Toca Magazine

Page 1

Vol. 2, Issue 1

Play Issue


the Making ore aM World l Place Playfu

Editor’s Note



Recess Superstars Shine on the Playground Three junior coaches share their


experiences as leaders in play.



Fun with Fashion


“Playfulness is the core of this collection.”


How pediatric play promotes health and healing.

Kid’s-Eye View

Improve Your Life Through Play 10-year-old shares words of wisdom about the importance of play.

Adventure Playgrounds: Sit Back, Relax and Let Them Play

Kids build resilience, self-confidence and courage as they take risks at “junk playgrounds.”

Inspiring Workday Creativity Through Play, One Desk at a Time 28

Toca Spotlight

Toca Hair Salon 3: Finding Just the Right Look

Lead artist for popular hairstyling app drew inspiration from the ’80s and ’90s.

Ensuring Every Kid’s Right to Play Play is not a “nice to have”— it’s essential for all children.

30 14

Prescription for Play

Toca Spotlight

Co-founders of Swedish toy brand Acne JR discuss their collaboration with Toca Boca and why you should never stop playing.


The Play Issue


Digital Life with Randy Kulman, Ph.D.

Level Up Your Family Video Game Night Let your kids teach you a thing or two.

Toca Team

Nar Parisawan

Read how childhood play helped Toca Boca’s analytics manager develop the soft skills needed to be successful.

Toca Family Fun

It’s a poster party!

Hang this poster on your wall! It's ready to go, pictures and all!

Ingrid Simone

Lill Waldekranz

Andrew Lovold

Angelica Rabang

Marj Kleinman

Dana Villamagna








Toca Magazine

Editor’s Note

Take a moment to close your eyes and think about one of your favorite memories of playing as a kid. Think of the sights. The sounds. And most of all, the feelings. How does this memory make you feel today? Do you feel transported to a happy place back in time? That’s the magic of play. Now, take another moment to think. Was there a point when those fun, carefree moments of play started to become fewer and farther between? As you grew up and took on adult responsibilities, did you eventually become a lot less playful? At Toca Boca, we want to help make the world a more playful place, starting with kids—before life tells them to stop being so playful, get serious and grow up. While they’re still free to simply play for the sake of play. In recent decades, opportunities for play—especially kid-directed free play—have been on the decline. According

to the American Association of Pediatrics (2009), kids have lost 12 hours of free time per week since many of their parents were kids, and they’re simply playing less. We’re dismayed by this, because, first and foremost, kids are kids—it is their right to play. It’s their right, even if they get nothing out of it except those feelings they will close their eyes and try to remember in 30 years. But, as it turns out, those feelings are not all that kids get out of play. At Toca Boca, we believe that play has the power to spark kids’ imagination and help them learn about the world. And in this issue of Toca Magazine, we dig into what that means. We discuss how through play and being playful, kids can • learn how to resolve conflicts (read about Recess Superstars on page 4) • work through scary and challenging situations, like being in the hospital (read about pediatric play on page 19)

exercise independence and take risks (read about adventure playgrounds on page 24) develop skills that they will carry into adulthood (read about a Toca Team member who credits childhood play with her success today).

And as we learn from Carol Tang from the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, play may even help fight poverty. (page 11) Can play really be that powerful? Yes. But too many kids today are getting fewer and fewer opportunities to make those memories. To have those joyful moments. To learn about the world through play. We hope this issue inspires you to take a stand and help ensure that all kids can exercise their right to play. Ingrid Simone

About Toca Boca: We believe in the power of play to spark kids’ imaginations and help them learn about the world. We’re an award-winning play studio that makes digital toys for kids, from the kids’ perspective. Our apps give kids fun, open-ended, gender-neutral play experiences with no third-party ads. Toca Boca © 2017 — 848 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 — — Send questions, comments or ideas to


The Play Issue

Recess Superstars Shine on the Playground Three junior coaches share their experiences as leaders in play. By Dana Villamagna

Play can’t be boxed or bottled by adults in ways that guarantee kids will learn letters today and shapes tomorrow. Yet play can spark deep learning, growing crucial, behind-the-scenes strengths—like resilience and empathy—that kids need to navigate the world. And, simply put, kids find joy in play. We all do.


Despite evidence of the benefits of play, many schools have reduced time for recess, one of the key opportunities for kids to play during the day. Play advocates say recess-based play is too important to lose. The nonprofit organization Playworks supports kids in learning life lessons and leader-

ship on the playground. Founded in 1996 in Berkeley, California, Playworks now operates in 1,300 schools in 23 cities. Trained adult coaches and junior kid coaches help other kids learn positive games, give peer-topeer support and model kid-friendly conflict resolution. (Fun Fact: In 2015, Playworks Arizona set a

Guinness World Record for the largest game of Red-Light, Green-Light with 1,136 fourth- and fifth-grade students and volunteers.) Toca Magazine asked three Playworks superstars about their role as junior coaches.

Toca Magazine

Marlen, age 10 Grade 5 From: New Jersey Favorite games: Foursquare and basketball Marlen’s experience as a Playworks junior coach at his school gave him the self-awareness he needed to make big changes. At the beginning of the year, “I was bossy,” he said. “But by the end of the year, I changed. I wasn’t as bossy.” The youngest child in his family, Marlen said he realized that kids weren’t listening to him when he tried to coach them at recess. “When I became less bossy, they’d play the game.” That lightbulb moment—along with his hard work to help other kids play and have fun—earned him a Playworks leadership award.

