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Parenting Tip: Recommended iPad and Mac accessories for your back-to-schoolers

School buses in the fall

Those school days, dear old golden rule days are upon us. As you head back to the classroom this week, check out these accessory recommendations that'll help you start off on the right foot. Similar to the earlier posts in our Back to School parenting tips, these recommendations are grouped by academic level. If you want even more accessories, Engadget has a comprehensive back to school guide that you can peruse for additional ideas. If you have any must-have accessories that you want to contribute, please add them in the comments.

Pre-schoolers -- Pre-schoolers are tough on devices. They'll drop your iPad, throw your iPod and pick the keys off your Mac's keyboard. For these tots, you'll want to find accessories that protect your devices from mishaps and mayhem. For iOS devices, I recommend a rugged case like the Otterbox Defender series (US$99) or the Griffin Survivor series ($79). I've used both and they have protected my iPad and iPhone from many falls. If you want something more colorful, then check out the iGuy iPad Cover from Speck ($39). This foam case will hold your iPad securely and let you stand it up for hands-free use.

If you use a MacBook Pro or an Apple wireless keyboard with kids, I highly recommend a Moshi ClearGuard keyboard cover ($25). The clear cover protects the keys from spills and makes it a little bit harder for your kids to pick off the keys. It's not foolproof as your kids can lift off the cover and get access to the keys. In my experience though, having the cover there is enough of a deterrent. I also recommend a trackpad over a mouse. I find the young ones intuitively pick up the gestures, especially if they are familiar with the iPad.

Elementary Children -- Elementary school kids are in-betweeners. They are easier on devices than the Pre-K group, but they are not as mature as the middle and high-schoolers. Consequently, they don't need as many accessories to complete the experience. As a result, my picks for these 6- to 11-year-olds will be on the conservative side.

  • iPad Case: For starters, I would grab a decent case for your iPad, maybe opting for the lighter Speck HandyShell case ($55) instead of the beefier Defender. There's also the colorful Seesaw from Griffin ($35) which is part case, part stand.
  • Headphones: I would also grab a decent pair of headphones, focusing on quality construction. Don't go cheap as I find that most the cheap headphones that I buy will break where the wire goes into the headphone ear piece. I recommend the Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional ($24) headphones. At $24, they are not too pricey and their big ear cups fit comfortably on kids in the 6- to 12-year-old range. I cringe sometimes at giving my kids a pair of Sennheiser cans, but the headphones handle the abuse quite well and last a long time.
  • Charging Station: Another must have for kids is a good charging station. If your kids use the iPad for educational games, reading and research, they will need to charge the device on a daily basis. Rather than have them plug the iOS device into a random outlet in their and balance it on the edge of their bed to charge, spend some money and get a charging station like the Griffin PowerDock ($99), which we recently reviewed. Their iPads will sit safely next to yours, and you always will be able to find the charging cables.
  • Other iOS Accessories: There are also some fun accessories for kids in this age range. My favorite is the Crayola ColorStudio HD ($30), a combo app and digital marker that allows your kids to color on their iPad. We reviewed a version this product when it first became available in 2011. There's also the Lego Life of George ($20) Lego set that lets your child play with Legos on their iPad. For the older elementary group, you should consider the Lego Mindstorms EV3 ($349) kit. This latest Mindstorm introduces your child to robotics and includes three different iOS Apps to help your control your creation.
  • Mac Accessories: If your kids use a Mac, you need little more than a decent keyboard and mouse or trackpad. I use the Apple wireless keyboard ($69) and the Magic Trackpad ($69) with great success. As noted above with the pre-schoolers, I do slap on a Moshi ClearGuard keyboard cover to protect the keyboard from spills, food and what not.

Junior and High School Students -- Junior and high school students kick it up a notch when it comes to technology. No longer content playing educational games, this group is ready to use the iPad and Mac to create content, not just consume it.

  • iPad Case: For the iPad, these older students would do well with a basic folio case like the FitFolio from Speck ($40), the Incase Maki Jacket ($40) or the more expensive Joy Factory SmartSuit3 ($59). If you are looking for a keyboard case, you can't go wrong with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad ($99) or the Solar Keyboard Folio for iPad, which includes a built-in solar charger for the keyboard.
  • Headphones: Whether they are listening to music or editing the audio track of their latest video, every kid needs a good set of headphones. My favorite for this group is the Sennheiser PX 100-II ($50), which is a decent set of cans that won't break the bank. This model doesn't include in-line controls for your iOS device, but you can pay $12 more for the Sennheiser PX 100-IIi ($70), which does have a control module built into the headphone's cable.
  • Stylus: This group would also benefit from a good stylus for writing or drawing purposes. I recommend the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Feel ($39) for your basic needs. It looks and feels like a pen and features interchangeable pen tips. If you have any artistic inclinations, then you should consider paying a bit more for a stylus and grab the Adonit Jot Touch 4 ($89), which we reviewed. It is pressure sensitive and includes replaceable tips, not rubber nibs. These tips improve the accuracy of your strokes. If you are worried about losing your stylus and want a budget model, then check out the JukeStyle, which costs $10 and held up well in our review.
  • Other Accessories: Other cool accessories for this group include the robot-building Lego Mindstorms EV3 ($349) or this RedPark TTL iOS Cable Breakout Pack ($75). This Maker Shed kit allows you to connect your iOS device to to microcontrollers such as the Arduino and other external sensors. Musicians, podcasters or budding karaokers would do well with the iRig Mic ($60) for recording audio on your iPad or the Spark Digital ($199) from Blue Microphone, which we recently reviewed.
  • Mac Accessories: If your high schooler is using a desktop Mac, then a good set of speakers is a must have add-on. I recommend Logitech's UE Mobile Boombox ($99) for smaller spaces or the Creative Inspire S2 ($129) if you want some bass. You can also add on a nice drawing tablet like the Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch ($99) for your budding artist. This model supports both pen input and touch gestures, so you can use it to draw and adjust your canvas. If your young adult is using a MacBook Pro, then slap on a Speck SmartShell ($50) to protect the lovely aluminum chassis. If they are toting their laptop to school, consider grabbing a protective case like the Poseidon Messenger Bag from ECBC ($99) or this laptop backpack from Timbuk2 ($99).

College Students -- College students are the top dog when it comes to back-to-school gear. This group needs the most gear and has the potential to fully use it in their school work and personal life. Space and available cash may be limited for most college students, so they need to get the best bang for their buck. They are also the group most likely to use their devices while mobile, and their chosen accessories should be designed for on-the-go use.



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Accessories Mac iPhone iPad

Those school days, dear old golden rule days are upon us. As you head back to the classroom this week, check out these accessory...