Digital play and Progression: How to build preschool children and teachers’ capabilities?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


In the early childhood learning environment, the best type of digital technology integration is digital play as it is the accepted early childhood pedagogy.


Digital play based learning can occur throughout the curriculum across key learning areas such as communication and language, literacy, and numeracy for example. This gives you the opportunity to progress children’s learning and development whilst also developing their ICT capability.


Your decision to ensure learning progression in ICT capability is vital for the child’s smooth transition into primary education where in Australia, focuses on the development of ICT capability and digital literacy.


In this video, I will show you the possible levels of learning progression in ICT capability that apply to integrating digital technology in early childhood education and will help children in their transition in the future.


How to identify progression in capabilities?


First of all, it is important that you establish a starting point for their journey in ICT capability and so I would suggest that you read my blog on this topic. You will find it here.


This is important because most children will enter your early childhood learning environment with various degrees of confidence in digital technology use through play.


Greater confidence is a key factor in their use of digital technology and this comes from their knowledge, skills and understanding.


Additionally, from this will come greater autonomy in their selection of ICT tools and resources.


Both identifiers will need to have increased since the time that they first entered your learning environment.


So, establish a baseline for young children in your care at the beginning.



Another identifier is their expected increase in the awareness of the benefits and limitations of the available digital technology in your early childhood learning environment.


Young children through their digital play will begin to understand what they can and can’t do with software and hardware.


However, as an early childhood teacher you would need to facilitate this by planning to introduce technology appropriately by explaining to them what software can it do, what it can’t do and how you can use it.



With this comes the ability of young children to present their ideas with the digital technology in an increasing variety of ways with a developing sense of audience.



As another identifier of learning progression you will notice that young children who bestow such attributes will also use ICT tools and resources of growing complexity for increasingly complex lines of enquiry involving greater decision making and personal autonomy.



And finally, they are able to evaluate their own work with digital technology and this grows throughout their play.


What this all indicates is that progression in learning through digital play includes two major factors:

  1. Strategies, processes and personal qualities relating to the application of ICT to the solution of problems and;
  2. Depending on the range of problems the contexts, sources and tools.



Looking at an Example

One particular software that most early childhood learning environments would have is word processors. It can be used for literacy and language development as well as creative development.


So, what is a progression in knowledge, skills and understanding for word processing? The following progression may provide a useful point of reference.


Notice that the emphasis is on what the children are doing that is the ‘process’, and not the outcome.


  • Reception to Year 1 – Children begin to enter texts and graphics through the use of the keyboard, overlay keyboard and onscreen word bank.
  • Year 2 to Year 3 – Children begin to ‘edit’ text using the mouse, delete or backspace keys; to use the Shift key; to alter the font, font size and colour; to resize graphics.


Creative Development and progression

Creative development has its own area in the early years curriculum and the us of graphics programs such as drawing and painting software can facilitate digital play in early childhood education.


They focus on the development of children’s graphical communication and interpretation skills as well as the ICT techniques and skills learned through its use.


Very young children may use touch screens and concept keyboards to control software, developing their understanding of the relationship between their actions and the effects on the screen.


You could develop a range of language, numeracy and science early childhood learning activities to support this.


Progression in capabilities is indicated here when children are increasingly able to make their own choices about creation, manipulation, extending their repertoire of knowledge, skills and understanding through structured activities and intervention.


Older children may even be able to make appropriate choices related to the task and its audience.


It will be important for you as the early childhood teacher to encourage young children to explore the software purposefully for themselves, to think of an effect that they want to create and then discover how to achieve it.



Digital play in the early year's curriculum can help build upon and develop 21st century skills. As an early childhood teacher, you will need to facilitate the learning progression of ICT capability and digital literacy in early childhood education and care.


Through the examples given here, you should be able to make a start on achieving this today.