What grade was your favorite to coach? I coached fifth, third, second, first, kindergarten and Pre-K. I liked coaching kindergarten and Pre-K the best. They have so much energy! They chase me around. I got to teach them to play games they didn’t know how to play.

Can you tell us how you would help a kid who’s sad on the playground? Make ’em laugh. Tell them jokes, then ask them what their prob-

lem is. Let’s say their problem is they can’t play basketball. I’ll take them to a different court and I’ll teach them how to play.

How do you feel when you’re playing?

Is play important for kids? It’s really important. Everyone thinks, “Oh it’s just recess, it’s just play,” but once you really learn what’s going on and what’s behind Playworks, it’s actually a lot more serious.

I feel great, actually. When kids lose, sometimes they get mad at me, and when I lose I also get mad. But that’s just how the game works.

What changes have you seen in yourself since being a junior coach?

Danielle, age 11

I’m much more mature and I have more skills I can use to help me solve issues.

Grade 7 From: New York Favorite games: Tag and basketball Danielle’s Playworks coach recommended her for a leadership award because, she said, she was “the junior coach who learned the most.” As a sixth-grader, Danielle coached third-graders and seventh-graders during recesses at her school.

What did being a junior coach teach you? My coach taught me a lot of skills about how to lead on the playground, how to get people’s attention. We would have challenges to see how we could get the kids to start playing a new tag game or who can do the most high-fives. Being a junior coach also helped me to learn more in class and to pay attention.

Symphony, age 10 Grade 5 From: New York Favorite game: Tag Symphony excels in school and loves to play. She enjoyed being a junior coach because she could be a role model for other kids. Her dad said the junior coach Playworks award she won is extra special because it showed her another side of success. “She actually got an award that showed her what is feels like to give back,” he said.

What are some games you play to coach other kids? Switch, basketball, jump rope, freeze tag, hula hoop. The kids especially enjoy jump rope because they see how much they can jump.

How do you help kids solve conflicts on the playground? Rock, paper, scissors.

Did all the kids you coached want to play? Most of them really do want to play, but some of the kids are shy. I go over there and sit with them and say, “It’s OK to be shy. I’m shy sometimes, too.”

How did you feel about coaching at the beginning of the year, and how did you feel at the end? I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know how I was supposed to help kids. By the end of the year, I felt pretty confident and I felt like I did good.

Recess Lab Playworks has launched Recess Lab to help schools set up a healthy culture of play to bring out the best in every kid. Recess Lab offers principals and teachers free access to a library of resources including tips, games and ideas for every recess. Parents and families can also find out how they can encourage and support healthy play at their child’s school. Visit


Fun with Fashion “Playfulness is the core of this collection.” By Ingrid Simone


The Play Issue

Toca Spotlight

Toca Magazine

Toca Boca has launched a new collection for kids with apparel, accessories, bedding and more. Toca Magazine asked the creative team behind the collection about playful fashion, inspiration and their personal style. • • •

Mathilda Engman, head of consumer products Sebastien Roux, art director, consumer products Levi Di Marco, producer, consumer products

How would you describe the Toca Boca collection in three words? Mathilda: Fun, playful, stylish Seb: Quirky, dynamic, unexpected Levi: Awesome, playful, stylish

As a brand, Toca Boca values play and playfulness. How does that get translated into the collection? Seb: We always try to find unexpected and funny interaction between the products, the materials and the characters, sometimes subtle and sometimes right in your face.

Mathilda: Playfulness is the core of this collection; every single product has a play element to it. Either it’s a surprise element, like a hidden purple poop in a pretty fruit pattern on a headband, a playful placement of characters stacked along your legs on a pair of sweatpants or more interactive play elements like a fish dangler on a cat backpack with which you can feed the cat. The collection doesn’t take itself too seriously; it focuses on having fun. Levi: We worked really hard to find those small details that add playfulness into these types of products. It’s everything—quirky prints, interesting tactile materials, surprising placements and characters “being” the product (like the cat backpack)—that altogether makes you want to interact with the products. They’re also not too preppy or stylish in their design but should invite kids to play and have fun when wearing and using the products.

How would you describe the significance of fashion in kids’ lives? Mathilda: I believe that fashion can be either about fitting with the rest of the crowd or it can be about expressing yourself. Fashion can be a lot of fun and a

way of communicating to others what you like, are about or who you would like to be. There’s an endless creative play with clothes and fashion, and once you stop thinking about what others think about the way you dress it can be a really empowering tool for self-expression.

How does this collection contribute to kids’ abilities to express themselves through fashion? Levi: I think that through the mindset of having no kid feel excluded by Toca Boca we’ve designed a collection where any kid should be able to find something that resonates with them. The designs are modern and stylish but they don’t tell you what to do or who to be, they invite you to decide for yourself—in contrast to cliche boys T-shirts saying “superhero” and girls T-shirts saying “cute”—

which I think is a key part of true self-expression.

What do you want kids to take away from this collection? Seb: THIS IS FOR ME!

How would you describe your own style when you were a kid? Mathilda: I liked a lot of colors, which I still do. I was a big animated cartoon fan, so I really liked to wear favorite characters on clothes as well. I loved to dress up and mix and match things but really hated to wear shirts or button-ups because I felt too proper and not flexible or comfortable in those type of clothes. There’s certain periods when you are growing up, and later on in life, too, when you’re too occupied with how other people dress and what’s in


The Play Issue

Bringing Play to Every Day: The Story Behind Our New Collection

fashion right now. If I could go back and give myself a tip about fashion, I would say just have fun with it, and don’t think too much about what is trendy and what other people wear. Levi: Colorful and pretty “androgyne.” I’ve always had a huge interest in clothing and had long blond hair so I was often mistaken for a girl, which is a bit ironic because I mostly just wanted to look like the Italian footballer Francesco Totti. My favorite colors were pink and green, and I loved ’70s clothing so I would wear a lot of corduroy and baseball tees. I always liked to run around and

play a lot so clothes had to be comfortable-ish and often had holes in the knees. It really reflected who I was 100 percent, and in retrospect I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Seb: I liked things that were different from all my friends. I was obsessed by certain color combinations, certain materials, and I still get that feeling today with our products: It just works, it’s a little bit magic.

