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Tech Tuesday: Toca Life: Farm and other Sandbox apps provide fertile ground for storytelling!

by Sean Sweeney December 20, 2016 3 min read

Sandbox apps, like the real-life playspace they are named after, allow you to play pretty much however you want within their boundaries. Sandboxes themselves are constrained by the walls of the box, the toys you have and the amount of sand; sandbox apps tend to be bound by a context.

Toca Boca has created a series of sandbox apps containing different real-world contexts, the latest being Toca Life: Farm ($2.99 for iPad and other platforms). Toca Life: Farm allows you to play and tell stories within a farm scene, farmhouse, barn and farm store, and the possibilities for Kick-Offs, Plans and Actions are limited only by your imagination. Check out the app trailer below to give you some ideas of the stories that can be told using this app, and the Toca Boca YouTube channel provides plenty of video inspiration, as well as narratives that can spur lessons with Story Grammar Marker®:

Each of the settings in the Toca Life apps are chock-full of characters and items that can serve to help you scaffold a story with your students. In play mode, just tap and drag items and characters around. You and your students will also figure out unique ways to use objects, as some can be held by or fed to characters, along with many other interactions. Drag characters into the bottom panel and they can be moved to another location within the app (e.g., field to farmhouse) along with the objects they carry.

Additionally, these apps have a screencasting feature allowing you to record the screen as you move characters and objects; this also records audio, so you and students can narrate your story to create a “movie.” All it takes is a tap, and your stories can be saved to the photos app to be reviewed in subsequent lessons! This is an important feature, as we know that repeated practice in telling and retelling stories yields improvement.

I created a few videos for demonstration within this post, though such play-based sequences can also serve as a kind of video modeling for students. I did not record narration in either of these videos below, but do know that the screencasting feature records everything you say, as well as sounds within the app, so you can use this to record a verbal story or dialogue as well. First up is an Action Sequence; you can use Toca Life: Farm in conjunction with SGM®’s or Braidy, the StoryBraid®’s manipulatives, story maps, or other visuals:

This scene depicts an Action Sequence as follows:

Character IconCharacter: The farm boy

StarSetting: The field

Action IconAction #1: First he visits the field and sees that it is empty (Note that you could also frame this as a kickoff, response, thought and plan).

Action IconAction #2: He plants several kinds of seeds.

Action IconAction #3: He turns on the water and they grow.

Action IconAction #4: He and his friend dance with happiness over the harvest!

Another example plays out more as a Complete Episode:

Character IconCharacter: The farm boy

StarSetting: The barn

ShoeKick-Off: When the boy wakes up, he notices that all the animals have left their pens!

Heart IconInternal Response: alarmed, worried

Heart IconThought Bubble: Thinks it’s important for the animals to stay in their pens so that they are safe.

Plan IconPlan: He wants to get the animals back in their pens.

Action IconAttempt #1: He tosses food for the sheep into their pen, so that they go back in.

Action IconAttempt #2: He tosses food for the pigs into their pen, so that they go back in.

Action IconAttempt #3: He tosses food for the cows into their pen, so that they go back in.

Consequence IconDirect Consequence: All the animals are back where they should be!

Resolution IconResolution: The boy is relieved and pleased...and probably is thinking of plans to keep the animals in their pens!

I first really came to understand the Narrative Developmental Sequence, which in turn opened up many more contexts for me to use Story Grammar Marker®, by using the lessons of MindWing’s Day in the Park Activity Booklet (detailed also in the Talk to Write, Write to Learn manual). Apps such as Toca Life: Farm can be used for similar extension lessons:

  • Descriptive Sequence (describing the characters and settings—sections and objects in each)
  • Action Sequence (scaffolding a series of actions to complete a task or tell a basic story)
  • Reaction Sequence (staging a Kick-Off and resulting Action within a scene)
  • Abbreviated or Complete Episode (following a Kick-Off with descriptions of Plans and responses, one or several Attempts, and a Conclusion.

Enjoy playing out stories with Toca Life: Farm, and also check out Toca Boca’s other sandbox apps depicting a City, Stable, School, Town, and Vacation!

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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