How can an App spark a Pre-schooler’s Imagination?

August 26, 2015 Published by

One of the best loved and most played with toys that we own is a toy boat my son was given for his first birthday. He’s coming up for 5 now and yet he and his little sister still play with it most nights in the bath. Like most pre-schoolers, much of their free time is spent in imaginative play and so favourite toys tend to be those, like this boat, that best spark their imagination. – These are not the sort of toys that beg the question: how do I play with it? Or what do I have to do? They are totally open ended and lead to hours of free-play fun. We don’t think of them as ‘educational’ but in fact imaginative play is fundamental to their social, emotional and language development.

 If physical toys are so good at encouraging imaginative play and imaginative play is so important, is there a place for apps that encourage imaginative play and stimulate a pre-schooler’s imagination, or do apps necessarily stifle the imagination?


When the new Sago Sago app, Sago Mini Boats, was submitted for review by the Good App Guide recently it seemed like the perfect opportunity to answer this question. If you haven’t come across Sago Sago then you’re missing a treat. They are the sister company to the leading children’s app company Toca Boca and like Toca Boca focus on creating ‘Digital Toys’ that are fun and playful and as they put it:


“We build on kids’ natural sense of wonder, creativity and curiosity to create apps that are positive and fun.” – Sago Sago


Interestingly, when we test apps that encourage curiosity and open-ended imaginative play we find some parents initially do ask “what do I have to do?” but most children don’t. Adults seem to have been trained to think that apps should have a goal but we encourage you to think of apps like Sago Mini Boats to be more akin to a toy boat. Children don’t seem to struggle in the same way: for them there is no concrete distinction between on-screen and off-screen play. Sago Mini Boats, just as other Sago Mini apps (like Sago Mini Road trip – still a favourite with our little testers) really seems to capture most children’s imagination. We watched them zip the boats around, fly and splash and explore underwater, figure out what they could do with the various items (like eating the cookies) and start to make up stories around the things they saw. Each time they played it was different and they kept wanting to come back. There was no doubt that this encouraged their curiosity, inspired their imagination and had them learning through trial and error.

When parents choose apps for pre-schoolers they often focus on classically ‘educational’ ones. Traditionally educational apps are great of course, but as our very own Dr. Amanda Gummer sRaod-Trip-Sago-pre-schooler's-imaginationays: “Whilst there are numerous apps that develop traditional school based subjects such as literacy or numeracy, it’s also vital that children are able to develop other key skills such as exploration and trial and error, particularly preschool age. Transferable skills such as curiosity, creativity and problem solving are often undervalued but are more likely to result in success at school and in later life than just the exam-related subjects.”

Of course, traditional toys can and should continue to be the main driver of these skills with screen time limited to ensure a balanced play diet. However, as more and more families turn to apps we strongly encourage parents to choose apps that develop as wide a range of skills as possible. Imagination and other soft skills can be developed through apps like Sago Mini Boats – we encourage you to give them a try, read the parent notes for some ideas and let us know how you get on.

Sago Mini Boats in now available on the App Store and Google Play.


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This post was written by The Experts at Fundamentally Children

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