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Software (and Appropriate Input Device) For a Toddler? 417

An anonymous reader writes "I have an 18-month-old who loves bright screens (TV and computer), loves loud noises, and loves to mash buttons. He targets my laptop with the button-mashing, and I sort of hate having to tell him 'no' when he wants to explore a computer. I was wondering if anyone knows of some fun (and maybe educational) age-specific PC software that also comes with an age-appropriate input device. I've seen those big-button devices in retail stores that seem to just hook up to the TV, and I've also seen some PC software that requires keyboard/mouse input, which does not seem like the right input device for a toddler."
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Software (and Appropriate Input Device) For a Toddler?

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  • Anonymous Coward (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:43PM (#33471158)

    Just buy, beg or borrow an old electronic keyboard. Much more fun for an 18 month old. (Was for mine)

    • Seconded. Especially a virtual analog synth that has friendly knobs which will immediately affect the sound being produced when tweaked.

      Or, you could go for a real analogue synth like the Korg Monotron [], a tiny, simple true analog synth able to create all kinds of neat sounds.

      None of these things will have the bright screen to draw his eye, but they are far more intuitive and engaging for a young mind: pushing different keys and twisting different knobs will effect a definite and immediate change in the sou

  • Fisher-Price (Score:4, Informative)

    by DarkKnightRadick ( 268025 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:46PM (#33471190) Homepage Journal

    Check out your local Wal*Mart like store for stuff like this Fisher-Price [] edu-toy. My nephew has something a little less complex (and more appropriate, possibly, for your situation) but I cannot remember the name of it, only that it's from Fisher-Price. (:

    This might be helpful [], too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hedronist ( 233240 ) *

      Call me me weird, but the first thing I thought of when I read this was a specially reinforced ASR-35 Teletype (maybe ASR 33?) keyboard they had at Standford's Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences (IMSSS) for Koko the gorilla []. Although she knew Ameslan [], they also taught her to use a keyboard with pictures on the keys (apple, ball, etc.). I only met her once and wasn't there when this happened, but the first time they showed her how to use the keys she apparently enthusiastically made h

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Nah, just get a cheap USB keyboard and small mouse. For a while, you won't even have to plug them in ;).

      Your kids want to imitate you, let them.

  • Well... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:48PM (#33471206)
    Your son is obviously autistic.
    His actions are highly unusual, get him in to an autism specialist immediately.

    With early treatment he has a chance of leading a semi-normal life. Good luck!
  • Leapster (Score:2, Informative)

    Try the Leapster system. My 2 year old figured out the Dora game on that pretty quickly. Needed some help to get started initially, but great for learning numbers and letters before the age of 3 and it can handle the rough treatment from a little one.
  • Please reconsider (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ascari ( 1400977 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:48PM (#33471214)
    The best toy for a kid that age is a good sized cardboard box. Nothing else comes close when it comes to stimulating their imagination, curiosity and social development. If you for some reason are opposed to cardboard boxes: How about some real world open ended interactive toys like blocks, teddybears, a tricycle, a pail and a shovel, some toy cars or a ... gasp... big red ball?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by robot256 ( 1635039 )
      I second this. But when my (much) younger brother was little we got him an old used Nintendo 64 with Mario and Lego Racers, and he played that happily for the better part of 6 years. Old video game consoles are pretty cheap to come by and much harder to break than a computer.
    • by mapuche ( 41699 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @08:06PM (#33471374) Homepage

      I second this. Kids that age need to learn how to play with phisical things, computers can come later. As a father of two I know what I'm talking about.

      • Re:Please reconsider (Score:5, Informative)

        by maotx ( 765127 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2010 @08:42PM (#33471596)
        As a father of five, I can testify that as long as you don't abuse it, computers are just as healthy and stimulating as a block of legos. My two year old spends most of his time with cars, blocks, and books; but he enjoys getting on the computer as well. We password protect it so he can only get on with our permission, but he has his own account configured with links to youtube videos of planes [] and bugs [], toddler friendly websites [], and games such as Minesweeper and Portal. We fully supervise when he is on the computer and limit how much time he can be on it, but overall it's quite beneficial. He no longer has a paranoia of bugs and he's improved quite a bit with identifying different types of colors and shapes. We credit his ability to recite his ABCs to his Vtech [] and the games we play with him, but the reinforcement from the computer certainly helps.