How has your own fashion sense evolved over the years? magazine/collection

Mathilda: My style is always changing, which I really like. I dress by the mood that I’m in, and I would say that I usually like a lot of color, quirky and playful details, graphical patterns and nice sneakers. I’ve really come to realize that it’s important for me to feel comfortable, and I like when clothes are functional so you can move freely in them. I love when dresses and skirts have pockets so you have the same functionality as if you were wearing a pair of pants, and I prefer a pair of sneakers over heels any day of the week. Brands that I like to wear are Adidas, Lazy Oaf, Marimekko, PLAY COMME des GARÇONS. Levi: Looking back I think I found something in my second year of high school and from there it’s been a pretty linear development. I still love the perfect pair of leather shoes, I still hate crocs and V-neck T-shirts, and I’ve been getting the exact same haircut for the past eight years. For me it’s all about finding the perfect version of each garment, something that is of good quality with good materials and that isn’t over-designed. I’ve always loved old French workwear for example. I buy a lot of things secondhand, but the brand I wear most stuff from is a Swedish brand called Our Legacy that is great at combining great


basics and quirky and colorful designs! Another brand that I can strongly recommend is a UK based brand called Bruta, which only makes embroidered shirts(!!!). I’m trying my best to fight the dark Swedish winters with colorful clothing! Seb: I’m pretty much the same! I feel like if I look at old pictures I still enjoy the same elements that I liked in the past. In what I wear or like today, again it’s color combinations, materials, characters, weird quirky details, subtle elaborate parts.

Which era had the most fun fashion? Mathilda: I think that fashion is really fun today. It’s easier to find new brands, and there’s many different subcultures going on at the same time. Because of the internet, people can find inspiration for how to dress from all over the world. Levi: In my opinion the present will always be the most fun fashion era! Today we can borrow from everything that has been done previously and mix it with the latest products. That dynamic has always been super appealing to me. Seb: Every era has their interesting parts, from the ’60s, ’90s and to today. Fashion is an infinite loop of influences and mix that keeps regenerating itself.

Toca Magazine

Inspiring Workday Creativity Through Play, One Desk at a Time

Co-founders of Swedish toy brand Acne JR discuss their collaboration with Toca Boca and why you should never stop playing. By Ingrid Simone

Toca Boca and Swedish toy brand Acne JR partnered to create an exclusive collector’s edition of wooden desk toys. Toca Magazine interviewed Acne JR co-founders Mats Johansson and Sofia Ekvall about the their work, the desk toys and the importance of play.

How did the two of you get into the toy business? Sofia: We met at design school in the mid-1990s. Since then I have been working as a graphic designer, mainly with branding and packaging. Mats: I started out as an illustrator, with character design and toys as my biggest inspiration. After a few years of freelancing I co-founded the design company

Acne where I started developing kids concepts. In 2010 we got married and decided to join forces and create the Acne JR toy line.

What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Acne JR products? Mats: Reinventing the classic iconic toys is our main focus. Simplifying the design.


The Play Issue

Sometimes adding function. We love working with geometric shapes and always choose quality materials. Our goal is to make toys that will be passed on from generation to generation.

Acne JR and Toca Boca collaborated to create desk toys. Why desk toys? Mats: We really like the idea of desk toys in general. Something that you put on your desk to make the working day more enjoyable. Both decorative and playable. An object that inspires creativity and at the same time gets you organized. Balancing between work and play.

How did you bring Acne JR’s unique personality to the collaboration with Toca Boca?


Sofia: We love the Toca Boca characters. Their aesthetics fit our style perfectly. We immediately felt we wanted to turn them into some kind of wooden toy, produced here in Sweden. Simplifying the characters with our geometric style came naturally. Giving the toys individual functions connected to the playfulness of Toca Boca’s digital world.

Besides the fact that Acne JR makes toys, how does your work embody the spirit of play? Sofia: Running our own toy shop here in Stockholm gives us the feel of playing every single day. A bit surreal, since it had been a dream of ours for many years. We also get to watch kids and their parents interacting and playing with our products in

real life. The design process is a lot about playing around with materials, colors and design elements. Trying things out. Sketching and drawing is a big part of our work, as well.

Sofia + Mats: Playing is equally important to us grown-ups. To indulge in creating something, a hobby perhaps? Allowing yourself to do something that you do not necessarily have to do. Don’t stop playing!

Has your perspective on play changed since you were a child? Mats: Not really. Having three kids of our own keeps us updated on the child perspective and makes us think of our own childhood constantly.

Why is it important to play? Sofia: Play develops kids’ abilities on so many different levels, building their self-confidence and self-esteem. It sparks their imagination and creativity.

Learn more about the Toca Boca x Acne Jr. collaboration.

