Review of Toca Town by Toca Boca, by AnnMarie Hurtado

We’ve known for a long time that Toca Boca apps are great for encouraging open-ended play for preschoolers.  With Toca Town, it’s as if the geniuses behind all those apps put their heads together and created an app where all those worlds meet.  The result: endless possibilities.

In Toca Town, preschool and kindergarten children who are starting to learn about community helpers can touch and interact with community helpers in a wide variety of settings.  They can choose and purchase groceries from the store, visit the police station and pose the inmate for silly mug shots, have a picnic in the park, stop by a restaurant for some spaghetti, or even help the chef to cook it.  Then they can stop by their house to watch TV or have dinner.  Leaving one place and entering another is very intuitive; inside every room there’s a door icon at the top that will let the child enter and the home screen shows all the places they can tap to explore, bouncing to the music.  Children can also fill each scene with as many characters as they like, by tapping the yellow sign at the bottom right that brings up all of the people.  Anything that is in a character’s hand when you leave them in one place, can be brought with them to another place this way.  So your character can pick up some money from home, go to the grocery store with the dollar bill in her hand, and buy something.

As with other Toca Boca apps, objects interact with other objects and other places.  A character who is tapped while sitting on the toilet will make funny toilet sounds.  An item placed on the gift wrapping shelf at the store will magically acquire pretty paper and a bow.  Put a guitar in a character’s hand, and he will start to play it.  Want that character to leave the restaurant and visit the park?  Just go to the park, and select that character—he’ll still have his guitar with him.

I like the wide range of possibilities with this app and the fact that it has a variety of settings that children love to play—police stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and homes.  The app allows for a lot of creativity, discussion, and imagination.

Toca Town by Toca Boca$2.99, iOS, Google Play and Amazon


AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

We helped Chip write a book!


Carisa Kluver and I co-wrote a chapter for Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning, edited by our friend & mentor, Chip Donohue. We’ll be presenting on the book at the NAEYC annual conference in Dallas in November. I hope to see many other librarians there!

Here’s the blurb:

A Co-Publication of Routledge and NAEYC

Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years offers early childhood teacher educators, professional development providers, and early childhood educators in pre-service, in-service, and continuing education settings a thought-provoking guide to effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology with young children. This book provides strategies, theoretical frameworks, links to research evidence, descriptions of best practice, and resources to develop essential digital literacy knowledge, skills and experiences for early childhood educators in the digital age.

Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years puts educators right at the intersections of child development, early learning, developmentally appropriate practice, early childhood teaching practices, children’s media research, teacher education, and professional development practices. The book is based on current research, promising programs and practices, and a set of best practices for teaching with technology in early childhood education that are based on the NAEYC/FRC Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media and the Fred Rogers Center Framework for Quality in Children’s Digital Media. Pedagogical principles, classroom practices, and teaching strategies are presented in a practical, straightforward way informed by child development theory, developmentally appropriate practice, and research on effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology in early childhood settings. A companion website provides additional resources and links to further illustrate principles and best practices for teaching and learning in the digital age.

Vote for our SXSW panel: Hacking the Culture of Learning in the Library

Vote for our SXSWedu panel: Hacking the Culture of Learning in the Library

Here’s our description:

How do we help learners of all ages stay curious, develop their passions, immerse themselves in learning? Welcome to the library. Libraries are the informal learning space that encourages exploration and discovery and librarians lead in creating new opportunities to engage learners and make learning happen. Libraries are the incubation space to hack education; to create new paradigms where learners own their education, librarians mediate learning, and learning outside school walls is legitimized.


Marijke Visser American Library Association
Christopher Harris Genesee Valley Educational Partnership
Cen Campbell

Voting info is as follows:

Community voting accounts for 30% of the final score for your session proposal. Remember, this is not a popularity contest, but an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to engage a community. Another 40% is contributed by the SXSWedu Advisory Board, and the remaining 30% is from SXSWedu staff evaluation.

Public voting will open at 10AM Monday, August 11 and close at midnight Friday, September 5.


PanelPicker Vote 1

BBC Earth Walking with Dinosaurs: An app review, by Awnali Mills

As far as children are concerned, dinosaurs are right up there with pony rides, no bedtime, and unlimited ice cream. So naturally, you’ve gotta do dinosaur story times. And what could be better than an app that shows these amazing creatures in action? Not much. In my story time last week, the app BBC Earth: Walking with Dinosaurs made them come to life and the children went nuts.