        Regardless, no matter how a child is raised, it is mostly important to be involved with their day to day actions. Watching them soak up information and apply it is a huge testament to how incredible they are, which is also why it's important to remain involved and direct them.
        • Re:Please reconsider (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Machtyn ( 759119 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @12:28AM (#33472720) Homepage Journal
          A little addition to this. Even some appropriate TV is fine. My daughters love Baby Signing Time []. Before they can talk, they can communicate with sign language. It is really awesome when they come to you signing "milk", "juice", or "water", instead of just crying out for it and letting you guess what they want. Or, more typically, saying "ba", "ma", or some other nonsense and letting you figure out what the context the "ba", "ma", or "da" is about.
      • I second this. Kids that age need to learn how to play with phisical things, computers can come later. As a father of two I know what I'm talking about.

        I had both as a kid. I had toys like 'Construx' (sort of a plastic version of Erector sets) and an Atari 800 computer. My advice would be to not go to either extreme. I think one of the things that helped my creativity is that I didn't get a lot of toys growing up so the ones I did have I had to make-do with. I think this forced me to use my imagination more. (I think watching shows like Muppet Babies helped, too...) I make 3D models for movies, now. I think my interests in video games and building my

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        As a father of two I know what I'm talking about.

        This reminds me of the people who hold up the retail value of their home theater setup as some measure of their own intelligence in audio reproduction. "This $500 wooden volume knob definitely improves my stereo's sound playback. Take my word for it, I have a thousand dollar Marantz Reciever and blahblahblah..."

        Not saying anything about you personally, but lots of people who know nothing about raising children still have them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cj_nologic ( 1649427 )

      The best toy for a kid that age is a good sized cardboard box. Nothing else comes close when it comes to stimulating their imagination, curiosity and social development. If you for some reason are opposed to cardboard boxes: How about some real world open ended interactive toys like blocks, teddybears, a tricycle, a pail and a shovel, some toy cars or a ... gasp... big red ball?


      And don't forget - turn off the TV, put down the laptop, and interact as a human. Toddlers don't need computers, they need messy tactile 3D objects and people to interact with. Computers (and TV) should come later, when social and physical skills are developed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by asc99c ( 938635 )

      Another mod up for this; an 18-month old has no need to be using a computer! My 22 month old likes building with plastic bricks - I help her out suggesting and starting a structure e.g. a house for her duck teddy and she carries on working out where stuff fits. Being a girl she also likes throwing tea parties for the teddies and changing and feeding a doll.

      She also likes the bright screens of laptops and TVs, but when she does watch TV like Peppa Pig and Something Special (not sure if you get those in USA

    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      yep. tactile stimulation + development of spacial reasoning, and probably some other things i'm forgetting, is stuff your kid can't really get with computers. very valuable stuff. ok, essential stuff.
    • by JPL-Jeff ( 737613 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:11PM (#33471808)
      I second this as well. I'm a computer scientist who spends almost all of his work time in front of a computer and a lot of my leisure time as well, but my two children (aged 7 and 5) never watch television or use computers (truly). What do they do instead? They read, climb, ride, draw, build, etc.. - they're constantly learning how to play, interact with others, and control their bodies. The time will come for them to learn how to use computers and I'll be there, ready with a series of great programming projects that we can work together on, simple robots - the works. I look forward to that, but it's not like there's any shortage of things to do with them in the meantime!

      Numerous studies have shown detrimental effects to child brain development associated with the early introduction of television and computers. No, you can't get around these detrimental effects by using "age-appropriate" or "educational" shows and games. Apparently, something about the *medium*, not simply the message, is causing these negative impacts. Perhaps it's the pacing of the material, the quick transitions, or the sugary over-the-top positive feedback that they get for completing even the most simple task in an educational game. For me, I don't need to know exactly what is causing the negative impacts - I see no serious side effects associated with withholding computers and television for now.

      I know you might thing that you're helping your child out by letting him get an early start on computers, but keep in mind that some things are much easier for someone to learn at a particular age. For example, I always have to bite my tongue when one of my friends tells me with great pride "It's AMAZING! My two year old already knows how to use a mouse!!!" I always *want* to say "Were you really under the impression that he was going to have a problem picking that up?" Honestly, people, it's a MOUSE. It's DESIGNED to be easy to use. I think it would take a 10, 20, or 30 year old with no training about a minute to figure it out and an hour to master it, and they'll understand the full context and purpose of the mouse and the computer - things that the 2 year old couldn't possibly comprehend. Controlling a mouse isn't something that your child needs a "head start" on.

