Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Are Toca Boca Apps Really Educational?

The #1 paid education app on iTunes is and has been Toca Hair Salon 2 for awhile. I don't question why - it's super cute, polished, and fun for kids. But what I do question is whether it is really an educational app - as it's categorized or should it really be under the entertainment category. In general, Toca Boca apps walked the line of educational or not, which for awhile I thought was a strength. Toca Doctor was great - kids could learn about some general health facts while having a fun time with the open ended style of play. I was still on board with Toca Band and Toca Kitchen as it led kids to experiment with music or food and learn about rhythm or about different cooking techniques. More recently though, with Toca Tailor and Toca Hair Salon, I'm not so sure anymore. Sure, they have a little more content than just a mere dress up/hair styling app. One could argue it's just the same as the other apps, showing the process of cooking versus the process of designing and making an outfit. I'm not so sure though. The processes taught in Toca Doctor or Toca Kitchen are much more obvious than the processes taught in the newer apps. Personally, I would rather let a kid who's played Toca Kitchen and Toca Hair Salon cook me something to eat than cut my hair (safety concerns put aside). Seems like with Toca Tailor and Hair Salon, kids can just focus on making something funny or pretty and not really get much else out of it.

A big reason Toca Boca apps have been able to walk the line of being "educational" is the open ended
style of play. There's much to be said of just letting kids explore a subject and figure things out on their own. This style of play also leads to "pretend play" which has been found to be important to young kids' cognitive development. While this open ended and or pretend play has good benefits, it doesn't make the app educational. If kids are pretending to have a tea party, I would say that they are having a nice time playing together, but I would not say they are engaged in learning. So let kids keep playing Toca Hair Salon, but don't call it educational.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments or just vote in the poll to the right.

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  1. Hi Cynthia!

    Here's is Toca Boca's point of view:

    The main reason for why we have chosen to put our apps under the Educational category is that - in lack of a better option - many parents and other adults have come to associate the Educational category with "kids apps". This is where parents and other adults go to find new kids apps and therefore, that's where we want our apps to be at this point.

    Even though we continuously get testimonies from people describing how they use Toca Tailor, Toca Hair Salon and other Toca Boca apps for educational purposes, e.g. as a springboard for discussion/speech training, and facial expression recognition training for individuals with autism, our official standpoint is and has always been that our digital toys are above all fun toys that encourage free exploration and creativity. The educational benefits that have since been assigned to them come from the users (parents, teachers, therapist etc). As a community manager at Toca Boca, I am happy to share those first-hand experiences with the rest of the community and with anyone who may find them relevant and interesting.

    Best regards,

    Paulina, Community Manager at Toca Boca

  2. My kids really like the Toca Boca apps!

  3. I have had similar thoughts, but my overall educational philosophy is that play and learning are intertwined thus almost any game or any sort of play is educational in some way. I also try to be objective when it comes to dismissing topics as "not worthy" or "not educational". While Toca Tailor or Toca Hair Salon might not really teach one how to cut hair, or create an outfit, there is an aspect of experimenting with design and humor, which I could consider creative practice.

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