With schools up and down the country switching to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents and kids are having to adapt to a new daily routine.
To help you make sure your child has all the tools they need to learn effectively from home, we’ve rounded up some tech products and websites that are proving popular with parents.
Keep scrolling to see which laptops, tablets and other gadgets suitable for home schooling have soared in our tough lab tests.
Best Buy laptops – discover cheap laptops for homeschooling
Top tech picks for children studying at home
Laptops for children
A decent laptop can make a massive difference to a child learning from home, giving them access to educational websites and letting them join video calls with their teachers and classmates. If you’re looking to buy a laptop for this reason, you’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t necessarily need to dig too deep into your wallet.
Laptops that are designed for web browsing or to write essays don’t need to have top-level specs. In fact, you can grab cheap laptops under £200 that tick the right boxes.
For buyers on a budget, Chromebooks are worth a closer look. These laptops are designed to help you manage basic tasks that don’t require a high-end PC.
One parent working at Which? told us: ‘We have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old. Both of them now have Chromebooks to use for their work and they are ideal.’
‘They are simple, secure and can be set up with Google’s Family Link system, which allows us to configure parental controls on the devices to limit what they can do. The Chromebooks we have are 2-in-1 models with touchscreens, so they can be used either as a laptop or a tablet. Our kids have used Chromebooks at school, so they’re already familiar with them.’
When you or your child are on the laptop, it’s best to use a wired connection (with an ethernet cable plugged directly into your router) where possible – this takes some pressure off the wi-fi. But if you’re stuck with wi-fi, you may want to invest in a wi-fi extender so the signal is distributed evenly through the rooms of your house.
Tempted by a Chromebook? Make sure you consult our expert Chromebook reviews to see which models are worth your hard-earned money.
Tablets for children
A tablet is obviously more portable than a chunky laptop, and still helps your child learn from home or on a long car journey. They’re generally cheaper than laptops (assuming you’re not buying a top-of-the-range Apple iPad), with many popular models up for grabs at less than £100.
You can set up parental controls on both Android tablets and iPads. On an Android model, you’ll need to head to Settings > Users > Add user profile. From here, you can create a new account and choose which apps you want your child to have access to.
On an iPad, go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable restrictions. The next step is to run through the list of apps and choose which ones require a password to open.
When you’re deciding on which tablet to put your trust in, consider the age of your child and the size of the tablet. After all, you don’t want to hand a giant tablet to a younger child. Our own research shows that the typical 7-inch tablet weighs in at less than 300g, while a 10-inch model will be closer to 500g. You may want to pick up a case for the tablet too if you want it to survive bumps and scrapes.
Once you’ve bought a tablet for your child, the next step will be to load up some fun, educational apps. Amazon can help you get started, as its Maths 4 All page offers a strong selection of free downloads. Its library consists of apps to support children in primary or secondary school.
Note that you’ll need an Amazon Kindle ebook reader or an Amazon Fire Tablet to download apps from Maths 4 All. Some of them are also available on smartphones.
We’ve picked out three of the cheapest, easy-to-use tablets suitable for kids. Head over to our guide on the best tablets for kids for 2021 for more details.
Headphones for children
A pair of Which? Best Buy headphones can help your child relax while they’re tackling a tricky piece of work.
For every pair of headphones we test, we score the features that matter the most. Sound quality, comfort, external noise cancelling and battery life (for wireless models) are all recorded so you can choose the perfect ones.
If you’re shopping for a small child, you could consider kids’ headphones. These claim to limit the volume to help protect children’s hearing better. Since your device won’t usually know exactly what headphones they’re connected to, a good pair of kids’ headphones should have more reliable volume limiting.
The age of your child might help you decide whether to go with wired or wireless headphones. Younger children are more likely to move around and fidget, so investing in a wireless pair might help to prevent any accidents where their tablet or laptop is yanked off the table. However, you’ll need to charge wireless headphones and wired alternatives are usually cheaper.
We’ve taken a first look in the Which? test lab at some headphones designed especially for little ears:
JVC Tinyphones (£20)
The wired JVC Tinyphones come in a range of vibrant colours and claim to limit the volume that children are exposed to. They feature a pair of soft ear pads and are made of a lightweight plastic.
These affordable headphones come bundled with a sticker pack which let your little one customise their headphones to suit their personality.
For more details on these headphones for kids, see our JVC Tinyphones review.
Puro Wireless Kids Headphones (£60)
Like the JVC headphones above, these headphones from Puro include a built-in volume limiter. This pair has a wireless design that uses Bluetooth technology to sync with laptops, tablets and smartphones – hence the jump in price.