Dinosaur SitesThe home page of the app has three different options. “Features” provides different screens with general information about dinosaurs and their environment, the different periods (Jurassic, etc.), famous discovery sites, how fossils are formed and excavated, and divisions of dinosaurs. “Dinosaur Hunters” offers a roll call of famous dinosaur hunters with portraits of them and short biographies.

The really fun option, and what I used in story time, is simply titled “Dinosaurs.” Pictures of dinosaur species float above a landscape in alphabetical order. These can be scrolled through and tapped on. Once a dino is chosen, a new screen is presented in which that dinosaur is shown walking along, looking around, and making noise. On the right side of the screen is listed the name and pronunciation, what the name means, and a brief overview of the dinosaur. A touch on the speaker button activates a narrator who reads the information to you—helpful for young users. Another button allows you to share the information on the slide either by email or Facebook. If you tap on the dinosaur, the information disappears, while the creature remains, trotting along in a darkened landscape. A swipe takes you to the next dinosaur in the alphabet, or a tap brings the information back.

CloseupTouching the button on the center bottom takes you to a 3D 360° view of the dinosaur with more detailed information about it. A tap on the magnify button or the dinosaur allows you to see even more detail. Some expansions even show the dino eggs, or prey, or the creature defending itself or attacking other dinosaurs. These screens didn’t always respond readily, but a swipe to another screen and back seemed to fix the problem.

For my story time, I had set up the app to Carnotaurus so that he was already on the screen when I opened the iPad. I had blanked the information and just had the dinosaur walking and making noise. Ho-boy! The kids were thrilled and the chatter exploded. I made everyone sit down and then I brought up the information with a tap and read the name to them. Then, I swiped to Ceratosaurus, then Citipati and finally, Coelophysis. The kids weren’t even close to being done looking, but the storytime needed to move along. Normally, I would have let the kids play with it during playtime after stories, but it was our craft week. I may bring back the app after another storytime and let the kids play then.

As mentioned, there’s one spot where the screens don’t respond like they should, and although you can see the dinosaurs clearly and everything is readable, I disliked that the screens and backgrounds were all so dark—but that’s a personal preference. The app might feel scary for some younger users because of the realistic movements and sounds, but my preschoolers did just fine. You get a whole lot of app for $4.99, and I managed to download it for free during one of the promotional times, so it was an even better deal. An ideal app for dinosaur lovers of all ages.


Awnali Mills works in the Children’s Dept. of a public library and she gets the snot scared out of her by sudden loud sounds coming out of apps she’s trying out. She blogs at The Librarian is on the Loose.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Thinking Beyond the App for Older Kids With Autism by Tina Dolcetti

alineI have a somewhat tech based program one hour program I offered today for those who provide programs for older children and teens with autism. I have a small but strong core group who communicate mainly through iPads and communication devices.

We start our day off with a brief demonstration of what we are doing that day. I place picture signs on our felt board. Our schedule remains the same: Crafts, followed by movement activities, then books.

Each session, I hook my device (phone or iPod) to a CD player to play background music based in part on the special interests of participants. Yes, my playlist includes Shakira, Toy Story, Barney, the Wiggles and Katie Perry.

This week, our craft was decorating iPad covers that I had purchased inexpensively at our local dollar store using dollar store stickers and left over duct tape.

Our movement game was app-themed. Because half of the group loves Toy Story, I designed a real life version of the app Smash It. In the app, Buzz throws objects to knock aliens off of block towers. In real life, I taped pictures of aliens to shirt-boxes that were left over from another craft, and left over boxes from book shipments. With each successful ‘knockdown’ an additional level is added to the tower to increase the difficulty in knocking it over!

I must admit that most of the success of the one hour program was due to the initiative of the mentor that accompanied each teen incorporating him or her into the activity.

Tina Dolcetti
Children’s Librarian,
Moose Jaw Public Library
MISt, University of Toronto

LEGO Week at Homer Public Library, by Claudia Haines

Last week was LEGO week at our library! The popular, iconic building bricks have many fans of all ages in Homer. To celebrate the interest and skills of our community builders, we held our 4th Annual LEGO Contest and included a building session in our weekly summer series of Maker Mondays for kids and teens.

