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The smartphone has become the dominant piece of technology of our age, sucking even more of our attention into its brilliantly engineered clutches. It’s bad enough for adults — hold on a sec, I just got six Slack messages — but keeping the phone from warping the brains of young kids can be a challenge.

My 2-year-old twins are constantly grabbing at my phone because they see me doing the same — stand by, I’ve got to reply to this group text — and they like the way it lights up. They also grab at plenty of other forbidden things (curtains, knives, their father’s throat), but the phone is becoming an increasingly hard thing to deny them. One possible solution? The humble calculator.

One day when we took a rare family trip out for dinner, we spotted a woman in line with a toddler on her hip clutching an old-school hand-held calculator. My wife and I looked at each other and instantly saw the brilliance. They do make fake plastic phones for kids, but here was a real device with an extremely low-resolution screen that had the added benefit of helping teach about numbers. And it was cheap enough not to worry about it breaking.

A quick trip to Walgreens later and we had a pair of Wexford calculators (total damage: $8.83). Our kids took to them instantly, pressing the buttons and watching the numbers appear. They also will hold the calculator up to their ear and say “hello?” followed by some adorable babbling.

University of Michigan pediatrics professor Jenny Radesky, an expert on children and screen time, says she gave her own kids calculators, and that children simply appreciate having a hand-held item that’s “theirs.”

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