laptop to class and take notes (copious notes - 2,000 lines or more of plain text for a semester in one class) on it. I can't read my own writing, and I can type extremely fast, so it works out really well for me. Additionally, I go to the law library and study there most of the time, taking more notes on my laptop. Then I upload them to my desktop (actually, I use Unison to synchronize both machines to a server located elsewhere - nerdiest law student, EVAR) and compile them into study outlines from there.

          Try doing any of that with pen and paper, even if you can write fast enough to keep up with the professor and still read your own writing.

          As to the actual point of this article - buying laptops for kids in high school or earlier - I am not a fan of the idea, for a lot of reasons. But the one that I'm going to mention right now is this: High schoolers are, on average, less mature than college kids are, and tend to lose and break anything that's remotely portable. It's bad enough that they're out crashing the family car, don't send them out with a $2,000 laptop to bust up, too. Your kids can use your "family PC." Kick them off if you need it. If they want their own computer, they should buy one. It's a really good time to learn priorities and responsibility, and you shouldn't spend money to deprive them of the opportunity.
        • Re:Worked for me (Score:3, Interesting)

          by toddestan ( 632714 )
          I'm kind of the opposite. Where I sleep is my space, with my music, my stuff, my food etc. This made it a lot easier to work on assignments in my room because I'm a lot more comfortable. A public place full of strangers is too much of a distraction to me.

          I never had a laptop in college, as I could never justify the expense (I would of been buying it myself). Even if I had one, I probably wouldn't of taken it that many places - pen and paper is a lot better medium for taking notes. It would of been nice
      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kannibal_klown ( 531544 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:33AM (#13278454)
        as far as laptops for college? Unnecessary. I hated it when people were play solitaire in front of me while the prof was attempting to teach.

        If you commute to school, a laptop can help out a lot. If you live on campus, it helps but not as much.

        I was never was that big of a jerk to play a game during class, though once or twice I browsed in Internet wirelessly or did a project for another course. But those times were rare.

        What came in handy for me was being able to get certain work done. Yes, we had PC labs scattered around but only a small handful of them had the tools I used to make my life easier (ie, something more than MS Word and a telnet connection). Also, you usually had to wait around for some jerk to finish checking their hotmail account and using the Java AOL IM to talk to their pals in the next building.

        With a laptop I could just sit in the library or on the Green and work on whatever project I needed to, knowing I had all of my tools and data at my disposal.

        If you live on campus, the benefit is not as great since you could always walk back to your room and use a desktop. But even then, on busy days or when doing a project with a group in the library a laptop can be pretty helpful.

        Now that you can get a Celeron laptop for like 600 or 700 USD on sale from Dell, the expense isn't that high (plus you make sure the kid can't play too many games since his rig can't handle them).
      • Grow up. (Score:3, Insightful)

        I hated it when people were play solitaire in front of me while the prof was attempting to teach.

        Maybe you should pay more attention to the lecture instead of what your fellow students are doing? As for kids not needing to be exposed to the Internet, just when do you think someone should learn about this new fangled Interweb thingy? Or would you like them to disrupt your game playing on your machine to do homework?

        • Re:Grow up. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by version5 ( 540999 )
          Let me see if I can understand your point. The parent complains that people aren't paying attention in class, but you have such respect for the learning process and the professor that you are outraged that someone would divert their attention for a few seconds to notice a student playing a game. Is that what you are upset about? I suppose in your world, lugging in a widescreen TV with surround sound and xbox to play games in class would be OK, but being distracted by it while trying to focus on the lecture
        • Maybe you should pay more attention to the lecture instead of what your fellow students are doing?

          I'll bet you're one of those guys who can't understand why people get so upset when you shine your laser pointer at the movie screen.

          If thirty people are gathered in a room for the express purpose of taking a class, why should they put up with somebody engaging in distracting behavior? Or do you sincerely believe that a student playing a videogame in the front row is not a distraction? Do you think it'd be

      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <slashdot@nOsPaM.metasquared.com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:35AM (#13278473) Homepage
        Laptops aren't necessary (but are still helpful, since labs can be crowded at times) in college unless you're a computer science major. My laptop was invaluable during a system administration course that I recently took. It's also been very helpful throughout my four years, as it gives me the ability to ssh into the school's server and work on my programs wherever I happen to be.

        Laptops are useful, but, as with everything in college, it's up to the student to use them responsibly. If you're the type that will automatically fire up solitaire when the laptop is on, you shouldn't have one or should keep it off during class.
        • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

          by zxnos ( 813588 ) <zxnoss@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:52AM (#13278618)
          there is a rumor at my college about making notebooks mandatory. it is painfull to go into the any of the labs during finals week and find a machine that isnt tied up rendering someones project. plus kids need to be exposed to this stuff. or finding one that has the software you need, etc.

          i am amazed at the number of computer illiterate 18-22 year olds on campus. i would guess at half of that population, easy.

      • Re:Worked for me (Score:3, Insightful)

        by swiftstream ( 782211 )
        So because some people misuse the technology by playing solitaire, you decide that it is bad?

