How to understand the role of digital play in the early years with ease

By Michael Hilkemeijer


This is an extract from my online training for early childhood educators called "How to Support Play-based Learning in Early Childhood Education with Digital Technology". Being able to achieve this in a digital age is very important as most children enter their first four years of education with some experience with digital devices. You can access this course as a member of my ICT in Education Teacher Academy today for just $5.99 per month (cancel anytime). Gain instant access to all 70 + play-based learning online courses, books, lesson plans, and digital play activities for preschoolers and other early years children.



The Role of Digital Play in the Early Years

Young children today continue to be born in this digital and information age that we live in. Digital technologies are becoming more embedded and ubiquitous in the environment around children. They are having a profound effect on young children’s live and they are being ‘taken for granted’.


For parents and educators of the pre-digital age, you can now choose to embrace digital play options which come with a need to learn new skills. Yet, digital play has been proven to be the most effective way to integrate digital technology in early childhood education learning environments.


“The key skills of the future will include the ability to develop innovative ways of using technology to enhance the learning environment, and to encourage technology literacy, knowledge deepening and knowledge creation.”

(UNESCO ICT-CST 2008a: 9)

This provides further evidence of why complex and continuous professional development for ECE teachers is a key requirement for the productive integration of ICT into the learning and development process of young children.


"This requires a different set of classroom management skills to be developed."



In relation to the roles that digital technology in early childhood education can play there is a growing recognition of the many different ways that digital play can contribute to, or transform, the activities, roles, and relationships experienced by children and adults in early childhood learning environments.


Here are some possible roles that digital play can have in early childhood education:


Roles of Digital Play

Examples may include the following

Children using digital technology such as ICT in their play or learning (alone, with peers, or with adults)

Children using computers to play games, listen to stories, or draw pictures.

Children using ICT equipment in games or role-play activities.

Children and practitioners using digital technology to scaffold children’s learning

Using the Internet to locate information or resources, sparked by children’s interest in a particular topic or idea.

Children and practitioners using digital technology together to document and reflect on children’s learning with parents, or with other practitioners.

Taking digital photos, videos or audio recordings of activities in the early childhood education setting and reviewing these together, or sharing them with parents.

Practitioners and children using digital technology to build portfolios of children’s work, to use for evaluating progress in children’s learning and development.



Health and Safety Issues with Digital Play

While young children are naturally drawn to digital technologies there is a proliferation of literature that makes claims to both its advantages and disadvantages of it to them. Concerns today relate to the following:

  • Harmful physical effects of children’s prolonged computer use;
  • Negative impacts on children’s social development (for example, computer use will encourage anti-social behaviour);
  • Educational concerns that computers will interfere with children’s cognitive development;
  • Concerns about children’s exposure to unsuitable content;
  • Concerns that computer use may displace other important learning and play activities.


Despite this, most parents see digital technologies as largely having positive benefits. This is mostly due to seeing it as a valid form of children’s entertainment and today, they can offer constructive play options which stimulate imagination and promote social development. All of which support early learning. 


Facilitating Digital play in the early years

The barriers in early childhood education and care practices that have made it difficult to integrate digital technology in early childhood education are aligned with that in other sectors such as primary and secondary. Below is a diagram from First Discoverers such highlights what they are.


Digital play in the early years


(Taken from First Discoverers - Inspired by Flewitt et al., 2015)


Despite this, it remains clear that continuous and complex professional development for ECE practitioners is the key to the successful integration of digital play in the early childhood curriculum.

“New technologies require new teacher’s roles, new pedagogies, and new approaches to teachers’ training. The successful integration of ICT into the classroom will depend on the ability of teachers to structure the learning environment in non-traditional ways, to merge new technology with new pedagogy, to develop socially active classrooms, encouraging cooperative interaction, collaborative learning, and group work.”

(UNESCO ICT-CST 2008a: 9).

Through the online professional development that we deliver, you will go beyond understanding such statements to support the development of ICT capability through the effective facilitation of digital play.