Toca Magazine

Ensuring Every Kid’s Right to Play Play is not a “nice to have”—it’s essential for all children. By Carol Tang

We often think of play as a luxury, something that is nice to have. But the research is compelling: Play is an essential part of childhood. In light of this, virtually every country in the United Nations has agreed to officially recognize play as a fundamental right for all children. Specifically, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:

“Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” We know that play helps children develop the social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills needed to navigate human society. Through play, kids develop the

foundations that allow them to grow up healthy and become productive, happy adults. Surprisingly, no less serious an organization than the World Bank conducted one of the important long-term studies on the benefits of play. In one impoverished community, some families were provided with nutritional supplements and regular home visits where social workers facilitated play sessions for children and parents. The results showed that the children from families that received play sessions were more financially successful when they grew up than the children who only received nutritional

assistance. In fact, the children who had received play services grew up to be just as financially successful as those who had not experienced any hunger and malnutrition. In other words, the introduction of intentional play sessions for children and their parents was able to erase the financial disadvantages that might have come from their impoverished environment.

A disheartening trend in recess While this type of research is growing, unfortunately we are seeing a disheartening trend: Recess and time for open-ended play is diminishing on average throughout U.S. schools. However, it appears that this trend is more dire in low-income schools. The lowest performing schools that might benefit the most from the cognitive, social and emotional benefits from childhood playtime are the ones that most often have eliminated it from the school day. The American Academy

of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of recess and other physical activity a day, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as time in the school day set aside for physical activity and play. However, in 2014, only 20 percent of school districts surveyed by the CDC required recess. And urban schools schools and those where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced school lunches had the least amount of time dedicated to recess. Children in poverty have been shown to have less time for free play and the least time for recess in school among all U.S. children. Outside of school, impoverished urban communities have significantly less access to safe playgrounds and natural open spaces. This means that the families that have the least amount of resources and access to transportation also have the most difficulty in getting their children to a safe place to play. Researchers suggest that the decline of play across all income


The Play Issue

levels is caused by changes in expectations from parents and schools. As school reform and new school standards are developed, there are more academic expectations of children at younger ages—thus, there is more time allocated for instructional activities across grades. In low-income and underperforming schools, the pressure to increase academic test scores is even greater, pushing administrators to increase time for academic instruction at the expense of playtime. Outside of the classroom, parents want to prepare their children for future achievement and don’t always see play as a component that may contribute to academic and financial success. Thus, there has been recognition that today’s kids are often overscheduled with more hours devoted to structured after-school and summer activities than previous generations.

Working to promote play But there are programs that are working to reintroduce dedicated playtime to schools and to educate parents about the role of play in their kids’ lives, including open-ended play. The “free-range kids” movement promotes looser parenting styles that allow kids to play and explore life on their own. In schools, Playworks is an organization that trains caring adults to promote play during school recess. They are often invited to work in schools in low-income


neighborhoods, and many teachers observe noticeable improvements in their students’ ability to focus and solve conflicts constructively. Children’s museums like the Children’s Creativity Museum are also actively educating parents, teachers and caregivers about the importance of play and giving tips for how to promote open-ended play with kids of all ages. Our museum staff ask questions that extend imaginative play, and we don’t interrupt kids who are “in the flow.” Many of our visitors say that we are a fun place to visit, but we have to help them understand that the fun is actually designed to be educational as well. At the Children’s Creativity Museum, our mission is to nurture creativity and collaboration in all children and families. In order to provide a safe playful space for all families, we partner with organizations to provide free memberships and admission to foster families, formerly homeless families, military families, underserved schools and those receiving government food assistance. Many museums across the United States offer similar programs to welcome families to increase their access to and awareness of childhood play. Increasing attention to the disparity in the types, time spent and access to play between groups of children can help address the achievement gap. Just as important is the recognition that play is critical for child development and should be as an

important a factor in addressing social inequity as other educational activities. As a society, we can come together and agree that play is not just a luxury, and that opportunities for play can help all children succeed in life. Carol Tang, Ph.D., is Executive Director at Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco. Visit the museum at

References: ae_spring2017ramstetter_and_murray.pdf content/131/1/183 content/pediatrics/129/1/e204.full.pdf

Toca Magazine

Tips for museum play There are hundreds of children’s museums in the United States serving over 30 million visitors every year. Each one is dedicated to playbased learning. Here are some tips for making the most of your next museum visit.


Let your child be your guide. Let your kid determine which exhibitions to visit and activities to try. Studies suggest that kids spend less time in open-ended exploration when an adult guides the activity.


Don’t rush. It takes kids (and adults!) about 30 minutes to “get in the flow” during pretend play and other types of activities. So set aside time and don’t rush to the next room.


Find the ideal time of day for no-fuss fun. Everyone has their ups and downs, and a museum visit is a lot of excitement for the family! For an enjoyable experience that is memorable for all the right reasons, schedule your trip when kids are not hungry or too tired.


Plan a return visit. If you already know in advance that there will be another visit, you won’t feel so pressured to see everything at once and you can more easily persuade your kids to leave at the end. Look into purchasing a membership, which usually pays for itself after two visits.


Look for scheduled programs. Explore options for scheduled programs that are designed for kids of different ages, developmental stages, needs and abilities. Many museums have special drop-in or facilitated programs that serve the needs of diverse families, such as those with kids on the autism spectrum. Kids Need to Play: It’s Nature’s Way play-is-natures-way/


The Play Issue

Digital Life

Level Up Your Family Video Game Night Let your kids teach you a thing or two. By Randy Kulman, Ph.D.

Kids love video games, but parents often have little knowledge of what their kids are doing when they play, or why they even like video games so much. For parents of kids who love video games, playing with them can be a beneficial bonding and learning experience for the whole family. Here are five tips for your family video game night.

soles, beginner-friendly games include Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, LEGO City Undercover and Just Dance 2017.

