Toca Boca and More

I have a special love of children’s literature as you can see from the Fab Kid Lit lists above.  I literally write those just for fun. (Excuse me while I slide my giant horn rimmed glasses back up onto my nose.)  The iPad was released the same month my son was born so I was pulled in early by the shiny bells and whistles iPad apps of children’s books dangled in front of me. When our son was one he was allowed to look at certain apps, but that was way back in the dark ages of 2011. There weren’t many apps out there yet, we just marveled over the Nighty Night app and Pop Out Peter Rabbit.  All the pro and con forums on digital exposure for young, developing brains hadn’t yet become too heated.

goodnight dear pig
goodnight dear pig

When my husband’s career took a turn we began to travel with him all over the world and an iPad for a child on an airplane can be a glorious thing (for everyone), but we realized his time on screen needed to be limited.  My time on screen needs to be limited. Everyone’s time on screen needs to be limited.  So I turned to one of the great truths of life…the power of what is counterintuitive.  It sounds like if you create limits, you will be and feel limited, but the truth is boundaries and limits provide an immense amount of freedom to spend your time wisely on what you really enjoy.  We apply this principal to sugar consumption so we decided, why not apply it to the iPad too?  We don’t forbid it, but we do limit it.  We’re talking only 30 minutes a day after lunch…if that.

Since we’ve applied these limits two years ago, we’ve learned quite a few things as parents in the digital age.  If this topic is of interest to you, I’ve shared the top 5—>

1.  Adhering to a limit and schedule creates an excitement around our son’s iPad time, a feeling of anticipation.  When it arrives he then spends it wisely on the apps he loves the most.  Breaking the schedule for special occasions is also loads of fun.  The iPad on an airplane first thing in the morning?  What a treat!

2. We don’t read children’s book apps on the iPad anymore before bed.  The screen is too bright, even on bedtime mode, which makes for an activity too simulating just before a little brain needs to sleep.

3. Not all apps are created equal. There is a LOT of yucky material out there, sometimes from big names you may feel you trust.  It’s always a good idea to look at reviews and test drive apps on your own. There are a lot of great resources out there.  I write app reviews for and link to my reviews above.  That site does a great job of cataloguing apps by age and activity, but it’s also helpful to look at ratings right there in the Apple Store.

4. Beware the in-app purchase!   Sometimes they are worth it for apps like Endless Reader, but often times they can just be a hook.

5.  Beware the grind!  Grind is a word a friend of mine uses to describe when an app controls you (or your child) versus you controlling it.  Look for grind when you find yourself mindlessly surfing the web, you know when it happens.  How many cute animal gifs, or Eiffel Tower instagrams or Dream Home pins do you really need to look at?  The addictive, mindless quality of grind is sometimes used in apps as well to keep the user hooked.  A good rule of thumb is to remember it’s always better to know your child is taking something away from an app rather than losing something to it.

Here are my favorite examples below, true stories about three of our favorite app developers.

Freecloud Design—> At two and a half our son began to play Stack the States and Stack the Countries.  He still plays these apps now and not only knows where most states and countries are on the globe, he also knows their shapes and flags.  He can show you where Djibouti is.

Tiny Bop—> The Human Body app is great for kids, but also a marvel for anyone interested in anatomy.  When we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the Annette Messager exhibit below seemed a bit on the intense side for a four year old.  The installation is of various parts of the human anatomy on strings.  I was about to circle out of the exhibit so as not to have to explain what it all was when he said, “Mama look how beautiful…these are all things inside the human body.”  Thanks for the save Tiny Bop. IMG_0376 Toca Boca—> Last, but far from least, when our son was three he showed us all the elements on the periodic table because of his love for the Toca Lab app.  Naturally I was ready to fly to their headquarters and squeeze them all.  I sent the team a video tweet of our son…who can’t yet read…as he recited all the noble gases from memory.  The team replied:  Aw tell him the team at Toca Boca said Hi.  When I gave our son the message he replied, “Even Coppernicium?” Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.33.18 PM The Toca Boca team made that little gem into a tweet-able photo and shared it with all their followers.

The whole thing makes me so warm and fuzzy and supports my newly formed, not really extensively researched theory:

Technology-if used wisely-can be a powerful tool for young minds.


Accidental traveller---currently in London


  • Such great insight! Alas, my girl was just before the ipad/great apps phase. Parents with children under 8 would do well to take your advice.

  • In certain situations ipads can be life savers but I love books, I love childrens books especially classics. The other day the girls asked to go to the bookstore, they wanted more books and I will never say no to that, it does my heart good seeing children with the written word. My local bookstore has great programs for children, they were having story time when I was there. Great post and really great advice.

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