Digital Play

Digital play is a relatively new idea in early childhood education. Initially when digital technology was introduced into the early years setting the focus was on whether it would be either beneficial or harmful for young children.


Since then, there has been much research on the benefits of digital technology in early childhood education and now the debate has shifted from whether digital technologies should be used by young children to the most effective use of digital technology with young children.


Research has indicated that the shift encompassed thinking about how to integrate digital technology in early childhood education where play is considered a key method of learning and development. In the early years settings, play is considered a means of exploration that would involve a lot of hands-on activities and collaborative socialising together. Social interaction would help young children build their knowledge about their world.


Now with the introduction of digital play being integrated into the early childhood education learning environments this is enhanced and promoted further with the natural tendency of digital technologies to bring children together in a digital world.


Additionally, digital play can also be viewed as a mode of meaning-making (Edwards, Digital Play, 2020) for young children to make sense and understand their digital world. In this way, the methodology of how young children and teachers could actively engage in problem-solving and critical thinking could gain perspective.


Play in Early Childhood Education

To this day, the early childhood education sector has not yet settled on a definition of play. Here are some definitions that are cited in Edwards (2020, p.57).


  • “Developmental process”;
  • “Engagment in socio-cultural contexts” (Bergen, 2014);
  • “Gender and power relationships amongst children” (Grieshaber & McArdle, 2010);
  • “Culturally relative” (Gaskins, 2014).


The Digital Divide

The ‘digital divide’ certainly plays a role in how young children play with digital technologies. It represents how “access to digital technologies and modes of learning for using digital technologies for cultural participation is a matter of social equity” (Edwards, Digital Play, 2020, p. 57).


As Schradie (2011, as cited in Edwards, 2020, p.57) highlights “productive digital practices, such as using technologies to create content, communicate with other people and share ideas are experienced more often by children in socially advantaged homes”. On the other side of the scale so to speak, research has also indicated that children who live in less advantaged settings have a tendency to use digital technologies for the consumption of content (Judge, Puckett & Bell, 2006 as cited in Edwards, 2020, p.57).


What this indicates in terms of children’s ICT capability is that as a consequence there is a divide in the capabilities of young children due to the socio-economic environment and use of digital technologies in their lives.


For you as an early childhood educator, what this means is ensuring that you provide young children with the digital opportunities that they need to further their capabilities responsively and to integrate digital technology in early childhood education as a productive example for those who do live fewer advantages homes to grasp the benefits of using digital technologies.



Digital play in the early years

What is Play-Based Learning in Early Childhood Education?

Learn more about "How to support play based learning in early childhood education with digital technology" by becoming a member of my ICT in Education - over 70 + online pd for early childhood teachers - and overcome the challenges of understanding and practicing digital play in your early childhood learning environment. Join now for just $5.99 per month.


In a world that is constantly changing, research has highlighted that pedagogy in early childhood education is one of the most important aspects in assessing children’s learning.


As an early childhood teacher, you will make judgements that will facilitate a child’s learning by making sound instructional decisions in relation to your own professional knowledge and skills, your knowledge of the children and their families, your awareness of how your own beliefs and values impact children’s learning, and incorporating your own personal styles and past experiences (EYLF).


One of the most common practices in preschool is ‘learning through play’ in which I discussed the importance of previously in another article.


When thinking about the term ‘play’ a lot of images come to mind. There are also many different ideas and definitions of play itself. According to Early Childhood Australia, play is defined as having the following attributes:

  • pleasurable-play is an enjoyable and pleasurable activity. Play sometimes includes frustrations, challenges and fears; however enjoyment is a key feature
  • symbolic-play is often pretend, it has a ‘what if?’ quality. The play has meaning to the player that is often not evident to the educator
  • active-play requires action, either physical, verbal or mental engagement with materials, people, ideas or the environment
  • voluntary-play is freely chosen. However, players can also be invited or prompted to play
  • process oriented-play is a means unto itself and players may not have an end or goal in sight
  • self motivating-play is considered its own reward to the player (Shipley, 2008).