      You could attempt to teach your 2 year old the periodic table, but I think we can all agree that he'll pick that up just fine when it's time to study Chemistry in high school. Maybe it's time to focus on how to dig holes, stack blocks, and chase you around the house instead?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eulernet ( 1132389 )

        You forgot to mention that it's very important that the children have physical activities so that they'll tire themselves.
        If they are not tired physically, they tend to resist sleep, and as a parent, you'll never get a rest either.
        For young children (I'd say below 10), it's very important that they sleep their complete nights.
        As they'll age, sleep will reduce.

        Using electronic devices reduces a lot the amount of sleep, because it keeps your brain awake.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Get him a Nerf ball and play catch with him. He needs interaction with his Dad, exercise, and hand/eye coordination practice.
  • Keywhack.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by droopus ( 33472 ) * on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:49PM (#33471218)

    Both my kids started out with a great little app called Keywack. []
    I took an old Mac Classic [] sitting in my basement, ran Keywack and the kids loved it. Never trashed the computer either, which I was sure they would do.

    Keywack runs on anything, Win/Mac/Lin, and helped me get my kids learning about tech at around 18 months. The fact they are both capable programmers (one a senior in high school, another im middle school) might have something to do with their early comfort level, or it might not. But give it a try...

  • One Laptop Per Child; []
  • Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VonSkippy ( 892467 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:55PM (#33471280) Homepage

    18 months is waaaaaaaaaay to early to introduce stuff like that.

    Let the toddler be a toddler. All that baby Einstein-esque crap has been proven to be nothing but trouble for your child's NORMAL development.

    • by exley ( 221867 )

      Agreed. This kid isn't trying to "explore a computer" he's just doing the kinds of things an 18-month-old kid does -- bang on some stuff, make some noise, etc. This father is really just engaging in some wishful thinking if he thinks it's more than that. Then again, isn't everyone's child a prodigy?.

    • Re:Don't (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Max Romantschuk ( 132276 ) <> on Saturday September 04, 2010 @01:30AM (#33472942) Homepage

      I've always found the American preoccupation with "giving the child a head start" strange. I live in Finland, and our older kids are six now. They have just started preschool, and will start primary school next year. Here most kids learn how to read at seven. Before that interaction and focus skills are taught through play and simple exercises.

      Despite learning reading this "late" the Finnish school system still manages to give you a world class education.

      I firmly believe that play is the most important thing for kids to do. Is the situation really so bad in schools elsewhere that we have to take away the spontaneous play of early childhood just to keep our kids from "being left behind"?

  • Several years ago we had 3 or 4 different pieces of software that each came with a keyboard overlay. The overlay was a big, fancy plastic "toy" that strapped over the keyboard. Interacting with the toy would press specific keys that the software would react to.

    One of them was Thomas & Friends Railway Adventures Playset []. I must admit it was pretty cool. It requires a standard external PC keyboard, so it won't work on a laptop keyboard or any funky ergonomic ones. Just your plain jane keyboard.


  • Do you just mean you don't want them mashing the keys on a normal keyboard?

    You can get giant-key kids keyboards like this [], you can also get trackballs like this []. Of course, if you go for a more unusual input device you may run into the problem of not being easily able to find software that will play nice with it (unless you also want to fiddle with key mappers).

  • BabySmash! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Heph ( 148903 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:57PM (#33471298)

    I've been using BabySmash! from [] with my 7 month old since she was around 2 months old.

    She can press any key on the keyboard to get sounds and shapes/letters. She absolutely loves it.

    I'm now looking for software that is slightly more advanced, but there seems to be a lack of games in this age range...

  • by gox ( 1595435 )

    I was thinking about getting a used rugged laptop and putting a very simple console editor on it, since my 18-month-old does seem to like what comes out when he bashes the keyboard, and there's enough to do with ASCII.

    OTOH, he also likes to play simple games, like tux racer. The main problem is that the software is designed to receive precise input. Any program that can't be quit, paused or otherwise disabled would do the job of letting him explore. I was planning to put together a couple of simple games fo

  • Playtime (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:58PM (#33471308)

    We used to let my son use the computer a lot. He seemed to enjoy it, but we noticed that that was all he did. For the past few months we have completely banned him from the computer. Since the banning (and getting over the initial withdrawal) he has been much happier most of the time. I would recommend giving your kids toys (blocks are the best thing in the WORLD no matter the age of the child) and let them play with them.

  • iPod touch/iPad (Score:3, Informative)

    by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @07:59PM (#33471320)

    An iPod touch or an iPad aren't bad options.

