Q&A with Toca Life: School Play Designer Willow Mellbratt

One secret to making kid-friendly digital toys: Watch kids play with physical toys!

Parker Barry

Willow Mellbratt

Toca Life: School — which launched today — puts kids in charge of everything that happens at school! Toca Magazine asked Play Designer Willow Mellbratt for a behind-the-scenes peek at the development of Toca Boca’s latest digital toy.

Toca Magazine: After the release of Toca Life: Town and Toca Life: City, you got a lot of requests from kids for a school location. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind Toca Life: School?

Willow: The context has always been on the map for an app around school, but I never wanted to do one that involved pedagogical traditional teaching — I wanted to allow kids to play that role and decide what to teach. And the more I thought about, the more it made sense as a Life experience: putting kids in control of how they want to play and the stories they want to tell.

Toca Magazine: What research did you do for designing the play experience? 

Willow: About a year ago I bought a school play set and invited kids to come over and play with it. I just watched them play and asked questions along the way about what they were doing. Kids were so engrossed in playing school they got really fed up with me asking questions and told me to talk to their mum instead 😉 . So I knew it was a hot topic for them and really relevant, as most kids are starting school or are in school in the age group we focus on.


Toca Magazine: What did you learn by watching kids play with a physical school play set? 

Willow: During our play tests, I got a lot of inspiration for play patterns and what locations should be in the school. The physical play set had no lockers, toilets or a cafeteria, but it was clear kids wanted these in their storytelling, so we made sure to include them. We want to give kids all the necessary tools to make their own adventures and tell their own school stories.

What are some of the fun things kids can find in the app?

In some ways we give kids an outlet to be a bit mischievous — they can do things in the app that they can’t get away with in real life. Unless there’s an emergency, in real life kids can’t pull the fire alarm, but here you can sound the alarm, activate the sprinkler system and use a fire extinguisher. In the cafeteria you can have a food fight — kids enjoy making a mess and cleaning it up afterward in the app. And we’ve added small props for the rebellious kids like stink bombs. I wanted a graffiti wall in the playground, but that won’t be in this release.

We try to support love with love letters in the classroom and youth club and flowers in the playground. There’s a band in the youth club, which is a major fun thing — and you could bring instrument into the classroom and have a music lesson. There is LOTS of stuff to do and we’ve heard from kids that they LOVE this app!


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