How to find the educational potential of early childhood digital games with ease

How to teach concepts to preschoolers

By Michael Hilkemeijer


There are many benefits that digital games in early childhood learning environments can bring. This was something that I discussed in my last video.


For example, adventure games bring with them educational potential such as:

  • An environment in which high levels of motivation exist to encourage playful problem-solving;
  • An opportunity to clearly represent a problem and to identify the types of information relevant to its solution;
  • An environment in which it is possible to collect and organise the relevant information;
  • To facilitate the development of a strategic approach;
  • To support the development of reasoning by encouraging the development and testing of hypothesis using a range of approaches.

(Morgan & Siraj-Blatchford, 2009, p.19)


However, there are still things that we as early childhood practitioners need to avoid such as any action-type games that do not provide opportunities for young children to problem-solve, create and collaborate. You also want to avoid any programs that promote gender bias and contain excessive violence.


In this video, I will show you how adventure games can promote early childhood learning and development by focusing on the role of play in learning in meaningful contexts.



There is no doubt that the computer games of today do entertain children. However, the question that many still want to be answered relates to their educational potential and ability to help young children learn.


Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that there are many features that make them ideally suited to helping children learn the skills of applying their knowledge and solving problems.


Adventure games for example:

  • Encourage a playful approach to learning;
  • Place problems in meaningful contexts;
  • Lend themselves to collaborative work and discussion and;
  • Involve children in many of the significant skills and processes involved in problem-solving.

(Siraj-Blatchford & Whitebread, 2009).



Let’s dive into these elements to further examine their potential for learning.


The Importance of Play in Learning

As I discussed in another article, the importance of learning through play in early childhood education. Play is one of the most powerful and effective mediums for children’s learning and this is something that has been universally understood by many. However, many still dismiss digital games in early childhood education and just believe that they merely engage young children in play. Yet, play is supported in the literature (Bruner et al., 1976) as being fundamental to human learning.


The connection between digital games and what the literature states is very clear then as play provides many opportunities to try out new possibilities, to combine elements of a problem, to see what would happen if all within complete safety. Digital computer games, therefore, do provide young children with playful opportunities for trying out new possibilities and developing flexible thinking as with traditional play scenarios.


To add to this, there is also structured play within these digital computer games that enhances intellectual development, and unstructured play that is valuable in enhancing social and emotional development in young children.



Meaningful integration

This brings to my next point in relation to the importance of meaningful contexts. In the past, I have highlighted how this further develops a young child’s ICT capability. However, this also relates to how young child can further develop their reasoning powers.


When they are given a task that is placed in contexts that are meaningful to them they are able to demonstrate their reasoning skills that are very similar evidenced by adults. On the other hand, if they are given a task that has no connection to something that they already know and understand, then young children will be unable to make sense of it. They will be unable to see whether it is relevant or irrelevant to them.



I have been writing and discussing a lot in the past also about just how important it is to integrate digital technology in early childhood education within meaningful contexts. For example, when ICT is integrated in an imaginative way throughout the curriculum then the quality of what is taught and learned is further developed.


Additionally, young children will learn key technical skills and an understanding of the processes to decide when it might be appropriate to use a computer for a task when they use digital technology in purposeful activities in meaningful contexts.


More importantly, ICT capability like other key skills shows in its application to a meaningful task.


Digital computer games are now also being used to improve children’s understanding and performance by teachers in a number of curriculum areas.



Providing meaningful contexts in computer games also helps it to be quite motivating for young children too



Collaborative learning in early childhood education

The power of collaborative learning has already been highlighted in a previous article. However, it has specific implications for the development of language amongst young children. Firstly, you need to understand that people come to understand ideas better through the process of articulating them in social or group problem-solving situations. Also, language is used in social contexts to ‘scaffold’, support, and guide problem-solving processes and procedures. Many primary classrooms these days encourage collaborative groupwork for these various reasons.


Coming back to computer games when you think it more deeply, computers themselves have been used for many years to foster groupwork in classrooms with many teachers of the view that learning to work in groups is the main advantage of computers in schools.


Taking a closer look at adventure games will indicate there an also research that suggests that the richest discussions have also been found around them (Crook, 1987 as cited in Siraj-Blatchford & Whitebread, 2009).


And to top this off, there is also research that shows that children’s development of effective problem-solving strategies is enhanced by working in pairs whilst working on computer-related tasks (Blaye et al., 1991 as cited in Siraj-Blatchford & Whitebread, 2009).


In the next article, I will continue this discussion on how adventure games in early childhood education can help develop problem-solving skills and processes.