1. Start simply

3. Watch and learn

Pick games that you as a parent can master. Short casual video games that you can find on your smartphone or an app that you can use on a tablet device are a good place to start. For con-


2. Become a student of the game Switch roles with your kids and have them teach you something. In addition to helping you learn the game, this will give kids an opportunity to work on empathy skills when they recognize how inept you are at playing their favorite game. It might even teach your kids a little patience.

Sit right next to your kids while they play a console game. This will give you an opportunity to connect with them and spend some quality time together. It will also help you understand

what makes video games so exciting and fun for them to play.

4. Talk about what you see Use this time as a springboard for discussions about learning from games. Ask questions about gameplay strategy, cooperative play and overcoming in-game challenges. At LearningWorks for Kids, we try to maximize the learning of problem-solving, thinking

Retro Video Games: A Great Experience to Share with Your Kids magazine/ old-school-video-games

and academic skills from video games. Kids get the most out of digital play when they reflect on the challenges they face in video games and connect gamebased learning to the real world. Getting involved with your kids’ video game play not only helps them learn real-world skills — they’ll also learn that you care.

5. Gamify your life Go one step further and gamify real life! Give each other character names, stats and missions to make the everyday more fun. You’ll learn a lot more about video games and you’ll get your kids translating in-game skills to the real world, too. Randy Kulman, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and CEO of LearningWorks for Kids.

Toca Family Fun

It’s a Poster Party!

Toca Magazine

This poster needs art from you. Fill in the frames and hang it too!


It’s a Poster Party!

Toca Family Fun This poster needs art from you. Fill in the frames and hang it too!

The Play Issue


Toca Magazine


By Marj Kleinman

When I tell someone that I volunteer in pediatric hospitals, I usually spot a sad face across from me. That response is understandable, given that hospitals can be scary and sometimes painful and upsetting. But in fact, there’s no greater place to see joy and resilience on display, all through kids’ natural passion for play. Whether at their doctor’s office or in the ER, kids find a way to play. Most children’s hospitals today come equipped with a playroom, so kids can be kids while hospitalized. Once they see a playroom full of toys, messy finger paints and a silly guy blowing bubbles, they know this place is made for them and they will probably

feel safe there. There’s even a team of people whose job is to play with your child: the child life specialists. They become parents’ partners in health and healing.

Meet the child life team: Your play partners Many parents are surprised to learn that there’s a person solely focused on their child’s emotional health during a hospital stay—and they do it mainly through play. Child life specialists (CLSs) help kids and families adapt to the hospital environment and support them in understanding what’s taking

place, thereby reducing the stress of a hospitalization. CLSs are trained in child development and play theory, as well anatomy, research methodology, sociocultural issues, ethics, family systems and bereavement, among other things. They also act as a bridge and advocate with your medical team. Child life departments often include art and music therapists, and are visited by yoga and mindfulness teachers, clowns and other practitioners.

Toca Family Fun

How pediatric play promotes health and healing.

This poster needs art from you. Fill in the frames and hang it too!

Prescription for Play

It’s a Poster Party!

Toca Magazine 1

Language of play

Play is the universal language of childhood—in fact, when CLSs assess their patients, they’re watching how kids communicate via play. I spoke to Deborah B. Vilas, a CLS and social worker who teaches child life graduate students at Bank Street College of Education. Vilas says, “Young children won’t sit down and say, ‘I felt sad today and I think I’m anxious about the medical treatment I’m getting.’

Young children won’t sit down and say, “I felt sad today and I think I’m anxious about the medical treatment I’m getting.” 19

The Play Issue


When children are playing, they act out scenarios and show us what they’re feeling; they show us what they understand, what they're capable of and what their coping mechanisms are.” This may seem obvious, but in some hospitals, there’s a misconception that play is frivolous or low on the priority totem pole. Vilas reminds us, “It's been proven that when children have play opportunities that they need less medicine, less anesthesia, are more compliant and get better faster. The benefits of play reach beyond the child to assist medical personnel and influence the hospital’s bottom line.”

Benefits of play According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.” Why would all that stop at the hospital? The AAP goes on to state that hospi-


At its essence, play provides a safe space for kids to experiment with unfamiliar and often scary experiences.

tal play is a necessity that helps kids cope with treatment and stay on track developmentally. The uses and benefits of play in medical settings are varied and significant. At its essence, play provides a safe space for kids to experiment with unfamiliar and often scary experiences. Through open-ended play, kids can take in new information at their own pace, re-create situations and play out fears until they are familiar enough to gain a sense of mastery over the situation. When kids are supported by an empathetic parent or CLS, this process is deepened, and they can better process and release feelings. Open-ended and child-centered play, in particular, are highly beneficial, as they provide opportunities for kids to immerse themselves more deeply in play and lead from a sense of agency.

Medical play One of the roles of the CLS is to normalize the hospital experience through play. They might do familiarization activities, for example, building a robot using a bedpan, tongue depressors and IV tubing, all taped together with bandages. Suddenly medical supplies aren’t scary, cold, weird objects that only doctors and nurses use, and kids can “hack” the hospital. Going a step further, medical play with a toy doctor’s kit and/or real medical supplies can 1.) educate children about an upcoming procedure, 2.) let them process their experience, before, during or after a procedure, and 3.) put the child back in the driver’s seat. Children experience a strong sense of helplessness, vulnerability and anxiety when faced with uncertainty and misconceptions (let’s face it, so do

grown-ups). Procedural support helps educate, greatly reducing feelings of unpredictability, and increases a level of mastery. Meghan Amorosa, child life specialist at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., says, “A really big part of medical play is about giving patients choice and control over their own hospital experience. Instead of being the patient, they become the doctor and play on their own little patient.” She mentioned a boy who gave a doll a lot of shots, which is typical in patients who’ve been poked a lot. In fact, “If a kid gives a doll a million shots, they're showing you how painful that was for him,” says Vilas. Play is powerful and can be tailored toward your child’s age, temperament and tastes. Visit hospital-play-parent-tips to find out 10 ways to support kids going to the hospital, as patients or visitors. Marj Kleinman is a Brooklyn based photographer and children’s media producer with a master’s in educational psychology. All photos by Marj Kleinman.

