We love it when kids – all kids, any kids – have fun with Toca Boca toys. However, sometimes we hear stories about our apps being an actual help to kids with various difficulties – autism, learning disabilities etc. We don’t develop our apps specifically for these children, but it’s always extra heartwarming to hear about them enjoying our apps, finding help developing new skills and discovering their own creativity. This is one letter we received the other day, from Rachel Kremen in New Jersey:
I just wanted to send you an email to let you know how wonderful your apps have been for my three-year-old autistic son, Riley. Riley is the kind of autistic child who naturally has an incredible memory for facts: he could fully read at 18 months, now knows the shape and location of every country on earth, all the flags, bones in the body, etc.
Despite all this, he could not play. He did not understand the idea of a toy – any toy without obvious educational value. If you handed him a train, he would bang it or put it in his mouth, even at age two. If you handed him a doll, same thing.
Initially, we bought him apps that were academically oriented (such as geography and math quiz games), because he enjoyed them. But what we really wanted was for him to learn how to play like other children and be creative. No matter how we tried to show him how to play, he did not understand anything that did not involve the same answer every time. So, for example, he could not understand how to play with trains, answer a question about his favorite animal, pretend to feed a doll, or color.
Your apps gave him an environment that was just the right mix of open yet predictable play, so that he could explore the sorts of things other little boys and girls love. And because there is no real language in your apps, it gives us a chance to talk about what is going on, instead of him simply memorizing the lines characters say.
Best of all, he has transferred these play skills to the real world! During his play therapy, he now enjoys pretending to buy and cook food, pretending to paint his dolls’ hair and, most recently, play with a train set. He can tell us all about who is getting on and off the train, what his favorite hair color is, and what he likes to cook.
I realize you aren’t specifically making apps for the autism community, so I thought you might not even realize the kind of positive impact you have in this regard. We look forward to many new Toca Boca apps in the future and wish your company all the best.
Yo! Wondering what we’ve been busy with these past weeks? We’ve been hard at work – and play – creating our next digital toy. We can’t wait to launch it, and we hope that this teaser video will make you just as excited as we are!
Starting today, and every third day until July 30th, 2012 we’re going to give you 50% off one of our digital toys. That’s right…we’ll be offering a new deal every third day, so if you catch all the apps we’re discounting, you’ll wind up with six fun apps for your children at a great price! Make sure to check out our Facebook page regularly to see which apps are on sale.
We’re starting off with Helicopter Taxi, which you can download for $0.99 instead of $1.99 until Sunday July 15, 23.59 CET. Already own it? Use App Store’s “Gift This App” feature to give it to a friend!
Have you ever wondered how an idea find its way into a Toca Train toy and want to know more about the development process? To dig out more info, take a look at this interview with our well-talented Toca Train designer, Jens Peter de Pedro!
Hi Jens Peter Please tell us a little about yourself? I’m a half Spaniard, half Swede, married to an American. Father of two girls. I’m the Play Designer behind Toca Hair Salon, Helicopter Taxi, Toca Kitchen, Paint My Wings, and now Toca Train. Many years ago, I was a student of Child Development and a graphic designer. A lot of people call me JP for short.
What is Toca Train and what can you do with it? Toca Train is sort of like a train play set. You can drive the train around a track and pick up passengers and goods.
What inspired you to develop Toca Train, How did the idea for Toca Train come about?
Independently people had been bugging our CEO about trains. Their kids loved trains and why didn’t we do something with trains. So the question landed in our game design team. I started thinking about what it could be that makes kids love trains so much. I encountered a blog that an autistic woman had written to explain to regular folks how autistic people think. She described their thinking and at the end, to summarize her point, she said their thinking is sort of like the movement of a train, and that perhaps that is why autistic people love trains so much. I thought that was very interesting because I believe all of us have a bit of autistic thinking at times, that we all need to be in this mind state occasionally, to some degree. So I started thinking of the train and the mind moving together through a landscape and that was the seed for what became Toca Train, a stress free game about a train that always moves forward and that you can control and follow from every different angel.
What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?
Our team was rather new to the technology that we used to make the game three-dimensional. So there was a lot of learning on the go. Some lessons where tougher than others! Also, getting the interface for controlling the train right took a few tries.
And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the toy?
It was about 6 months, perhaps 5 months of intense work.
Besides cute and adorable characters, the driver in Toca Train is particularly arousing our interest. Can you introduce him to us briefly?
His name is Kenta Karlsson. We don’t know if he is half Japanese or not, because Kenta is also a Swedish nickname for Kent. Originally his granddaughter was going to be riding with him on the coal wagon, but we had to cut her out due to time restrains in the project. I think Kenta misses her.