        I bought a laptop when I went to college, and it was an immense help. That may because I had the disciplain not to play solitaire in class. But that's a matter of disciplain, not technology.
      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:00AM (#13278690) Homepage Journal

        I tried using a laptop to take notes at one point. It just doesn't work. A notepad and paper are FAR superior to a laptop for taking notes. The computer is just a distraction. That's it.

        Actually, I went through several computer "aids" for taking notes. The first was an iPaq. You just can't enter information fast enough (think, scrolling, botched text recoginition, poor tactile feedback as a "pen") to effectively take notes compared with a notepad. The largest problem, though, was that most classes involved diagrams or notations that you simply can't do on an iPaq as fast as you can on a notepad. There's just not enough room.

        So I got a keyboard attachment, since I can touch-type at something like 50WPM or something. (I haven't bothered measuring, it's a wild guess.) This helped with the text parts of notes, but it utterly failed for every class except history. The only reason it worked for my history class was because history involved taking down a LOT of text notes. (And the only diagrams in that class were timelines, which you can "fake" by just writing "Year: Event" on each line.)

        I also tried using a full-fledged laptop in a CS course. It's also completely ineffective due to the "diagram" issue. CS courses aren't all code - most of them involve decision trees or logical tables or some other graphical representation of a concept. (Try drawing a finite state machine using only text. It just doesn't get the message across as effectively as pen and paper.)

        The laptop was useful on campus - but not in class. In class, it was only a distraction. It was insanely useful between classes where you might get an hour off and sit down somewhere and do some homework without wandering back to the dorm.

        Don't get a laptop with the theory it's going to help you in class. It won't. That doesn't mean it can't help you in college at all, but if you try and use it during class, it'll just wind up being a distraction.

        Except in history class. :)

      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Informative)

        by cfulmer ( 3166 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:20AM (#13278893) Homepage Journal
        I'm in law school right now and laptops are a must for most classes. Here are some indications of when they'll be useful:

        1. There are not many diagrams, drawings, formulas or charts put on the board. While I can type much faster than I can write, I cannot use computer drawing tools as easily as I can draw by hand.

        2. You need to shuffle a lot of papers. In Law School, you read thousands of court cases. While these are generally edited and aggregated into casebooks, professors often supplement the casebooks with additional cases, articles, &c. Because all the cases are available electronically, I have found it much easier to download them in PDF and use Adobe Acrobat to write them up virtually.

        3. You need to search. Face it, pouring through 100 pages of hand-written notes for something does not work well in class. Computers excel at this.

        4. You're disciplined. There are a million times more distractions on a computer than there ever were on paper. When I was an undergrad (86-90), there were a few people who read the newspaper in the back of class, but that was about it. Now, then can be playing poker, IM'ing each other, reading the news, writing e-mails, etc.... If you're not disciplined enough to keep your use of these things down, then the laptop may be a problem.

        5. Lousy handwriting. Not being about to read your own handwriting makes reviewing hand-written very difficult. The only way that's going to be bad on a laptop is if you're a horrible typist or you use a bad font.

    • I'm with you. As soon as my son is a little older (he's 13 months now), I'm making sure he knows his way around a computer. Can't see the point of waiting until they reach high-school age. It would be like not teaching your kid to read until 13 years old, back in the mid-20th century.

      Kids are best at learning when they're young, especially when it comes to languages. I haven't seen any research on this, but I imagine that also applies to learning the "vocabulary" of computers (and almost certainly to p

      • by BaudKarma ( 868193 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:24AM (#13278335) Journal
        13 months is way too late if you want your child to have a solid grounding in computers. I got one of those motion activated mice and ducttaped it to my kids hand at about 2 weeks of age. Mounted a 17" LCD on a bracket over his crib so that he could see the screen. The little guy has amazed me with how much he's learned already.
        • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ShadyG ( 197269 ) <bgraymusic AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:03PM (#13279856) Homepage
          This is funny, but it's not too far off the mark. I had a tough time keeping up with my daughter's mental development when she was very young. She could identify letters and knew the phonics of each well before she had the manual strength and dexterity to reproduce them on paper. She was frustrated trying to write the things she could read. It was the same problem she had at 5 months when she could sit up just enough to see something she wanted but could not walk over and get it.

          By opening up a text editor on my laptop and allowing her to type, she was able to start "writing" more than a year before she could have otherwise. Look at the keyboard, find the letter you want, press it, and it draws itself. It's like magic!
    • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Draknor ( 745036 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:13AM (#13278212) Homepage
      Why a laptop, though? As cheap as laptops are, desktops are cheaper and more upgradeable. You can buy your kid a desktop computer during the middle school years, and upgrade it occassionally until the kid gets to high school or college and needs (or wants) a laptop or a faster gaming machine.

      I had a laptop for a bit in high school, purchased used with my own money. It was fun, no doubt, but it wasn't something I really made full use of until college & work. That's when the portability of a laptop really kicked in as a necessity for me. Do students really need that kind of portability?

      At any rate, I do agree with the notion of having a computer instead of an xbox or PS2 - at least, that's worked for me. Of course, a lot of friends had gaming consoles so I could just mooch off of them :)
      • You can buy your kid a desktop computer during the middle school years, and upgrade it occassionally until the kid gets to high school or college and needs (or wants) a laptop or a faster gaming machine.