LEGO® Contest

The LEGO Contest for ages 18 and under has the same basic format each year, but we tie the contest to our summer reading program by incorporating an element of the program’s theme. For example, this year our theme was Fizz, Boom, READ and we focused on all aspects of science, so the contest had two categories for each age group: open and new species. The open category included the varied interests and abilities of builders, and the new species category gave some kids and teens a starting point for designing their entry or pushed them to think beyond their usual building focus.

The contest is divided into three age groups. Prizes, donated by our Friends group, were awarded to 1st and 2nd place individuals and teams of two in each age group and category. Three community members volunteered to judge the entries, using this basic rubric, and the entries were displayed at the library for one week. We also let the public choose the People’s Choice Award with a ballot box at the library.

You can see this year’s 37 entries here:

Maker Monday: LEGO®

Each of the ten Maker Monday programs we offered this summer were designed to give kids and teens the chance to create, build, and make at the library. Each program was two hours long, giving the makers time to really explore the activity and concepts at hand, and was led by me or a community artist or expert. We featured programs on electricity, the forces of flight, making wood fired pizza, a sweater chop shop, 3-D printing, multimedia art, and of course, LEGO®. No registration was required for all but one of the programs, and an average of 35 makers attended. The series was designed for ages 8-18, but most of the makers were between the ages of 6 and 14. (The younger kids came to some of the programs like the Maker Monday LEGO®, with caregivers in tow, and we made it work as long as they were genuinely interested.)

Maker Monday: LEGO® was held the same week as the LEGO® Contest and was divided into two parts. The first half of the program was modeled after the LEGO® programs I offer periodically throughout the year. I provided the LEGO® bricks, figures, and other elements and then posed building challenges inspired or borrowed from the LEGO Quest Kids blog. I had the builders work on their own or as teams, depending on the challenge. Many libraries host successful LEGO® programs and their lots of resources online.
How to Host a LEGO® Club
LEGO® Day at the Library
Block Party: Legos in the Library
LEGO® Librarian Toolkit

After a snack break, the second half of the program was devoted to building a LEGO® story. I explained that we were going to make short videos using stop motion animation with LEGOs® and the LEGO® Movie Maker app. After I showed them the very short movie I made as a demo, I then introduced the concept of a story board and we talked about the elements of a story. (I won’t link to my demo, because as the makers all pointed out, it was really short and not very good. It’s always good to demo something that makes kids feel they can do better.)

I provided post-it notes for the movie makers to use as they designed their story in teams, but most kids didn’t use them. The building challenges warmed them up to building and most were natural storytellers when using LEGO®. If kids needed a starting point, I, or the summer teen volunteer helping me, worked with them until they were confidently moving ahead with their idea.

As makers were ready, they brought their story pieces to one of the simple movie making stations (table against a wall near good lighting). Every team or individual had a building plate on which to stage their story and then we used a couple of extra plates for the backdrop of the scenes. One maker and I built stands out of LEGO® for both my iPhone and the iPad we used for filming (we had two filming stations) to reduce the jiggle that happens with handheld filming. Here are a couple examples of the seven short movies that were made during the program.

Crashing by Jonathan (filmed with iPhone)

Black Knight by Colten (filmed with iPad)

After the program, I emailed the final products to kids or their families or posted a couple on my library’s YouTube channel. Many kids were instantly hooked on the idea of making simple movies with LEGO® and have since kept creating on their own. To me, that’s a sign of a successful program.

My review of the app (also published in the Alaska State Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums’ Friday Bulletin on 8/8/14):

LEGO® Movie Maker
iOS 5+ (iPhone, iPad, iTouch)
Ages 5+

The LEGO® Movie Maker app is a user-friendly introductory tool for kids and teens who want to use stop motion animation as a storytelling tool, but have little or no experience with video production. Captured still images are stitched together by the app to create a short video with the click of the save button. The app includes title screen templates and the ability to customize both the title and director name(s). It also offers several background music choices and the option to add music from the device’s music collection. There is no narration function so movie makers will rely on action or strategically placed text in the scene to tell the story. The app’s overall ease of use would make this an excellent addition to a LEGO program in which young builders write a story, create the necessary elements of the story, and film it.

Once the video is deemed finished, the final product can be downloaded to the device’s camera roll and then shared with family and friends through email or posted online. While the app’s developer intends for the videos to feature the extremely popular LEGO bricks, videos with any props or actors could be created. Technical notes: The app does not contain any online links or in-app marketing. Currently there is only a landscape option for the title screen, so the still images are best captured in landscape mode also to offer a smooth viewing experience.

