How to better apply technology to outdoor play in early childhood

By Michael Hilkemeijer


This is an extract from my play based learning online course on how to integrate digital technology in early childhood education. You can gain instant access to it as a member of my ICT in Education Teacher Academy today for just $40 (cancel ANY time). Or purchase it outright as a stand-alone course for $360 AUD.


Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer a vast array of

possibilities not available indoors. Providing young children with quality education, therefore, involves outdoor experiences. Outdoor environments can offer unique and abundant opportunities for play-based learning in early childhood education.


So how can the use of digital technologies be used to enhance these learning experiences?


Digital pedagogy in early childhood education involves making decisions about using digital technologies with, by, and for young children. This could include the decision to not use digital technologies in certain situations. On the other hand, you might decide to facilitate outdoor play in early childhood education with digital technology because you might think it is the most appropriate way of helping children to develop and communicate an idea, access information required to progress play, and to develop an inquiry-based project.


Your role as the teacher in Digital Outdoor play-based learning

When deciding to use digital technology for outdoor play based learning the most important element that children will need is YOU!

They require the presence of knowledgeable adults who are responsive to their needs and who are people that they can trust. The following points will help you to reflect on your planning for using digital technology outdoors with young children and which also is stated in the EYFS in the UK.


You need to do the following things:

  • Offer a range of stimulating experiences and resources;
  • Respond to the children’s interests to extend their learning and development;
  • Interact with them in their play with digital technology;
  • Jointly engaging in problem-solving and sustained shared thinking with children when using digital technologies;
  • Respond to observed interests and plan new materials and experiences within the environment and reflect them;
  • Monitor materials, children’s involvement and your own involvement with children to ensure that you offer relevant experiences;
  • Provide materials that reflect diversity;
  • Evaluate their provision to ensure that everything is provided is of the highest quality;
  • Support children’s confidence in themselves and their development.

(Price, 2009)


How to establish a starting point for using digital technology outdoors

When beginning to use digital technology in outdoor play in early childhood education one of the best ways to get started and establish a play-based learning journey for young children is to use the digital camera. Whatever camera you have it will need to be possible to share it with the children or for them to have their own.


There are many options for you to start choosing. However, as young children continue to see the people in their lives and community use mobile technologies it is a good idea to start by integrating mobile phones or tablet computers with digital cameras into outdoor play-based learning.


The benefit of using this device pays for itself as data indicates that by 2026 ( , 87% of the Australian population will have used a smartphone. In the meantime, those with smartphones will be upgrading and the number of unused smartphones will dramatically increase making it easier for you to put out a call to the community for donations.


This means that young children will be able to use their own as they might even have unused phones from their own parents. So, if the digital camera and video recorder still work along with being able to upload images and videos onto the computer software used, they are a great choice, to begin with.


Many digital cameras on smartphones these days will take digital images or videos of similar or better quality as stand-alone. However, if you decide to use a stand-alone digital camera you will need to think about:

  • Taking out insurance;
  • Buying a camera that is suitable for the purpose (plastic-coated cameras may be an option);
  • If you go for a higher-quality adult camera, then you would need to have a strap so that the children carry it safely.


Introducing to young children such digital cameras will require you to:

  • Choose a place indoors where the camera can be sited;
  • Have an adult near the space while the children are getting used to sharing the camera;
  • Introduce the camera to all children and demonstrate how the first that you do is to wear the safety strap;
  • Demonstrate the least you need to do to take a picture and to view it on the camera;
  • Model how to use the camera for a purpose safely. Talk through your actions so children know why and how you are using the camera;
  • Teach individual children on a need-to-know basis;
  • Encourage the children to help each other use the camera, describing what the buttons do.


Some of these points can be equally applied to the use of a digital camera on a smartphone. However, as they are so widespread and easily accessible young children may have already had some experience with them. This means that children’s capabilities in smartphone cameras could possibly present when they first enter your learning environment.

As a result, you may save time and money as you will not need to demonstrate too much and would have more time to enjoy observing them play with. This brings me to my next point. These smartphones are becoming more robust and are certainly more agile than a stand-alone camera. Children would have seen them drop before and so you need not stress about breaking them especially since they would most likely be old and unused models of smartphones.

Smartphones as we know come with digital video recorders leaving another option for you to choose a cheaper tool for young children to use. The value of young children repeating what they are seeing their parents and older siblings do with smartphones or tablet computers in this instance, cannot be understated.


So, what are some ideas for children taking digital photos and videos? Think about…

  • Ask the children to take a photo of their favourite place in the outdoor area or the place they like the least. Print these out later and pin them on the wall.
  • Ask the children to take photos of their friends or even encourage them to do this spontaneously. Make a photo album with the children of each child playing outside.
  • Ask the children to take photographs of their collections of natural objects. A spontaneous activity like this could lead to a more developed experience of art.
  • Ask the children to video record their playing activities in front of the camera.
  • Recording visits out and then each child could take their own tiny clip out of their visit.


What can you do as a teacher? Think about…

  • Photographing children’s physical achievements and add these to their record books or share them in a digital display like a PowerPoint.
  • Photographing collaborations to reinforce positive personal and social developments.
  • Photographing the plants, the children are growing.


Learn more about play based learning in early childhood education with digital technology when you become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy. 

Pay just $40 (not $360) for this course and 30+ other courses and replays of our free webinars for preschool teachers.