    The interface is about as intuitive as you can get, and there are child-friendly apps available. My 21mo daughter loves to play with the touch screen, and can figure out that she needs to touch the icons to get it to do stuff. A friend's slightly older daughter does about the same with their iPad. Both are also synced with a computer, so it's difficult for them to do irreparable damage. Purchasing music/video from the device requires you to enter your iTunes password, so it's not likely they'll be able to buy stuff either.

    The downside is that they're fairly expensive, so if your kid is big on jelly-fingers or throwing things, it might require keeping a very close on them.

    • I completely agree! At MathZee [], we develop educational software for preschool and kindergarten kids, and in our focus-group tests, kids find the iPad and iPod Touch many times more intuitive than a computer. So much so that we now first develop the iPad and iPod Touch version of our educational games.
  • Duke Nukem Forever (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @08:00PM (#33471326)

    Just buy him a copy of Duke Nukem Forever. It'll be age appropriate.

  • by canadian_right ( 410687 ) <> on Friday September 03, 2010 @08:01PM (#33471336) Homepage

    Numerous studies indicate that is is best to keep children under 3 away from all tv's, including dvd's, normal tv programming, movies, video games,etc... and to limit video exposure only increasing allowed hours per day gradually as the child gets older.

    No tv under 2, limit to under 2 hours for 3 year []
    No tv under 2 []

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Humans older than 3 benefit similarly from no TV, too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gyroidben ( 1223170 )
      My understanding was, that it's not so much that tv is bad for children's development, but that it's not good, so that if they spend 2 hours a day watching tv, that's two hours that aren't spent playing, talking or doing something beneficial. An 18 month old banging on a computer keyboard is practicing physical skills just as if they were playing with blocks.

      I don't think it's worth setting up something elaborate for an 18 month old, all they really need is something that looks like a computer so they ca
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BeanThere ( 28381 )

      In spite of the superficial similarities of having a display and being 'something electronic', TV is vastly different to a computer from a mental stimulation and interaction perspective. TV is basically mindless zone-out hypnosis for entertainment. Computers *can* be, but can also be complex, stimulating challenging forms of mental puzzle-solving and skills development.

      Life is not about mindlessly following little "rules" about what is "supposed to be" age-appropriate or not, it's about thinking about it fo

  • First, as a couple people have said: A cardboard box. Maybe 3 or 4 of different sizes. And some wood blocks.

    Second, I'll stop insulting your intelligence and assume you already have that covered. An iPad. I don't have children (I hate them), but my cousin has 1, another on the way, and he's mormon so he's got 2 dozen nephews and nieces. He's also way more tech-savvy than I am, and the iPad serves him great for this. Load it up with educational cartoons (Barney, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder) and 2 or

  • starting age 2½, it was an expensive machine when I was young, but under supervision. What matters most is spending time with your child ad teach him/her LOVE, and yes, he should learn the meaning of "no", it's important, you know better than him/her, electronics (tv, computers) can wait a couple of years.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @08:22PM (#33471488) Homepage Journal
    That should be about the limit of technology your toddler should be exposed to. The American Academy of Piedeatricts actually discourages parents from letting kids under 2 watch television []. I'm sure computers are the same.
  • Why not just get him an antique? Kiddo can't hose the OS install on a Apple II or a Commodore 64, and they're pretty indestructible.

    At $20-40 on eBay, they're cheap too.

    • At $20-40 on eBay, they're cheap too.

      I take it you haven't actually checked the prices that the Apple II goes for on eBay lately. They definitely aren't cheap. Sure, you can get an Apple IIe somewhat cheaper, but they still aren't in the $20-$40 range for working models. I don't think Commodore 64s are either.

  • VIdeo games and pinball fit loud noises and mash buttons!

  • A touch screen is probably your best bet -- a good option would be a back-illuminated multi-touch setup so you can use thick acrylic or glass (unlikely to be broken or damaged by your toddler). If you want to go even younger, research with infants often make use to two that can be readily measures by machines: eye-gaze and suckling (on a pacifier with a sensor). Short of putting together some kind of home-brew eye-tracker, I'd suggesting hacking a pressure sensor into a pacifier. Even with that, I bet you
  • I sort of hate having to tell him 'no' when he wants to explore a computer.

    It's probably not a computer he's excited about, just the bright light and the feel of the keyboard. Some have said "my son has always been interested in harvesters", while all the boy saw was just a nice big, colorful object.

