For two decades I’ve talked, explored and tried to better understanding the role of digital technology in children’s lives and how that relates to early childhood education. And, over that time the presence of digital technology in all of our lives has increased exponentially. I think about what that must be like for a young child coming to grips with the world they live in.

Everyone has a phone in their pocket. Even babies watch as every adult they come in contact with stares and taps and weaves some magic with the miniature computer in their pocket. Our houses, our shopping centres, our waiting rooms are full of screens. And, our interactions whether that be clicking a like, sharing a post, scanning a FlyBys card or tapping one of our many pieces of plastic are collecting and collating huge datasets on who we are and what we do.

This is the world young children experience. This is what I think about.

How do we, as early childhood professionals charged with supporting young children’s learning and development so they can continue to grow and function in the world, help children make sense of all this?

It is our responsibility to prepare them and teach them about the world and part of that now requires us to teach them and help them understand what a computer is, what the internet is and how it works. Not in deeply complex ways, but in ways that make sense to a 2-year-old or a pre-schooler.

And, the way we do that, and always teach young children is through play. So, how do we bring those things together?

I ask myself questions like:

  • What do they think Siri is when it talks to them from their parents’ phone?
  • How do young children understand GPS or Google maps sharing directions as they sit in the back of the car?
  • What does a three-year-old make of UberEats, or messaging photos, or video chat?

New resources to help children learn about the digital world through play

Playing IT Safe is a web-based resource that offers activities and ideas about how to use play to teach children about the basic concepts of technology and digital networks. It is designed for use across all early learning environments for children aged as young as one and up to school age.

Playing IT Safe was developed closely with a collective of early childhood educators who tested activities and approaches with children in their pre-schools and childcare centres. It was informed by academic advisor and leading thinker in the space, Professor Susan Edwards. It also provides some digital interactives that educators can point parents to, so they can play and participate in their children’s growing understanding about technology.

Playing IT Safe is for educators who are concerned or struggle to work out how they best manage teaching children about the digital world. It requires no technology. It requires play-based learning and your practice. There are also resources for parents and carers to help young children learn about the internet, that you could share.

Free training opportunity for educators

And, if you are interested in learning more we have a great opportunity for you, at no cost to you or your service.

Supported by Gandel Philathropy, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation is working with Early Childhood Australia to deliver a pilot program that will offer educators targeted training in using the Playing IT Safe resource. Participation in the pilot is free, along with access to the resources. The first workshops will be run online in August 2020. Want to participate? Register your interest here.

Posted by Dan Donahoo

Daniel Donahoo is the Senior Advisor, Innovation at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. His work there explores the intersection of play, narrative and technology specifically as it relates to the lives of children and young people. Daniel is the author of Idolising Children (UNSW Press, 2007) and co-author of Adproofing Your Kids (Finch, 2009). He has worked for two decades in creating, exploring and understanding technology in children's and families lives.


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