        Or you could buy them a decent laptop (which coincidentally are either strongly recommended or possibly required by many colleges) their freshman year and be done with computers for the rest of their time in college.

        I work with computers at a college, have been to college, so I guess I hear a thing or two ab
    • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Warlock ( 701535 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:15AM (#13278226)
      My first laptop I got for my senior year of high school. I didn't have parents who just went out and bought me expensive computer equipment, of course, and that's why I'm kind of laughing at this article.

      The only way for the kid to really grasp the value of his new laptop is if he works his ass off all summer to earn the money to buy it himself.
      • Re:Worked for me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:25AM (#13278359)
        The only way for the kid to really grasp the value of his new laptop is if he works his ass off all summer to earn the money to buy it himself.

        Well, normally I would agree but in the case of my laptop, which was purchased 12/1996 for the sole purpose of me bringing it to college (tight spaces for desktops) 8/1997, I have to disagree.

        My laptop was about $3600 at the time. I fully understood the true value of the device and the sacrifice my parents made to make it a reality for me...

        My proof? It remains in full working order to this day on my coffee table in my living room -- relegated to web browsing and SSH and plugged into the wall for power (the battery started keeping a charge for less than two minutes in 2002).

        Just because I didn't "work my ass off all summer" for it doesn't mean I wasn't able to appreciate it and care for it properly.
        • You're an exceptional child indeed! Kids break things, and are more likely to break things that they didn't have to pay for. My cousin broke my uncle's laptop monitor by closing the laptop while a book was on the keyboard (no joke). This goes against all logic, but it happens. Personally, I treat everything my parents give me with respect and care, but I suppose I understand the value of what they give me and am thankful for it. I can't expect the same out of other kids.

    • With the affordability of laptops I opted to purchase my child one as opposed to an Xbox or PS2. My thinking was it allowed him not only to play games, but also familiarize himself with the keyboard, internet, word processing program, etc.

      Which is great, but does he carry it back+forth to school and/or use it during class? I believe that's the more specific topic under discussion. From the article:

      But with laptop prices coming down, children's demands heating up and parents' urge to provide all th
  • Easy Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jackdaw Rookery ( 696327 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:06AM (#13278109) Homepage Journal
    When your kid is responsible enough to have a laptop and look after it.

    Until then; you get an abicus, son.
  • Who's going to pay for the damage when the school bully breaks yet another childs' laptop?
    • Re:Bully (Score:5, Funny)

      by GPLDAN ( 732269 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:09AM (#13278140)
      Other kids retaliate by stealing the bully's identity and linking him to Islamic radical websites.

      Welcome to the new future.
      • You have a fabulous imagination. I would have liked to have you as a friend when I was in school.

        I can just imagine pulling that stuff on some of the bullies I suffered under. (I was a small kid and high school was hell [even the girls used to pick on me] until I was sixteen when I grew a foot in a year and bulked up my frame with swimming and lifting weights. [I went from 'Lets pick on Chuck, he's so tiny', to being every mother's worst nightmare and every high school girl's wettest dream.] I live Grace Sl
    • The laptop should have insurance to get it replaced in case that happens. Regardless, a police report should be filed and the school should discpline the bully.
  • Thats easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by el_womble ( 779715 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:08AM (#13278126) Homepage
    You buy a kid a laptop when they are so cheap that you can afford to buy a new one every month. You know they're going to get broken, stolen, lost etc.

  • by jwachter ( 319790 ) <wachter@gmaDEBIANil.com minus distro> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:08AM (#13278129) Homepage
    Until you trust your kids to browse the internet and use their computer responsibly, give them a desktop and orient its monitor so that it can be seen by you and your spouse when you casually walk by. (BTW this means do *not* let them have a computer in their bedroom!)

    Giving them a laptop to take to their friends' houses is just inviting them to access all sorts of nasty stuff.

    The best possible choice? Set up your offspring's computer(s) in your own home office. What you loose in distraction, you'll gain in piece of mind and time spent with them.
    • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:29AM (#13278404)

      Until you trust your kids to browse the internet and use their computer responsibly, give them a desktop and orient its monitor so that it can be seen by you when you casually walk by

      Funny. I give my clients this same advice, except substitute "Marketing Department" for "kids."
    • On the other hand, being overly protective of your kids as middle/high schoolers tends to end up with them being socially behind others by late high school.

      They'd better be geniuses you can dump through all th extra-curricular activities they can stand until they win some awards.
  • not too soon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Saven Marek ( 739395 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:08AM (#13278131)
    a laptop is one tool for education and can be used as part of a kid's schooling, but buying one just for the sake of buying one and giving it to a kid and expecting them to become smart is just silly.

    what question should be asked is "when is a good time to start using a laptop in the context of my kids wider education" and I think that comes way after being able to write and read and do math and critically think what they read and not before
  • Oh please (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BlackCobra43 ( 596714 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:08AM (#13278135)
    What ever happened to pen and paper? God forbid we actually make kids LEARN the English language, let's just hook them up to spellcheckers ASAP and stop worrying about it.

    I don't think ANY child should be given free acess to a spellchecker until he or she can read and write at a college level. It's meant to allievate your work, not do it for you.
    • Not like it makes a difference. Most adults that grew up without spellcheck can't spell, what makes you think access to spellcheckers makes it better?

