How you can support children's play with technology

By Michael Hilkemeijer

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.


How does play support learning and development in early learning environments?

Young children have a natural urge to play and so how does it support learning and development?

Physical Development

Physical development is typically achieved through active play and supports overall health and sense of well-being, physical growth, appreciation for the benefits of active lifestyles, and the skills for self-help.

An example of using digital technology in early childhood education could be including strategies to develop gross and fine motor skills.


Social and Emotional Development

For Social and emotional development in the early learning environment, this would include young children dressing up and imaginatively role playing while developing social and emotional skills and values.

Good quality role play gives young children the opportunity to make sense of the world in which we live and helps them to make sense of the increasingly technological world in which we now live.

Digital technology in early childhood education learning environments can provide them with the opportunity to use the 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.

All the while providing young children with the opportunity to:

  • Collaborate and learn how to work with other children;
  • Develop self-confidence by experiencing success and challenges;
  • Learn to control their emotions, reduce impulsive behaviour or reduce stress as they act out feelings that might be worrying them;
  • Develop empathy and fairness as they learn to play alongside and with other children.



Cognitive Development

One of the key learning theories that underpin the successful integration of digital technology in early childhood education, is that children learn about and with technology when teachers apply metacognitive teaching strategies.

Cognitive development is, therefore, achieved through digital play in the early years.

What you need to remember, however, is that the issue is not whether a child knows an ICT technique or process, it is often whether they know that they know and are thus able to decide to use it.

A child’s ability to solve problems is also dependent on metacognitive knowledge as problem-solving calls for using efficiently what you know.


If this is not the case, then children may find it difficult to be efficient problem solvers.


Along with problem-solving, children develop other skills when learning through play such as:

  • The power of imagination and creativity;
  • Concepts such as shapes, colours, measurement, counting and letter recognition;
  • Strengths such as concentration, persistence and resilience.


Literacy and Numeracy Development

The use of digital technology in early childhood education can be used to enhance literacy and numeracy development.

Digital play in the early years can develop skills and understanding including:

  • An increased understanding of words and their use;
  • Listening and speaking skills;
  • Writing skills through typing on the computer using a keyboard to input words in a word processor or graphics programs such as drawing and painting software;
  • Learning how stories work with digital books;
  • Learning that letters, words, symbols, numerals and signs have a purpose and are meaningful to others.



What does digital play in the early years look like?

In my online training for early childhood educators, I discuss examples such as role playing with programmable toys, imagining movies and graphics in hospital role playing activities and so on. However, as an educator you can encourage children’s learning through play by:

  • Providing digital resources that are age appropriate and reflect children’s technology interests, knowledge, strengths, abilities and culture to stimulate and support digital play in early childhood education;
  • Planning play experiences based on the assessment of children’s technological capabilities, interests, developmental needs and abilities;
  • Observing children as they play to assess discrete ICT skills and capabilities and also so that you understand how they play with other children around technology and what ICT activities for preschoolers can strengthen their ICT skills in play;
  • Joining in children’s digital play in early years experiences so that you can extend the child’s digital learning and to model ICT skills in addition to reasoning, appropriate language, and positive behaviours.


Advice for parents

In alignment with, parents can do the following to encourage your child’s learning through play by:

Sharing information about your child’s technological interests and abilities with the educators so that they can plan developmentally appropriate digital play experiences based on what you tell them;

Spend some time digital playing with your child


The importance of learning through play is therefore enhanced and increased when digital technology in early childhood education is successfully added to the equation. Many of the traditional methods in which play promotes learning and development are significantly boosted and young children reach the attainment levels expected at their age.


Digital play in the early years is just as imperative in the 21st century that is dominated technologically and the development of ICT capability in early years learning activities requires you as the teacher to proactively encourage the successful integration of digital technology in preschool activities.