As we have previously discussed in this blog, play and narrative are inextricably linked (see our post about Braidy the StoryBraid® and overlappings with Social Thinking®’s Incredible Flexible You Program — now titled We Thinkers! and with a new 2nd volume)! “Play Plans” within a group or individual session can emphasize social cognitive concepts that are important during play such as “sharing an imagination” but also narrative elements that are acted out or realized in the process of play.
A great series that can be used to emphasize early storytelling and play skills can be found in the apps from Sago Mini. These apps comprise contextual “sandboxes” fostering exploration and experimentation as characters are moved around a setting, resulting in interactive events. Sago Mini’s line features apps that allow interaction with characters such as superheros and neighborhood friends, and settings such as space, a forest, a construction site, and a cafe.
Each app is what I would like to call “language-neutral”; the app doesn’t make a lot of noise and contains no talking at all, so it can be used well as an interactive context with a child to elicit language. Sago Mini describes their apps as “interactive flip-books,” which is another apt comparison. Both books and apps can be used as engaging contexts to elicit stories and comment on actions. The Sago Mini apps also use humor well and a contain a hint of emotional content. For example, after a fish, named “Fin” via the app’s description, encounters a well-meaning electric eel who gives him a shock while playing, he looks briefly frazzled before recovering to continue his swimming adventures.
For the purpose of this post, I am going to look at Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer (the app mentioned above, available for iPad and other platforms for $2.99) in more depth — pun intended. The Sago Mini apps are all extremely easy to use, as your finger controls the character’s movement through the scene. They are also paced to promote interaction with a child; pulling the device away to “pause” for discussion” will not cause them to “miss” anything or fail in any timed activity. Rather, you can move at your own pace and direction. As you begin Fin’s adventures, you tap on his house to wake him up and bring him out to swim. From there, you can navigate the setting at your will, bringing Fin to the surface to interact with boaters, islanders, divers, or ducks, or through the depths to encounter aquatic friends, a pirate ship, or even an octopus bearing ice cream!
As such, Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer mixes realistic details about setting with more whimsical and personally-relevant play elements that students will enjoy. Overall, the app lends itself to activities fostering a description of setting and actions, both of which can be scaffolded with Braidy the StoryBraid and accompanying activities detailed in the manual. Of course, the Braidy manipulative can be used as a visual, tactile and kinesthetic tool while you play with the app, scaffolding language and elaboration for follow-up activities. Below, I have detailed how the Braidy “Draw and Write Activity Sheets” can be used as post-app activities targeting description of setting and actions:
As mentioned, other apps from Sago Mini target different contexts, and all would pair well with picture books that you can use to explore narrative within a theme. I also find they lend themselves to follow-up play activities or crafts (e.g. let’s make a “fishtank” using a shoebox and construction paper!). Notably, some of the app themes correspond with the contexts of the social-cognitive picture books in Incredible Flexible You/We Thinkers. For example, Sago Mini Space Explorer has an “outer space” setting, as does the Thinking With Your Eyes picture book from We Thinkers, Vol. 1.
Have fun exploring different settings with this series of apps!