      Then again, I was one of those backwards kids that grew up with a computer in the home my entire life. That means I can't spell, right? Wait, I haven't touched a spellchecker in years....
    • : I don't think ANY child should be given free
      : acess to a spellchecker until he or she can read
      : and write at a college level. It's meant to
      : allievate your work, not do it for you.

      Ahem [reference.com].
    • Re:Oh please (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mattdm ( 1931 )
      Heh. Pretty funny given your sig and your own spelling skillz. But really, is there any problem with using spellcheck as a tool to learn proper spelling? Presumably, it's not enjoyable to have to make a lot of corrections, so there's even more incentive to get it right.
  • Go ahead and just get a desktop computer. It's cheaper and your kid can learn how computers work by upgrading it.

    Besides which, why does everyone keep insisting that laptops are ubiquitous in classes? Most engineering students I knew found paper and pencil to be faster and more flexible for jotting down notes.

  • Yeah, by the time they want one, they can have this one that I'm typing on now. But in reality for the kid's sake, until they're old enough to run fast, we'll have a desktop machine for them. Before any of that though I'm going to let them play with the clamshell iBook.
  • Sounds like an expensive thing to keep replacing over and over and over again, every time your kid damages it beyond repair or loses it.

    Ah, but you HAVE to, because it's vital to their education.
  • Welcome to hypeland (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pardasaniman ( 585320 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:09AM (#13278153) Journal
    I went to a pretty posche high-school. (Not yuppy, just slightly below) And many students had laptops. I only found it usefull for making OpenOffice Impress from linux. (Windows boxes had different fonts as default) Laptops are a luxury really. I only got one in grade 12 for university. Laptops these days (In my price range) are so bulky that they aren't even portable. They are just portable enough to move from home to university and back for weekends. The portable laptops that have any performance worth buying end up being too pricey for me. The end result is you end up with a movable desktop. Until I got my laptop, I'd have vnc on my linux desktop, which I'd access from school computers. This was usually more than enough.
  • Used Laptops (Score:5, Informative)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:09AM (#13278154) Homepage Journal
    My first thought was, "When their rich uncle gets out of the poor farm." But I've actually been considering a used laptop from RetroBox [retrobox.com] -- they dispose of corporate assets and have laptops starting under $50 -- though you'll have to get over $100 before you can get anything over 300 MHz and 128 MB.

    Of course, all you bargain hunters will now swoop in and grab them... where's that "back" button?
    • Re:Used Laptops (Score:4, Informative)

      by lactose99 ( 71132 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:34AM (#13278458)
      I second this. Over the last two years I've bought 5 laptops from Retrobox for myself and various family/friends. Reasonably priced and all problems are mentioned up-front. Just be sure to price a spare battery on eBay after buying one, as the battery is not warrantied and my success rate with Retrobox's batteries are less than 50%.

      I just bought a ThinkPad A30P from these guys with a 15" 1600x1200 UXGA screen for under $500 and its the best computer purchase I've made this year.
  • Sometimes the solution is not to buy them a laptop, but to buy them their own desktop. I had that from about Grade 8 on... It made more sense, since at the time I had no real need for mobility. (I liked to play PC games and surf the web mostly.)

    The time might be right if your child is monopolizing the family computer... or if they are technically inclined and mature enough not to destroy it.
  • I gave them the P2-450 when I bought my wife a P4-3g. My kids were 6 and 3 at the time. This year, they'll be getting the net access enabled. They're 8 and 5 now.
    Laptop? Nah... Too fragile for this age. When they're in middle school? Maybe.

  • I'm not sure why this discussion is laptop specific - It seems as if the real question is asking when we should buy our kids computers. The excuse mentioned in the article (not practical to share a desktop with the family) is not relevant in 90% of cases.

    My parents bought me a computer when I asked for one so that I could learn how to program. Worked out well in the long run.

  • Ok buy your kid an expensive laptop. Vendors sure would like you to. Why? 1) They would sell more laptops 2) They would even sell more laptops after your kid has just spoiled some drink over it... Why would you not buy a laptop for a kid? 1) You could learn them first using an old desktop and teach them how to deal with a delicate machine 2) Teach them good practices first: open source development.
  • from the diapers-would-make-the-thing-hard-to-use dept

    Uh, I don't know what kind of stuff you're doing with your laptop...

  • ASAP! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:10AM (#13278171) Journal
    Buy your kid a laptop as soon as possible so they'll get out of the house and download all of their illegal music, movies, and software off of someone else's access point (not to mention all of l33t spl01ts they'll be using).

    In the future youth street gangs will stand on the street corners with laptops leeching unprotected wi-fi.
  • Hmm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epiphani ( 254981 ) <epiphani&dal,net> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:11AM (#13278172)
    My sister is 12. She can type nearly as fast as I can - and while she does make use of that internet shorthand that I hate so much, I think a laptop would probably be a good thing for her to have. What kind of laptop is a little harder to call. I would probably suggest something limited enough that it would almost work out as an appliance though. Perhaps a linux system designed specifically for school type applications.

    A really good idea would be for school boards to develope a little knoppix type system that could be provided to kids as nessecary - on a DVD-RW perhaps, to allow for saving their projects.

    I'm only six years out of school, but I swear, kids these days are amazing. At 12, most can type quite quickly. When I was in school, at 15 I was one of three students that could type with any speed.
    • Re:Hmm.. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Teja ( 826685 )
      A really good idea would be for school boards to develope a little knoppix type system that could be provided to kids as nessecary - on a DVD-RW perhaps, to allow for saving their projects.

      Such systems already exist. There is Edubuntu [edubuntu.org] and also some Live CD's based on Knoppix [knoppix.net] with focus on education. I'm sure others exist, but those just a few.

  • Laptops seem to be more useful than desktops... a little more fragile in exchange for better portability, adequate performance (I'm assuming you're not buying him/her a computer to allow him/her to play the latest l33t games) and much more flexibility.

    But you know your child. How does he/she treat other pieces of expensive equipment in the home? If your kid treats your $xxx stereo system with respect, it's probably appropriate to give him a laptop. Just make sure to either get an iBook, or put some really

  • Old Fashioned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shane2uunet ( 705294 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:11AM (#13278175) Homepage

    My children will not have their own laptop until they get to about 10th grade.

    Why? They need the basics, read, writing, and math. Having a computer just makes them more dependant on the spell checker, the calculator, etc.

    Maybe it's just an unspoken myth, but computers don't make you smarter. Having access to loads of information doesn't make you smarter.

    Good study habits, excellent reading skills, solid math and logic will get them to where ever they want to go.

    Disclaimer. I use a computer all day as a system admininistrator/programmer. I enjoy using computers, but they don't make me smarter.
    • Re:Old Fashioned (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aetherspoon ( 72997 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:26AM (#13278368) Homepage
      Maybe it would be a better idea to just instill the idea that learning is fun in your children. Then you can give them such tools like a spellchecker and calculator and they will fiddle around with them until they learn more about it.

      It drives me up the wall seeing posts like the parent. If you have kids that are driven to learn, they WON'T take the easy way out, they will voluntarily learn on their own (on top of school, assuming you have good teachers and such). You aren't forcing your kid to learn, you are restricting his/her ability to learn!

      But what do I know, I was just someone that grew up with computers and never lost the art of learning.
    • But when I do, I'm gonna go crazy with them. I'm talking reading them Insightful and Interesting Slashdot posts in the womb. Bedtime stories will consist of Linux HOWTOs and Unix manpages. Around the age of 5 or 6, I'll get little CoolGuyBob his first laptop, and a Gentoo live disk. By the time it's finished compiling, he'll have graduated high school. Problem solved!
  • I don't let the kids get anywhere near my Powerbook. They're in their mid-teens and still accident-prone. They get to use the main computer in the kitchen, and even then only under supervision. They don't need to be on a computer 24/7.

    Also, it's rediculous to say that kids "need" a laptop because they'll be carrying one around in college. Do they need their Rhet & Comp books too so they'll be prepared? I went back to school and just graduated back in 2003. I was a non-traditional student, and I was on

  • If you have a kid that's reasonably responsible and doesn't have a track record of breaking things (his PS2/Xbox still works), I don't see the problem. If you're worried about the laptop getting stolen or broken, you can purchase a rider very affordably through your homeowner's insurance. Like someone before me mentioned, with the falling price of laptops, it makes sense if you can trust the kid. It would especially be nice on road trips where the kid can do school work, watch dvd's, or play some games t
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:12AM (#13278192) Homepage Journal
    They can use a desktop until then. I would not set a grade requirement on when to buy them a laptop but a "responsibility" requirement. For the most part a desktop will suffice.

    If your student loses their cell phones, can't drive a car within the confines of the law, or cannot maintain good study habits then save your money. If they have the aspirations and act on them within their capabilities then by all means get them a laptop if it truly benefits them at the time.

  • Depends on the kid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Epistax ( 544591 ) <epistax&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:12AM (#13278197) Journal
    I don't have a kid. I'm basically still a kid of some sort (wait until I graduate college), but I think middle school is a little too early. I'd say keep a family computer around until high school, and keep it up to date enough that the kid won't be whining for something more powerful (it doesn't cost that much to keep a machine up to date). That was getting a lappy for your boy or girl is going to be less "a more powerful toy" and more a symbol of independence. Of course they won't be paying for it so it's not THAT independent.

    Now if you're such a paranoid parent that you still want parental control of the Internet at high school age, it's easy enough to share the internet connection out of the family computer via wire or wireless, filtering pages through a firewall at the family computer (not perfect but helps). However, absolutely do not touch the kid's computer. If you did, there wouldn't be a point in getting it.
  • My three and a half year old newphew has already declared his number one wish for his fourth birthday, a laptop...and not a toy one either...he already has a couple of those. The world indeed is changing.
  • But for almost all cases, laptops are a waste of money. I wouldn't buy my kid a laptop and if he or she decided they had the money for one, I would severely discourage them from buying one. Having a computer at the desk is more than sufficient and at least three times less expensive. You need to find reasons to not get a computer. The real reasons for a laptop are few and far between.
  • by 955301 ( 209856 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:13AM (#13278206) Journal
    Yes, that's right folks. Because I'm buying their kids a laptop. Me and my closest friends, geographically speaking. Our taxes are buying a bunch of kids that I don't have equipment that will be obsolete real soon which most of them will never know how to truly use. Except as email and chat hardware of course.

    http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/7416 [oreillynet.com]

    So don't worry about it! Move to Georgia, specifically Cobb County. Sure, we'll force your kids to listen to Creationism being equated to Natural Selection, but they'll be hearing it from an mp3 on their very own iBooks!
    • You are behind the times. A judge has already blocked the plan from being carried forward with; the school district has roughly until the end of the month to appeal, if they want to.

