Gift Guide: Setting Your Child Up with the Perfect iPad, Accessories and Apps

Choosing a tablet for your child

Choosing the Perfect Tablet for Your Child

Many parents are interested in picking out the perfect iPad or other tablet for their child for the holidays.  It can be difficult though to create the ideal ensemble when there are so many choices.  Even though this website is generally geared toward teachers,  I find that people often ask for my advice when they’re shopping for digital devices for their children outside of the classroom too.  Apple or Android? Big or little? Headphones or earbuds?  Which apps do I want for my child? In this guide I’ll walk you through the choices, pointing out the pros and cons of each decision and I’ll share my recommendations so that you can pick the right device for your child for the holidays.

iPad, Android or Kindle?

iPad: Air or Mini

We use iPads in the classroom and I love them.  Apple sets high standards for its App Store and it builds solid devices.  You can’t go wrong with an iPad. If you already have an iPhone,  you can use your Apple id for your child’s device, and install some of the kid friendly apps you may already have on your phone onto your child’s iPad, and that’s a win. When looking at iPads for kids, the bigger question is, which one? I’m of the opinion that younger kids really don’t need retina display. Sure it’s a cool feature, but it’s not going to matter to a child. So that brings you to the next choice: big or little.

As of this writing,  iPads come in two sizes: regular and mini.  I’ve used both with young children and they’ve both have strengths and weakness.iPadAir2-iPadMini3-Lockscreen-PRINT

iPad Air


Offers a nice large screen which works well for small fingers that lack dexterity.


Can come with a higher price tag, depending on the model you choose.

iPad Mini



Can be less expensive with an older model


Smaller screen makes it difficult for less dexterious fingers to navigate the screen.

If you decide to go with an iPad, don’t be afraid to shop the Apple Refurbished Store.  All of my personal Apple devices have come from the refurbished store and we’ve never, ever had a problem.  It’s a great way to get a deal on a brand that can often be one of the more expensive. Stock rotates regularly, so if you don’t see what you want today, check in a few days from now and you may find exactly what you’re looking for, for exactly the right price.

Samsung Galaxy Tab (Android)

It feels like there are as many Android tablets out there as there are brands of shoes. There are dozens to choose from.  One of the top models is the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (10.1-Inch, Black)

Often priced notably lower than an iPad, the Samsung also comes in a couple of sizes.  The pros and cons about big and little are the same, whether you’re thinking Apple or Android.  I really like Samsung products. They feel like a high end Apple device, without the high end Apple price tag. If you already have an Android based phone, it makes sense to buy an Android based tablet because you can install some of the apps from your phone onto your tablet. There are plenty of fantastic educational children’s apps available from Android’s app store, Google Play.  Because of the work I’ve done in the classroom, I’m already pretty heavily invested in iPad, but if I were starting fresh,  the Samsung Galaxy Tab would definitely be my choice.

Here are couple of different Galaxy Tab options:

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (7-Inch, White)

As of this writing, the seven inch tablet above is priced at just $143.99. That’s less than half of most new iPad minis!

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (10.1-Inch 16GB, White)

This 10 inch Galaxy Tab is currently priced at $299. Most full sized iPads are significantly more.

Kindle Fire

The last major player in the kids tablet scene is Kindle Fire.  Kindle brings something unique to the table with its tablet created specifically for kids. Priced right now at just $159 (regularly $189), this tablet is designed to take all of the abuse that your kids can dish out.  Not only does it have built in drop protection edges,  but it also has a two year money back guarantee.  Yep, you read that right.  If your device breaks, Amazon will replace it. Free.

Fire HD 6 Kids Edition, 6″ HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB, Pink Kid-Proof Case

Amazon has packed this tablet full of bonus features that make it a hard bargain to resist.  Not only does it have the money back guarantee, and sturdy casing,  but Amazon also includes their kids app management service, Amazon Free Time.  Free Time allows parents to control just about every aspect of their child’s digital device use and includes access to hundreds of apps and books for kids. The one downside to the Fire Kids Edition is that even with Free Time, the Amazon app store is just not as robust as iTunes and Google play when it comes to educational apps. Still, with this low price,  and the fact that all of the Free Time apps are included for free, this tablet absolutely wins my endorsement for best bargain tablet for kids.  Not having to spend money on apps could save a family a significant chunk of change.

Choosing the Best Cover for your iPad or tablet

Once you’ve chosen your device,  you need to choose your cover. (If you’ve decided to buy the  Amazon Kids Edition Kindle Fire listed above then you can skip this section because your cover comes built in, yet another money saving perk!)  I absolutely recommend a heavy duty cover for whatever device you choose for your child.  I drop my phone all the time,  and my tablets have taken a tumble or two as well. Preschoolers are hard on everything, as they should be. Don’t risk it.  Spend the extra money for a heavy duty cover. All of the big name device covers will keep your tablet safe. Some of the best known brands are:


The Otterbox Defender is a durable case. It covers your device entirely, front and back, even covering the plugs. We’ve found that covers like this actually offer almost too much protection in the classroom setting, but for a single child in a home setting,  I believe they are much more practical. Plus, kids tend to be harder on their devices at home than they are in classroom,  so you’ll want all of the protection you can get.

OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPad Air – Retail Packaging – Harbor – Teal/Grey

OtterBox Apple Defender iPad mini with Retina Display, Moroccan Night


These are the covers we use on our classroom iPads. We’ve had them for over a year and our iPads are still going strong, with no damage.

Survivor for Samsung Galaxy Tab4 10.1

Black Survivor All-Terrain Case + Stand for Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0


Another lesser known favorite of cover mine is Ballistic. Their cases are also rugged and sturdy. This particular case offers a front cover than can also be reversed to use as a stand.

Ballistic HC Series Rugged Tough Jacket for iPad Air (TJ1113 – A305)

Do We Need Headphones?

We all know that the electronic beeps and voices that come from digital games can push the strongest moms to the brink.  Chances are good that you will want your child to have headphones at one point or another. Because they can cause hearing loss, ear buds are not recommended for young children. However, finding a durable set of headphones that will stand up to the wear and tear of small children can be a challenge.  I’ve purchased close to 25 headphones for my students and my own kids over the last couple of years.  Over half of those have broken, or proven difficult to use. The pair that seems to have held up the best is this set from Urban Beatz.  Purchased over 2 years ago for my son, this set is still going strong.

Urban Beatz Tempo Stereo Headphones – Black/Yellow (M-HL815)

Urban Beatz Tempo Headphone with Mic – Black/Red (M-HM715)

(This pair is half the price of the yellow pair. Might be worth checking out!)

The frame is possibly a little large on  preschoolers,  but I’ve found that the headphones with smaller frames simply won’t hold up to the abuse that young children inadvertently subject their headphones to.  Also, the child sized institutional headphones I purchased for this school year are far too snug.  My preschoolers are constantly complaining about the headphones hurting their heads.  Plus, they barely have the arm strength to put the headphones on independently. These Urban Beatz have worked well.

What are the Best apps for Kids?

So you’ve chosen your perfect device, you’ve chosen the perfect cover and made a decision about headphones.  What’s left? Only the most important part: Apps!  The apps you choose are what will bring your tablet to life.  In addition to the many learning apps that I’ve recommended in my 5 Best Apps series, here are a few more apps that my daughter and I have uncovered.

Grandma’s Apps by Fairlady Media (available for iPad only)

Grandma’s Apps  by Fairlady Media are so enchanting.  They even captivate my 10 year old. Grandma is warm and encouraging, teaching lots of basic skills that are perfect for preschoolers. Grandpa is just as sweet and engaging.  These apps are worth their $1.99 price tag.

Grandmas Kitchen

Grandma’s Kitchen $1.99

Grandma's garden

Grandma’s Garden $1.99

Grandma loves bugs

Grandma Loves Bugs $1.99

Grandpa's Workshop

Grandpa’s Workshop $1.99

Grandpa in Space

Grandpa in Space $1.99

Fairlady Fun Pack

Fairlady Fun Pack includes all of the Grandma and Grandpa Games for just $7.99.

GazilliWorld Apps (available on iPad only)

I first introduced Gazilli Math in my 5 More Best Math Apps article.  It’s proven to have staying power.  It’s still one of the favorite apps around here.  We were excited to find that there is a whole collection of Gazilli Apps for many different subject areas.  Except for Gazilli Words, all of the apps are $1.99.
Gazilli Math

Gazilli Math $1.99: Our long time favorite.

Gazilli Words

Gazilli Words: The app is free and includes 3 games. You can also purchase supplemental activity packs for 99 cents.

Gazilli Shapes

Gazilli Shapes $1.99

Gazilli Puzzles

Gazilli Puzzles $1.99

Gazilli Science

Gazilli Science $1.99

Pixel and Parker, by Spin Light Apps (available on iPad and Android)

Parker goes on a journey to find his cat Pixel. As he travels across the game board there are various fun games and activities for Parker and your child to try.

Pixel and Parker

Pixel and Parker Free

For more app recommendations,  visit all of the articles in my “5 Best Apps” series.  I’ve recommended over 50 different apps that your preschooler or early elementary aged child will love.

6 Best Creativity Apps for Preschool and Kindergarten Thumbnail5 Best Reading Apps Thumbnail5 More Best Math Apps for Preschool and Kindergartenthumbnail 21 Best Apps For Preschool & Kindergarten5 Best Writing Apps for PreK & K thumbnail5 Best Math Apps for PreK&K Thumbnail5 Best Learning Apps for PreK-K Thumbnail

And now, you should have all the knowledge you need to buy the tablet that is best for your family and you’ll have all the apps and accessories you need to make your gift a screamin’ a success with your child!