And finally, what are your plans for the future? Will there be any updates?
There will surely be updates. We’d like to make the world and the characters to feel even more alive. Kenta needs not only his granddaughter but he also needs to be relived from his job on occasion. We are thinking his wife should be able to drive the train too. We think they met in train driving school in the fall of 1898. It would also be fun to add bifurcations and open up new places where the train could go in the world. Perhaps there could be people cheering and waving to Kenta or his wife as the go. We’re going to see what reactions we get from our fans too, so please send us your suggestions! Thanks again for your time, JP!
For all the Toca Train fans!
Can’t get enough of Toca Train? Now, we’re thrilled to be able to give you some extra bonus material of Toca Train. And the best part of this collection is that it will be available for absolutely free. Watch this extended Toca Train trailer showing the train in action, something extra for all the little train lovers!
Toca Train map of the landscape!
Meet all the cute characters in Toca Train, check out their names!
You can download these wallpapers on your iPhone, iPad or Desktop, see them all below! To download the wallpaper, click on the wallpaper you want below. Once you get the image in your browser, simply right click on it and save it. Enjoy!
There is a certain something about trains. The sound, the design, how they feel when you’re riding on them through a pretty landscape. But the most fun must be to be the train driver yourself. This is the feeling that we tried to capture in our latest app, Toca Train.
In this toy, your kids are in full control and drive the train around a beautiful island. Along the way you can pick up and drop off both passengers and cargo, blow the horn or just appreciate the calming ride in the train. Only your kids imagination sets the limitations. Just a like a toy train set.
Wow. We can’t quite describe how happy and humbled we are to have been included in the Apple Keynote at WWDC. It is an amazing video that shows the difference that apps have made in people’s lives. And Toca Boca is mentioned as an example of how you can use apps as a part of speech training. A special thanks goes to Renena Joy and her great family that share their story in the video. Take a look at it below.
Ready for a new Toca Boca update?! It’s been a while…
Mother’s Day is coming up in many parts of the world on Sunday May 13 and what better way to celebrate it than by playing new Toca Boca toys with your kids? Therefore, we have two offers: Toca Doctor and Toca Doctor HD (for iPad) are both absolutely FREE until Sunday May 13, 11:59 pm CET. And from now on Toca Tea Party (iPad only) is $1.99 instead of $2.99 (33% off)! Hurry over to the App Store!
Oh, and did you know that we have a thing going on with Tattly – an amazing temporary tattoo webshop for kids and grown-ups – this month? Use the discount code “TOCABOCAMAY” to get a 10% discount when you purchase tattoos from Tattly. You’ll get a complementary FREE Toca Boca tattoo with each purchase.
So, what else is happening?
Our office assistant Lina is still looking for the perfect Toca Boca office (here is a recent mini interview with Lina). She is also planning a summer surprize party; partly because I’m going on maternity leave on May 25. Fun times!
The project team members are fully focused on finishing our new digital toys. Mathilda is “between apartments” and is therefore working from her parents’ house in Varberg (southwestern Sweden). We miss her and her lovely little pug – Maki – tremendously!
Emil, Eric and Andrey are rather close to completing their project. Here is a treat for our blog readers: a sneak peek of the environment in the app. Can you guess what kind of app it is?
Our new team member and VP of Communication and Marketing, Jenny, has been busy setting up project plans. Her laptop is full of complex, yet colorful, Excel sheets that will make our lives much easier. In addition, Jenny has redesigned our newsletter to make it more fun and straightforward. Sign up here if you want to be first to learn about upcoming updates and sales.
Björn is ending his extensive conference tour in America (Sandbox Summit i Boston, Digital Kids Conference in LA, Mamabear in Mountain View) with InPlay i Toronto and Dust or Magic in Monterey. If you’re going – feel free to reach out (@bjornjeffery on Twitter). Björn loves meeting new people in the industry and is very nice! As depicted in this epic photo.
Two extremely different weeks have passed since our latest blog post. First, Easter Holiday with plenty of food, candy, bunnies and more candy. Then, hard, hard work. Our three teams are all really focused on making the digital toys they are currently working on the best ever. I have seen early demos and they all look amazing! And they’re definitely worth waiting for!
Oh, and we have two new animators – Johan and Martin – in the house. Temporarily. They will help us animate our new characters and are doing a really great job bringing them all to life.
Our CEO Björn was here on a quick visit last week. He lives in San Francisco but visits Sweden every now and then. After spending most of his time in meetings, Björn now seems to have a fairly good idea of what the future of Toca Boca will look like. It is all very exciting! Björn is now back in the US. He was last seen at the Sandbox Summit at MIT, handing out Toca Boca gear and networking with cool and interesting people.
Our office assistant Lina is still looking for an amazing new office for the growing Toca Boca team. So far, none has been good enough. Lina also took the time to arrange a really fun ice cream event last Friday. We all got to try the new ice cream flavors of the season and rated them. The more chocolate the better seemed to be the general concent. Yum! Poor Eric (one of our developers) unfortunately missed the whole thing since he had to save his new bathtub. The delivery guys threatened to leave it out on the street. :)
Our Producer Emil has been busy thinking about cool Toca Boca merchandise (a little web shop is coming later this year). Here are some prototypes for future stickers and badges. Looks very promising, doesn’t it? Once the prototypes are ready, our graphic designer Emil B will work his magic on them to make them even more amazing.
So, what have I (Paulina) been up to? Well, apart from being very, very pregnant (baby due in seven weeks), I’ve been busy preparing new campaigns and collaborations. I’ll tell you more about the soon. On Saturday, I will moderate a panel discussion about community management in startups at Startup Day 2012 here in Stockholm. The conference will be broadcasted online, so check it out if you’re interested!
That’s all for now. Have a great time in the sun/rain/snow!
Björn, our CEO, who just moved to San Francisco to set up a new Toca Boca office, came back to visit us this week. (We’ve all missed him so!) We still haven’t seen him though, since he has been extremely busy meeting people, planning the future of Toca Boca, and making awfully important decisions. It all looks very promising!
What about our Office Manager Lina? She is looking for a new Stockholm office for the Toca Boca team. The team is growing and in need of office space that matches our level of creativity and lust for life. :) Other things: sent lots of emails, coordinated our new translators, arranged a great After Work last Friday, and bought Easter eggs filled with candy (a Swedish tradition) to the whole team! Thanks, Lina!
And the rest of the team? They are still working hard on finishing our three super secret digital toys. Coding and animating prototypes, discussing different solutions, reviewing, redesigning, demoing, testing the prototypes on kids, reviewing even more and so forth and so on… Lots of fun!
And what is coming up next? The release of a FREE special edition of Toca Kitchen – Toca Kitchen Monsters – of course! The app is released today, April 5. I recommend all adults and parents to read the “Letter from the play designer”, which can be reached via the “For Parents” link on the start page of the app. In the letter, the play designer, Jens Peter (JP) describes the ideas behind the digital toy and ways in which the toy can be used by both kids and parents. We are also arranging a fantastic monster naming contest next week, April 8-13. Join/like our Facebook Page to learn more (on Monday, April 8).
My son Leo, like most kids, glows with an awesomeness that takes many forms: he’s a fierce bicycle rider, a fish-like swimmer, a walking happiness explosion, and an iPad fiend. He’s also autistic, which for him means speaking is difficult (though he hears just fine), learning is unpredictable, reading is hard, other people can be confusing, and even independent play can be overwhelming.
Having an iPad helps Leo through many challenges. It’s changed his life, and I don’t write that casually. The touch-based interface makes interacting with the tablet computer an intuitive process, as well as very, very accessible. Leo dives into his iPad without hesitation, noticing instantly if new apps have been installed, questing, learning, having a blast. And all on his own! Without needing anyone to show him what to do! I rarely have to instruct him how to use apps on the iPad, though I do gently guide if he needs it, and keep an eye on how he’s using his iDevice (Safari and YouTube and Google, oh my).
But it’s not just the iPad that makes a difference, for Leo it’s the apps — their content, their design, their interactive animations and sounds motivate Leo to engage, engage, engage, learn learn learn, play play play. The best apps for Leo have simple, elegantly designed, easy-to-use, structured interfaces that make learning enticing, and play extra-fun — yet are predictable enough that Leo can get familiar with them instantly while still providing enough creative bandwidth to sidestep boredom.
It’s no secret that Toca Boca makes open-ended digital toys that Leo loves, and it’s not surprising, either: they provide exactly the kind of well-designed iPad experiences he seeks out and obsesses over. They have funky-cool graphics and characters to draw Leo in, plus they’re designed for an international audience — which means minimal text. Which means Leo’s pre-reader status is not an issue. Which means, again, that he can use the toys independently! That’s a huge achievement for my boy.
Toca Boca’s digital toy apps apps are unique in that they’re not really geared towards academics or pure play, but a mesmerizing third space: pretend play. Leo was never interested in pretend play before he started playing with these apps, but now he is having daily tea parties, birthday parties, giving hair cuts and colors, playing doctor pretending to cook meals, and playing house. All things he used to care less about, outside his iPad. It’s fun to see him get silly and creative: giving a dog a rainbow-colored mohawk, frying up a fish and feeding it to an appreciative cat. It’s even more gratifying to see the Toca cues translate to real world actions like Leo setting and clearing the table — completing said chores with much less fuss than his sisters, I might add.
Social opportunities are another lovely benefit of Toca Boca’s toys. Other kids don’t always know how to play with Leo, and he doesn’t always know how to play with them, but I’ve yet to meet a kid who didn’t want to play with Toca Boca toys. When Leo is playing with them, other kids will approach him and ask if they can join in, which is tremendous — especially when it’s his seven-year-old sister India. Leo is learning to get past his social anxiety and not only let other kids play with him, but learning to tolerate turn taking. I know I’m not the only autism parent who lies awake at night, thinking up strategies for encouraging my autistic child to interact socially, so watching these social connections happen spontaneously is heart-warming. Especially since Leo seems to enjoy them, too.
Possibly my favorite aspect of the digital toys that Toca Boca makes is how they encourage Leo to play independently. My enthusiasm for his solo play may seem silly to some parents, but it’s a huge deal for a kid who loathes spontaneity and free-form scenarios. The toys provide the basic structure and predictability Leo craves while still providing plenty of opportunities to create. Witness the 30+ different hairstyles he created in Toca Hair Salon, all on his own. He. Is. Having. Fun.
The toys also help keep Leo occupied during one of the banes of childhood existence — being forced to go accompany his mother on endless errands. The erranding can’t be helped, but at least Leo now has a way to keep himself occupied most of the time, and even when the lights go dim as during his sister’s ophthalmology appointments. Too bad I can’t go back in time and hand my childhood self an iPad before going carpet shopping or to the dry cleaner with my own mother.
Leo’s not the only Toca Boca fan in the house, by the way. His little sister India is a vocal and unabashed enthusiast, and has a lot to say about why she likes the toys, too, particularly Toca Hair Salon:
I really just want Leo to be happy. I want all three of my kids to be happy. Finding apps that make them happy makes me happy. And when those apps also make it easier for my autistic son to share, learn, socialize, and play? Then I feel perfectly justified in slapping on a pair of rose-colored sunglasses, and declaring the world a better place.
/Shannon Des Roches Rosa
More about Shannon:
I am more than a parent, but with three kids — one of whom has autism — the current playlist has parenting on heavy rotation. I am a kick-ass writer and editor, and have been blogging fearlessly and compassionately about parenting and autism since 2003, at www.Squidalicious.com. I’m also a co-founder and editor at the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.
The multi-tiered evaluation process is as true to its integrity today as it was when Parents’ Choice Foundation was established almost thirty years ago. The Parents’ Choice Awards Committees evaluation process offers objectivity, respect, and expertise – and all with a sense of humor. Learning is fun – and we want kids to know that.
The Parents’ Choice Awards evaluation process is a lengthy and confidential one. We don’t offer “feedback” to producers or manufacturers because we don’t work for them. We work for parents, caregivers, librarians and educators.
Spring has finally arrived in Stockholm and the Toca Boca team is busy being really creative. We are currently working on three new digital toys. Unfortunately, the exact themes can’t be revealed just yet, but we are pretty sure the toys will all be pretty amazing once we release them later this year. And what better way to celebrate everything new that is coming up than by starting a new project – a Toca Boca diary in this blog! Written by me, Paulina, the Toca Boca Community Manager.
So, what have we been up to lately?
Our CEO, Björn, has been focusing on establishing our presence and new office in San Francisco office. His schedule is already getting packed with interesting meetings, regarding ad campaigns, sponsorships, and other collaborations. As an example, we are currently sponsoring one of our favorite podcasts, Boing Boing’s “Apps for kids” with the amazing Mark Frauenfelder and his daughter and co-host Jane. Check it out if you haven’t. Björn is also the Toca Boca team’s official iPad provider. Thanks to him, a couple of new iPads are now on their way to Stockholm. Very exciting!
Emil, our producer, has mostly been assisting the rest of the team with a huge number of different things – big and small. He has provided feedback regarding the new digital toys that are being developed, helped our office manager Lina look for a new Stockholm office, planned new recruitments, had meetings with interesting people, and provided the office with great, inspirational music.
I, Paulina, have mainly been working on managing the redesign of tour official website – tocaboca.com. Smaller design changes are in the making, and an improved support section will be added. We are also planning to add a small webshop for selling Toca Boca t-shirts. I have also been browsing plenty of amazing mommy blogs and made plans for the World Autism Awareness Day, which takes place on April 2. Stay tuned!
