Social and Emotional Skills Are On My Mind, part 1

Like many librarians and educators, I spend a lot of time focused on early literacy. Whether its in storytime, when I’m selecting materials, or in conversation with parents and caregivers I’m thinking about how fun activities, stories and tools can strengthen early literacy skills. Underneath the literacy layer, though, is a deep interest I have in the social and emotional development of little ones. I’ve been looking at books and digital media through this lens. With this post, I’m starting a mini-series about some of the books, literacy tools and apps I like for their overall high quality and the way they address the emotional and social side of growing kids that are creative, flexible, curious, caring, and ready for the dynamic world we live in. The recent release of Toca Boo was well-timed, so I’ll start there.

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Toca Boo
Toca Boca
iOS (5.0+)
$2.99
3-5 years

This new app by the developers at Toca Boca is an interesting one. I’m a huge fan of Toca Boca’s apps so I was ready for the smooth navigation, the open-ended, noncompetitive play, inclusion of facial expressions and representation of emotions, multi-touch capability that encourages joint media engagement and the minimal language that makes the app universal. This app has all of the elements that I look for in an app to share in a program or recommend. Toca Boca knows their audience well.

What’s different about Toca Boo is that it deals with the illusive fear emotion, underrepresented in the world of apps for young children. Just in time for Halloween, Toca Boo features a a small ghost named Bonnie who happens to be a young girl who dons a white sheet for the scare games she instigates in the low-lit house at bedtime.  Inspired by the classic hide and scare game and Tove Jansson’s Moomin world, the open-ended game lets kids play with feelings of fear, tension and the element of surprise in a nonthreatening, kid-friendly experience.

Bonnie is the mischievous star in a cast of colorful characters who’s theatrical reactions to Bonnie’s scares spark instant giggles. The identical twins, the braces-clad, phone obsessed teen, the blanket-toting toddler, the old man with stilt-like spindly legs and the disco dancing rotund old woman wander the house with Bonnie in pursuit. When Bonnie is near, a tap on the unsuspecting victim causes a scare. Many of the rooms, like the bathroom and bedrooms feature hiding places highlighted by a subtle blue light.  Dragging Bonnie to the hiding place lets her sneak up behind her next victim more easily making his/her reaction more hilarious. The app player can tap lights and sounds to startle the family members, adding to the not-so-spooky atmosphere.

Each family member reacts in a different comical way- the twins may bump into each other and see stars, the old woman’s hair might pops out of her tightly wrapped hairdo, the old man’s spindly, stilt-like legs sometimes wobble before he falls down. The teenager sometimes falls down and sometimes screams revealing a mouth full of braces just before his pants fall down. (Not to worry, a long shirt keeps things covered so nothing is exposed.)

To ease any anxiety, the developers have added a few special touches. They gave each character a light source which they can shine on Bonnie if the app player doesn’t hide her quickly enough. If she is spotted, the light bearer chuckles. They also provided some refreshments for Bonnie that customize her scare tactics and help lighten the mood. Bonnie farts to scare her victim after eating plums and breathes fire after eating peppers. The results are hilarious, helping to make this noncompetitive game easy to enjoy!

Over time the small number of rooms and characters may limit repeated play, but the developers may have plans for that. In the meantime, Toca Boo is a fun, not so scary app to explore together with young ones during the Halloween season.

Here are a couple more apps that help kids address fear and tension (and may be perfect for Halloween):
Go Away, Big Green Monster!
The Monster at the End of This Book…starring Grover!

What apps do you like for talking about fear and tension?

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