More and more families are having a really great time with their kids flying state-of-the-art drones. With advances in toy design and miniature drone technology gained from the research and development of similar, albeit more sophisticated, military drones, today’s kiddie quadcopters are no longer outside the reach of the common man. Many are inexpensive yet provide an excellent flying experience. So, get ready with your make-believe flight suit, hang on to your control sticks, and off we go with the 10 best drones for kids.
Criteria Used in Evaluation of the Best Drone for Your Kid
Radio controlled drones are becoming more and more affordable. Advances in flying technology, flight stability, radio transmission, and the use of lightweight materials have also made these manmade marvels so easy to fly. It’s high time for you to start considering on getting your kid a drone of his own. Here are some of the things that you might want to look for when choosing or buying your very first drone.
This is one of the first things that you need to read in the packaging of any item that you buy for your child, especially toys. Manufacturers recommend a minimum age for playing their products. However, a more important consideration is your child’s developmental age, not his chronological age.
Playthings are designed in such a way that they are best enjoyed by a certain age group that has the inherent characteristics required of such a toy. For example, remote control toys require handling and manipulation of a remote control device. This means that if the child hasn’t mastered his gross and fine motor skills as well as visual spatial intelligence, then it might be difficult for him to control the drone. Now, a company may put the minimum recommended age at 5 years old but if your kid, who is already 5, hasn’t clearly mastered some of the physical skills required to fly the drone, do you think he will enjoy playing with it?
It is critical to understand that the minimum age recommended may not accurately reflect the developmental level of your child. As such, it is important to look at the recommended age labeling more as a guide rather than a rule. Make sure your kid has all the different skills needed to fly the drone of your dream.
Unlike its military counterparts where they can stay up in the air for several hours, toy drones can only stay up in the air for several minutes. You may want to check the number of minutes the drone can stay up in the air. This is often measured after a full charge or recharge. Expect some minor discrepancies in the published flight time and the actual figures. For example, a manufacturer may say that their product can stay in the air for 6 to 8 minutes.
On a clear, windless day and without any obstacles, you might be able to push the drone to its maximum flight time. However, any unnecessary movements that require the drone to produce more power than necessary will drain its battery a lot faster, leading to a significantly reduced flying time. Performing numerous tricks, stunts, and flying against the wind can surely affect flight time, too. So, it’s best to understand this.
This is inherently tied to the power of your radio transmission. Drones operate by sending radio frequencies to and from your remote controller. If it loses contact, then it won’t be able to fly as efficiently as you’d want it to. Some drones have a maximum range of about 100 meters or about 328 feet in diameter or that’s about 50 meters on all sides with you in the center. Some come with more powerful radio signals that they can fly beyond 100 meters without breaking contact.
Professional-grade flyers are huge, although not as large as military drones. Most kiddie drones are so small that they can easily fit into your pocket or conveniently placed on your palms. Size can be a factor if you only want your kid to play with it indoors. If played outdoors, a very small size can reduce its visibility in the distance, increasing the risk of loss. It is thus, important to pick one that’s really appropriate for your kid’s needs.
The weight of a drone is sometimes related to its size. Smaller drones will usually be more lightweight than larger ones. This can have an effect in its flight characteristics especially if you’re thinking of having your child play with it outdoors. A sudden gust of wind can knock a lightweight drone off its hover and send it spiraling down the ground. A heavy drone can be tedious to carry. It may not be a good idea for backpackers to carry that added weight.
Type of Controller
Choosing the right controller for your drone is more a matter of personal preference. There are two fundamental types of controllers, a traditional hardware radio controller and an app-based controller. Most kids prefer app-based controllers especially if they are already adept at using their mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. For a more traditional feel, the hardware controller is preferred.
Depending on the type of battery and charging mechanism that manufacturers put into their products, the length of time needed to charge batteries to full capacity is very variable. Some can charge their systems within 40 to 45 minutes while others may require a few hours. Observing the initial charging time is also highly advised to optimize battery life. Manufacturers place their recommended recharging times on their user’s guide and some even place them on their packaging.
Not all drones have an on-board camera system, but for those that do, it’s a great way to introduce aerial photography to your kids. Some kiddie drones that don’t have on-board cameras come with integrated mounts to attach third-party camera solutions like GoPro and other similar systems. However, it is important to consider the weight of these camera attachments as these can have an effect on the operation, maneuverability, and flight time of the drone. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a truly unique flying experience, you may want to look at the resolution features of the camera system. Most on-board cameras come with HD quality resolutions; however, don’t expect these to be professional quality.
