Tablet computers have only been around since Apple introduced the first iPad in 2010. It didn't take long, however, for tablets to transform the computer industry - and now they've quickly become a part of the average household and found their way into the hands of grade school-age children.
Parents will be able to find more choices for kid-themed tablet computers in stores this holiday shopping season, but they may also consider standard tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire HDX and Surface 2.
The latest research released this week from Common Sense Media provides evidence of this trend. Since 2011, the advocacy group found that access to tablets in families with kids ages 8 and younger has jumped from eight to 40 percent.
Another key research point: The average time a child spends on a mobile device (including tablets) every day has tripled - from five minutes a day to about 15 minutes.
The children in Ashley Toney's fourth and fifth grade classes use tablets all the time. They're in the K-5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at West Seattle's Boren School. The STEM program, currently the only one in Seattle Public Schools, has been open for two years.
"I could not teach without it (tablets)," Toney said. "I mean I can, but I don't want to. The accessibility and the research they can do, and the learning that can happen with access to the media and collaboration with other students throughout the world...it's just a golden opportunity."
The Common Sense Media research didn't surprise Toney, considering how she's used tablets in her classes. She thinks the purchase of a tablet for children by their parents could be a good thing, provided Mom and Dad do their homework.
"I would want them to know that for kids, it's almost inherent in how to use it," she said. "Whereas an adult might say, 'Am I using this right,' the kids just jump in and explore. They may find websites or find games to play that their parents normally wouldn't find, so just be aware of that and be paying attention to what the kids are doing."
Toney says limiting the time kids spend on tablets is the best parental control that's available, along with researching tools such as filters. Parents also need to spend time checking out all apps before downloading them.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is the latest example of an electronics company targeting younger users. The $229 device is available for pre-order on Friday, Nov. 1st and will be in stores Nov. 10.
The 7-inch tablet comes preloaded with educational apps as well as popular games such as Fruit Ninja and Where's My Perry? There are parental controls for websurfing and a feature that allows adults to review and approve apps before downloading them from the Samsung app store.
If parents invest the necessary time in research and involvement, introducing tablets as gifts during the holiday season can pay off in the long term, Toney said.
"This is how our world is functioning," she said. "It's a great opportunity for the kids to have the access, and I think the more access they have - within reason - it's going to benefit them in the future."