Play in the Digital Age

Despite this, the tools that academics had used in the past need to change as it is becoming clear that the nature of play in the digital age is changing in terms is changing in terms of the resources that is available for young children to play with and in particular the way in which these digital resources are deployed in different types of play.


In the words of Elliot (2010, p. 69 as cited in Fleer, 2021, p. 67) “as technology has changed, play has assumed new guises, forms and contexts, but it essentially retains its fundamental role in development and learning. The roles of digital technologies….have changed the play landscape.”


The use of digital technology in early childhood education can be applied in an appropriate manner to encourage purposeful and exploratory play. Today, young children are growing up in a digital context that involves a range of purposes. Most will enter your early childhood learning environment with some experience of digital play in the early years of their lives.


What is play based learning in early childhood

Learning in the Digital Age

Digital technologies are becoming more embedded and ubiquitous in the environment around young children. Each has a profound effect on all aspects of people’s lives. There are many roles that they can play in relation to the learning and development of young children as Richards (2006) states they create a new landscape of knowledge, learning and growing up for young children.


In a knowledge economy and digital society where citizens and the workforce are embracing technologies it is essential that young children are well equipped to use digital technologies as it is likely that it will consume a large part of their working and personal life.


Learning in the 21st century involves it being multimodal and digital technologies provides many opportunities for this to occur. Its role in facilitating this is quite significant


Play-based learning in the Digital Age

So, what is early childhood play based learning when it comes to digital technologies? Play-based learning with traditional materials “provides opportunities for children to actively and imaginatively engage with people, objects, and the environment” ( . It is a way for children to learn through play and it helps in developing young children’s physical, emotional and social, and intellectual well-being.


Early childhood pedagogies would involve the following within a digital context:

  • Construct opportunities for digital play within (not as opposed to, or as well as) the early childhood learning environment/program;
  • Make connections between digital play and the early childhood education curriculum visible for all involved and clearly articulate this relationship;
  • Model, support, initiate and generate digital play to include the use of, for example, computers and role play programs, toy digital technologies and non-working digital technologies for socio-dramatic play;
  • Actively engage in and guide the digital play - before, during and after.

(Adapted from


Digital play-based learning mostly involves the use of touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablet computers as the user-friendly and mobility of these devices makes them developmentally appropriate for young children. This does not mean that other digital technologies such desktop computers and laptops are not used as most digital media can inspire young children’s play narratives; support them to create new digital and non-digital images through painting, drawing, photography and video.


Play-based learning with digital technologies was covered extensively in the ‘Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies’ (ECA).



Digital Play in Preschool

Understanding the role and place of digital technology in early childhood education and in children’s play experiences is fraught with challenge. Digital play may challenge your professional role, it may challenge the norms and traditions of your profession, it may challenge your professional knowledge of play, and it may challenge your professional view of children.

Complex and continuous professional development is your key to productive integration of digital technology into the learning process of children. It is important that you as the early childhood educator socially and culturally mediate children’s learning with digital technologies through a reciprocal and responsive relationship with young children. We support children’s learning with digital technology in preschool by enabling you through our online workshops for preschools that provide the answers that you need to understand what is play based learning in early childhood education in a digital society.



Digital play in the early years

How to Support Digital Play in Early Childhood Education

THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY ONLINE PD FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS – HOW TO SUPPORT PLAY BASED LEARNING IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY. You can gain instant access to this course by becoming a member of our Academy for just $5.99 AUD per month today.


Digital literacy in early childhood education is about considering the use of digital technology in early childhood education for the early acquisition of digital skills to be part of young children’s communication development.

Many young children enter early learning environments with varying degrees of capabilities in digital technology. Therefore, for many early childhood educators teaching digital literacy in early childhood education is not about the question of technical competence, but more a question of being able to apply effective pedagogical interaction. Additionally, they also understand that ‘moral work’ also has further weight than dealing with technical competencies with digital technology in early childhood education.


