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Tech Report: Portable Music Players for Kids

By Paul O’Reilly

When it comes to young children – we’re talking toddlers to 8 or 9 year-olds – most parents feel a little uneasy about buying them their own tech gadgets. They are (thankfully) too young for a phone, and there will be plenty of time later for them to bury their faces in a Nintendo DS or PSP.

However, one gift that might make sense is a portable music player. Most kids love music, MP3 players can be taken anywhere, and the headphones might even give you an occasional peaceful moment!

However, adults don’t always choose the best MP3 players for their kids. Before you drop a lot of money on the latest iPod or a MP3 player with a 16GB hard drive, you probably want to make sure it’s child-friendly. That means it has to be easy to operate, durable, and is not so expensive that it will cause a major problem if it’s dropped in the bath tub or lost on the way to school.

Before we make some suggestions, a word about those headphones. Young ears are very susceptible to damage from loud music, particularly from ear buds squeezed into tiny ears. For very young children, we recommend portable music players without headphones, and, for slightly older children, volume limiting headphones, like the LoudEnough range from Ultimate Ears.

Once you decide your child is ready for some music on-the-go, here are a few portable players to take a look at:

The SweetPea3
The SweetPea3 is ideal for toddlers. Only 3 buttons to operate and no headphones – which means you get to listen to Barney too! Durable and waterproof, so you won’t have to worry about it taking a few knocks. Comes with some pre-loaded songs and stories, or you can download up to 16 hours of content from a PC or Mac using the included USB cable. Choose from violet or blue. The SweetPea3 is priced at $59.95, plus shipping.

SanDisk Sansa Shaker
The Shaker is a simple and fun music player with a built-in speaker and dual earphone jacks, so two children can enjoy it at the same time. The Shaker is loaded with cute and zany sound effects and, as the name suggests, can be shaken to change the music. It’s durable, comes in either pink or blue, and at $25 and up, you won’t mind too much if they leave it on the bus!

SanDisk Sansa Clip
Also from SanDisk is the Clip, a more sophisticated player but one that’s well suited to children 6 and up. It has a small, well-lit screen to help sort through music and audio books, and comes with an FM radio receiver and a microphone to make your own recordings. Capacities range from 1GB to 4GB, enough to hold 500 to 2,000 songs. Comes in black, candy apple red, hot pink or ice blue. Starts at $39.99.

iPod Shuffle
If it really has to be an iPod, then we recommend the Shuffle. The new Shuffle was introduced earlier this year and is an incredible piece of digital engineering, squeezing 4GB of storage – that’s up to 1,000 songs – into a device that’s less than 2 inches tall and as thin as a pack of gum. It includes VoiceOver, a feature that will announce the artist or title of a song at the push of a button. Comes in silver or black and starts at $79. Will give your child plenty of style points – if they don’t drop it through a crack in the floor first!

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