The Amazon Kindle has established itself as a leading reading device and where you have reading, you hopefully have eager children.
Although real books, on paper, as well as using public libraries, should be something that all children experience, there's no denying that a Kindle has something to offer.
But a Kindle device, hooked into an Amazon account, offers a great deal of connectivity that you probably don't want your child to have. There's a web browser for starters, as well as, potentially, your Amazon account through which they can buy books with wanton abandon.
Whether you're buying a new Kindle specifically for a child, or letting them use one you already have, here's what you need to consider when setting-up a Kindle for your kids. Here we're talking specifically about Kindle ebook readers, rather than Fire tablets, although in many cases, the same information applies. There's now also a specific Kindle Kids Edition which will also talk about below.
A Kindle needs to be registered to an Amazon account - this is how you get the content onto it.
If you're getting a new Kindle specifically for a child, then you need to decide whether you're going have it linked to their own Amazon account, or to your account.
A personal account?
If the child/Kindle has a personal account, then that account needs an email address as well as a payment method, which probably isn't what you want to do. You could opt for a pre-paid credit card, however.
Using this means you can have a small value for some initial book purchases without having to worry about them emptying your bank account. You can always top up that pre-paid card for future purchases, but this is a rather convoluted approach.
Keep it on your account
If you opt to have the Kindle on your account (or have a child use your Kindle/old Kindle/a Kindle Kids Edition), then you'll have to make sure you use parental controls to ensure they don't spend on your account, or use the FreeTime or Fire for Kids function, which makes things much simpler.
Taking this latter approach is much simpler and this is how Amazon has really designed this arrangement to take place.
Kindle has plenty of parental controls which is good place to start. If you're giving your child a Kindle, you can opt to close off the major access points to the internet: web browser, Kindle Store and Cloud.
Each of these can be disabled, with parental controls getting password protection. That means you can, for example, disable the web browser and Kindle Store on that device, but leave access to Cloud. Cloud is where your Kindle purchases are stored when not downloaded to a device - it's your complete online catalogue of content.
You can shut everything off, so you know that your child only has access to the content on the device and can't go exploring. The Kindle is still connected to the internet, there just aren't any access points from the device.
This is a better option that simply turning on Aeroplane mode, because books will still sync, and importantly, you can still send books to the Kindle from the Kindle Store on your computer's browser or phone. You can also send documents to the Kindle using the email address assigned to your Kindle device, for example coursework packs from school.
This means you can put the Kindle in the hands of your child and buy books and have them delivered to their device to read. They will just appear on the home page.
The problem with all of this is that - if your Kindle is registered to your account - then all the books you own or buy will then be available to download to your child's Kindle through the library, which is where Amazon FreeTime or Amazon Fire for Kids comes into play.
Amazon FreeTime (US) or Amazon Fire for Kids (UK)
Amazon has a system for children called Amazon FreeTime in the US, or Fire for Kids in the UK. This is, essentially, a locked down area specifically for them. Using FreeTime or Fire for Kids means you can have "your" adult/parental side of the device fully connected and "their" side safely locked down with only their appropriate content visible.
It's a slightly confusing name because it references "Fire" in the UK - which is the name of Amazon's tablet - but the system is essentially the same across both devices, even if the content is different.
Amazon FreeTime (we'll just call it FreeTime from here on for a sake of brevity, but if you're in the UK it's called Fire for Kids) lets you setup a child account (or accounts) and then assign books to them from your collection. Using FreeTime means you're buying those books on your account and sharing them, rather than buying them through an Amazon account in your child's name.
Importantly, however, once you're in FreeTime, you need a password to get out, so it's a safe area for your child.
From within FreeTime the navigation controls work very much as they do elsewhere, so you can still go home, search, and change some settings, but it's all behind that safety barrier. There are awards and you have a reading target to encourage children to read regularly, if you have a child who works better with these types of motivations.
Progress through books will also be tracked separately from your reading. If you both want to read The Hobbit, for example, your child's progress will be tracked separately from yours. If you simply used the same account and were reading the same book, it would be constantly trying to sync that book to the furthest read page, which isn't ideal when two separate people are reading it.
Importantly, unlike only locking down a device with the parental control settings above, you still have to assign that content to FreeTime for your child - and this is a key point. From a practical point of view, you can send content to a Kindle devices from a browser - so if you're shopping in the Kindle Store when you buy something you can elect to send it to that device.
