Apr 29th, 2008
I recently got a license to Doozla, a new program from one of my favorite Mac software developers, plasq. These guys are known for products that appeal to your inner child: Comic Life, which lets you create comic books from your own photos, and Skitch, which has elevated the mundane task of creating screenshots into something really fun.
So I was curious to see how they would approach a program specifically targeted at children.
I put my testing panel (Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack) to work. They love trying out new software. Also, it was TV Turn-Off Week, and they may have been a little starved for any kind of screentime. My sister Peg (aka Elastigirl) said it would be OK if it was something educational.
Doozla is a drawing program with four options: freehand drawing, coloring pages, backgrounds you can draw on, and webcam snapshots for drawing. The choices are presented in a very clean and simple way. Violet and Dash (who are 9 and 8 years old) had no problem navigating to what they wanted to do. They played a bit with the coloring pages, but found them too easy. What really sparked their interest was the webcam option. Provided you have a built-in camera, Doozla will snap a photo which you can then decorate with the drawing tools.
Jack-Jack, who is 3 1/2 years old, was more interested in the coloring pages and backgrounds, but he doesn’t have the mousing ability to actually use the tools. At first, I was disappointed, because I thought it would be so much fun for him. But then I realized that he found it very entertaining to watch me do the coloring according to his instructions. (His personality has become a bit imperious of late…) We also took a web cam shot, and I colored him in as I prompted him, “What color do you want your eyes to be? Do you want a blue beard? etc.” So Doozla will keep a toddler entertained, with the caveat that you might have to be part of the entertainment.
The tools are very easy to use and there are a lot of fun elements, as befits a product from plasq. When you click on a tool or a color, a little voice says the name with a kind of squeal that is hilarious. We clicked numerous times on “bright yellow” just to hear it. I really like that they’ve included semi-transparent colors, which makes it more fun to draw on the web cam pictures. There’s a control panel so you can prevent kids from printing (boy, would that cost you a lot of ink!) or quitting without you entering a password.
By default, Doozla opens in full-screen mode, which means that kids would not be able to move out of Doozla and into, say, an internet browser. A password could prevent them from quitting the program, so in theory you wouldn’t have to worry about them using other programs or accessing other files. But the full-screen mode can be toggled on and off without a password, which would circumvent that protection. An option to prevent kids from leaving full-screen mode would be a great enhancement.
The little ones, like Jack-Jack, are going to need your help anyway, so its unlikely that you’d be leaving them alone. A 4- or 5-year-old could probably entertain themselves with Doozla. At first I thought the older kids would not be interested, but the next time I came by the house, Violet showed me several more drawings she’d made in the meantime. It’s fascinating to watch her learn the program, and then learn its limitations. She started thinking of things she’d like to do, like patterns and copying, that are beyond Doozla. I’m going to get her copy of Photoshop Elements soon. I think she and Dash are ready for the challenge.
Doozla is a great introduction to computer use for the toddler/preschool set. They’ll learn basic drawing concepts (color selection, line tool, paintbucket, etc) and develop mousing skills in an easy and fun virtual environment. And with a developer like plasq, you can be sure that it will be interesting to watch this software evolve from its v.1 state.
Aunt hack ratings:
Age group: 3-7; older kids will play with it, but not for long
Duration of activity: 30 minutes
Cost: $24.95 (Download and buy at plasq’s site.)
Child/aunt fun ratio: 60/40. It was fun to color in Jack-Jack’s web cam photo.