What should my son's first computer be?
November 7, 2009 12:41 PM   Subscribe

What should my son's first computer be?

Or rather, should it be a computer at all?

He's four, and expressing an interest in playing online Sesame Street games, etc. on our computers, but he's a little rough on things and I have no desire to have ours trashed. Plus my Mac mouse makes things hard, the whole no-obvious-button to click is confusing.

Should we get some of those semi-computer toys that you see in stores, and if so, any recommendations? Or start with a gaming system, even? (we don't have one). I want him to learn keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. He doesn't read yet, just recognizes letters and numbers. Not wanting to blow big bucks.

Any suggestions?
posted by emjaybee to Technology (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, pick up a cheap used system. People can't get rid of their Pentium 4, 512 MB ram systems fast enough. Don't spend more than $150-200 for everything. Just make a backup drive image right after installing everything and then let him go to town.
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:02 PM on November 7, 2009

I definitely suggest skipping the toy computers.

After my daughter helped destroy my laptop, we bought an old desktop from my company's bulletin board, loaded with with XP, and set the little bowler free. She's 7 now, and the old desktop recently died, so we bought a Dell non-factory refurb from MicroCenter. It's worked great, and we don't worry about it if it gets messed up. Plus, since it's a real PC, we can let her play on Nick or Disney and learn on Ticket to Read and VmathLive.
posted by girlbowler at 1:05 PM on November 7, 2009

You might consider a 2nd hand Asus like this one. Advantages: it's $180, it's perfectly sized for a 4 year old, and you can drop them with impunity because they are solid state, which I think is a big plus. We actually have a kid-sized mouse that we got as a travel mouse to go with our Asus; it was a no-name buy from somewhere like Staples and I think it was like $10.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:37 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got my son an Asus eee-pc with a solid state disk when he was five, running their (Xandros?) Linux distro, and with Firefox set up to display suitable links and Skype set up to login automatically (and with accounts for selected people).

Took him no time at all to figure out how to operate it, and a few days to find the pre-installed Linux games (and to escape the YouTube sandbox I had created for him). He also plays ripped DVD:s on it (the battery is good enough for watching at least one full-length film during a car trip).

The one Bri links to has a "real" drive, though -- the one I got has a 16 GB SSD (or is it 32 GB?) and is more than enough for a small guy. Just add a USB stick or a memory card if you need more space for films/music.
posted by effbot at 2:54 PM on November 7, 2009

I got my daughter a vtech smile with the big happy buttons and colorful case which connects to the TV and allows for gameplay last christmas. She liked it then, loves it now (just turned 4) and it's had a jelly-cookie jammed in it but that damage was easily fixed with just cleaning the thing. So, they're tough enough for a kid, or a bunch of them, but at the same time they run a bit pricy and each game costs a bit as well - boredom can set in fast all of a sudden.

At preschool they have an old computer, with a mouse and setup with a desktop full of icons to approved & simple games only. She's a whiz at that these days. If you can get a cheap old system, this might be the way to go. At home she also uses (and respects) my old laptop to watch childrens TV on the net, albeit with some help from me. With all these options, she's still quite happy to come home and play with her Vtech as well. It's a bit more like "My first game console" rather than "My first computer".
posted by dabitch at 3:08 PM on November 7, 2009

Following my own link there I wish the vtech motion system had been available when I was shopping around, that looks like fun (and is cheaper).
posted by dabitch at 3:15 PM on November 7, 2009

My 4 year old daughter has been using an old Mac G4 of mine for a couple of years now. I wiped the hard drive and installed a few programs suggested on askme. I also bookmarked some kid friendly games and such also with guidance from askme. Based on advice from her school my next step will be finding some sort of stripped down word processor for her. She has a couple of toy computers but recognizes them as such. So I would say get her a hand me down computer of some sort as it will have both flexibity and room to grow.
posted by TedW at 3:25 PM on November 7, 2009

Nthing a solid state drive netbook for durability and appropriate size.

Also, no matter if you get a xandros system or Windows or whatever, have a tech friend create an account with no admin privileges as the default account (or do it yourself if you feel comfortable, of course), getting admin access can be a coming-of-age thing when the kid is old enough to be trusted not to wreck the system.
posted by idiopath at 4:18 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go get an old first-gen iMac, and throw on as much old, only-runs-on-an-old-iMac educational software you can find; odds are your child's preschool has the same setup. They're plentiful, reliable, colorful, and kidproof within reason.
posted by davejay at 5:13 PM on November 7, 2009

Nintendo DS?
There are lots of games and learning tools for it, and if you are of the sort to do so, you can download all of your games -- or at least download, try, and then purchase.
posted by glider at 7:33 PM on November 7, 2009

An old eMac off of ebay should do the trick. The things are tough as nails and do the job wonderfully. I bought two of them for each of my kids five years ago and they still play with them to this day.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:47 PM on November 7, 2009

If you go down the Windows route, something like DeepFreeze which odinsdream mentioned is a fantastic way to kid-proof the computer. If you don't want to pay for DeepFreeze, a good free alternative is Windows SteadyState directly from Microsoft.

Similarly to DeepFreeze it has a feature called Windows Disk Protection which basically stops anything being permanently written to disk. Restart the PC and any system modifications, viruses or junk saved to the hard disk are wiped out and you return to a clean state. It also allows you lock down a user account to remove various operating system features, limit the sites that can be visited or only allow certain applications to be run.

Alternatively, something like the KidZui browser is perfect for allowing them to safely explore the internet in a "walled garden". It's also available as a Firefox plugin.
posted by mosherdan at 8:53 PM on November 8, 2009

I'd recommend either a netbook with a solid state drive. They're cheap, harder to break a non-spinning drive, and small. Only problem is running games on the non-standard screen resolution.

Also consider perhaps a low-end iPod touch. My children, budget willing, will be the first generation of our family to have pocket computers from childhood, which is so incredibly awesome I can't begin to explain.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:52 AM on January 20, 2010

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