Other Useful Features
Competing drone manufacturers continue to outwit each other by integrating a variety of features into their systems. These can include a headless mode, one-key return, one-key trick control, and a whole lot more. These features are designed primarily to ensure ease in flying while also minimizing damage and loss to the rig. You may have to study these features carefully and determine which ones your kid absolutely needs.
Here’s the good thing about today’s drone systems. With a lot of competition and so many technical improvements, you can expect a drone for every type of budget. There are drones that can be had for under $30 while more sophisticated ones can easily run in the hundreds of dollars. It is usually a wise move to get for a young, beginning flyer a drone that’s inexpensive to help introduce the joys of flying without having to regret that much should it crash. For the more seasoned flyers, getting a more sophisticated rig should bring a wide smile to his face.
Drone Safety Tips for Children
Flying a drone can be lots of fun. Unfortunately, like all activities that are performed outdoors, there are risks involved. Additionally, you are essentially playing with an electronic device that can become dangerous if not operated properly. So, you may need to observe some basic safety tips for flying a drone especially for kids.
- While many of today’s stuff can be used immediately out of the box, it pays to read the user’s manual or the instructions regarding the use and operation of the drone. Typical information that you have to look for include the initial charging and recharging times, recommended operating conditions, cleaning and maintenance, and any recommendations for expansion, if any. Most manufacturers will also include tips on how to fly their drone safely.
- Use only the recommended chargers for your unit and make sure to observe the charging times to avoid overheating or even overloading your system. It pays to look for UL certification in the electronic parts of the drone, particularly its chargers and its batteries. Make sure that there are no signs of corrosion or leaks in the system. If you have to use third party products, make sure that it is compatible with your drone.
- Teach your child to keep his hands away from the rotors even if it’s not yet switched on. Someone else might accidentally flip the switch and, although most rotor blades are made of vinyl, the fast-spinning rotors can really hurt.
- If this is the first time your kid has ever flown a drone, make sure to do it in an open field, away from tall objects like trees, buildings, and other structures like electric poles. Also fly your drone away from people as someone might get injured if you lose control of your aircraft. Unfortunately, doing it in an open field means you’re also at the mercy of the elements particularly the wind and the harsh rays of the sun. So pick a location where there’s no wind. Also, pick the time of day when it’s perfect for your kid to fly his first drone.
- Teach your kid to know the signs of an impending crash. If the drone is starting to hurtle towards the ground, teach your kid to cut off the power by throttling the controls to zero. This reduces the force generated by the impact as the momentum of the fall will be significantly reduced. This minimizes damage to your drone as well as other objects that may be within the immediate vicinity of the ‘crash site’.
- Always keep your drone in plain sight. This is for your safety and your drone’s safety. If you can no longer see the drone, there’s a strong chance you’ll lose control of it and it may crash on somebody else’s property. Somebody might also get injured. You can expect personal injury lawsuit anytime soon. As a rule, it is best to keep your drone within your line of sight and that it should not fly any higher than 120 meters or about 400 feet above ground.
- If you have to tinker with your drone or even perform basic cleaning and maintenance, make sure to remove the batteries as it’s not unusual to have the unit accidental turning itself on. Better be ready than sorry.
Some Legal Implications to Drone Flying
Safety considerations aside, flying a drone can also have legal ramifications. This is inherently tied to the view that certain types of drones should be considered as vehicles that can use public spaces and as such should be subject to certain rules applied to all. Before heading out to fly your new drone, make sure you understand the following legal considerations to drone flying.
- Always check out drone laws in your area. Different states have their own drone laws. To date, there are more than 30 states that have specific laws as to how drones should be operated by the public.
- As per FAA drone regulations, drones that are heavier than 250 grams but less than 25 kilograms are required by law to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Understand that the weight criteria already include all attachments as well as payloads, if any. So, if you have a rig that falls under this category, you’d better have it registered with the FAA. Don’t worry as the registration process is easy and it will only cost you about the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac. You can do it online, too.
- Don’t follow the footsteps of a Virginia man who found himself heavily fined for flying his drone in a restricted area. Drone-flying can be so much fun. However, there are certain areas where you simply cannot bring or even fly your drone. For example, the White House, Disneyland, and the National Park Service have very specific laws regarding bringing or operating such devices. So, even before you head out with your kid to fly his drone, make sure to do it in an unrestricted area.
- Teach your kid to observe basic rules of courtesy to others. The ability to fly unrestricted doesn’t automatically give you the right to spy on your neighbor’s activities. You have to teach kids about the need to respect other people’s spaces and their need for privacy. Hovering a quadcopter over your backyard can be fun. But letting it fly just above your neighbor’s roof is an entirely different matter. This is, after all, your neighbor’s airspace. And like all ‘aircraft traffic’ you’d have to ask permission from your neighbor’s ‘control tower’; otherwise, give them space.