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Maimonides Infants & Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn, like many children’s hospitals, has an active playroom where child life specialists provide expressive arts and open-ended play opportunities, as well as board and digital games. Kids play here or take toys, crayons, books, Wii consoles and other activities back to their rooms. 1. Aileen, age 8, gets a bedside surprise from Yana Babaev, AKA “Freckle Speckle the Clown” from enCourage Kids Foundation. (Photo on Page 19.) 2. Alexis Ellis, child life specialist in the inpatient unit at Maimonides, helps Michelle, 5, build magnetic block towers just before she's discharged.



3. Peter Gismondi from Kids Kicking Cancer does bedside martial arts and meditation with Krystian, 10. “When I walk in the room, I’m not going to stick him with a needle or take his temperature,” Peter says. “I’m there purely to have fun with him and let him get a little frustration out. It’s a way of empowering kids when they feel helpless and powerless.” 4. Daniela Bauer, child life specialist and music therapist at Maimonides Cancer Center, co-creates a syringe painting with Maleha, 12. “Maleha is nonverbal, but very expressive through body language, and she loves to color,” Daniela says. “In an environment where so many choices are taken from young patients, giving creative choices to empower patients and giving them a voice beyond speaking can be very therapeutic. She held my hand and directed it; she smiled more and held eye contact with me longer.”

Go Behind the Scenes with Toca Life: Hospital—and a Real-Life Hospital magazine/hospitalpediatric-play


The Play Issue

Kid’s-Eye View

Improve Your Life Through Play 10-year-old shares words of wisdom about the importance of play.

Toca Magazine interviewed Michael, 10, for his perspective on play. One of his favorite ways to play is building with LEGO®. He builds cities and expands them with pieces from other LEGO


sets to make his city “better and greater.” His city is pretty amazing, with a train, trailers, skyscrapers, beaches, airports and more. Michael also likes to play with his XBox

and is fascinated by his microscope. Read on to discover more about his views on recess, creativity and the importance of play.

Michael M. Hometown: Bay Area, California Favorite Way to Play: Build with LEGO Favorite Color: Dark red

Toca Magazine I feel actually quite proud of myself that I thought of this, that I am old enough to start thinking of this stuff and I have a more developed brain. I feel quite proud of myself. I never feel tired of thinking and making up new ideas. I always try to think of new creations and stuff like that. I never get tired really.

Recess and running really rock

Watch Michael in action in the Kids Talk Video kidstalk

What do you and your friends like to do at recess? We like to play tag. The best part about playing tag is, if you're fast, like me and my friends are, not getting tagged. It just feels good because we just get to run. If you like to run, like I do, it just makes it a whole lot funner.

What do you like about running when you play tag?

Play is a priority Do you ever run out of time to play? Yeah, that happens to me, most of the time in the morning before school. I wake up a little early, I run to my playroom, start playing with my LEGOs and it’s a really cool part, and then all of a sudden, “You have to get dressed!” I’m like, “Oh.” Every once in a while, when I’m done with something, I try to sneak back into my playroom and start

playing again. I end up having to go eat or something, get my hair fixed again, or get changed.

What would your life be like if you weren’t allowed to play anymore? If I wasn’t allowed to play my life would be really tough. What I would do, is I would probably be so bored that I wouldn't want to do anything. I would get so bored I wouldn’t feel physical, I would just feel very tired and wouldn’t have any energy in me.

Why do you think it’s important to play? Playing is a good thing to do. It helps you improve your life, it makes you more happy. It doesn’t make you always stressed and stuff like that. Having fun is something good to do, and moving around is good too.

It feels actually quite nice, because you feel the wind blowing in your face and you feel your legs moving and pumping, and sometimes I go so fast I can start hearing my heartbeat. The cool air going into your lungs, it feels nice.

Creativity doesn’t quit How does it feel when you’re playing and you make up something that’s completely new?


Kids build resilience, self-confidence and courage as they take risks at “junk playgrounds.� By Marj Kleinman


The Play Issue

Adventure Playgrounds: Sit Back, Relax and Let Them Play

Toca Magazine We have witnessed a seismic shift over the past few generations—a gradual but dramatic decline in children’s free-play opportunities and an increase in childhood mental and emotional disorders. Play is the crucial childhood goal—it’s how kids develop a sense of self, learn how to make their own decisions, solve problems, regulate emotions, exert control, follow rules, make friends and experience joy (Gray, 2011). Parents who create supportive environments for open-ended, self-directed, creative play also provide opportunities for their kids to gain a sense of mastery and competence in their experiences. That self-efficacy sets the stage for a lifetime of higher self-esteem (Harter, 1988, Coopersmith, 1967) and other health benefits. No pressure. Developmental psychologist Peter Gray notes the importance of fostering resilience through free-play: “Children are designed by nature to teach themselves emotional resilience by playing in risky, emotion-inducing ways. We deprive children of free, risky play, ostensibly to protect them from danger. In the long run, we endanger them far more by preventing such play than by allowing it. And, we deprive them of fun.”

