How to plan for digital play based learning?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Planning digital play based learning is an important aspect of being able to successfully integrate ICT in preschool. I have included it as part of my online pd for early childhood teachers in the ICT in Education Teacher Academy where there is 40 + online courses to choose from. Become a member for just $45 AUD per month (cancel anytime) or join this course now for $360 AUD and learn “How to support play-based learning in early childhood education with digital technology” today.



With such a wealth of ICT tools in early childhood education, it is important to consider when they should be used. All your decisions, need to be focused on exploiting the full potential of ICT in preschool education to the best effect and how this contributes to achieving the desired early childhood learning outcome.


Interactions with ICT mainly takes the form of interactions between child and ICT, or between children through ICT. There are three kinds of interactions with ICT in preschool that could be effective:


  • Brief targeted moments – consists of early childhood learning activities that take up to 5-10 minutes to complete.
  • Spur-of-the-moment ideas – usually consist of child-initiated, spontaneous activities that can be accomplished with little planning and that make use of available materials.
  • Thematically linked activities – delivering the curriculum through projects or topics that are carefully planned, multilayered activities that involve multiple opportunities to learn key concepts in various ways.


It is important that you make the right decisions about what ICT equipment to use and to remember, that it is not the ICT tools being the most important factor, but how ICT in digital play in early childhood education. If you are not confident in this aspect it is best for you to join effective online pd for early childhood teachers that will deliver evidence and research based strategies.


Research points out that it is essential that knowledge is gained of the content and an understanding of the pedagogies in ICT in early childhood education. Online workshops found within our Teacher Academy can help you to know how to use ICT to enhance and interweave both areas with a positive attitude for experimentation and risk-taking – in other words, develop a digital pedagogy in early childhood education.



Matching resources to learning objectives

The vast variety of ICT tools in early childhood education that is available today allows you to be very specific about the role these resources play in children’s learning.


Some examples include:

ICT teaching resources that are designed to lead young children through a topic that is new to them. They should allow a child to progress by themselves and at their own pace. It is important that they are designed using multiple representations rather than just text to allow for inclusion of all children including those with limited reading abilities.

Instructional games are similar to drill and practice programs but with an element of competition that many children find engaging.

Problem-solving ICT resources are also known as tool software and are excellent for engaging children in higher order thinking skills. They require young children to apply their knowledge in a variety of new contexts that require them to make connections or develop strategies.


Promoting digital play across the curriculum

The true power of ICT in preschool education is that there are now available almost limitless resources with which young children can investigate topics across the curriculum. However, you must set out their play environment to maximise the opportunities for learning to take place. The early childhood learning environment must be a place that is underpinned by knowledge of how children develop skills, explore and grow in understanding of key concepts.



Planning for learning and development 

It is important to be clear about how each of the defined key learning areas can be enriched and enhanced. This means that you will need to think about the use of ICT/digital technology in each of the six contexts.

The following activities have strong links to the Early Years Foundation Stage but may also apply to the Early Years Learning Framework and other early childhood curriculums.


For ‘Personal, social and emotional development’ planning opportunities could exist in the following ways:

  • Children can learn how to share the ICT tools and take turns to allow children to establish constructive relationships with other children and with other adults.
  • Through the use of digital technologies such as the computer/laptop or even tablet computers encourage collaboration between children, and between adults and children in problem-solving.
  • Using ICT to explore worlds beyond the early years.
  • Using the computer as a tool to encourage collaboration between children who are experiencing difficulties and others in the Early Years setting.


For ‘Communication, language and literacy’ planning opportunities could exist in the following areas:

  • Children can write messages, label pictures with their name and otherwise engage with the communicative aspects of ICT.
  • Experience notion that computers and IWBs can communicate words and pictures from books. If an adult helper, parent or older child is present, much useful talk and discussion about books and print, words and sounds, computers and communication can occur.
  • Children can communicate with friends, relatives or peers in other settings nearby and very far away if possible.


For ‘Problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy’ planning opportunities could exist in the following areas:

  • You could plan to use software which allows young children to experience situations of counting and sharing and identifying numbers.
  • Plan to use software that relates a counting song or nursey rhyme known to the children to reinforce early counting concepts and which allows the children to have some free play. Constructive dialogue can take place if the children are working with parent helpers or other adults and making conscious what they understand.


For ‘Knowledge and understanding of the world’ planning opportunities could exist in the following areas:

  • Include ICT/digital technology within the role play area and consider settings with which the children are familiar such as libraries, doctors’ surgeries and any kind of office. This will create a powerful context for imaginative play because the use of ICT tools reinforces the ‘reality’ of the situation for the child and this presents a powerful stimulus for the inner speech and the outer dialogue in the ZPD.
  • Use the computer to record writing, orals and visual elements, in addition to the children’s experiences as learners. Digital cameras can help in providing instant feedback.
  • Inclusion is amplified with the use of ICT to provide access to activities for many children with special education needs as it allows for activities which promote knowledge and understanding of the world to be planned for all.
  • Use the Internet and CD-ROMs to bring experiences of other cultures and other worlds into your early childhood learning environment.


For ‘Physical development’ planning opportunities could exist in the following areas:

  • Plan to use ICT tools to promote and develop fine motor skills for all children, in particular, the use of the mouse.
  • If you have children experiencing difficulties in fine motor skills you will need to access ICT devices such as brightly coloured, larger keyboards, touch windows and trackballs. Concept keyboards can also be used that contain teacher defined touch areas, touch screens and big switches that can be wheelchair mounted.


For ‘Creative development’ planning opportunities could exist in the following areas:

  • The use of graphics software such as drawing and painting programs that has great potential in the early childhood learning environment. The medium in which the child operates is infinitely editable and scalable.
  • ICT also offers the early childhood learning environment the potential to be creative with sound and with video. Simple musical composition software allows young children to see that you can more than just paint and write at a computer. Children can even use recording freeware such Audacity in an imaginary scenario in which to explore and develop.


Use these digital play based learning pedagogy next time you plan and make decisions to integrate ICT in early childhood learning environments today.