The position statement from Early Childhood Australia, the main governing organisation in Australia for young children in education, titled “Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies” clearly outlines how digital literacy can be achieved in the early years through four aspects of digital play – Relationships; Health and Wellbeing; Citizenship; and Play and Pedagogy.


For young children, it means developing skills in the use of images and sound to convey information, ideas and feelings about themselves, their activities, and their environment using electronic media. They will begin to develop skills to organise and analyse information.


Young children, with reference to the EYLF, will demonstrate how to use ICT to investigate and problem-solve, identify uses of digital technology in everyday life, using digital technologies to access images and information, and to use digital technologies as tools for designing, creating, editing, drawing, reflecting and composing in meaningful play in early childhood education.


Digital literacy in early childhood education


How to Best Understand Digital Play in Preschool Today?

Digital play in the early years is just as important as play without digital technology today. There are many types and in the article you will learn from these excerpts of our play based learning professional development key early childhood pedagogies that you can apply now.

Previously, the importance of learning through play in the early years was discussed in an earlier article and here you will take a deeper look at what pedagogies exists and particularly at the best time to begin digital play-baed learning in early childhood education.


Types of digital play based learning

There are lots of different digital play-based learning in early childhood education. Below, you can read all about the different types of play-based learning that there is, including some resources that you can use.


Socio-dramatic Play (Role Play)

Socio-dramatic play with the use of digital technology provides contexts for children to share representations and to articulate their thinking, bringing to consciousness ideas that they are still only beginning to grasp and intuitively.


Good quality role play gives children the opportunity to make sense of the technological world in which they live. It also provides them with the opportunity to handle digital tools that they see in the world around them, experiment and take control of them.

Some ideal props are real technologies, toy technologies, and hand-made technologies.


Physical play

There is some literature that argue that creating digital play experiences that are active is not enough to counter the problem of unhealthy lifestyles among children. However, there is now a wide variety of digital technologies that involve children’s physically active engagement.

One of the most simplest approaches to digital play involves using digital technologies that easily accessible such as the use of digital photography, or engagement with story-making apps that enable children to take photographs and make audio and video recordings.


Exploratory play

We need to provide activities that encourages children to explore the technological affordances of a variety of digital technologies and to encourage them to apply them – playfully in the early years – for a range of different purposes.


Outdoor play

There is an argument that children are less likely to go outside because digital play has such an important role in their leisure time, that parents encourage their children to stay indoors and play. However, there are two overriding reasons that I would argue compel us to incorporate digital technology into outdoor play. The outdoors is where come children learn best and digital technology can offer motivating, captivating and new ways into that learning.



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.


Some important facts that you need to remember include:

  • 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.
  • Research has shown evidence that infants and toddlers can’t use information communicated to them through symbolic media such as images, models and video.
  • 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 changes 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


How to incorporate digital play based in the early years

So what exactly should a digital play based learning environment look like? As with traditional play, there is no set of rules or definition for what makes a successful digital play-based area. However, adults are encouraged to co-play with young children as with normal play without digital technologies. So ensure that you have plenty of child-led digital play activities and continuous provisions that encourage a versatile range of learning.


This might look like a classroom with specific areas that are designed and differentiated for digital play-based learning, such as:

  • Role play area
  • Inquiry area
  • Sensory exploration
  • Construction play area


Planning and implementing learning through play

While digital play-based learning in early childhood education should be child-led and open-ended where possible, adult-led play is highly beneficial when it comes to planning ahead and targeting specific early learning outcomes.

The key to effective planning and implementing learning through play is to outline a solid approach, with defined EYLF/EYFS learning outcomes and goals.

This can be achieved through a detailed plan that outlines what digital play-based learning will look like and what it will achieve.

