How to Transfer Kids’ Activity Books to the iPad (GeekDad Wayback Machine)

Geek Culture

Book of Mazes for Scanning

I have a 4 year old son who loves mazes. He’s not yet graduated to the more complex mazes that are abundant on book store shelves and magazine racks so the few maze books I’ve found for his age group consist of anywhere from 25 to 50 pages of simple mazes. The only problem with these books is that after they’re written on, they’re done. And he does have some favorites, but it’s often too late to make copies after he’s taken a marker to one and made a few wrong turns, backtracked a bit, and then solved the maze. Sure, I could laminate every page before he gets his hands on them, but then I have a loose and thick stack of mazes to keep track of and wipe down every time he solves them.

And it’s not just mazes — every coloring book, every seek-and-find book, and just about every activity book I’ve purchased for my 4 year old gets used and then thrown away, never to be enjoyed by my younger, 10 month old son.

Until now.

I’ve been a fan of the iPad since I bought my 1.0 on release day. I’ve enjoyed using it to read my books and magazines, check my email, get on the Internet, and fling some fuming feathered fowl. My son has also enjoyed the odd game here or there (and he did manage to learn his lowercase alphabet in less than a week with one outstanding app, 123 Color HD that cost me only $1.99… and still well worth every penny). He knows how to use the iPad (and memorized my screen lock code long ago) and is comfortable with its interface… so I set myself a task to figure out how I could bring his love of activity books and his enjoyment of the iPad together. And it wasn’t difficult at all.

Scanning Activity Book Page

My son now enjoys his mazes on the iPad and can solve them over and over and over… and it’s not just his maze books, either. I’m slowly taking his surviving activity books and converting them for use on the iPad. And when my 10 month old reaches a point where he can use the iPad, he’s going to discover years’ worth of activities stored on the iPad — all ready for his enjoyment as well.

Here’s how you can do it, too.

You’ll first need a scanner that can save as a JPG/JPEG image. I have the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300 that can scan at 150, 300, and 600DPI. The 150DPI setting is sufficient for this type of thing and it’s fast — about 30 seconds total to scan, name, and save the image. A 100 page book of mazes took me less than an hour to scan in the 50 front-and-back full colorpages.

Synced Activity Pages

After scanning all the activity pages in, you’ve got to get the new JPG files to your iPad. There are a number of ways to do this and most of them can be found with a quick Google search if you’re not familiar with how to synchronize files and photos between computer and iPad. I simply used the ability to sync a selected folder with iTunes. (Connect your iPad, select the Photos tab, place a checkmark in the Sync Photos checkbox, and then click the button and specify the destination folder where you saved your scanned activity pages.)

Now comes the app that makes this process work. The app is called Doodle Buddy and it’s a free app with a $0.99 in-app fee if you want the advertisement-free version (well worth it, I believe). The free version, however, will work just fine if you want to test it first.

Solving a Scanned Maze Image

Doodle Buddy is a drawing and doodling app and has a variety of touchscreen tools that are easy to figure out. It has a large number of background images to choose from (as well as blank paper in lots of different base colors) but it’s the ability to select your own wallpaper from the iPad Photos app that you’ll be using. After you’ve synced your scanned images to the iPad, you use Doodle Buddy’s Background button to browse and select one. Doodle Buddy also lets your child adjust the brush size from a small dot to a half-inch sized circle — useful for certain activity pages such as tracing letters, for example, where a finer line is needed.

A small Recycle Bucket icon erases any doodles on the page, allowing kids to start with a clean page, and the Wrench icon even lets kids email a copy of their finished activity page to proud grandparents.

My 10 month old son will one day soon start to color and trace and learn his letters, and I’ve got hundreds of pages from dozens of activity books that were skipped over or barely used by my oldest boy. And with activity books running anywhere from $5.95 to $15 and higher, I’ll likely save a nice bit of change by scanning these page in and storing them on the iPad. (I can also easily print these images out if I want hard copies — another benefit of working from digital files.)

A few closing notes:

  1. It’s quite possible there are many apps that allow you to color and doodle over a photo or other image stored on your iPad, but I’ve found Doodle Buddy to be easy to use and inexpensive. And my son likes its other features (stencils, stamps, and more) for just plain, well, doodling.
  2. Please honor copyright and don’t give out your scanned images — if you’ve purchased an activity book, scan in all the pages you like and let your children enjoy them as long as possible, but stay legal and keep your scanned images for your family’s personal use.
  3. Doodle Buddy works in both vertical (shown above) and horizontal mode with the iPad. If you have activity pages that are better viewed with the iPad rotated for horizontal (or widescreen) mode, you’ll find Doodle Buddy will rotate the toolbar easily to fill the wider screen.

[Editor’s Note: This post originally ran in May, 2011.]

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