How to connect digital play to Learning and Development goals with ease

By Michael Hilkemeijer


The following is an excerpt from my play-based learning online course that addresses how ICT supports children’s learning. You can find it in the member’s area of my ICT in Education Teacher Academy today.


As early childhood teachers move forward like the rest of the world into a digitally-dominated society, the shift in focus from integrating ICT in early childhood education to integrating digital technology in early childhood education in the form of digital play has broadened the use of resources to apply to the early childhood learning environment. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to use the exact same teaching strategies in early childhood education as ICT is a type of digital technology. 

Your planning, therefore, should be the same with the purpose of ensuring that digital technology in early childhood education is viewed as a tool to support and enhance teaching and learning. It should never be seen as an add-on to the curriculum. 

Planning should be seen as flexible with any part of the plan being able to be used independently, stretched over a longer period, or condensed to meet the needs of any group. This is important to ensure that every child is provided with a varied and enjoyable curriculum that meets their individual developing needs.




Using the Early Learning Goals

When digital technology is used in an imaginative way to deliver the curriculum and is threaded through all Early Learning Goals, steppingstones, topics and digital play experiences, then the quality of what is taught and learned is further developed and the effectiveness of the learning process is enhanced. 

The first step is choosing your topic and making your medium-term plans. This article addresses the next step which is in this case, both the EYLF and EYFS to highlight the key learning opportunities your activities will address.


Play based learning in early childhood education

Learning through play is an essential element of Early Years education as it helps to develop the children’s awareness of themselves socially, emotionally and physically. So, integrating many forms of digital technology into imaginative play situations encourages personal, social and emotional development. 

Play is also linked physical, literacy and language, cognitive, and creative development.


Linking the EYLF

Within the EYLF, there are connections to physical, cognitive, literacy and numeracy as well as social and emotional development for young children as follows:


  • EYLF learning outcome 3.2 – Children take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing (2-3 years)
  • EYLF learning outcome 4.4 – Children resource their own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural and processed materials (3-5 years).
  • EYLF learning outcome 5.2 – Children engage with a range of texts and gain meaning from these texts. 


What follows are not my ideas but are starting points that almost any setting can try to support children’s progress.  Use these as your early childhood educator goals today.


Personal, Social and Emotional development

Throughout both the Early Year curriculums, social and emotional development is achieved through collaboration, and digital technology such as ICT encourages children to cooperate with each other, learn together, be patient, persevere and concentrate. 

You need to plan carefully for social and collaborative development to ensure that a good learning outcome for all is achieved. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started.


  • Talk about ICT or digital technology. Explain what ICT stands for and ask the children to talk about things in their own homes that are ICT or digital technology. Do parents have a mobile phone? Do children use computers at home?
  • Talk about how to look after and take care of CDs an DVDs. Explain how to hold CDs and DVDs and why they should be replaced in their cases after they are used.
  • In small groups explain how Google can be used to search for information. Then use Google to find answers to questions given by the children.
  • Use ‘talking books’ and talk about the characters and how they behave and what they feel.
  • You can read a fairytale one day and then the following day watch the story on a DVD or listen to it on a CD. Follow this up by talking about the way the characters sounded/looked. Were they like the book pictures? Were they what the children imagined would be like?
  • Another idea would be to make posters on a computer of daily routines and when they are complete you can discuss how the routines help people.
  • Programmable robots such as Bee Bots can be used to encourage children to share and to take turns when pressing the control buttons. Mapping is encouraged using programmable toys.
  • You can examine a variety of early years ICT-based games and play some of the games. Along the way ensure that children learn to respect the opinions of their peers.


Creative Development

The use of digital technology in early childhood education can foster creative development. As an example, the digital microscope is an excellent resource for looking closely and examining texture.

Here are some other ideas.

  • The children can enjoy making and using model laptop computers in a role play office or on a role play train.
  • Show the children pictures of laptop computers with colourful covers and provide them with a computer-sized  piece of paper so that they can decorate as covers for laptop computers.
  • Cut the letters ICT out of a large sheet of cardboard and then invite the children to cover the letters with pictures from catalogues showing ICT. When it is finished, you can varnish the letters with watered-down PVA glue and use them for a display.
  • Use a digital microscope to examine sugar crystals. Invite the children to record the patterns with paint, glue and glitter.
  • Use the Internet to find words for favourite nursery rhymes. You can either show the words on the IWB or display them on a board with illustrations provided by the children.
  • Use paint and draw computer graphics programs to create colour patterns.
  • What about using keyboards to make tunes.
  • Make remote control patterns.
  • Show the children how to word process the letter that starts their name and alter the size and font. Print out each letter and provide crayons and pens for the children to enjoy turning their letter into a picture.
  • Make models of robots and remote control cars.
  • Leave a selection of story CDs for children to play with independently. Provide dressing up clothes and resources for the children to enjoy role playing the characters within the stories.
  • Paint pictures of houses for a Google Maps display.
  • Set out in the role play area as a car with satellite navigation. Invite pairs of children to enjoy going for drives.



Understanding the world

This is most likely the link which people understand best - between ICT and the world. In the EYLF learning outcome 2, there is a direct reference to broadening their understanding of the world. EYLF learning outcome 5 can also combine with this to ensure that they find out about and identify the everyday use digital technology and use digital technologies and programmable toys to support learning.

It is essential, therefore, that you acknowledge and recognise that the teaching of ICT/digital literacy skills is important to enable young children to have mastery and control over the equipment, in order to facilitate their learning in each key curriculum area.

Furthermore, this will require you to plan for the structured development of ICT capability that comprises of ICT skills and techniques, routines, conceptual understanding by children and higher order thinking skills. This can be differentiated and be progressive.