A good plan for play-based learning in early childhood education will include all the following information:

  • A thematic approach or an approach based on the breadth and depth of the EYLF/EYFS.
  • A specific learning intention.
  • Organisation details.
  • Key questions and technical vocabulary that you will use or explain during the activity.
  • Details of the adult role, with easy-to-follow steps
  • Any digital resources needed.
  • Ideas for extensions into continuous provision.
  • Differentiation and opportunities for extra challenges.
  • Opportunities for observation and assessment.


Try our digital play based learning professional development 

How to support play based learning in early childhood education with digital technology now

Cost: $460 AUD

You will learn how to support play based learning digital technology that will respond to a child's digital capabilities and learning needs. This course is NOT about understanding digital play research but IS about providing you with the 'practical and immediately actionable" strategies and steps that you can APPLY today and which is derived from the current research on digital play in the early years.


Become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy and get instant access to this course and many others for just $5.99 AUD per month.



Digital play

How you can Build your Understanding of Digital Play-Based Pedagogy with Ease?

Digital play is the best form of technology integration in early childhood education and so it makes sense that you ensure that the best pedagogical practices are implemented. In this section, you will learn more about digital play based pedagogy in early childhood education so that you can support technological learning and development in your early learning environment today.


In this article, I will discuss:

  1. What is early childhood pedagogy?
  2. What is play-based pedagogy?
  3. What is play-based pedagogy in relation to the use of digital technology in early childhood education?



What is Early Childhood Pedagogy?

To define pedagogy in early childhood education means to understand the holistic practices of a teacher in areas such as curriculum decision-making, teaching and learning as well as of their professional practices that encompass nurturing and building relationships with children and families (EYLF, 2020).


The four aspects of an early childhood teacher’s professional judgement which help constitute their pedagogy in early childhood include:

  • Professional knowledge and skills;
  • Knowledge of children, families and communities;
  • Awareness of how their beliefs and values impact on children’s learning and;
  • Personal styles and past experiences.


What is Play based learning pedagogy?

Today, there is strong evidence that tells us that young children learn best through play-based learning when they are actively engaged, interacting and co-constructing learning with others. The importance of learning through play has been something that I have earlier discussed. However, when discussing play-based learning pedagogy it is important to remember that it is about supporting young children when they are experimenting and learning through play.


It involves you as a teacher constructing opportunities for play based learning within the learning program, making connections to the curriculum, modelling and supporting and generating play to include the use of socio-dramatic activities for example.



What is digital play based learning pedagogy?

Play based learning pedagogy in relation to digital technology involves young children enhancing their learning and development by exploratory playing with digital technology. For example, they become familiar with how the different functions of digital technology operates when they take digital photographs.


For you as an educator, it means supporting the use of digital technology in early childhood education with evidence based teaching strategies that connects this use of digital devices to the curriculum whilst facilitating the development of ICT capability in early childhood education.


It is an instructional choice that involves planning and the careful consideration of young children’s ICT capability in a responsive manner.


Early childhood pedagogy, therefore, involves you joining in with the play as well as making the decisions in relation to how, when and for what period of time can children use digital technologies. It includes making the connections between the available digital technology and the needs of the child’s learning and development and modelling the decision-making of the use and non-use of digital technologies in order to balance their learning experiences.



How to be Responsive in Digital Play Practices in Early Learning Today?

One of the principles of early childhood pedagogy which underpin practice and promote children’s learning is being responsive to children. As an early childhood educator, therefore, you need to be responsive to all children’s strengths, abilities, and interests. It involves building on and valuing all these attributes to ensure their motivation and engagement in learning.

Play-responsive teaching in early childhood education is significant as it will build and value a child's existing knowledge, skills and interests.


Being responsive to children’s technological expertise is, therefore, essential in a rapidly evolving digital world. Digital technologies are becoming more embedded and ubiquitous in the environment around children. These digital technologies are having a profound effect on all aspects of people’s lives that they are now becoming “taken for granted”. There is no denying that digital technology is part of children’s lives and identities as learners.


