To continue our “Are you ready for this?” series, I’ve received a slew of questions recently about when it’s appropriate to give kids an e-reader or tablet like the NOOK Tablet and Kindle Fire. Overall the assumption is that they’re a more cost-effective gadget for a tween or teen than the iPad.

So for those of you still making the decision in time for Christmas, I have a few thoughts on whether you’ll want to give your kids an e-reader based on age, and if so, which one.

Reading gadgets for Preschoolers

At this age (and well, any age for that matter), we still belive that kids are fine (even happy!) with actual books. However, if you’re looking for something digital to help support their new reading habits, we like the idea of the Tag from LeapFrog or the VTech V.Reader, which actually looks like a real e-reader. Both of these will help encourage a child’s excitement for reading without you having to worry about them carrying around an expensive gadget and accidentally purchasing ebooks.

E-readers for Elementary-aged kids and Tweens

Many parents are handing down their first and second generation Kindle or NOOK to their kids, and we actually think that’s a pretty good idea. They certainly don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles of some of the newer e-readers, and it allows you to get the upgrade you’ve been wanting. (It’s like the new version of handing down the old family car!)

If you don’t have an e-reader to hand down, take a look at the early generation Kindles or the NOOK Simple Reader, both of which are WIFI only (no 3G) and don’t have games. Just books! You can now find them through Amazon at great prices, and we hear reports of readers getting good deals through ebay or Craig’s List.

Keep in mind however that purchasing books on an e-reader is easy even for children; a few simple clicks and your kids could load up Snooki’s book–which actually happened to a neighbor of mine. So encourage the ereader’s use, but with supervision and clear rules about purchases.

Tablets for kids and tweens

As we mentioned our previous post about handheld gaming devices, we really like the kid-friendly tablets like the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer or the VTech InnoTab, both of which give kids the tablet experience without the pricetag.

If you feel as though your kids are past those gadgets, consider going with an iPod Touch. They’ll be able to enjoy a tremendous range of apps, including e-books (though the screen is small), for a lower investment than an actual tablet. Just make sure you get a good case!

While the Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet do seem like they’d be appropriate for kids and tweens given the price tag, they’re really not made for that purpose. With just a couple of clicks, your kids can be impulsively ordering all sorts of goodies from the Barnes and Noble Store and Amazon, either accidentally or intentionally. While you’ll be notified of their purchases, we don’t think it’s worth the hassle.

A better option: Buy an iPad 2 for the whole family so that you can all enjoy the tablet. Or if you want something more economical, track down a first generation iPad. Your kid can have dedicated reading time, but you can still have ownership of the device and control over amount of screen time.

Smart Advice for E-readers and Tablets

With all of these gadgets, and not just the iPad, we strongly recommend that you keep them in your own possession, and have your kids ask for permission to use them. As they show more responsibility, then perhaps they’re afforded more time and leeway with the e-reader or tablet.

By then, you’ll know if you have a teen who’s ready for her very own (gulp) tablet. Again…with a very, very, very good case. And definitely a subscription to TekTrak.

Stay tuned for more of our “Are you ready for this” features on Cool Mom Tech.

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