- It may be wise to get insurance, especially if you’re thinking of purchasing one of those higher end models. This should also work well in the event that someone else might sue you because your drone that crashed ended up breaking or damaging some of his property. Worse, you might end up hurting someone, leading to a personal injury lawsuit.
Benefits of Drones for Kids
Like any other outdoor activity, flying an unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, better known as drone, can provide a host of benefits especially to young flyers. It’s like flying a kite, although there are many great differences between the two systems. Nevertheless, here are some of the well-established benefits of drones for kids.
Enhances problem solving abilities
It may not be readily apparent, but one of the most important benefits of drone flying among kids is the enhancement of their problem solving abilities. This can be manifested in a variety of situations. It should be clear that the basic premise of problem solving lies in the recognition of a potential issue or problem. As soon as kids start thinking about a particular problem, they are essentially engaged in the problem solving process already.
For example, as soon as they receive their first drone, they might ask themselves how they can fly such a mini aircraft. This is the problem. They will then find the solutions to such a problem. They may ask for a copy of the manual or they may ask you to teach them how to fly it. Some kids will want to watch a YouTube video specifically showing how to fly such a model of drone. These actions are what constitute the ‘solutions’ to the ‘problem’ of how to fly the drone. Technically, it is problem solving in its simplest sense.
Flying a drone presents a lot of opportunities for employing the problem solving process and each one of these can only help to enhance the cognitive abilities of children a lot further. If such cognitive processes are stimulated, it is not surprising to see your kid develop other higher ordered thinking skills such as application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis or creation. The point is the more kids use the various neural connections in their brains the more efficient it becomes at processing and integrating more complex information which can spell academic and personal success for the growing child.
Teaches kids about concepts in programming
Some drones now come with simple programming modules that allow children to manipulate certain parameters to push the unmanned aircraft system beyond its intended design. While such drones are rare, they do exist. And this can become a very important platform for children to appreciate and understand beginning concepts in coding or programming. As you may already be aware, most of the things we now enjoy run on computers. The earlier your kids understand these concepts the better it is for them in the future.
Improves visual spatial reasoning
Sitting inside the cockpit behind the controls of an aircraft is different from standing several meters away not seeing and ‘feeling’ what the drone’s computer is actually ‘seeing’. That’s why one of the most obvious benefits of flying drones among children is the enhancement of their visual spatial reasoning. Technically, it talks about a person’s ability to tell where a certain object is in space. When applied to drone-flying, it simply means your child knows exactly where his drone is in relation to the area where it is flying or even hovering. Experts say that visual spatial intelligence plays a role in the development of a child’s math and reading skills as well as map and maze navigation and engaging in sports.
Enhances motor skills
Most people don’t believe that flying drones can help make improvements in a child’s motor skills. While gross motor development is out of the question, handling the remote controller requires finger dexterity and a good sense of visual motor coordination. Oftentimes, drone movements only require very minute changes in the control stick. If your child doesn’t have an excellent control of his motor skills, then flying a drone can be a very challenging experience. The tactile feedback provided by the control stick or even the vibrations on the app-based controller plus the visual cues on the horizon all work in tandem to send electrical signals to the different muscle groups of the hand. This allows it to make calculated adjustments on the controls.
Fosters imaginative play
Let’s admit it; most of us dream of flying as free as a bird. For kids, they don’t only imagine themselves as birds, they may also think of themselves as fairies, flying horses, dragons, and other mythical creatures that fly. The thing is, giving them something to fly encourages them to imagine things. For children, imagination is their way of working out certain sections of their young brain. This can also have a significant effect on their overall cognitive development.
Prepares them for the future
We already said that some drones allow kids to do a bit of programming. This can lay the foundation for a computer programming or technology-based profession for them in the future. Being able to make very fine adjustments in the controls can also help them prepare for jobs that require a lot of fine-tuning a variety of equipment. And then, of course, there are those UASs that come with on-board camera systems which can be a great stepping stone for kids to try and venture into aerial photography and videography – perhaps a stint as a cameraman, a film producer or director, a news reporter, a photo or video journalist, or any other profession that requires such skills. Technically, we can think of a lot of future possibilities for a young drone operator.
Flying a drone provides a host of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits to children. To make the most out of playing with these gadgets, it’s important to always observe certain safety rules as well as existing drone laws in your area. Learning what to look for in a drone for your kid also matters. And with these 10 best drones for kids, the only thing that’s left is for you to choose and start flying.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can drones benefit my kid, educationally?
