The Best Toddler Tablets for Little Learners
February 15, 2021
There’s no doubt that kids these days are growing up as digital natives. Let’s be honest, toddlers have a better understanding of the swipe action than most grandparents. And while limits on children’s screen time are crucial for healthy development, having a toddler tablet on hand for your youngster to use can be a definite boon, especially while COVID-19 puts a strain on in-person interactions (and parents’ time and sanity).
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that kids 2 to 5 years old should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. A toddler tablet can help you maximize that time so your little one is not only engaged and entertained, but also learning in the process. “These devices enable participation in interactive active learning environments, which is different from passively watching TV,” says Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, DO, the founder and president of the interdisciplinary research organization Children and Screens.
As colorful as it may be, a kids’ tablet is not a toy, and you’ll want to make sure that whatever device you offer your child is safe, sturdy and loaded with age-appropriate apps. Here’s what to consider when shopping for a tablet—and which are the best toddler tablets out there.
A toddler tablet can offer some great educational opportunities. Some of the best tablets for kids come with educational apps that offer everything from STEM learning to programs that teach little ones how to read, write, do math and even learn a new language. “When kids use these for fun, the programs can help them learn a lot,” says Meg Meeker, MD, a pediatrician, creator of the “Parenting Great Kids” podcast and author of several parenting books.
Plus, whether they’ve earned a treat or you just need a few minutes to yourself, there are times when you’d like to let your toddler watch a fun movie or listen to songs—and having a kid-friendly tablet at the ready definitely beats having to hand your own device over to your tot.
Another big benefit to buying a toddler tablet instead of giving your kid a standard tablet to use (aside from the inevitable destruction) is that tablets designed specifically for young kids come with features to ensure they’re protected from unwanted content that’s not age-appropriate.
A toddler tablet can also be useful for video chatting with faraway friends and family. “Positive uses enable social connections and act as a prompt to promote deeper engagement,” Hurst-Della Pietra says. “Emerging evidence suggests that at 24 months of age, children can learn words from live video chatting with a responsive adult.”
Still, she cautions that screen time can never replace the role of parents and caregivers in kids’ social, emotional and cognitive development—after all, toddlers learn best from engaging with people. It’s up to you as a parent to establish digital media guidelines to encourage healthy screen use.
There are a number of things to consider when buying a toddler tablet to help make sure it holds up to the rigors of life with a little one.
• Price. You probably don’t want to sink a ton of money into a tablet for your child. As Meeker points out, not only are toddlers apt to be rough with the device, but it’s also the first of many tablets or laptops they’ll have over their lifetime.
• Durability. Expect that tablet to be dropped, thrown and spilled on—so look for a screen that won’t crack easily, a protective case around the edge and a manufacturer warranty.
• Parental controls. This is a must to keep your kiddo safe. Some tablets come with a daily or weekly report of use and how much time is spent on each app, which can be useful for parents of older children.
• Portability. Consider how easily the tablet can be held or carried by little hands.
One thing you want to avoid when buying a kids’ tablet: Don’t let your child pick one out for themselves or be involved in the decision-making. “It’s crucial that the child not feel that a device belongs to them until kindergarten,” Meeker says. “The child needs to understand that parents make the rules around device usage.”
Ready to start shopping? Here are some of the best toddler tablets on the market today.
Fire HD 8 Kids’ Edition Tablet
This is hands-down one of the best tablets for kids you can buy. It comes with an 8-inch screen, a kid-proof case (in fun colors) and front and back cameras for video chatting, plus a built-in stand—a nice feature, since Meeker points out that looking down at a tablet in their lap can lead kids to develop neck and shoulder pain. This kids’ tablet offers 32 GB of storage, 12 hours of battery life and a two-year warranty. Plus, you get a year of free access to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, with over 20,000 apps, games, books, videos, books and other educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and more.
Buy it: $140, Amazon.com
Samsung Galaxy Tab A Kids Edition
Like the Fire HD 8, this toddler tablet comes with an 8-inch screen protected by a durable bumper case and 32 GB of internal storage. With your purchase you get a free trial of Samsung Kids, which offers over 10,000 hours of kid-friendly content. Not only can you rest easy knowing your child is getting age-appropriate content, but the tablet also allows you to set time limits and monitor what they’re watching. It’ll last for up to 13 hours before needing to be charged.
Buy it: $120, Amazon.com
LeapFrog LeapPad Academy Kids’ Tablet
This kids’ learning tablet is designed to inspire school success among kids 3 to 8 years old. It comes preloaded with more than 20 apps ($175 worth of content) that teach math, reading, writing, coding, problem-solving and creativity skills. You can download even more content from the LeapFrog library (with 750+ games, apps, videos and music) or other Android apps. This option has a 7-inch shatter-proof screen with a built-in stand and an included bumper case, 16GB of storage, seven hours of battery life and dual back and front cameras for video chatting. Plus, the included parental controls mean you can set time limits and hand-select approved websites to LeapFrog’s kid-friendly web browser.
Buy it: $118, Walmart.com
Vankyo MatrixPad Z1 Kids’ Tablet
Here’s proof that cheap tablets for kids can still offer quality and value. This is one of the most popular toddler tablets on Amazon, and for good reason: It comes preloaded with Kidoz, a COPPA-certified app that offers unlimited access to a range of age-appropriate, educational games, videos and apps. Thanks to the parental controls, you can customize a profile for your child, hand-pick content, set screen time limits and approve specific websites. The kids’ tablet weighs less than a pound and comes with a 7-inch screen, a kid-proof case, adjustable stand, 32 GB of storage and eight hours of battery life.
Buy it: $70, Amazon.com
Fire 7 Kids’ Edition Tablet
This is a slightly less robust version of its Fire HD 8 counterpart, but you still get an awesome toddler tablet for your money. It features a 7-inch screen with a kid-proof case, front and back cameras and a built-in stand. Like the Fire HD 8, you get yearlong access to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited with all its fun, educational content, and a two-year warranty. It comes with 16 GB of storage and up to seven hours of battery life, but it’s also cheaper than the Fire HD 8. All in all, great bang for your buck.
Buy it: $100, Amazon.com
Ematic PBS Kids Playtime Pad
Like many of the best toddler tablets, this pick from PBS comes preloaded with more than 23 educational games and 120 video clips all geared toward honing kids’ reading and math skills and more. It also features parental controls that let you set time limits and regulate your child’s app use. The 7-inch screen is protected by a bumper case, the dual front and back cameras allow for video chats and the tablet offers 16 GB of storage. Bonus: It’s one of the cheapest tablets for kids on this list.
Buy it: $76, BestBuy.com
About the experts:
Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, DO, is the founder and president of the interdisciplinary research organization Children and Screens, which she established in 2013 as a forum for researchers and clinicians to collaborate and share research on digital media’s effects on children, and to provide parents and educators with resources and answers to help raise healthy, happy children in the digital age.
Meg Meeker, MD, is a pediatrician, creator of the “Parenting Great Kids” podcast and author of several parenting books, including Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know and Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men.