The significance of digital play in early years with the effective use of digital technology in early childhood education has been strongly emphasised in the ECA Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies. It urges the early childhood education sector to consider young children’s digital rights regarding technology use, Internet access and learning to use recognise digital technologies as a tool that is designed for a specific purpose. It also discusses how to use digital technology in a safe and productive way.


Along with podcasts, our online training for early childhood educators provides you with valuable learning and teaching opportunities to support digital literacy in early childhood education and promote digital citizenship.



digital play in early years


Can digital technology support positive learning outcomes?

Through the effective integration of digital technology in early childhood education, young children can learn and develop important skills and behaviours when playing with digital devices. However, as an educator, it will be essential that you support the use of digital technologies with digital pedagogy that enhances children’s physical, cognitive social, and emotional learning and development across the curriculum. Language and literacy development can also be supported through technology integration in early childhood education.


In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) outcome 4.5 and 5.5 particularly, advocates for young children to learn through digital play in early years education. As mentioned earlier, the ECA statement provides strong evidence of how educators can make key decisions in the use and non-use of digital technology in early childhood education that are responsive to a young child’s technological skills, interests, knowledge, and abilities.


Good quality content can be viewed as an effective tool for teaching and learning with ICT in early childhood education settings by:

  • Sparking or extending upon children’s interests.
  • Supporting ongoing inquiry-based investigations.
  • Fostering children’s critical thinking skills.
  • Helping children build important relationships with teachers, family, and peers.


As an early childhood teacher, it is important that you co-view and co-play with young children, thereby engaging in their ‘digital playgrounds’ so that you can monitor and intervene at the appropriate times in order to further develop their digital literacy in early childhood education and so that you be informed of the right pathways for young children and plan appropriately. Digital play in early years settings can involve engaging in many combinations of activities using a range of both digital and non-digital resources. Exploratory play can, therefore, remain at the forefront of programming when integrating digital technology in early childhood education alongside other engaging, hands-on learning experiences across the early childhood curriculum.


Technology in early childhood education


Selecting quality digital resources

The eSafety Commissioner can provide you with advice on choosing good online content. It has useful tips for assessing what’s appropriate and beneficial for young children. We have a range of online PD for early childhood teachers that delivers practical and immediately actionable advice on digital pedagogies that you can use when you plan on digital technology integration in early childhood education. They focus on ICT tools in early childhood learning environments that will develop their digital literacy in early childhood education.


Additionally, you buy our teaching resources for kindergarten or preschool depending on where you teach that cover a lot of content on digital technology in early childhood education and the best practices on how to apply them in your teaching and learning environment today.


Don’t forget that you can now listen to our technology in early childhood education podcast to discover an extensive range of high-quality digital resources that can be applied within the EYLF.


ICT in Education Teacher Academy

As members of our Academy, you are invited to join our many online training for early childhood educators. Participants will have the chance to learn at their own pace and time and begin to unpack the ECA Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies and share ways to effectively integrate digital technology in early childhood education.


You will explore:

  • How can you use digital technology as an effective tool for teaching and learning?
  • What works and what are the challenges?
  • How can digital technology be used with confidence and flair?


You will be encouraged to analyse pedagogical practices in early childhood around the inclusion of media and digital technologies to enhance young children’s learning through a play-based, contextually relevant, cross-curriculum planning approach. Discover ways digital technology can be used to help facilitate meaningful, deeper understandings and promote ongoing discoveries at your early childhood service.


Digital play

How Adult Interaction can help support Digital Play in Preschool?

In a world of digital technology where young children come to your early childhood learning environment with experiences of playing with various amounts devices it is fundamental for adults to support children’s learning through play by providing a range of resources and scaffolding that will facilitate creativity, curiosity and criticality.


These aspects are essential in any practice of digital play to enable children to not only successfully engage in it but because such aspects enable young children to cope with the hazards associated with digital play. As an early childhood practitioner, therefore, your role is significant in ensuring that these 3 Cs are facilitated.


In this video, I will show you how you can make the most impactful contribution as an adult through co-playing and co-viewing.