A: Drones can cover a variety of educational subjects including: math, science, photography and videography, as well as geography. All of these subjects may overlap when your kid starts piloting a drone. Your kid will engage in math and science before they launch the drone as they study flying conditions such as wind gusts and how the drone will react when it interacts with the wind, potential for precipitation, the location of the sun and surrounding topography. Many drones are equipped with HD cameras which will enable your child to learn more about aerial photography and videography. While taking aerial photos, your kid will learn more about different aerial angles such as oblique and vertical. They may even create combinations of the two through photo editing. In addition to these things, your kid will learn more about the geography and topography of your neighborhood or town, depending on where they choose to fly the drone.
Q: Where can my kid safely fly a drone?
A: The safest place to fly a drone is in the private property of your yard or an open field, in which you have permission. It’s also a good rule of thumb to let your neighbors know that your kid will be operating a drone in case it happens to fly over or land on their property. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has specific rules for flying drones and to stay safe, you should follow them. These rules state that drones are allowed to fly at a maximum altitude of 400 feet (121 meters) to ensure that you aren’t in anyone’s airspace and to avoid conflict and contact with manned aircraft such as airplanes, helicopters or jets. For that reason, you also may not fly within 5 miles of an airport. If you live within 5 miles of an airport, you must give notice to the airport operator and Air Traffic Control. Operating drones should be fun and safe, be sure to follow the FAA regulations and always be considerate to those around you.
Q: Can I fly with a drone?
A: It depends on the drone and the airport. For example, American Airlines states that you can travel with a drone but the drone or the box that it’s carried in has to be less than 24 x 14 x 9 inches. However, there may be flight restrictions on the rechargeable batteries that your drone has. When it comes to traveling, please keep the following notes from American Airlines in mind:
Up to 2 additional batteries for each device you may have are permitted, with with restrictions:
The extra batteries must be independently packaged so that they comply with the lithium battery acceptance guidelines.
You’re only allowed to bring batteries that are in your carry-on luggage.
Lithium metal batteries are allowed but there can be no more than 2 grams of lithium in each battery.
Lithium-ion batteries are also allowed, however, you may only bring a maximum of 2 and they can’t be greater than 120 watt-hours.
If you’re going on a trip or vacation, and you have to fly, be sure to look up the rules and regulations of the airline you will be using. If not, your kid’s drone may be taken by the TSA if it’s restricted.
Q: What can I do to extend the flight-time of my drone?
A: The majority of the drones listed on our list average around 8-10 minutes of flight time. It would be awesome if drones could fly forever without needing to recharge batteries, right? However, that’s not possible, for that reason it’s good to have additional rechargeable battery packs and chargers. There’s many chargers on the market that will allow you to charge several batteries at once, as well as different types of batteries in you happen to own more than one type of drone. In addition you should keep weather variables in mind while flying as the weather can have a huge impact on how your drone battery performs:
- It takes more energy for a drone to fly against the wind, so it would be a good idea to avoid flying outdoors on days where the wind gusts are strong.
- Most drones are not made to stand up against water in mid-flight, or crashing into a body of water such as a pool or lake. With that being said, it’s best to avoid piloting drones during the rain, and bodies of water. The latter tip will go along way with beginners.
Many drones come with removable add-ons such as propeller guards. Most drone operators find that removing the guards extend flight-time by a small margin. We don’t advise beginners to do this for the fact that the guards are there to serve a purpose: to protect the drone against crashes.
Furthermore, numerous drones have flight settings of low, medium and high. It would be wise to set the flight mode to “low power” for the purpose of conserving battery life.
Q: How can I reduce the risk of crashing my drone?
A: Always ensure that your drone battery is fully charged. Most of the drones we researched have an average charge time of 60 minutes. A low battery can result in a crash-landing.
Avoid flying your drone outdoors on windy days, as the wind could carry it away in mid-flight. It would also be wise not to fly your drone outdoors when it’s raining, as the rain could affect the battery and motor. Good weather conditions can greatly decrease your chance of crashing your drone.
Fly your drone in open spaces that don’t contain obstacles such as trees, light poles, power lines and buildings. It will help a lot to always keep a close eye on your drone at all times. By doing this, you’ll be able to prevent such crashes.
Q: What’s aerial photography?
A: Aerial photography is the practice of taking photos from a flying object. Aerial photography was first practiced nearly 2 centuries ago on 1958, and now it’s becoming more popular than ever. The invention of drones has made taking aerial photographs and videos easy. Aerial photography can be used for a variety of things, such as: surveillance, art projects, bird watching, environmental studies, journalism, surveying land, and many other things.
It’s a very exciting and entertaining hobby to have.
Remember to respect the privacy of others while taking aerial photos and videos. If you want to photograph someone else’s property, ask for permission beforehand.
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