Art Technology and Software: A Review of 5 Programs for Students

Technology, Art and Kids

Students use KidPix to create diagrams of their studies of volcanos.

Students use KidPix to create diagrams for their study unit on volcanoes.

I sometimes hear concerns from parents about technology and their children.  Are they too young to use computers?  Are they using technology too much?  What I have found, in my experience using technology with students for over 20 years, is that it is not so much “how much” and “when” but “what.”  In our work at the Williamsburg Schools, we aim to enable kids to use technology constructively and creatively while also helping teachers meet state standards.  Today, I’ll go over some commercial and free programs and give some ideas of how they can be used at home and in educational settings.   We will look at animation and comic book software in a future column.

First, doing art on the computer can never replace the tactile experience of working with physical materials.  However, art of the computer is a useful adjunct to using physical materials and can also provide some added possibilities.  Depending on the hardware and software used, students use the mouse, fingers (on tablet computer), or a drawing tablet for more sophisticated artists.


Our first program is KidPix from Software MacKiev ($$) which runs on Windows and Macintosh.

Winner of a Parent’s Choice Silver Award, we use KidPix starting at the end of preschool and heavily in Kindergarten and first grade, though elementary students all the way up to sixth grade also use it.  The program is primarily good for one-page projects. and has standard tools for drawing, such as pen, paint, fill bucket, stamps, stickers, erasers, and more.  We usually require students to draw everything themselves for content related projects rather than use KidPix supplied backgrounds, stamps, and stickers.

Some ideas for using KidPix include:  alphabet or number books; daily illustrated journals; self and family portraits; and free drawing.  I recommend letting kids explore all the different tools first.

If you’d like to try this program at home for two weeks, they offer a free 15-day trial you can download from their web site.


For multiple page projects, I like use HyperStudio 5 ($$$), also from Software MacKiev.  The drawing tools are similar to KidPix but HyperStudio allows multiple pages and kids create buttons (either visible or invisible) to allow hyperlinking between pages of their project.  Both KidPix and Hyperstudio allow kids to record their voices to go with buttons or pages.  Both also have built in integration with iLife.  For example, you can easily access your iPhoto Library to pull into photos into projects.

Here’s some ideas for using HyperStudio:  butterfly life cycle and other cycles in nature; kids create their own “house” where each page is a room connected by invisible buttons on door knob; kids research states and use HyperStudio to document a trip through a region of the United States.  It’s great for kids who want to present on any topic they know a lot about.  Kids can create presentations to show to family and friends.

Roger Wagner, the creator of HyperStudio, sent me this link, which shows many different ways HyperStudio is being used.  If you’d like to try HyperStudio 5 at home, a free 30-day trial is available for HyperStudio here.


Sketchbook Express (free), available on the Macintosh App Store and also for Windows, is a really nice tool that is simple enough for kids but also sophisticated.

We use Glow Draw (free from Indigo Penguin Limited, there are a number of apps with the same or a similar name) and Doodle Buddy (free, $.99 to hide ads)  on our iPad at home for fun sketching.  Using the iPad and other tablets can be good for young children since they use their fingers and not the mouse, which requires more sophisticated visual and motor skills.  It’s good to provide a range of apps on your tablet computer so your children have variety of modes of expression (music, art, math, reading, science and social studies) to balance their natural attraction to games.

For more examples of creative student technology work, see


John Heffernan ♦ Tech Talk: Supporting Creative Play with Technology

John is currently the technology teacher the Williamsburg Schools. He has also worked as an educational technology consultant, a third grade teacher, and as a software engineer.  He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Tufts and a Masters of Education from Lesley University.   John lives in Conway with his wife, 5 year old son, and 2 whippets.  In additional to his interest in technology, John is a juggler, musician, and animal tracker.  Read more about his engineering adventures at

[Photo credit: (ccl) ssedro]

One Comment on “Art Technology and Software: A Review of 5 Programs for Students

  1. Let me recommend ConceptDraw MindMap which I’m using a lot. I’m using MindMap at the moment and I am very impressed with it as it helped me when I’ve started my new position at the uni. I was using it a lot since they released collaboration with MS Word and Evernote which I use hardly as well.
    In that when I write an article I need to be able to easily migrate from mindmap to Word and backwards to analyse all the parts of the story so Conceptdraw allows me to do that.
    I also save bunch of info in evernote as i think this is the best note taking free app so now i can copy all the stuff to mindmaps and send my topics to evernote. I’m now on my PhD and these programs help me to keep structured all the information i should collect for my research.
    I hope this is the right topic for asking what you think about conceptdraw and how you do things like this.

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