Benefits of Co-Playing with Digital Technologies

The benefits of co-playing have in the past been underestimated. Co-playing creates a context for scaffolding behaviours and deepens your sense of shaped experiences. It also opens our eyes as educators in relation to how much we enjoy the company of others.


As an educator interested in the role of digital play based learning in early childhood education, you have already taken the first step in displaying genuine interest and curiosity about it. It has brought you to this website to learn more.


Being genuinely interested and curious about digital play in early childhood education is the most helpful thing that you can do as an early childhood practitioner as it demonstrates your desire to develop your own digital play habits and to build your digital pedagogy in early childhood education.


With the range of digital technologies continuing to expand it is easy to comprehend that with the many different technologies comes the many different potentials for play and joint engagement.


As with peer-to-peer play, there are similar benefits such as those I have discussed earlier. In addition to these, the most important benefit is that when an adult and a child have a shared focus on educational content, they can better establish what is important and establish a connection between spoken words and those that are written or spoken on the screen.


This is significant for the language development of young children.


Modelling use of Digital technology

One of the best ways for an adult to join into digital playing is by modelling the appropriate use of technology in preschool activities. It is important that you model uses and scaffold learning for learning to be able to use technology competently on their own.


Modelling involves using digital technology creatively to cultivate an environment where creativity can shine. It also means modelling the appropriate management of technology by adults or modelling using digital cameras for a particular purpose by talking through your actions so children can know why and how you are using the digital camera.


This type of involvement and attitude by you as the early childhood practitioner or adult represents a key influence in the quality of the digital play.


Finally, modelling also involves ensuring that you model the correct vocabulary associated with everyday technologies.



Here is an example of how modelling can be used in conjunction with co-play. In a case study presented by Dr Kate Highfield, she made reference to how early childhood teachers played a fundamental role in enabling learning and by modelling the process of learning and investigation. The case study highlighted that as the teachers facilitated the learning they completed a broad range of tasks such as provisioning the environment with ICT resources and tools, guiding behaviour while sharing and working with a team, and exploring content. As a consequence of them modelling the process of learning and investigation, they changed their role from experts to co-players.



Possibility thinking

This is to do with thinking differently about imagination and creativity. In other words, it is about shifting like “what is” to “what might be” or “what if”. As an educator, we change thinking about what is in front of us to thinking to about what might happen or what is possible.


Early childhood pedagogies associated with this include stepping back, profiling learning agency, and giving time and space. I discussed these in more detail in an early article I wrote.


However, research on pedagogic strategies to support this has focused on the role of co-playing and the genuine interest of adults in getting involved. This was described as “meddling in the middle” and that instead of taking a step back, early childhood practitioners could take on a role of co-players. In turn, this would lead to being able to facilitate possibility thinking.


What to avoid

It is essential that you don’t think about digital play as something that we need to limit in order to protect children’s childhood. If you obsess about time limits then it is likely that you will show a lower level of interest in what is actually happening in the digital play and be less likely to allow yourself into being drawn into co-playing.


By becoming deeply curious about digital play and excited about the prospect of digital co-playing you will become open to new possibilities.



Tips to remember

  • Use digital technology that encourages adult-child interaction and language-rich exchanges to facilitate the learning of new concepts.
  • Provide important scaffolding experiences with all digital technology just like you with traditional media.
  • Look for resources that provide suggestions and tips on how to use digital technology in early childhood education.
  • Use digital technology to facilitate co-play or co-reading for adults and children dealing with time zone differences, busy schedules or other barriers to interaction.
  • Help children break down what they are seeing on screen or provide tips or scaffolds to help them complete a challenge portion of a game on a touchscreen device.


Co-playing with young children when using digital technologies is fundamental to their learning and development. It should always begin by modelling the appropriate use of digital technologies and be supported by using the correct technical vocabulary. Through taking part in digital play you as the educator can plan to build on a child’s creativity, curiosity and criticality. Thus, displaying the attributes and qualities of a responsive educator today.