      I hope it fails--not because I'm a luddite or anything, or because I dislike Apple, or because I think that this particular case is badly planned--but because I think that technology should not be central to an academic education. Technology is a tool, and students should be taught how to use it, but any time you make the tool c
  • I have a 3-year-old (almost 4) that has her own laptop. It's an older one, but perfect for her games. It's nice because it's portable, built like a tank (like I said: "older"), and takes up very little room. She can also manipulate the touchpad much easier than a traditional mouse.

    I have XP installed - she can boot the machine, click on her name to log in, then inserts the cd for the game she wants to play. I very rarely have to help her anymore.

  • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:15AM (#13278232)
    He's got a used $100 Dell lap top. He started by watching a monster truck streaming video over and over. He learned how to stop and start the video by clicking on the mouse.

    He's now 2 1/2. With some effort, he can pretty much move the mouse to where he wants to go and has the idea of clicking down, though he often wants me to do it for him becuase it's easier. There's all sorts of great educational flash animations out there for him. After about 10 to 15 minutes, he gets bored and then moves onto some other activity. He plays with the computer only a couple of times a week, nothing heavy duty. Every once in a while I bring him up to my computer and let him watch me work on the computer, telling him in very basic terms what I'm doing.

    Anyway, the kid's going to grow up thinking of the computer as an extension of himself. There's no question they're going to play ever increasing roles in our lives. His generation is bound to be a very different kind of generation.
  • by slapout ( 93640 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:22AM (#13278316)
    ...we couldn't afford them fancy "laptop" computers. We had big bulky gray boxes that sat on your desk. And we used a modem to dial-up a BBS. And we liked it. We loved it. We didn't have no fancy "high speed wireless internet". If we wanted to know something, we looked it up in a book! And we didn't have no fancy "instant messenger". If we wanted to talk to someone, we called them on the phone!! And we liked it. We loved it! ...young whipper snappers......
  • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:30AM (#13278412) Journal
    When Should You Buy Your Kid A Laptop?

    Tuesday, April 10th 2007 between the hours of 9 AM and 11 AM local time.
  • by modi123 ( 750470 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:32AM (#13278442) Homepage Journal
    This article (towards the end) has way too much focus on the technology aspect of learning. I would like everyone's attention at this wonderful quote:
    "There's no research that [using a laptop] will ramp up academic achievement beyond adequate desktop access at school and at home," he said.
    I started to have major problems when the article quoted Jeff Mao (coordinator of educational technology for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative):
    "The goal was to put the device into the hands of the student at the point of learning as defined by the student, so that it got away from the old model of 'hey kids, let's go to the computer lab so we can use the Internet now. Then we'll go back to the classroom and stop learning with the computer,'"
    I am in strict belief that there SHOULD be separation of computer time versus in classroom learning. There are many different crucial things lost when you plunk a kid in front of a computer: attention, focus, authority structure, memorization, and so forth. Particularly I have seen this in the work place when giving a presentation; capable adults jacking around with the PC instead of focusing on the talk. Innate respect for the setting is slipping. Make math's time math'stime, and make math+computer time something special.

    Second quote that stuck out for me:

    "Today's kids are totally different. The world they live in is different, and the more we can break down the difference between their life inside the classroom and outside the classroom, the better," he [Jeff Mao] said.
    Wow. I have an army of teachers that prayed I kept my inside/outside classroom behavior to a minimum (let's say the principal and I got to know each other really well). I am a staunch supporter of separation of duties - much like in the work place. I work from 8-5, and anything beyond that is my time. I am talking boundaries here people!

    I don't see what is wrong with a computer lab just being a computer lab, and a classroom being a classroom. If things become too blurred with computer technology then we are going to loose basics in the classroom: spelling, basic math by hand, structured thought, and a respect for authority and setting.

  • by pilkul ( 667659 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @10:42AM (#13278526)
    One of the major problems with laptops is that they're very unergonomical. The problem is obvious when you think about it: the height of the keyboard can't be adjusted separately from the screen's, so either the screen is too low or the keyboard is too high.

    I've been suffering for over a year now with a serious upper back repetitive stress injury. I'm only in my early twenties. But I've been intensely using computers since I was 8 years old, and in the past 3 years I've been using a laptop in a very poor posture (kept far in front of me, hunched with my arms outstreched forward and wrists sitting on desk). RSI is something that accumulates over a decade or more of bad computer use. Muscles become gradually more clenched and static without at first being painful, and once you start feeling symptoms several years after the abuse started, it's already too late. As more and more children become computer addicts my situation is going to become increasingly common.

    So when I have a kid, the last thing I want to do is give him a laptop as his main computer. I'm giving him a desktop, adjusting it properly and teaching him about the importance of good posture and taking regular breaks. If he must have a laptop, then I'm getting one with a detachable screen and additional external keyboard. Abandoning the convenience and coolness of laptops seems to me like a small price to pay to avoid serious injury.

  • by Liza ( 97242 ) * <slashdot@@@jill-liza...us> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:07AM (#13278767)
    Here's the thing about the "monitor in the living room" issue.

    Kids and teens love to chat, they love to blog, and they innocently expose a ton of personal information about themselves in blogs and chatting.

    You may have told them not to give out their full name or address, but predators can learn identities using lots of other information: school names, team names, friends names, names of parks and malls and other places they like to hang out. Just as social engineering is used by phishers to get password or cc info from adults, it gets used by sexual predators to manipulate kids and teens into trusting the predators.

    And I think most of you probably remember feeling like you could handle a lot more than those stupid controling adults thought you could, back when you were in in high school.

    That combination of factors is what has teenagers, especially girls, make a shocking number of bad decisions about meeting people IRL who they've only met online.

    Having your computer in a central location in your house isn't a foolproof way to protect your kids; there is no such thing. But if the computer is in the living room, you can see if your kids' behavior changes, if they get suddenly secretive about what's on the monitor, for example.

    And then you can have a conversation with them about it and figure out whether or not you should be worried.

    Different parents will make different choices on that front -- maybe you aren't worried about your teen checking out some naughty pictures, but maybe you are worried about her looking at violent rape fantasy sites or about his unwillingness to tell you who new people on the buddy list are....

    Maybe you have a relationship with your kids where the conversation and reviewing what's acceptable at your house is all that is needed. Or maybe you decide to restrict computer use, or install parental controls software, or monitor the history & temp internet files -- all those choices make sense for some families and wouldn't work in others.

    But paying attention to what your kids are doing with their time and who their doing it with, that's critical for parenting, and harder to do for a kid with a laptop in their room than a kid using the computer in a public part of the house.

  • by _Laban_ ( 166315 ) <laban@kr[ ]ot.net ['akp' in gap]> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:09AM (#13278784) Homepage
    Two years ago I started attending a computer engineering program at Chalmers University of Technology [chalmers.se] in Sweden. I bought a laptop with wlan when I started, but I sold it about a year later. Why? There were computers available in abundance everywhere and I got tired of toting around a 3kg laptop and my regular books in my bag. I could not afford a lighter laptop at the time. But on the other hand a lighter laptop would probably have a screen that was too small for my taste.

    I decided to get a new desktop machine at home and kept my home dir in school in sync with a folder at home using unison [upenn.edu]. That worked great in both the WinXP and Red Hat environment that the school is using.
  • by Cytlid ( 95255 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @11:37AM (#13279072)
    The way I see it, a child (or young-er person) will need a laptop when they constitute the need for a laptop.

    How about "when they're mobile"? I have a stepson (I won't say how old he is or what stage of life he's in, it's not necessary.) He's definitely not mobile yet. He spends most of his time in the house here, and he has internet access and a very nice machine.

      Now it doesn't matter if he's 8 or 18... he really doesn't need one. If mobility becomes part of his life, he's going places (let's say he were to graduate and go off to college), a laptop might come in handy. Mobility often in this country is coupled with responsibility. You usually are going places (literally) when you have much to do and much responsibility.

    When does a child need a car? Or a chainsaw? Well when they need to drive or cut wood. I'm sure each parent can answer the questions differently.

    I think the mentality that your child will do better in school because they have a laptop is ridiculous. Sort of like buying them Nike sneakers will make them Micheal Jordan (or whomever). If they need and deserve it, you will know.
  • by chuckfucter ( 703084 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @12:23PM (#13279490) Journal
    My dad gave me his old computer when I was around 12. That summer I learned about bbs's and discovered commander keen. Best experience of my life. I learned all about DOS comands and .bat files. A laprop might be better for a college student but I say get the kid weened on to computers by giving him an old one when s/he is around 12.
  • by KillerHamster ( 645942 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:04PM (#13279873) Homepage
    My parents never got me a computer. In fact, until my junior year of high school, they tried to discourage my interest in computers. Fear of the unknown, I guess. Anyway, I already had a hobby of trash-picking, and sometime around 1999 I began seeing computers in the trash. I learned much more from dragging old computers home and fixing, disassembling, and rebuilding them than I ever would have learned with a shiny new laptop my parents bought for me.
  • by zoomba ( 227393 ) <mfc131&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:28PM (#13280602) Homepage
    I was lucky to have access to computers from a relatively early age (5ish) because my dad worked for a University that gave him a Mac SE when he became a professor. Since then we had a series of Macs and then PCs in the house over the years (Mac SE -> Powerbook 160 -> Mac LC3 -> HP Pavillion 200MHz -> eMachine 500MHz) until I went off to college, at which point I built my own machine.

    The way it always worked was it was the FAMILY computer, not mine (though I was the only one really using it). This meant it had to be in an accessable room (i.e. not my bedroom) and I couldn't lock away any files on it or bar anyone else from any part of the PC for any reason. I also had to turn over the computer whenever anyone had a real need for it. This was basically a zero-privacy deal where what I was doing on the computer could be checked at a moment's notice.