Claudia Haines, Little eLit Curation Coordinator
Youth Services Librarian
Homer Public Library
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

First Thoughts on ScratchJr, by AnnMarie Hurtado

When I was nine years old, I was playing around with a paint program on my family’s old Atari computer and figured out how to animate pictures by making a lot of images with very slight changes and then playing them together. As old-school as that early-90s Atari program was, it worked incredibly well and taught me how my favorite movies were made. Years later, when I found Scratch, I was thrilled to find a way to share that same exciting discovery of animation with kids—and I’ve been teaching it at my library and at a nearby private school for the past two years.

So you can imagine my disappointment that the new long-awaited iPad app, ScratchJr, doesn’t have the capability to animate your sprites. You can do this on the regular Scratch website by creating multiple “costumes” for a sprite and telling the sprite to switch costumes in a certain sequence. But ScratchJr has nothing like that. For me, this makes all of the projects just fall flat. They don’t look much different than the characters moving around or growing bigger or smaller that you see when you record a show in PuppetPals. I was hoping ScratchJr would be able to do much more.

A lot of the reviews of ScratchJr have echoed my disappointment. Perhaps this is because Scratch is such an amazing system with endless possibilities, and it’s natural to want to see some of that broad horizon replicated in its Junior version. So far a user can program sprites to move around or say something. They can also program a scene to change. They can enter sounds and text. And they can program cause-and-effect, like making a sound when a sprite is tapped. The left-to-right sequence is a win for ScratchJr because it’s very intuitive for little kids. The lack of coding language, replaced by obvious symbols, is another win that shows this app was made for younger kids than the users of the main Scratch website.

Adults will need to play around with it a lot before showing their kids how to do it. I wish it had been clearer what the symbols in the ScratchJr interface stood for—I had to learn some things just by trial-and-error. I do feel really excited to show my 4-year-old some of the easy things you can do with Scratch, and hope that she catches on. Understanding that things happen in a sequence and understanding cause and effect are just a few of the important literacy skills that this program can teach primary-grade children.

But this version is just a first step. Looking forward to an update!

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Young Children, New Media & Libraries Survey Launched! Please Respond!

Please see the official call for participation on the ALSC website:

Young Children, New Media and Libraries Survey

In partnership with, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of ALA, and the University of Washington, Cen Campbell, Joanna Ison, and Elizabeth Mills have created a survey entitled “Young Children, New Media and Libraries,” and we would greatly appreciate your library’s participation.

We believe that libraries are at the cutting edge of incorporating many different kinds of new media devices [tablets, ereaders/tablets, digital recording devices, MP3 players, children’s tablets, etc.] into their branches and programming, and we are keenly interested in examining this new landscape across the United States. We want to hear from you in order to inform our research and to help us better understand the scope, challenges, and next steps for libraries regarding new media use.

We would like one librarian from your branch who is able to answer questions regarding your library’s use of new media to complete this survey.

Here is the link:

The survey includes 9 questions and we anticipate it will take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete.

Please be assured that the information you provide through this survey will be kept confidential and will be analyzed in aggregate; no information that could reasonably identify of you or of your library will be included in any publications or public dissemination of the collected data. Participation in this survey is voluntary. You may not answer any questions you do not wish to answer and may withdraw your participation at any time without loss of benefits to which you are otherwise entitled. We believe that participation in this survey poses no greater risks that those experienced in everyday life.

Sincerely, and with much thanks,

Cen Campbell,
J. Elizabeth Mills, PhD Student, University of Washington Information School
Joanna Ison, ALA

Using the Sesame Street Family Play App to Play Together On and Off the Screen, by Naomi Smith

Let’s talk transitions. Storytellers and librarians are no doubt familiar with trying to come up with the perfect transitions in story times. I have used fun apps like Animal Sounds or Endless Alphabet as transitional activities between books in my Toddler Times. Parents too, are faced with a series of transitions for their young children. Waking up, going potty, brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, playing, cleaning up, potty again, putting on shoes, getting into the car. All of this and more before story time! Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to share apps with parents that could help assist with transitions and waiting and kept the parent and child engaged with each other?

My go-to app for this is Sesame Street Family Play. It suggests real life games to play with children. The package of games for home comes with the $.99 app, download games for both travel and away from home for $1.99 more. The app asks simple questions to start, like your location and whether you have certain materials handy. If you say no, no problem, it moves right along. It then suggests a quick game, endorsed by one of the Sesame Street characters, that a caregiver and child(ren) can play together right that minute.