Here are some ideas to get you started.


  • Use catalogues to find pictures of things that could be classed as ICT. Use them to make posters for an ‘All about ICT’ display.
  • Another idea would be to use a simple hand-held digital microscope such as an Easi-scope to offer children the opportunity to explore objects and living things in detail.
  • Use a hand-held metal detector and a range of everyday objects to encourage the children to test which will make the detectors buzz. Open-ended questioning is a great form of scaffolding that you can implement along with sustained shared thinking.
  • Investigate the computer keyboard and explore the different keys to help the children to realise the purpose for keys such as ‘backspace’ and ‘return’.
  • Use cardboard boxes such cereal packets to make model laptop computers for a role play office or to take on a role play train journey.
  • Digital cameras can be used by the children to record the growth of a flowering plant and how it changes over time.
  • Use sensors to record sounds or temperature.
  • Look at digital photos of festivals celebrated by the children and encourage the children to explain how they celebrate.
  • Help the children take digital photographs of people or objects and then use lolly sticks to make frames of the photos.
  • Outside make giant picture using natural objects such as shells, wood, stones and leaves.
  • Take a photo of each child’s face and then cut out and mount the face on a plan piece of paper.
  • Show the children the game ‘Patience’ on the computer.



Physical Development

Physical development can be improved through the use of digital technology, and it can particularly aid in the development of fine motor skills. Digital technologies such as a mouse controlling a cursor are recognised as a high-level skill and it is helpful if a smaller size of mouse is purchased for children.

When you are using ICT in preschool, you can incorporate it into many aspects of physical and outdoor play.


Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • DAP computer games are a good way to develop fine motor skills.
  • Talk about the way that ICT can help things to happen quicker such as sending an email in seconds as opposed to a day or more for a letter.
  • Use a mouse to navigate around an appropriate piece of software to practice hand-eye coordination.
  • Watch a short DVD showing animated characters made from malleable materials.
  • Role play being programmable robots.
  • Digital timers can be used to record how long it takes children to do activities such as throwing five balls into a bucket.
  • Talk about hot and cold temperatures by showing a digital, outdoor thermometer.
  • Bring up the topic of pets and talk about how microchips are used to ‘tag’ pets.
  • Discuss with the children how some people book their holidays by using the Internet. Enjoy role-playing buying an online holiday.
  • Create a giant barcode on the playground using chalk lines. Then use the barcode for jumping from line to line.
  • You can also use the barcodes for practicing kicking balls onto specific lines.



Literacy Development

Multilink headphones, digital cameras and webcams are just a few ICT tools and resources in early childhood education that enables and supports literacy development. Such technology encourages the development of speaking and listening skills. Using digital technology in early childhood education can also encourage imagination, promotes self-esteem. These are just a few ways that digital play in the early years can make a difference in literacy development.

Here are some other ideas to get you started.


  • Begin with reminding the children that ICT stand for Information and Communication Technology and then talk about each child’s initials.
  • Ask the children to write their names using a word processor such as MS Word. Encourage them to style their name using a variety of font sizes, styles, colours. Print them out and compare each others.
  • Ask the children to help you collect books that show some form of ICT such as mobile phones, remote control toys and computers.
  • Show the children a mobile phone with a predictive text. Use magnetic words to write text messages.
  • Discuss how people send messages by using email and determine if they know of other ways that messages can be sent.
  • Talk about the way ICT is used to let people waiting for transport such as planes, buses and trains know departure and arrival times.
  • Show children a television weather forecast. Look carefully at the computer generated weather maps. Then set up a role play area as a weather station and encourage the children to make up their own symbols and maps.
  • Use PowerPoint to record children’s stories and make talking books.
  • Make a group big book where every child contributes their own word processed sentence.
  • Layout letter cards on the floor to make a giant keyboard. Encourage the children to spell out simple words.
  • Make a recording using software such as Audacity of children reciting nursey rhymes with changes words such as ‘Baa Baa Blue Sheep’ or ‘Stan and Jill went up the hill’. Later, listen to the recordings to find all the changed words.
  • Write captions for digital photographs of the local environment.



Numeracy Development

You can inject excitement into mathematics through imagining the potential for learning with digital technology in early childhood education. For example, programmable toys can help with many aspects of maths, from number recognition, counting forwards/backwards and problem-solving. Even metal detectors can help motivate children to learn and discover.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

  • Start by using a keyboard to practice number recognition.
  • Provide outlines of mobile phones for children to stick on numbers 1 to 9.
  • By using the IWB software, create a set of shapes on the carpet and ask the children to find similar ones on the IWB.
  • Use the IWB calculator.
  • Show the children a computer mouse attached to a wire and then provide them with wool, a hole punch and a mouse shape piece of cardboard for the children to make their own. You can then encourage the children to compare length of the wires and to use vocabulary such as ‘longer’, ‘shorter’ and ‘the same’.
  • Create number flowers from unwanted CDs and DVDs.
  • Use a digital camera to record groups of objects, chosen by the children, to represent the numbers 1 to 10. Use the photos for counting and for using language such as ‘more than’ and ‘less than’.
  • What about using Bee Bots as the stimulus for solving problems and language for positions and directions.
  • Use a digital thermometer to record the outside temperature each day.
  • Explain that digital photos are sometimes used after running races to decide who has won because the runners seem to cross the finish line at the same time.


ICT in Education Teacher Academy

Become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy today. 40 plus online workshops for preschool teachers and free webinar replays with our ECE industry experts. 

You will about :

  • Digital storytelling in early childhood education
  • Planning and Implementation for play based learning
  • How to nurture creativity with technology in ECE
  • and much more.

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