  • The iPad is pretty much toddler safe. They can bang away on the screen, touch it and get a response, and play around in apps pretty easily. What's more, it wipes clean pretty easily after they get their drool infested hands all over it. The only thing you need to be careful of is the home screen... They will definitely hold their fingers down and put your icons into "jiggle mode," and if you're not careful they can easily delete apps. Just supervise them while they use it and make sure they don't do an

  • 0. Buy a sacrificial computer. Keyboard and optical mouse can be $10 each.
    1. Take a mouse and wire all buttons so they all are "left buttons".
    2. Now open a browser to by default.
    3. Also set your desktop up to accept a single click to "open" icons on desktop
    4. And go from there

    Your toddler will first have fun for days on pbskids. Will discover the desktop after that. You can sprinkle it with some icons of interest.

  • Increase the font size a bit. Kids love typing and seeing the letters they press scroll across the screen. If you help them out a bit, they'll learn the letter names and sounds pretty young.
  • I bought this right here [] for my kiddo when he was around 14 months.

    It has different sections, based on what you want the kid to do. So for example, you can enter the "Keyboard" activities section, and the adult would drive the mouse and control the activity while the kid would be able to mash the keyboard and make things happen on the screen. To give you a taste of what it's like, imagine hearing the song "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" and each key press causes a star to appear on the screen.

    My kid love
  • A project for a computer science class of mine was to make an educational toy using a micro-controller and some sensors and then programming their controls and functions to display on the screen. The teacher had us use phidgets which is somewhat pricy($80 for the board and $5-10 for each sensor) but it's completely modular and only limited by what you can design. I wound up mounting mine in a plastic case and then form fitting rubber to it so that it would be water(and mess) proof because it was for kids.
  • My 2yr old LOVES his ipad.
    And the rate of which I've seen him learn new skills with it then further refine those skills is amazing.

    There are heaps of good free and pay for games and learning tools for them.
    The thing is marketed wrong, it should be aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.

  • When my son was around 2 or so he was very interested in using the computer. There was a great piece of software, Mickey Mouse and the alphabet. While the program ran it locked out everything else and would only respond to letters of the alphabet being pressed. When a key was pressed, say A, Mickey would perform some action, say the letter and the word. For A, he would go to the refrigerator and get an apple to eat. When using the software my son learned his alphabet and had great fun having Mickey perform
  • WTF?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:42PM (#33472000) Homepage

    18 months? Are you serious?

    Why my daughter was that age, I gave her an old PC keyboard that wasn't connected to anything else. She loved banging on it and pretending to work with Dad.

    Give your kids something simple that will make them use their imagination. You don't want to kill off appreciation of simple toys by the time they're 4.

  • Best I/O devices (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:46PM (#33472028) Homepage

    The best devices I've found have been both input and output. To wit:

    • Crayons and colored pencils.
    • Modelling clay.
    • Paper.
  • by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @10:07PM (#33472140)
    If you're worried about your laptop keyboard (I would be) plug in an external one and then let him go crazy with this:
    • Baby smash! []
      As babies smash on the keyboard, colored shapes, letters and numbers appear on the screen. Baby Smash will lock out the Windows Key, as well as Ctrl-Esc and Alt-Tab so your baby can't get out of the application. Pressing ALT-F4 will exit the application and Shift-Ctrl-Alt-O brings up the options dialog.
  • old guy advice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Friday September 03, 2010 @11:13PM (#33472460) Journal

    I'm in my 40s, and my son is rapidly approaching 3.

    Get him a pretend laptop - Something like this []. (although maybe not in lurid pink.)

    Honestly though, keep him away from real computers. At that age, they basically amount to TVs with (mashable) buttons. The interaction is no more significant than you'd get with a Fisher Price toy, and they don't need to be glued to the computer (or TV) that early. The less time in front of a computer or TV, the better.

  • by malus ( 6786 ) * on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:16AM (#33473282) Journal

    The real issue here is whose device the kid wants to play with. He doesn't want to play with *his* fisher-price (or other) Toy, he wants to play with *your* laptop, because he sees *you* using your laptop. The kid wants attention, not the toy. Put the laptop (or whatever) away, and get him involved with something you can both do together.

    Having two boys, ages 2 and 4, I know that they do not want their daddy to pay attention to his toys, rather, they want daddy to pay attention to *them*.

  • Learn to say 'NO' (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rumagent ( 86695 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:13AM (#33473476)

    Learn to say no right now. It will be better for both you and you son.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller