Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

How To Make A Great Kids’ App

In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun.
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game.

In the 1964 musical film “Mary Poppins,” all it takes is a snap of the nanny’s fingers and the toys march into the toy box, the clothes fold themselves, and the covers ripple up the beds. What the song argues, and the movie fails to show, is that for kids housework is indeed a game. My daughter likes nothing more than emptying the dishwasher (and then wheeling the lower basket around the room); my son stole the mini-broom from me almost every time that I took it out. Toca House, an iOS app from the Swedish digital play studio Toca Boca, understands the fun of these adult jobs: players scroll up and down a tall, narrow house, selecting first a room and then a task. Clean the windows? Move your finger to rub a cloth against the glass until it shines. Dry the clothes? Lift each shirt or pair of socks and pin it to the clothesline. On the Toca Boca site, the play designer Erik Wahlgren explains, “To small children housekeeping is novel, in their eyes it’s an act of making things nice.”