Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What I liked in 2013 - Toca Boca (or, my 5-year-old has an iPhone)

You're not gonna believe this.  For Elisha's 5th birthday I got him an iPhone.

I know.

But before you unsubscribe from my blog and report me to Children's Services, hear me out.  What we actually got him was a broken iPhone.

Don't call the cops.

OK.  We have an old iPhone that doesn't actually have a phone in it anymore, just everything else.  Someone managed to burn out the cel antenna in it so it still has a camera, wi-fi and apps, but there's no ability to make phone calls.  A friend sold it to me some time ago.

I had it fixed up with a cool aftermarket green faceplate (like this one) and put it in a bulletproof rubber case and then in an iPhone box and then in wrapping paper and now you have a five-year-old with an iPhone.

Why did we get it for him, you ask?  Because the kids love the thousands of children's apps, books and games that are available for smartphones.  I like it because the apps are pretty inexpensive ($8 at most, usually $2 or even free) and it's easy to hide or put out of reach.  You see, the iPhone is a "special" toy.  You parents know the one.  It's the toy you only pull out on special occasions for a treat.  On some slow, rainy Washington day when the kids are driving you nuts, you tell the kids, "If you eat two broccolis, you can play for a little bit on the phone!"

Maybe that's not how you do it, but it is how we do it.  And the broccoli gets eaten and--just like finger paints and Play-Doh--the "phone" comes down from the top of the fridge (because that's where all parents put "special" toys) and we take turns playing games.  Every 15 minutes we switch who gets to play.  The rule is that the operator gets to play any game that's on the phone.

So, that required me as a dad to look up the best iPhone apps available for preschool kids.  What are the best iPhone apps available for preschool kids?  Apps by Toca Boca.

My kids love these games and would play them all day if I let them (I don't).  The company doesn't consider their apps to apps, but rather toys.  So there isn't a bunch of levels or time limits.  The idea is more just to allow the kids to use their imagination to make cool stuff happen.

Yes, this picture is of a phone game.
Trains pick up cargo, cars jump off ramps, sausage is boiled in pots and so on.  The Swedish digital design studio has worked very hard to construct their apps to look real and magical all at the same time.  For example, in Toca Builders (pictured) children use their imagination to operate wooden robots to construct, move and paint wooden blocks in gravity-defying configurations.  Toca Tailor allows a child to pick patterns and cuts for a customized "paper doll" of their own.  (You can imagine how Mariah loves that!)  At $2.99 down to $0.00, not a bad deal for a long car ride back to Oregon.  If you have an iPhone, a long drive and a preschooler, check it out.*

Maybe I'll do a top 20 list of preschooler apps in the future.

*Now, let me just say this.  We have a stack of books that are always available to the kids and we read those all the time.  Plus, we have a play structure outside that the kids love.  All that stuff is probably better for kids than so-called "screen time".  But hey, it's the Pacific Northwest and it rains all the time and so there are good reasons for a few games now and again.  Also, I'm not a huge believer in the idea of "educational" games or toys.  So much stuff that's really just entertainment for preschoolers like ours is sold as being educational.  My opinion on that is that if the kids like it, maybe it will help a little bit.  When I was a kid Sesame Street taught me more how to act like Cookie Monster than to spell.  Whatever.  Cookie Monster is still the greatest.

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