When it comes to back to school season, 2020 is shaping up to be anything but businesses as usual. A majority of school districts are kicking off the fall semester with either a plan to hold online-only classes or a hybrid schedule in which students attend classes for half the week. And for districts that are opening fully, over the next few months parents still have to prepare for schools to periodically shutdown or send kids and teachers home to quarantine. What that means for thousands of students is that this year’s school supplies lists will include some new and some pricer items, such as laptop computers, desks and chairs. So we came up with a list of everything kids need for remote learning this year, but at prices any parent can afford.
One thing that parents never really had to think about before Covid-19 is remote learning and whether to buy their elementary or middle school-aged children their own computer. Most kids are perfectly content with a hand-me-down tablet or even just a smartphone. But with a large percentage of kids doing remote learning, this is a very real issue for moms and dads right now. And not all parents have hundreds of dollars to spend on a computer for one child, much less two or three kids. So we checked in with experts to find out what every kid needs for remote learning and whether parents should get kids their own computers.
The biggest difference between a laptop and desktop computer comes down to mobility. Even though desktop machines tend to be larger and heavier, they’re not necessarily more expensive than a laptop. And even though laptops are smaller, lighter and mobile, they can have just as much power and memory as a desktop, if not more.
So it comes down to how many people are working at home and how many workstations are in the home. If everyone has a stable and comfortable place to work, then a desktop machine is fine. But in smaller homes or in homes jammed with family members working and studying from home, there may not be enough space for everyone to have a permanent spot to sit. So in that case, a laptop is definitely the way to go.
Here are a few laptops that are reasonably priced and powerful enough to handle a homeschooler’s workload. Each of them cover the needs for remote learning sufficiently.
Acer Chromebook 315
Acer Chromebook 315 is a premium Chromebook, which is kind of like buying a browser and monitor, but with more features. As long as your student doesn’t need software, like Word or Pages, a Chromebook is definitely one of the best money-saving options. And these days, most of us do a lot of our work on the cloud, anyway. In 2019, PCMag.com said the Acer 315 is a good laptop. The reviewer said that if it has one fault, it’s the plastic casing. But we think that’s a perfectly fair tradeoff for such an affordable, reliable machine.
RAM: 8GB RAM | Storage: 32GB storage | Display: 15.6 in. | Weight: 3.1 lbs. | Ports: 2 USB-C
The best deal going right now is at Walmart where you can get the Acer 315 for $219, which is 15% off the suggested retail price. Or pay just $21 per month.
In July Laptopmag.com said that the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is the “best overall laptop for remote learning.” This is a feature-rich, premium Chromebook that costs a little more than the Acer laptop, but that’s partly because it has a more durable, aluminum chassis.
RAM: 4GB RAM | Storage: 64GB storage | Display: 14 in. | Weight: 3.1 lbs. | Ports: 1 USB & 2 USB-C
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is a 2-in-1 laptop with a detachable keyboard. Which means it’s as compact as a tablet, but has the power of a laptop. When Theverge.com reviewed this machine in May, Monica Chin wrote that “Chromebooks in [the same] price range tend to be clunky and cheap.” She had another notable compliment for the laptop, saying “[it] has no business costing so little.”
RAM: 4GB RAM | Storage: 128GB storage | Display: 10.1 in. | Weight: 2 lbs. | Ports: 1 USB-C
Kids need headphones in remote learning to listen to lessons and lectures. And parents need them to focus on work and drown out background noise. So we found a few headphone sets that provide a combination of features, plus comfort, quality sound and noise cancelling.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
These headphones aren’t exactly cheap, but when it comes to sound quality and noise-cancelling technology, you really can’t top Bose. And you have the option to spend slightly less if you don’t need a wireless set. CNet editor, David Carnoy, said these headphones are comfortable, have good sound quality, they’re great for taking calls, and you can adjust the noise-cancelling levels.
Battery Life: 20 hrs. | Noise Cancellation: 11 levels | Bluetooth Range: 33 ft. | Weight: 0.56 lbs. | Port: USB-C
Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods are truly wireless and water-resistant ear pods. They have great sound quality for music, lectures, podcasts and calls. You’re not required to have Apple devices to use them, either, but no other headphones will pair with your Apple laptop, phone or tablet as effortlessly. There are two primary areas Pro ‘buds improve on the original design. They’re designed to cover the entire ear canal. And they come with three tip sizes. Apple AirPods Pro also has active noise cancelling.
As far as new features are concerned, AirPods Pro has a transparency mode. As you’re taking a phone call or listening to music, you can still hear peripheral sounds at the same time. It comes in handy if a kid calls for help with her homework or if you’re waiting for an oven timer.
Battery Life: 5 hrs. | Noise Cancellation: 11 levels | Bluetooth Range: 33 ft. | Weight: 5.4g for the AirPods and 45.6g for the charging case
Puro Sound Labs BT2200
Something a lot of us forget about when purchasing headphones or earbuds for kids is that blasting loud music directly into the ears can cause hearing loss later in life. So experts suggest buying headphones designed specifically for kids’ ears. There are quite a few models to choose from, but we’ve seen great reviews for Puro Sound Labs BT2200 Volume Limited Kids’ Bluetooth Headphones.