Adventure playgrounds In 1931, a Danish landscape architect, Carl Theodor Sørensen, noticed that kids were playing everywhere other than the playgrounds he had designed for them, including construction sites. He proposed the idea to build deliberate “junk playgrounds,” particularly for city kids who have less access

to natural outdoor play. His vision came to fruition with the first site in 1943 at Emdrup, Denmark. This playground grew out of the need for a safe place where kids could play freely without inciting the German occupying forces. These dedicated “junk yards,” as they were originally called, were stocked with “loose parts” of discarded wood, containers, fabric, and even old train engines, lifeboats and discarded buses. These elements provided a variety of stimulation to be manipulated, destroyed and rebuilt into new inventions. These junk playgrounds began to spread through Denmark, Europe and North America, taking expansive root in the UK. Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood, a British landscape architect and children’s advocate, had been dismayed by “asphalt square” playgrounds with adult-manufactured rigid mechanical equipment that didn’t allow kids to act on their environment or fully express creative ideas. Many adults at the time also noticed that kids enjoyed playing in the rubble of bombed out buildings after World War II. After seeing the Danish junk playgrounds in 1946, Lady Allen set out to design similar sites with as little adult supervision as possible, and the term adventure playground was born. The idea was that kids should confront risks and then conquer them alone, building resilience, self-confidence and courage. Well-trained adult “playworkers” were provided for supervision and would help when asked or needed, particularly in dealing with tools. How-

ever, they did not teach, direct, impose or interfere with creative expression. Today, playwork is a respected and well-paid profession in Europe and Japan. In Europe, it is so highly valued that one can get an undergraduate degree in playwork. The first U.S. adventure playground, called “The Yard,” opened in 1949 in Minneapolis. The next known site was in New York City in the early 1970s and only lasted a few years. By the late ’70s there were 19 around the country, but they began to disappear due to the lack of public funding, contrary to the belief that their demise was due to Americans’ litigious nature and protective parenting (Bergin Wilson, 2017). There are currently five adventure playgrounds around the country. They have recently been making a comeback and are, once again, becoming quite active in New York City.

play:groundNYC Three years ago, a group of artists, educators, parents and activists were dismayed at the lack of free, self-directed play in New York City. They came together to create a series of one-day pop-up play days in the park, which have since evolved into play:groundNYC, one of the newest adventure playgrounds in the U.S. It is situated on Governors Island, a thriving public park five minutes from Manhattan by ferryboat. The site was designed to provide kids (6+) with space and materials for self-directed play, discovery and productive risk-taking. The large variety of materials and tools provided includes nails, hammers, saws, paint, tires, wood and fabrics.

“play:groundNYC is 50,000 square feet of magic,” says executive director Rebecca Faulkner. “This is a place where children can choose their own adventures, build their own structures and dream big!” Faulkner’s dad played in the ruins of bombedout buildings in East London after the Blitz. “It’s in my family’s DNA,” she said. Their website has a message for parents: “Expect your child to get messy! Our junkyard play area is for kids only.” Adults can watch from a lovely patch of grassy shade across the way, but are asked to let the kids play on their own, as playworkers help their children navigate the difference between a risk and a hazard. Faulkner reminds parents who are leaning on the fence, “Your children are having a great time; the grass is right over there; you can keep an eye on them from there.” “It’s really hard for parents to let their kids just be,” says Jenea Singleton, the lead weekend playworker, “but if the parents are around, the kids are really cautious and they’ll think more about the reaction they’re going to get instead of what they’re actually doing. Sometimes they actually panic and second-guess themselves.” To her point, children can gain a sense of “learned helplessness” when they believe they lack the ability to handle things on their own—they feel frustrated and give up easily (Dweck, 1978). Andrew Coats, a dad who brought his two girls four times last summer, was back for more after his daughters begged to return every day the next summer: “They absolutely love it,” Coats said. “As a parent, I


A growing movement Because Governors Island is a destination, play:groundNYC is planning to bring this experience into communities across New York City, mainly through mobile trucks. This way they can be more accessible on a consistent basis and let kids take ownership over their creations. Another major goal, currently in the works, is to make the playground more fully accessible for children with disabilities.


The Play Issue

am cautious and nervous that they’re going to do something to themselves, but it’s not any different than what I did (as a kid) in a less-controlled environment.” Kristin Gorman, a mom who was visiting for the first time, said, “I appreciate that they’re letting the kids roam free and figure things out for themselves. I’m not going to tell you that I don’t have any hesitation right now, because I am a little bit nervous, but I’m letting go, letting him explore and letting him enjoy himself.” Ellen Sandseter, a professor in early childhood education, observed in her adventure playground study that “children have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear. Children are highly motivated to play in risky ways, but they are also very good at knowing their own capacities and avoiding risks they are not ready to take, either physically or emotionally. Our children know far better than we do what they are ready for.”


A Field Trip to the Junk Yard at play:groundNYC:

The Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit organization devoted to restoring play to children’s lives, hopes to eventually see an adventure playground in every community across the U.S. Parks, zoos, children’s museums, after-school programs and camps are increasingly interested in playwork, and PopUp Adventure Play offers free resources to help parents, educators and communities create local opportunities. Ideally, par-


ents will create mini-junk yards or free-play opportunities in their living rooms, backyards or broom closets … and then step out of the way and let them play. Marj Kleinman is a Brooklyn based photographer and children’s media producer with a master’s in educational psychology. All photos by Marj Kleinman.

