Apps for Imaginative Play
When I was a child, our family owned one television and there was no cable, DVDs, or Netflix. We did not have personal computers or video game systems, much less iPads® and iPod touches®. And quite honestly, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The best memories I have of my childhood involve playing outside with friends. I remember building elaborate snow forts and endless pretend play involving super heroes, playing school, and house. In third grade, the favorite playground activity was to scrape pine straw into rows on the ground to form ground plans for our dream houses. Then we would divide into families and visit one another’s homes.
Now things are different and our children grow up in homes with television, video games, internet, etc. The world seems more fast paced and there are lots of distractions. As a parent, one of my greatest challenges has been how to find the right balance for our family. And each child is different. Some of my kids have to be told to turn off the television or computer, while others have to be told to come in out of the rain. And then there is the challenge of age-appropriate content and internet safety, but that is another blog altogether…
Recently, I read an article featured in Moms With Apps by Toca Boca called, “The Playful Side of Apps”. The article includes the research behind their apps, particularly involving children and play. They cite research from NAEC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) describing the five types of play: Active, Make-Believe, Manipulative, Creative, and Learning. They go on to explain that their company seeks to address types of play most often missing in many apps out there, particularly active and make-believe play.
I was very impressed with their article and philosophy behind their work. I had planned to purchase some of them for my children, when I noticed on June 1 that Toca Boca made all of their apps free in honor of International Children’s Day. Of course, I downloaded them all. And the next day I showed them to my two youngest children. I knew they would love them, but had no idea how much. I loved watching Toca Boca’s well thought out design come alive and spark excitement in my children.
The first app my seven-year-old son tried was Helicopter Taxi. I knew he would like flying the pretend Helicopter around the house and landing the phone to pick up passengers, but what I didn’t expect was his first reaction, “This is really cool! I have to take it outside!” Choirs of angels sang in my head as realized I had just stumbled upon an app that actually encouraged creative outdoor play. Wow.
A little while later he came inside and tried out a few more. He really loves Toca Doctor, and filled up my photo library with pictures he took of his masterpieces in Paint My Wings, an app that allows you to decorate a charming butterfly. My two year old loves this app, too, not only for the painting, but also to squash all of the fruit to get the colors and to tickle the butterfly to make her laugh. And I love that my two year old is decorating a butterfly in the app instead of decorating the walls in our home… Another popular app by Toca Boca is called Toca Tea Party. It encourages children to gather together for a delightful virtual tea party using the iPad® as the table. What a great idea for an app to encourage interactive, imaginative, social play. My children absolutely love Toca Boca’s apps.
And there’s even more good news. Other developers are designing apps for imaginative play, as well. Another Moms With Apps developer, Shimon Young, has created an app called My PlayHome. Words cannot describe how much I have enjoyed playing with this app with my youngest daughter. Although it’s more like observing her play, as she won’t let my fingers get anywhere near the iPad®. The app is designed like a dollhouse and includes a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. There is a family of people to use like dolls in each room. There are so many wonderful details for children to explore. There is a stereo in the living room to change the music, Lights can be turned on and off, the toilet flushes, the stove turns on and off, etc.
My 2 1/2 year-old daughter loves to open and close all of cabinets in the kitchen the way she does in real life. She also enjoys making the children eat food in the kitchen like cereal and crunchy apples. In the bathroom, she loves to put all of the children in the tub and turn on the shower. In the bedroom, she stacks blocks, and then tries to place a toy car and other objects on top of her towers. Her favorite toy in the bedroom is the basketball, and she loves rolling and bouncing it around the room. She interacts with the people as well, and has even named one of them after her older brother. Our older children enjoy this app, as well, but rarely get to play it because if the toddler sees the iPad®, she wants to play with My PlayHome.
I may still have to monitor the amount of time my children spend with technology, but the quality of the apps available for children continues to improve. Folks, the bar has officially been raised. As a mom, I am grateful. As a developer, I am inspired.