How can you encourage exploratory play with digital tech today?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Exploratory means to search, discover and learn more about something and there are many early childhood learning activities that can immerse young children into a variety of experiences and adventures.


To this day, play is closely linked to developmental process, engagement in socio-cultural contexts, gender and power relationships, and being culturally relative.


Combine this and it helps to keep the focus on play based learning in early childhood education. Exploratory play based learning is one of the earliest forms of play and involves the use of a child’s senses such as touch.


Play based learning in any form is connected to children’s learning and development.



Benefits of Exploratory play

There are several benefits of exploratory play in early childhood and include:

  • Resourcefulness – The ability to find and use resources to create a solution.
  • Critical thinking skills – The ability to evaluate information and use reasonable judgment to solve problems.
  • Problem-solving skills – The ability to use one's imagination and logic to find a solution.
  • Increased self-esteem – Increasing one's value and self-worth, for example, "Knowing I am loved."
  • Increased self-confidence – Building trust in your own abilities, for example, "Knowing I can do this."
  • Early childhood cognitive development – Involves skill-building such as counting, vocabulary, and language development.




How can exploratory play be used with digital technology in early childhood education?

Exploratory play is great for the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). Exploratory play is how children learn the properties of materials. It may involve children becoming familiar with how the different functions on digital technologies operate. You can support this by showing them how different functions operate.


You can use it as a teaching method to develop the following from the EYLF learning outcomes.


  • Fine motor skills - Exploratory, touchscreen technology can encourage young children to interact with text in ways that have not previously been possible. Additionally, exploring a variety of new movements is essential for the early development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Digital technology such computer mouse holding is an activity that help achieve this. You can also get children to practice pointing to letters on the keyboard. What about having young children finish an incomplete picture on a computer.


  • Aids vocabulary – if you as the educator use the correct technical vocabulary when involved in digital play based learning then young children can pick up new vocabulary and expand their language skills. Another example would be to ask the children to discuss their art they did using a painting app with whoever was near them at the time. They could explain why preferred one drawing to another. Or perhaps highlighting the differences between the two formats. Another approach could be to have them verbally identify pictures n a computer screen or let them make up sentences about pictures they see on technological equipment.


  • Sparks creativity – exploratory play is great for creativity as it encourages children to create their own source of entertainment. Creative exploration with digital technologies ideas such as using a CD-ROM and the computer for exploration and feedback is one way to get started. There are also exploratory games and young children can be creative and explore with sound, graphics, animation and video to excite and motivate their reading and language development. The exposition of the software and the exploration of its potential must be conducted with an adult whose aims include the development of creativity. The most best tools at this age are drawing and painting programs and programmable toys such as the bee bot robot.


Remember too, that when you see young children press buttons repeatedly or use the same functions over and over, this is also exploratory play then engage in when they learn to use digital technologies for different purposes.


Exploratory tasks

Here some exploratory play examples when using programmable toys such as robots.

  • Can you race your robots to the end of the Olympic circuit?
  • Can you make your robots dance better?
  • Your robot is working in the local sawmill and hot to move the big logs (wooden blocks). Can you manoeuvre the logs from the truck dumping area to the sawmill for cutting into planks?
  • In teams of five, can you play ‘Snakes and Ladders’ with the robots on the large floor mat?


These examples were discussed by Fleer (2021) in relation to young children between the ages of 4 -12 years imaginatively play with robotic toys.



Epistemic or Exploratory

Epistemic play is just exploratory play in which knowledge of things is acquired. It is a form of activity within the Digital Play Framework that identifies potential learning of children in the use of digital technologies in their play.