    I was caught surfing porn once. I was told that if I was caught again, it would be the end of computer and net access for a LONG time to come. The rule basically was if they caught me doing something bad, that was my first and only warning. The PC was not mine, the connection was not mine, I had to share it and be open to inspection whenever they felt like it.

    I was still able to strip the thing down, rebuild it and learn all the ins and outs of it. But I knew I there were risks and concequences to doing "bad" stuff. My parents were able to keep an eye on my activities without keeping me from learning. THey were also aware of all the violent video games I played, they knew because they had to take me out to buy it, and they'd come up and watch me play every now and then.

    It was the correct balance (IMO) of parental responsibility and child freedom. I don't think it's a good idea to give a young kid their own laptop and send them off to their rooms. It's too easy for them to get lost in the bad stuff, and too hard for the average parent to monitor. If I someday have kids, there will be a family PC setup in the same room as my equipment. The kids will have largely free reign over it, but it won't be hidden from sight, they'll know what is and isn't allowed and the consequences will be clearly outlined.

    Also, I know I took much better care of my computer equipment once I had to earn the money to buy and maintain it. When it was given to me by my parents, I just sort of took it for granted.
  • When? Never. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:52PM (#13280833)
    Well, not exactly never. Does anyone remember reading an article about some executives at Intel (or some huge Tech company) saying that they didn't want their kids using computers at school? It kind of made sense. They want their children to learn to do things on their own before they have a computer do it for them.

    I'm afraid that if we introduce computers to children too early that they will lose the ability to be creative, think for themselves, and troubleshoot.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @03:25PM (#13281136)
    My daughter has known her way around a computer since she was 3 or 4 years old. For a long time we all shared the same PC; but once she got into junior high it became obvious this would no longer work - many of her homework projects required doing research and writing papers, which took up a lot of time. So when our campus bookstore (I work at a university) had iBooks available for $850, we bought her one.

    The mobility is not essential to her, but it is helpful. Several of her friends have laptops, and they will all occasionally get together to work on joint projects (no, really, I've seen them actually doing homework - not that they don't play around a lot too). Works a lot better than trying to collaborate on homework via IM, although I've seen them doing that as well.

    Tangentially - we really need to do something to make it easier for kids whose parents can't afford to drop $500-$1000 (or more) on a computer. School computer labs around here don't cut it - they're mostly rather old Macs and PCs running older crap operating systems. The homework assigned nowadays seems to just about assume everyone has access to a computer. Maybe I need to just run around with a baseball bat and "talk" to the parents who vote against the school levies and bond issues around here...
  • by TheJOsh!(tm) ( 584211 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:25PM (#13282355) Homepage
    every time i see a new article about how some school is decking out their student populous with shiney new apples and inspirons i can't help but think that we're pushing for tech in the wrong direction. yes, some people type better/faster than they write by hand, yes laptops are VERY useful for breaks between classes for doing homework or reseach for projects, but it stands to reason that there is a finite percentage of students for whom a laptop would be an educational boon.

    having a laptop in class never really helped me. sure, i could type up notes, but i don't take many to begin with anyhow. i found that in the majority of my classes, i ended up using pen and paper anyway, as a math/cs major. diagrams, flow charts and little visiual queues greatly out numbered raw code that was generated in my classes.

    now, the one technological advance that would benefit EVERY STUDENT, 100%, no matter their computer literacy, typing speed, course load or distraction threshold, is a simple, affordable ebook reader. make the viewable screen 8x10 or 11, use e-paper [parc.com] so it can run for months on a set of watch batteries and pad the living shit out of it so it'll be more durable. distribute recquired school texts as PDF on CF cards and you've just solved one of the biggest problems in american schools: students who have to lug 50lbs of text with them throughout the day because they don't have time between periods to stop off at dormrooms/lockers for the next round.

    this is where the inovation should be. add a simple input interface and you could have information cross referenced between documents and suppliments. figure out how to make ultra-low energy draw wifi cards and you could link them to a national database for easy inquiries on specific topics. hell, you could have two models, the Standard that displayed and cross-referenced the info on the CF card, and the deluxe that allowed the user to "take notes" and link it to a specific page of a text (to accommodate those of us who like to write in the margins). if you had one of these designed like a portfolio with one screen on either side of the fold you could make one side the "book" side and the other the "note" side..

    we're really missing the boat on this one, folks. students in general don't need full fledged laptops. all they need is an easy and convenient way to read and reference text.

    in this scenario, they students who would truly benefit from laptops could still have one. but i'm willing to bet that the percentage of stuents nowadays who could really use a laptop to broaden their education to be around 5-7%, no greater than 15%. the rest would either use it in the fashion i describe for the e-book or use it to dick around in class while the teacher isn't looking..

  • by danila ( 69889 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @07:34PM (#13282785) Homepage
    Different kids would be interested in having a portable computer to different extent. Ask your kid. If he wants to get one, it's probably time. If he is ambivalent, let him continue using the home desktop (one of).

    As for what to buy, if you can afford it, I'd recommend buying a Tablet PC (convertible). It might make him more popular in class (though it might not), it's very useful for taking notes in the class and it's just plain cool. Not to mention that it will be common in 2-3 years and you would ensure your child stays ahead of the curve.

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