How to use digital role play in early childhood with ease?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Role play in early childhood education provides learning without failure for all young children. It is a fun way for them to learn about themselves, others and their environment. Throughout this period of time, they also acquire important skills that aid their cognitive and physical development.


It can:

  • Encourage imagination and creativity
  • Enrich language and enhance communication skills
  • Develop social and emotional skills
  • Aid problem-solving and
  • Help in the physical development of young children.


As discussed earlier, role play brings a vital element to the early learning environment as it engages children in play which reflects their lives and gives them the opportunity to experience, what they need for their learning and development.


So, what does good quality role play look like in relation to the use of digital technology?


It should give the children the opportunity to make sense of the world in which we live.

Give young children the opportunity to handle the digital tools that they see in the world about them, experiment and take control of them and learn about these objects and their place in the world.



Here are some ideas for role play in the classroom in which you can integrate digital technology in early childhood education today.


  • You can also talk about what the red and green lights mean at a pedestrian crossing. Role play crossing a road.
  • The children can enjoy making and using model laptop computers in a role play office or on a role play train.
  • 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.
  • Set out in the role play area as a car with satellite navigation. Invite pairs of children to enjoy going for drives
  • Use cardboard boxes such as cereal packets to make model laptop computers for a role play office or to take on a role play train journey.
  • Role play being programmable robots.
  • 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 settings that the children are familiar with such as libraries, doctors’ surgeries and any kind of office to create a powerful context for imaginative play. Here the computer reinforces the ‘reality’ of the situation for the child. It is also a powerful stimulus for the inner speech and the outer dialogue in the zone of proximal development.
  • Set up the computer in any kind of role play context if it is possible. Then observe children working with the software over a period of a few days for a few minutes each day. Collate your observations.



Using Real Technologies

By using real digital technology in the role play the children will have the opportunity to grow their confidence and competence and as the role play develops over time, they will be able to use these digital technologies for a real purpose within the context of the role play situation.


A photographic studio is a good example of this occurring when it can be enhanced by the introduction of a real digital camera that allows the children to take photographs of other children. One child could be the photographer while the others pose for the photos. As the teacher, you can intervene and ask whether the photographer is happy with the photos.



Toy Technologies

If you cannot use real technologies, then a good substitute for role play can be toy technologies. This can have its advantages like ensuring that the children do not become too focused on getting the technology to work rather than role playing. Toy technologies can have few or no working parts and can enhance the role play and prompt actions and reactions from the children.


A role play scene at a café can make a great setting for something like this where a child could make a pizza out of play dough and uses the microwave oven to pretend, they are cooking it. It can also be a great way to develop problem-solving skills as the turntable needs to be able to rotate and this means that the food item needed to be small enough for it to achieve this.


Made Technologies

What about hand-made technologies for role-play? This is often the best type as the children are more motivated to use their own creations and they make excellent props for role play. Earlier I discussed the idea of making a laptop computer out of cereal boxes.

You could visit a local nursery where the children can take digital photos of various pieces of technology. Then use these photos to decide what technology to include in the garden centre role play area as they set it up. The children can use the photos to construct their own technologies.


The use of ICT can support talk in the EYLF and EYFS by providing starting points and stimuli for the inner dialogue and talk in the zone of proximal development, for example in imaginative and role-play scenarios.

Placing the computer in, for example, a role-play situation, building a small office play environment around it and running open-ended software on it could be a starting point for stimulating much of the inner dialogue and talk in the zone of proximal development.


It is important that you plan challenging and stimulating role play that builds on a child’s own digital expertise is. The setting needs to be secure with sensitive and effective adult support in which they can take risks and make mistakes. This is what role play is – learning without failure. Give them the time that they need to explore any new piece of digital technology that you have introduced to the setting and set up a simple scenario that allows the children to develop their confidence and competence in using digital technology in early childhood education.


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