However, it's only then on that device, not in the FreeTime area for a child. That then has to be done on the device itself by the parent. You have to log out of the child's area, select the books from the library you want to add to FreeTime and then return to the FreeTime area to see all those books in a safe environment again.
Cleverly, you can turn on FreeTime on a device and leave it in that state most of the time. Restarting the Kindle from FreeTime sees it returning to FreeTime: the only way out is to plug in the password.
The other point to note about setting up FreeTime or Fire for Kids, is that you're basically creating those kids as users on your account - and those can then be used on other Amazon devices too, like the Fire tablet.
Households and Family Library
Family Library is a Kindle feature that let you share content with family members. It's a convenient way for you to share or manage the content you have and you only have to buy things once.
To have a Family Library, you need to create a Household. This can consist of two adults, each with their own Amazon account, and up to four children. These child accounts are setup using FreeTime (or Fire for Kids in the UK).
As a Household can't accept more than two Amazon accounts (notionally two parents) it is a disadvantage to have a child's Kindle with its own Amazon account, as that third account can't be accommodated and you can't share content through the Family Library. (Of course not all Households will have two parents, or might not have two parents who want to share content.)
However, once you have a Family Library setup, the two adult accounts can manage the content the children get access to. That means one adult can buy the content and the other can add or remove it from their own account if they need to.
Once you have adults and children in a Household, it's really easy to manage content through a browser. In your account settings > Manage Your Content and Devices you can see all your Kindle books and who in your household gets access to them.
What about the Amazon Kindle Kids Edition?
Amazon launched the Kindle Kids Edition very much following the model that it has used for its Fire Kids Edition - it's a standard Kindle, with a case, 2-year warranty and a 1-year Amazon FreeTime/Fire for Kids Unlimited.
The device itself is the entry-level Kindle and there are no software differences on this device to any other Kindle - it all uses the same software features that we've talked about above. That potentially means that you can save yourself some cash by opting for this Kindle instead of the specific Kids Edition - it's about $/£30 cheaper.
However, what the Kids Edition does is bundle in these additional extras. The case is probably worth about $/£20, while the no-quibble warranty will be of interest if you have kids who are likely to break it. Then you have FreeTime Unlimited/Fire for Kids Unlimited, which gives you a 1-year subscription to kids content. This has usually costs from $2.99 or £1.99 a month - so if that's the way you want to do, there's some advantage in buying into the Kids Edition bundle.
FreeTime Unlimited and Fire for Kids Unlimited
Beyond the hardware and the software on these devices, there's also a subscription option that Amazon offers. FreeTime Unlimited (or Fire for Kids Unlimited in the UK) is like supercharging the content on your Kindle and giving you access to a range of books for your child that are appropriate for their age.
There's a cost - and the costs vary based on whether you're a Prime subscriber already and how many kids you want to include - as well as across varying durations, so there are lots of price options.
But the huge advantage that these subscriptions offer is that they give the child access to this content, so they can browse and find things to read. If you have an older child that means you don't have to find all the books, buy them and then give your child access - they can just find stuff to read at their leisure.
The best thing about these subscriptions is that that universally apply across both Kindle and Fire tablets (so on the tablet you can access movies or games that are age appropriate) and you can then basically leave them to it.
What's the best child Kindle setup?
The range of options and approaches means that settings can be tailored to the age of your child and how much autonomy you want them to have. For the younger children, you'll want their Kindle registered to your Amazon account, but with all the parental controls engaged, so there's no access to your account, Cloud or the web browser.
Then you'll want to use FreeTime/Fire for Kids for that child. If they are getting their "own" Kindle device, you can then remotely control the content they get access to. You can gift books by simply buying them an assigning them to their device, but you'll have to then manually add them to FreeTime on the device itself.
You remain in control of content at all times and can easily remove books that they've finished with or outgrown. Importantly, if you're buying it through your account, it's your content and you can then share it with younger members of the family. Equally, as a child grows older, using a Household, you can still share older content in the future you might have bought for yourself.
Beyond that, if you have avid readers in the family, then a subscription to the Unlimited service is well worth it. Kids books are expensive and they will often read them in a day or so - so the ongoing access to lots of books is a definite advantage.
There's lots of information on the Amazon website about the different features and functions, as well as a range of options to suit different ages of children within a family.
Most of the features are available on recent Kindle models, but sadly aren't yet available through the Kindle apps and some older devices. You can check full compatibility here.