The volume is engineered to go to 85 decibels (or dB), which protects hearing. To give you an idea what 85dB sounds like, according to Headphonesty.com, a normal conversation is about 60dB and the volume on an alarm clock is about 80dB. The volume on personal audio devices, though, is about 94dB. Over a long period of time, that level can impair your ability to hear sounds clearly and can even lead to ringing or buzzing sounds in your ears.
Volume limiting: 85 dB | Battery Life: 18 hrs. playback | Noise reduction: 82% | Bluetooth Range: 30 ft.
Desks & Chairs
If kids don’t have the right setup, it might be hard to get them to sit down — or stay seated — and do their schoolwork. That’s because they associate home as a place to relax. They think of the kitchen table as a space for catching up with the family. And when they’re spread out on the floor, it reminds them of playtime. A dedicated space for learning is something each kid needs for remote learning. So the right desk and chair setup can be the difference between great grades and parents’ sanity.
We love the ZenStyle desk because it has a lot of surface space for books and devices. But when school time is over, you can fold it up and stash it in a closet or under the bed. It also has a sleek, modern design. If you need more than one desk, but are limited on space, we have a great suggestion. Mr. Ironstone makes a double, L-shaped desk that seats two. This space-saving desk is designed to fit snugly into a corner and comfortably seat two remote-learning students.
SitRite Kids Desk Chair
When you’re working on a laptop, it’s better to sit in an ergonomic desk chair than on the sofa or on a kitchen chair. And a good desk chair lets you adjust the height, armrest position, and back support. Vurni, a website that reviews furniture, says, “Children’s bones are still developing, so if they sit in positions that put stress on their body there’s a risk they can do permanent damage.” So the number-one desk chair they suggest for kids ages 4 and up is the SitRite Kids Desk Chair.
This chair has a thick padded seat made from hypoallergenic, breathable foam. It’s perfect for small kids because it has foot rest, which means no dangling feet. And if your little one isn’t that little, the footrest is detachable.
Since the chair is adjustable, kids can use it before and after a growth spurt. The cushioned back panel is designed to support both the upper and lower back and the seat cushion adjusts from front to back, making it a perfect fit for any kid. The chair comes with wheels and wheel caps that will protect hardwood floors. For $200, you can get the black or pink SitRite chair. And for less than $20 more, it comes in orange, green, blue or red.
In smaller homes, not everyone can have their own chair. In that case, consider purchasing a desk chair that can be adjusted in multiple ways, like the ErgoChair 2. It’s designed to provide full-body support. And the mesh back helps prevent perspiring. The seat position is adjustable up and down and side to side. It also has an adjustable headrest, which provides a lot of neck support for taller kids. But for anyone who’s height challenged, the neck rest can easily be removed. The armrests adjust up and down, they lock in place, or you can leave them off altogether.
The ErgoChair 2 originally retailed at $390, but you can save $40 and get one for less than $350.
You’d be amazed by how many accessories you need in the house when everyone is working and studying from home. From power cords to USB ports, pens, pencils, paper, printers and more.
If you’re adding a few more laptops, tablets and handheld gadgets to the household, then you’ll need more places to power up your devices. And it’s not just about convenience, it’s a safety issue, too. In April Popular Mechanics wrote, “The proliferation of wireless handheld devices that charge at lower voltages makes surge protection more important than ever.” Surge protectors also wear out over time, according to the experts. So to be safe, they suggest replacing yours every two to three years.
We’ve found that having a power strip with USB ports built in is an amazing space saver. They come in 2/2 (meaning two outlets and two USB inputs), 2/3, and even extra long extension cords. We found an enormous power strip, six outlets and USB inputs, for just $22. The Qolixm is also a surge protector, which keeps your devices from sudden and unexpected bursts of electricity. According to CNet, “surge protectors are an inexpensive way to protect your gear against random power spike damage.”
The 360 Electrical surge protector is perfect for when you need more outlets out in plain site, like in the kitchen or living room. You plug it directly into a standard wall outlet and voila, you suddenly have four outlets that rotate in different directions and two USB ports to charge phones, watches, and a myriad of other devices.
Tripp LIte 12-Outlet Surge Protector
The Tripp Lite is a nice unit to have when the entire family is home all the time and constantly powering-up their devices. While it is a little more expensive than the types of power cords you’re used to seeing at big-box stores, it does have a lot of features that you definitely won’t get from cheaper models. For example, auto-shutoff turns the unit off when it can no longer protect against power surges. Ordinary power cords will keep working long after they can protect your devices.
And if you’re wondering if you really do need a surge protector at all, experts say you do. Power peaks occur more than most of us realize. And they’re especially common during thunderstorms. The Tripp Lite also has indicator lights for when there’s a short circuit, a blown fuse, or a wiring issue that needs attention.
The Tripp Lite power strip has 12 AC ports, two coaxial connectors and three telephone ports. It doesn’t have a USB port, but these days, you just plug your USB wall adapter (Anker 4-port USB wall charger) into the power strip then power up the device.