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How to Set Up an Old Laptop for Kids

Family with Laptop
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Most old laptops start collecting dust when they’re too old to run anything useful. Revitalize and secure your ancient devices, turning an expensive paperweight into a fun playground and educational tool for kids.

Clean It Up

The first thing to do when preparing to let a child loose on your old laptop is to make sure it’s free of any intrusive, distracting, or inappropriate content. This could be as easy as updating your Windows or Mac machine, uninstalling any unnecessary programs, and deleting all your files.

If you’ve already retrieved all important files from the hard drive, the most reliable way to make the laptop kid-friendly is to roll the device back to its original factory settings. If it’s a Windows machine, you can use Windows 10’s Reset Your PC feature, reinstall Windows 7 from scratch, or reset your Windows 8 PC. If it’s a Mac, you can get a fresh install of the last version of macOS.

You may still encounter hardware issues with dead batteries, failing hard drives, or dusty motherboards. If the battery on your laptop is misshapen or deformed in any way, replace it. Some of these issues may be worth the time and money of fixing them. Unfortunately, it can often be more expensive to repair your old computer than just buying your kids a new Chromebook.

RELATED: How to Properly Clean Your Gross Laptop

Lock It Up

Once your laptop has been thoroughly cleaned out and runs smoothly, you’ll need to make sure it’s safe and secure. This won’t involve setting up any complicated security measures. In fact, most Windows machines come with Windows Defender, which is a solid antivirus. If the child will be using a Mac, you’ll still need to protect your Mac from malware to make sure that it’s safe and secure while browsing.

Kid in Glasses Leaning Into Laptop
Morrowind/Shutterstock

Once security is in place, you’ll want to set up the second most important safety feature for younglings using laptops: parental controls. Restricting time for use, certain features, access to inappropriate websites and content is essential for developing a child’s healthy relationship with technology and the internet. Macs have the ability to create user accounts specifically for kids with limits on app usage and screen time. Both Windows 7 and Windows 10 have robust parental controls. Windows 10 even allows you to create and monitor a child’s account for even more safety while they work and play.

RELATED: Basic Computer Security: How to Protect Yourself from Viruses, Hackers, and Thieves

Fill It Up

Now that your disused machine is clean and secure, it’s time to make sure that the content your child is accessing is engaging, educational, and healthy. When searching for family friendly content, keep in mind that most free content is going to be riddled with ads. It can be a hassle to find high-quality content for kids, so we went ahead and did that part for you:

  • PBS Kids provides a wide range of games, videos, and activities for kids of all ages.
  • Minecraft is the most popular computer game for kids with plenty of creativity and ingenuity.
  • Hoopla works with libraries to provide free access to ebooks for kids.
  • Scratch, from MIT, focuses on teaching the basics of coding to kids as young as 4.
  • ABC Mouse collects learning games from a variety of subjects into a subscription-based package.
  • Virtual field trips make for an enjoyable chance to explore famous places together.
  • Google Classroom is one of the most popular learn-from-home apps.

As always, make sure you’re keeping a close eye on your kids when they’re working or playing. While the parental controls linked to in the previous section can help restrict your child to only approved websites, kids are savvy and always find one way or another to circumvent the rules.

Speed It Up

If you’re still unable to run anything on your laptop, it may be time to lighten its load. Updating an older laptop to a newer version of the same operating system can overload that ancient hardware. Instead of using something heavy like Windows 10, you can install operating systems like Google’s Chrome OS which are built to run on underpowered devices. This can be a slightly technical endeavor, but that makes it the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about technology. It’s always worth considering all the little things you can do to speed up your Windows or Mac machine.

If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you can give your laptop new life by installing Chrome OS on any laptop. Your device probably won’t be able to run many Chrome apps, but it should be enough to at least run the Chrome browser. This will give your child access to a healthy selection of websites for learning and playing.

RELATED: 10 Quick Ways to Speed Up a Slow PC Running Windows 7, 8, or 10


Starting with an unusable piece of outdated technology, we’ve managed to breathe life back into your device that can now be used by your kids for work or play. Your device doesn’t have to be fast or sleek. Now that it’s cleaned out, secured, and filled with quality content, your old laptop is ready to educate and engage its next generation.

Joel Cornell Joel Cornell
Joel Cornell has spent twelve years writing professionally, working on everything from technical documentation at PBS to video game content for GameSkinny. Joel covers a bit of everything technology-related, including gaming and esports. He's honed his skills by writing for other industries, including in architecture, green energy, and education.
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