The developers have been working on updating all our apps, making sure they all work on the new iPad. In addition, a couple of minor changes/updates have been added. Some examples: Paint My Wings, now has a “snapshot saving” setting which allows you to turn off snapshot saving. Toca Kitchen now supports more cuts, has salt and pepper shakers, and a “vegetarian food only” setting. The gift giving mini game in Toca House has been redesigned slightly, with small tags that make the activity more intuitive.
This time the toy takes place in a house where five friends live together. You have to help them with their different activities and chores. The style is similar to Toca Doctor, but here we decided to explore the domestic theme instead. I think our play designer Erik Wahlgren puts in really well in our “For Parents” section:
To small children housekeeping is novel, in their eyes it´s an act of making things nice. Later in life many learn from their surroundings that it´s a dull duty. Our aim with this game is to help bringing out the fun and rewarding parts in making your home nice. We think that establishing housekeeping as something joyful early in life will be a big help to your child as he or she will grow up and eventually will have to manage a home of their own.
It’s a fun, lovable toy that introduces a familiar concept. We hope you like it as much as we do.
Time to expand our team again! If you want to join us in bringing great toys to kids worldwide, please read on.
Toca Boca is a play studio that makes apps for kids. We see them as digital toys and so far we have created ten of them for iPhone and iPad. Our products are produced with love together with kids and with much attention to detail. We believe that products for kids deserve the same amount of work, quality and effort – if not more! – as products for grown-ups.
In order to tell more parents about our toys, we’re now looking to expand our team with a new role as online marketer. You’ll have the chance to work with a world-class team and with award winning products. So far our toys have been downloaded over 7 million times in 119 different countries!
We’re looking for a person that:
loves games and toys
is a communicator with a knack for both letters and figures
has experience in planning and executing performance driven marketing campaigns
has managed large scale, international SEM/PPC campaigns on both Google and Facebook
has worked with newsletters as a sales channel, and recruiting new leads for those lists
knows how to optimize and A/B-test landing pages both regarding the design and the copy
is experienced in Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer
preferably is a native English speaker, but excellent reading and writing skills will be accepted
We’re looking to expand our marketing team in the Stockholm office with a communicator that loves both letters and numbers. The combination of the two – finding the tone of voice and copy that sells and then having the figures to see what can be improved upon – is what this new position will be managing. You will be working together with our Community Manager in strategically planning, creating and managing campaigns that successfully increases our reach and sales.
Your background is most probably from a marketing division where you have been operational in the daily activities. Perhaps you have been working with e-commerce or in the travel industry. We think that you see value in combining community efforts with metric driven marketing, and are willing to work in a team in order to do so. The efforts will be coordinated to ensure that they stay on brand, and are in sync with the other marketing activities. We are a fairly small team where you are expected to be self-motivated and have a passion to continuously improve and deliver high quality results.
Initially, you will be working along side our Paulina, our community manager, and relieving her of some tasks while she is on maternity leave. It will be good way for you to enter the company and get a feel for what our fans want and expect from us. The tasks will entail interfacing with our fans in many different channels, and is a mandatory part of the position. As Paulina returns you will be working side by side with complementing responsibilities again.
HOW TO APPLY
If you think that you fit the description and are excited about joining Toca Boca please provide us with the following:
- A short letter describing who you are and what you enjoy doing
- A CV detailing your experience and skills, focusing on performance based marketing activities
- A few examples of marketing activities that you think would be suitable for Toca Boca
- A list of your favorite games, apps or toys that you like now or used to play with when you were a kid :)
The job is full time, and based in Stockholm, Sweden. You will also be working together with staff from our San Francisco office.
We would like your application by email, on Friday the 2nd of March, 2012 at the very latest. We will be reviewing applications as they come in. Please send it to email@example.com
If you have any questions about the job, please email our CEO Björn Jeffery at firstname.lastname@example.org or our Community Manager Paulina Modlitba Söderlund at email@example.com
ABOUT TOCA BOCA
Toca Boca is a play studio that makes digital toys for kids. We think playing and having fun is the best way to learn about the world. Therefore we make digital toys and games that help stimulate the imagination, and that you can play together with your kids. Best of all – we do it in a safe way without third-party advertising or in-app purchases.
We are a part of the Bonnier Group which is a family owned business that started as a book publisher in 1804. Since then, the group has grown to include newspapers, magazines, television, cinemas and digital media.
Last Sunday, exactly 10 months after we released our first apps, we reached 5 million downloads of our digital toys for kids. We are happy, proud – but not content. You’ll be seeing some amazing toys from us under 2012 – promise!