Mac apps for toddlers: My top 5

I have a two-year-old toddler who loves messing about on our two iMacs. Of course, he’s a bit young to do anything useful, and mainly uses them to watch Pocoyo! However I have found a few Mac apps that he enjoys, so I thought I’d post them here.

5. Whoopee Cushion

Strictly speaking it’s a widget rather than an app, but my little one loves this. A great way to distract him if he’s bored. 3 or 4 clicks on this widget and he’s in hysterics!

As featured in my 5 fun Dashboard widgets post.

4. Ladybugs

This is a very cute and polished set of 3 simple games:

  • Tangled Maze: Guide the bug around the maze to its home.
  • Color Trouble: Similar to Tangled Maze except you have to guide the bug to the home that matches the bug’s colour.
  • Ladybug Race: Again, this is similar to Tangled Maze but you race against a computer-controlled bug.

The games are professionally designed, and the soundtrack is equally slick and fun. My 2-year-old couldn’t play it on his own, but he liked watching the colourful bugs moving around the screen.

The one minor annoyance with this game is that it messes up all my Mac windows, causing them to shrink to the top of the screen. Hopefully it’s a bug that will get fixed soon.

3. Youdoo

This comes from the same people that made Ladybugs. It’s more of an art program than a game. There are 3 modes:

  • YooGlow: A simple painting game along the lines of Magna Doodle where you draw with glowing dots.
  • My Garden: A very chilled affair where you plant seeds and watch flowers grow. Trickier for younger toddlers since it involves drag and drop.
  • Mister Monster: Create your own monster by sticking on eyes, noses, moustaches and so on. This one is the most fun and the 2-year-old loved it.

As with Ladybugs, the music and visuals are fun and high quality, and they really add to the appeal. It also suffers from the “shrinking windows” bug but I managed to get round this by not playing in full-screen mode.

2. Tux Paint

Tux Paint is a wonderful paint program for kids. It’s designed for ages 3 to 12; however my 2-year-old still has fun with it. (Hint: If you have a toddler then fire up the accompanying Tux Paint Config app and enable Fullscreen in the Video & Sound tab and No Button Distinction in the Mouse & Keyboard tab. This makes it easier for toddlers to use.)

There’s a huge range of brushes, stamps and effects available (you can download more stamps too) and the sound effects when you draw are great fun (and in stereo!). You can also save and print your little darling’s masterpieces.

Tux Paint is open source and totally free to use. Fantastic!

1. AlphaBaby

Although it’s a pretty simple app, AlphaBaby takes first place due to the sheer enjoyment that my 2-year-old gets from it. Written by a developer who was fed up with her kid pressing random keys and renaming her files (we’ve all been there), AlphaBaby is a full-screen app that takes over every key on the keyboard, allowing your toddler to bash away without risk of harming anything (except possibly the keyboard itself!).

Letter and number keys display the corresponding colourful character on screen, while other keys display random shapes. A sound effect is also played on each keypress (which my toddler finds most amusing).

Even better, you can configure AlphaBaby to display random photos from your iPhoto library. The toddler loves this option, especially when a photo of himself appears!

The app is also available as a handy screen saver. Sheer genius. Like Tux Paint, AlphaBaby is free and open source.

One tip: Make sure you don’t forget the special key combo required to exit the app (Control-Option-Command-Q). I’ve forgotten it a couple of times! (You can also type the word “quit” quickly if you forget the key combo.)

That’s my top 5 list of Mac toddler apps! If you found this post useful then you might also enjoy my top 10 list of free Mac games, which has a few kid-friendly games.

By the way, you can use the Mac’s Parental Controls to create a simplified, locked-down account for your toddler – perfect for safe exploration.

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4 Responses to “Mac apps for toddlers: My top 5”

  1. Stef Says:

    Thanks! I’ve got a toddler who’s just started getting an interest in doing ‘daddy’s work’ – and I’ve got an old imac I’m thinking about giving to her for her to play with from time to time. What I’m also looking for is what to install to make the operating system a bit easier for a child to understand… and safe for exploration. Any ideas?

  2. Matt Says:

    @Stef: Thanks for your comment. You could try turning on Parental Controls on her account, and enabling Simple Finder. This simplifies the available controls and also prevents accidentally messing with system files and the like. More info here: http://mac.elated.com/2008/12/15/protect-your-kids-and-your-mac-with-parental-controls/

  3. Olly Says:

    Thanks for the list, but thanks in partiular for posting the quit command for Alphababy; predictably we got locked out within minutes of installing!

  4. Matt Says:

    @Olly: You’re welcome – glad I’m not the only one who forgot that shortcut :)

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