You know, for kids!

by Giles Turnbull

I like to check my email frequently, and I like to listen to the radio, and I like to cook. Consequently the computer spends a lot of time on the worktop in the kitchen. Consequently, my two-year-old son ends up getting his grubby little hands on it more often than I would like.

Thankfully, there are some Mac developers out there who have found themselves at the mercy of little people of their own -- and coded something to entertain them.

My son's favorite for the last year or so has been BabyBanger, a delightful little application that prevents him accessing anything important by taking over the whole screen. He can bash away on the keyboard as much as he likes, and every keypress will throw up another colorful shape on the screen, complete with its own sound. He's been playing this on and off for nearly half his short little life and is starting to ask for something else to play on the computer.

AlphaBaby is similar, to the extent that my little boy thinks it's BabyBanger. It adds more shapes, prints letters as well as shapes, and can scatter cute stars around the screen when the mouse button is held down. It's suitable for slightly older kids who have started to learn their alphabet. More advanced letter-learners might appreciate Kids Play too.

With a little supervision, my boy enjoyed making pictures with TuxPaint, but this program is more for older children who have some basic mousing skills. It's great fun to use and not at all intimidating. Any child will love to spend half an hour or so in front of this simple app, and the interface is so simple they will need little adult supervision.

Even older children might like to try their hands with OK-Writer to write a story or poem, or perhaps multimedia playground Kidwidget.

To teach little ones about using the internet, you can buy a kid-friendly email client called KidzMail that prevents them seeing spam (it can be told to only accept mail from specific addresses) and has a very simple interface. There's also a browser, KidsBrowser 3, which uses the Safari engine and has a host of special features.

There is an argument for showing children how to use grown-up software from an early age, so they get used to the complexity of "normal" applications, and I'd agree with that to an extent. But for showing very young children what a computer can do, and why they should treat the hardware with care and the software as a tool, these child-oriented apps are a great starting point.

Any other top tips for kids entertainment on the Mac?


2005-01-02 20:26:42
programming for kids
Do you have any suggestions for software that introduces older kids to the concept of programming in an engaging and accessible way? Lego robotics comes to mind. Any others?
2005-01-03 15:08:36
World of Where
Here's another app I've found: World of Where, a neat (and cheap) way of learning basic geography. I like the little extras, such as emailable maps.