The Puro Wireless Kids Headphones are made from a solid-feeling aluminium and have a pleasant cushioning on the ear pads. Claimed battery life is up to 18 hours.
See how we got on with these headphones when we went hands-on with our Puro Wireless Kids Headphone review.
Printers for children
Printers marketed towards children aren’t really a thing, which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise – swapping out ink cartridges can be both fiddly and messy.
If you’re buying a printer that’s going to be used purely for your child’s school work, you don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds. In fact, at the time of writing, we’ve gone hands-on with over 40 printers that all cost under £100.
Wireless printing is a handy feature to have at your disposal, especially if your child will be printing pages from their smartphone or tablet. Some printers have NFC (near-field communication) panels on their front, whereby tapping a phone against the surface is all you need to do to sync the two devices together. You’ll also want a printer that takes different coloured ink cartridges if your child wants to print out work that looks a little more exciting.
If your child is old enough to manage their own printing tasks, note that every printer that passes through the Which? test lab is rated on ease of use.
Buying a cheap printer might seem like a bargain at first, but it’s not really a sweet deal if you start overpaying for the ink. Our full range of Which? Best Buy printers pair excellent print quality with cheap printing costs.
Activity trackers for children
Investing in an activity tracker can help parents adjust their child’s daily routine if they’re not getting enough exercise. These wearables can also make exercising fun for kids, with some models rewarding physical activity with virtual points and rewards.
The NHS website says that children and young people aged 5 to 18 should aim for at least ’60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day across the week.’ If your child is having to learn from home at the moment, you might want to balance time spent on schoolwork with time spent staying active.
One parent at Which? told us they’ve been using Nintendo Ring Fit with their kids to burn off energy once schoolwork has been taken care of. Nintendo Ring Fit is a game for the Nintendo Switch where players earn points by exercising in the living room. You strap one of the Switch controllers to your leg and hold the other out in front of you so the console can track your movements and keep an eye on how hard you’re working.
If you own a PlayStation VR headset, Beat Saber is worth a go if you’re looking for a fun way to exercise. One member of the Which? team said: ‘There are quite a few games out there that can get you to work up a sweat, but one of our favourites is Beat Saber – a dance game where you slice blocks flying towards you in time with dance music.’
The best fitness trackers are accurate, easy to use and comfortable. See which wearables get our seal of approval and see our Which? Best Buy fitness trackers.
How parents can help children to stay safe online
Take a look at your internet router and search online for any accompanying smartphone apps. Most modern routers offer an app these days that let you manage other family members’ internet access. You might want to prioritise bandwidth to the devices that need the best connections for video calls, and kick off devices that don’t need to be online at that time.
Keep your technology up to date
Make sure your devices and software are up to date. It’s a pain having to keep things updated, but it means you’re getting the best software experience with the most security.
Google Family Link
If your child is old enough to use a Google account to power through their schoolwork, you can add an extra layer of protection to their PC, phone or tablet using the Family Link service. There are two versions of the app – Google Family Link for parents and Google Family Link for children & teenagers.
Google’s Family Link app lets you manage your child’s Google account remotely – you can choose which apps they have access to and when, while also blocking certain websites either at certain times during the day or indefinitely. You might decide, for example, to limit certain apps on your child’s phone while they’re meant to be working.
If you block a certain website through the Family Link app, your child can ask for parental permission to visit it. You’ll get a notification through the Family Link app that lets you approve or deny requests.
The European Digital Rights (EDR) website also has some handy tips of its own for children working online. Parents and kids may want to have a read of the EDRi’s Privacy for kids booklet, which talks about safer messaging, photo sharing, smartphone security and password security.
Which? staff recommend websites and activities for children learning at home
We asked staff across Which? for their recommendations of websites and learning resources for parents who are suddenly becoming stand-in teachers.
While some parents got back to us with a list of their go-to educational websites, others told us about some fun ways their kids have been keeping active at ‘break time’.
Below are a selection of the comments we received from parents at Which?:
- ‘The BBC Bitesize website and Oak National Academy are both recommended by my 12-year-old. I found acknowledging I am not a teacher and that I can only do what I can do really helped lift the mental load.’
- ‘We’ve got a couple of subscription services that we use because we homeschool full time. They aren’t that expensive, though, so they’re worth it. They also have free stuff to use, which is useful in lockdown. The list includes White Rose Maths, Simply Piano, Twinkl and Teachers pay teachers.’
- ‘We’re loving Teach Your Monster To Read!’
- ‘Education.com and SparkleBox were both recommended to me by friends.’
- ‘Scholastic has free home learning packs for preschoolers.’
- ‘We heard about Busy Things and Ed Shed through school – they have games on maths, coding and phonics plus spelling.’