How to make the right developmentally appropriate decisions with tech now

By Michael Hilkemeijer


This is an extract from my online pd for early childhood teachers about "How to support play based learning in early childhood education with digital technology". You can join the course itself for just $360 AUD here or become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy and gain instant access to this course and 40 plus others for just $43 AUD per month (Cancel anytime).


Since the inception of digital technology in early childhood education, there has been significant developmentally appropriate guidance for its use. Literature refers to the DATEC while you may also find guidance online as well.


Guidelines for digital play based learning

In considering appropriate uses of digital technology in early childhood education in relation to play based learning, it is important that you consider the following questions from the Developmentally Appropriate Technology in Early Childhood (DATEC) guidelines.

This identifies nine general criteria for determining the appropriateness of the ICT tools to be applied in the early childhood learning setting. It provides you with excellent guidelines for making decisions.

There are in fact, two key identifiers that relate to the integration of digital technologies or ICT and play based learning in early childhood education settings.


ICT Tool should support integration

When you plan for integration, you ensure that ICT is viewed as a tool to support and enhance teaching and learning.

It can be used in an imaginative way to deliver the curriculum and the quality of what is taught and learned is further developed and the effectiveness of the learning process is increased.


So what are the questions that you need to consider?


Is digital technology fully embedded?

  • Are children using technological tools for meaningful and authentic purposes? For example, can they use a computer to design and print wrapping paper?
  • Can they take photographs to share with their friends and families?
  • Do children have full access to the digital technology around them sot that they can select tools in their spontaneous play?


Digital technology applications should be integrated as far as possible with other established early childhood learning activities which make the curriculum relevant to the children.



The ICT Tool should support Play

In the early childhood learning environment, learning through play is one of the most important ways for young children to learn and develop.

It’s an activity where young children can explore, imagine, and make decisions and this changes over the course of childhood from infancy to adolescence.


The DATEC principle states that:

“Play and imitation are primary contexts for representational and symbolic behaviour, and role-play is therefore central to the processes of learning in the early years. Artefacts, such as toys and other ‘manipulables’ (functioning or pretend), are important because they provide symbols for the children to play with. Computer applications also provide a means by which children may engage and interact with a much wider range of virtual’ artefacts and environments than would otherwise be possible.”


The Office for Use of Educational Technology has also developed ‘Guiding Principles for use of Technology with Early Learners’.

“Developmentally appropriate use of technology can help young children grow and learn, especially when families and early educators play an active role. Early learners can use technology to explore new worlds, make-believe, and actively engage in fun and challenging activities. They can learn about technology and technology tools and use them to play, solve problems, and role play.”


Developmentally appropriate guidance

DAP Practices for Digital Play


Here is a list of developmentally appropriate examples that you may want to apply today.


For use of desktops computers and laptops

  • Make the computer available for children to work alone or in pairs to solve problems and establish priorities or make decisions. Save the individual work of children so that you can keep track of which child uses logic and reasoning activities at the computer. This way you can check to make sure everyone has had a chance to accomplish those objectives.
  • Think of the computer as a tool to support curiosity and creativity throughout the classroom. Children should know when they are exploring, playing, or making things the answers to many questions can be found with an Internet search on the computer. You can also use the computer as a place to record notes, searches, and pictures.
  • You can use the computer to show children pictures of spiders and count the legs. Programs that come with the computer such as Excel can be used to calculate numbers and explore math concepts.
  • The computer can also be used to record observations of science explorations. Upload photos were taken with the digital camera and use drawing programs that allow children to draw what they see with the mouse or touch screen.
  • Download software so children can play and record their own music on the keyboard. Even research with children different ways to make play dough.
  • Use the keyboard to develop computer literacy as children find the letters and characters. This, in turn, contributes to literacy in general.
  • Explore the home countries of the children in your class or research different countries and cultures.



Here is some developmentally appropriate guidance for using computer software and apps.

  • Look for activities that promote true problem-solving skills.
  • Provide activities that require multiple steps before feedback is provided or that allow a variety of explorations driven by the child’s interests. You should encourage their curiosity at all times.
  • Look for added features that engage children, provide variety and have the ability to increase the level of challenge as children progress.
  • Look for software that develop scientific thinking such as observing, describing, recording, watching for change, guessing and testing and comparing results. These can all be practice with programs such as word processors.
  • Provide software for recording or playing music.
  • Think of computer programs as one of the many expression tools you provide for children and ensure that they allow children to use the computer to create their artistic pieces.
  • Search for software or programs that promote speaking, listening, reading and writing.
  • Search for software to create a cast of characters for an imaginary city, or you might go online to explore what different people do in their jobs.


When should children start to engage in digital play?

There are a number of factors that you need to consider in relation when determining if a young child can interact with digital technology in early childhood education. According to sources, they are to do with the development of the physical, cognitive, linguistic and social and emotional competencies.

The features of various digital technologies also influence how young children can interact with them.


Some important facts that you need to remember include:

  1. Infants cannot engage in meaningful ways with screens as they are not able to learn well from two-dimensional media or transfer what they see to real life.
  2. Research has shown evidence that infants and toddlers can’t use information communicated to them through symbolic media such as images, models and video.
  3. It is also important to remember that there are also evidence findings that suggests there are negative effects of screen viewing for cognitive development.


As young children get older, for example at around 2 and a half, their developmental needs change and it is important that they develop their fine motor skills that can be used for the precise movements involved in using a mouse or track pad. Even scrolling through pages, pressing buttons or remote controls and phones can aid in the development of fine motor skills. Later, both hands coordination is needed to operate game consoles.


In relation to cognitive, socio-emotional and physical development this varies for each individual child and for some young children, additional support is needed. The key points to consider here is that while we may dub young children as ‘digital natives’, not all children are drawn to using digital technology nor will they understand how to interact with a digital device without additional help. And this may be due to the poor design of the digital device or app, or it can be as a result of individual preferences and differences in skill development.

So, these are some points to remember when deciding to integrate digital technology in early childhood education.


To learn more developmentally appropriate guidance on using digital technology in early childhood education, join my full online pd for early childhood teachers –