Unless you’re exceptionally brave (or raising money for a really worthwhile charity) you wouldn’t let your child loose on your hair with scissors, clippers and a collection of dyes.
Toca Hair Salon 3, though, is an app that lets kids play hairdresser or barber without any danger of you spending the rest of 2017 screaming into a mirror.
Available for Android and Apple devices, it’s the third in children’s app developer Toca Boca’s series of styling apps, and while its predecessors were great, this is a noticeable step forwards in several ways.
The basics are the same: children start by choosing a character as their customer. They can choose from four at a time, with a reload button at the top of the screen replacing them with four more if none appeal.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the characters are truly diverse: a mixture of male and female characters, and a range of ethnicities and hair types – afros included. Bar the odd Einstein-a-like with beard and crazy-scientist hair, they all look young, but then this must be a trendy salon.
Once the chosen character has sat down, it’s time to get to work. The basic tools include scissors, a hairbrush, a razor and a magic tool for making hair instantly regrow.
However, children can swipe left and right at the bottom of the screen to access other tools to crimp, straighten and braid hair, as well as dye it a range of colours. There’s even a “beard station” for designer stubble – or enormous Rasputin-quality facial growths.
This salon also offers some extras: swiping left on the tools carousel brings up changes of clothing and accessories like sunglasses and hats. No instructions are needed: children just tap on the tools or items they want, then swipe their finger on the screen to place them or work with the hair.
Once they’re happy with their work, they can snap a picture, which is saved to the photo gallery on the device for showing off and sharing. Then it’s time to go back to the character selector to choose the next customer.
Like the previous Toca Hair Salon apps, this is creative play rather than a goal-oriented game: there are no specific tasks that kids have to complete, and no time limits. The fun comes from exploring the various tools, and figuring out how to combine them to create any hairstyle they like.
Sometimes that will be recreating the ‘dos of real-life celebrities: children can imagine that it’s really Drake, Beyoncé, Stampy or (heaven help us) Donald Trump in their salon. But sometimes your kids might use the app to show you what kind of hairstyle they’d like, or they might simply want to create the craziest cuts imaginable. It’s all possible.
The little touches impress, from the salon’s radio which can be tapped on to try different soundtracks, to the facial reactions of the characters as your children work on their hair.
The diversity point is important too: Toca Boca has recognised that in a game about hairstyling, it’s not enough just to have different skin colours for the characters: they need different kinds of hair too.
The developer has also worked hard to make Toca Hair Salon 3 accessible to all kinds of children, avoiding the pink-princess stereotype that dominates some hairdressing apps.
Plus, like the best kids’ apps, this is something that can be fun for parents and children to play with together, rather than just something that the latter play alone. It’s all-round excellent, and well worth the price to download it.