Spinning, Swinging, Sliding and Sand: The Many Benefits of Playground Play magazine/benefitsplayground-play/

Toca Magazine

1. Jaeger, 7, (left) said, “It was my first time here and I think it was really fun! I built a crab fishing boat! It was fun to play with the other kids; I had one other person helping me.”

2. Playworker Sarah Longwell-Stevens (back, left) observes a boy trying to destroy a boat with scissors. “I walked by and he looked at me like ‘Are you gonna stop me?’” Longwell-Stevens said. “I smiled at him and brought him more tools. Sometimes children need to explore how to be destructive. They don’t have a lot of chances for that. You have to destroy things to learn how they work.”

3. “The slide was the coolest thing,” Sophie, 8, said, “because it’s kinda like what they have in regular playgrounds, but kids made it.”

4. “I was in there the whole day!” said Theda, 7. “My friends who built the tiny shed—it was really fun to play with them. The boys stole almost all the stuff from me and my friend’s hideout, and we’re having war now!”




The Play Issue

Toca Spotlight

Toca Hair Salon 3: Finding Just the Right Look Lead artist for popular hairstyling app drew inspiration from the ’80s and ’90s. By Rebecca Tell


Toca Magazine

All of the characters are pretty neutrally designed and could be either boys or girls. With Toca Hair Salon 3, we wanted to give kids as much freedom as possible to play however they wanted. We gave the characters different personalities, but it's in the kids’ hands to tell the full story—we are just inspiring them to do whatever they want and giving them the tools to do so. We include dozens of character presets, so every time a player opens the app there will be new faces to play with. If you don't like the current setup, you can just press the randomize button and four new characters will pop up! This way you get a fresh play feeling with new salon customers for a much longer time.

Creating a genderneutral hair salon app The previous Hair Salon apps, while loved by kids and grownups alike, were sometimes

criticized for not having “pretty” characters, especially for the characters of color. That was one of the most important things that I wanted to improve when I started working on Toca Hair Salon 3. To stay true to Toca Boca’s commitment to gender-neutral products, I wanted to make characters who were “pretty” but not necessarily girly. All of the characters are pretty neutrally designed and could be either boys or girls, even if some lean more toward one gender. At the end of the project we made some eyelashes a bit smaller to be able to gender-bend more, which I think is really nice! Because usually if a character has big eyelashes they are considered girls almost instantly. We noticed pretty fast, though, that even characters who wore dresses were instantly made men if they grew a beard, which is really interesting!

’80s vibe inspired by Back to the Future Part II The salon is very inspired by ’80s and a little bit of ’90s. When I knew I was going to make a Toca Hair Salon app, I immediately thought about the movie Back To The Future Part II—it’s one of my favorite movies. My inspiration was how people in the ’80s thought 2016 would look if it was the setting in a movie back then. Shapes that are modern but a bit retro, with nice colors to match. It was important that it wouldn't feel old, but look more interesting and different from the other Toca Hair Salon apps. I am very happy with the way the salon turned out, and I had some great help from our 3D artist Félix Roman, who also made all of the tools and an incredible amount of other things in the app. Later in the project

Typhaine Uro joined and made a lot of the accessories and stickers that you can use to style your character. The idea behind the stickers and accessories is to be able to have a more Snapchat/Instagram feeling to your finished picture. Stickers are the best thing about so many apps these days, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to be able to add it already in the app. Happy styling! Rebecca Tell is lead artist for Toca Hair Salon 3.

Get Toca Hair Salon 3 now. Find out more at: toca-hair-salon-3/

The salon is very inspired by ’80s and a little bit of ’90s. 29

The Play Issue

Toca Team

Nar Parisawan Analytics Manager Toca Boca Office: San Francisco Hometown: Plano, Texas

What are some of your favorite memories of playing as a kid? I grew up as a really creative kid. I loved making things like bracelets and keychains, telling stories, drawing and choreographing dances with my friends for my family. My favorite thing to do as a kid was play with my friends from school who used to come over and we would put on shows for my family.

our own dances to songs we loved. Our choreographed dances were largely a mix of interpretative dance and anything we saw in MTV music videos. I loved the organization of it all, the creativity that was involved, and I learned a lot about how to work with my friends to reach a common goal.

Did those play experiences have an influence on you beyond childhood? What were your shows like? We went all out! We created invitations, set up a chalkboard that had the series of events for the evening, and choreographed


As an adult, I realized I gained a lot of different useful skills from playing as a kid. The ability to express my creativity taught me how to work with others to

achieve a common goal. I didn’t know it at the time, but performing those dances gave me confidence, organizational skills and a strong work ethic (we had to practice a lot!). Lastly, it taught me the importance of friendships. All that time choreographing dances to Backstreet Boys medleys that we recorded via tape deck resulted in an unbreakable bond with friends that have supported me through good times and bad.

Why is it important to play? To me, play is important for fostering creativity in expression and also in the way we think to solve problems. In my role at Toca Boca I often work with

numbers, which is a hard skill and is very important to doing my job. But what makes me truly successful is that I’m able to combine both hard and soft skills in order to solve difficult problems and think of new ideas. My experience playing as a kid helped me learn how to work with the people around me at Toca Boca so that we can all achieve our common goal—becoming a beacon in the world for kids.

Vol. 1, Issue 2

Toca Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 1 Vol. 1, Issue 1

Play Issue


The Identity Issue: How to See Kids for Who They Are

the Making ore aM World l Place Playfu

If you loved this issue, you’ll want to check out our previous issues and Toca Magazine online, where you can: meet inspiring people doing inspiring things read about the issues that affect your family find fun activities for you and your kids … and more

Toca Magazine inspires parents to empower kids. 31

The Play Issue

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