Toca Boca and the importance of play

Toca Boca is a suite of applications that provides spaces within which to explore and play.


I often hear teachers complain that all students do on tablets is play games. This is supposedly in lieu of supposed ‘real work’. Although I would not consider myself as being a part of the anti-gamer community, I think that there are some which are more prone to consuming our attention, rather than creativity and critical thinking. (See the recent discussion associated with Coolmaths and Chromebooks) A company trying to counter this focus on consumption is Toca Boca. Started in 2010 in Sweden, Toca Boca create digital environments. The purpose is not to complete games or progress through levels, but instead work within the parameters set to participate in imaginative, open-ended play. As the Björn Jeffery explains:

I don’t think we are going to digitize all play, and it wasn’t our goal, either. It’s just a new way to play, so it has its benefits and its drawbacks. Obvious benefits are that it’s portable, so we do very well on airplanes or dinners, for that matter — situations where parents need to occupy their children. Kids get super-bored after fifteen minutes at a restaurant, whereas parents want to sit for another two hours. Bringing your Lego kit to the restaurant is a little tricky, and so maybe an iPad is more convenient. But, of course, there is also a time and a place.

Some of the different applications that I have explored with my daughters include:

  • House: Users move around a house to complete numerous chores and activities,
  • Town: Users move between a shop, police station, a house and a park. Each space includes different characters and objects to engage with.
  • Kitchen: Working between the fridge, a bench space and a cooking area, users prepare various meals. Through this process they are able to learn about how different produce changes when it is cooked, chopped and blended.
  • Car: Given a small car, users drive around within an environment that has various objects and obstacles jump over or avoid.
  • Band: There is a stage with three tiers, each with their own intensity. Each character plays a different instrument, which users can drag around the stage or they can placed on the top pedestal which allows users to control the particular instrument.
  • Hair Salon: Using a range of tools and products, including scissors, dryer, coloured spray and magic liquid which makes hair grow, users are able to create their own hair styles. Once complete, they can then create their own hairdos.
  • Fairy Tales and Tailor: Users choose clothes, apply various patterns and then accessories in the development of their own characters. They can also capture a snapshot of their finished creation.
  • Lab: Users are provided with a virtual laboratory within which to explore the elements of nature in a fun and playful way. Through a range of virtual experiments, users heat, boil, spin and cool various objects to see what happens.
  • Birthday Party & Tea Party: These apps allow users to lay out a table cloth for a party involving cake and drinks. This can be either played collaboratively or individually. Once someone has eaten or drank what have, you can then give them more. In addition to this, every so often something will spill which you need to clean up before doing anything else.
  • Builders Lab: Something of a take on Minecraft, users are given a blank space on which to build upon. There are a range of robots to help you, each offering a particular skill, whether it be creating a block, moving a block or painting the space.
  • Nature: Similar to Sim City, you are given a plot of land which you can add vegetation too, create mountains and dig out waterways. Once this is done, you can zoom in and go in search of the various flora and fauna that inhabits this created space. There is a range of objects you can collect and then feed the various animals. When you find something there is the option then to take a picture of your discovery.

In many respects these apps are about learning, they have been described as ‘digital toys for children’. This is not learning in the way that Mathletics helps with Maths, but rather applications capturing the different forms of play:

  • Active play, which is like chasing each other, playing sport, running around.
  • Make-believe play, which is imagination and role play.
  • Manipulative play, which is puzzles, construction, building, Lego, making, creating.
  • Creative play, which is arts, crafts, drawing, music.
  • Learning play, which is games and books — they are defined as learning because they are linear. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This collection is continuing to grow and evolve. So what about you? Are there any open-ended applications that you or your students use? As always, comments welcome.


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Toca Boca and Digital Toys by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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