IMG_8511My children, ages two and four, and I enjoy playing together on my iPad. But they often have a difficult time transitioning to another activity. Enter Family Play. One night, after we had played with two apps, one of each child’s choosing, I chose Family Play. I told the kids that we were going to look at the iPad and a Sesame Street friend would suggest a game. They were sold. First, we measured the living room in lengths of kid (8.5 if you were wondering), then we played a game where the first person to find an object to put on their head was the winner and the most creative was also a winner. The app even tells you which skills you are helping your child develop by playing. We’ve also used the app when transitioning between non screen activities. The time between clean up and bath time went from boredom and sibling squabbles to pretending to be frogs and hopping over lily pads made of throw pillows. Yes, I can think of games on my own, but it’s always nice to have an assist after a long day.

Family Play is a favorite of mine personally. However, there are many other apps that would fit the bill for all sorts of families. Why not do a couple of fun math problems with Bedtime Math, learn a few new rhymes with ACPL Family, dance with the Laurie Berkner Band, or create a story about your day together using Our Story for iPad? All free to download! What apps do you like best for helping parents and children have fun together, both on and off the screen?

Naomi Smith is a Youth Services Librarian for the Parkland/Spanaway branch of the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA where gets to do the Baby and Toddler Story Times. She occasionally tweets at @Naomireads.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Storytime 2.0 at the Wellesley Free Library: An Update, by Clara Hendricks

Since October 2013, when we launched our app-advisory and iPad storytime programs, I have led seven sessions of Storytime 2.0, an iPad-integrated storytime for children ages 3-6 with a parent; three programs to teach parents about using apps with children (Raising “App-y” Readers, for parents of pre-readers, and Raising “App-y” Learners, for parents of elementary school students); and collaborated on nine themed app-advisory lists (available on our apps page)!

Storytime 2.0 has continued to be a popular program. We have developed a core group of regulars, as well as new faces who join us each time.  The majority of the participants tend to be 3 years old, but we do get some older and younger children as well.
From this first year of offering the program, I can offer the following advice and suggestions:

  • Use the device for more than book apps!  While we have enjoyed many book apps projected on the big screen (favorites have included: Barnyard Dance, Do you know which ones will grow?, Go Away, Big Green Monster, The Monster at the End of This Book, and Piccadilly’s Circus), iPads and other tablets are such versatile devices that it is great to use them for things that simply don’t translate to paper.  My favorite thing to do is showcase non-book apps that create a participatory storytime environment.  Each storytime session I use at least one app where the kids get to decide how to manipulate the game or activity.  Based on my theme for that day, I have used: Mini-U: The Kitchen (the product sorter activity), Feed the Animals, Toca Kitchen and Toca Kitchen Monsters, and, perhaps the most versatile, Animal Sounds.  I have used this app within rhymes, in games, or simply having the children go around and name what animal they want to hear.  These games and activities are a high point of my programs.  Yes, I use the iPad to enhance the program in other ways, projecting song lyrics, doing felt board rhymes, and reading one or two book apps per session, but I think that these activities are the most unique aspect of the storytime.
  • Speaking of felt boards, I learned early on that the felt board apps (Felt Board and Mother Goose on the Loose) are much more fun and effective when you move the pieces within the app while doing the song or rhyme.  You can capture still images and use them as a slideshow, but manipulating the pieces as you go is a much more interactive experience.
  • After the storytime I handed out a list of the apps (and books) I used during that particular storytime.  I also added to this list related apps that can be used at home.  That way when I had a great app that related to the theme, but couldn’t figure out any way to use it in storytime, I still got to recommend it for home use to the parents and caregivers.
  • Kids still love the hands-on stuff!  During one of storytimes I handed out felt food pieces and read the book Lunch by Denise Fleming with a mouse puppet, letting each child come up and “feed” their food to the puppet. They thought it was hilarious!  Several children mentioned to their parents that it was their favorite part of the program.  So when planning, don’t forget that the storytime should be a nice blend of on-screen and non-screen.

We will continue on with our three-pronged approach (app advisory lists, parent-education, and storytimes) in the fall, as well as hopefully rolling out wall-mounted iPads in the children’s room.

Clara Hendricks is a Children’s Librarian at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

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