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Blog #3: Young children and digital devices

For families, there can be confusion around your child’s best interests in relation to the use of digital technologies including phones and tablets in the home. A useful guide for understanding technology use with and for young children is the Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies, released by Early Childhood Australia in 2018. The Statement provides guidance for families, the early childhood education and care sector, decision-makers, and technology developers.

For families, there are two useful criteria for thinking about your child’s engagement with digital technologies. The first is the type of experience in which your child is engaged, and the second is their age. For the type of experience, consider if your child is:

  • Receiving content or information on a device passively without adult interaction or input (e.g., watching videos).
  • Co-viewing or co-playing with an adult or peer on a device (e.g., interacting with family or friends via FaceTime; playing on an app with adult interaction and input; re-visiting photos or videos and talking about family experiences; co-viewing videos with peers or adults).
  • Engaging in digital play (in digital play, children are active users of technologies and digital media content, software and apps. They use technology to make content and share their ideas and stories of learning with others).

Co-viewing and co-playing support positive child-adult and child-child relationships. As outlined in the Statement (2018), when adults model appropriate ways of engaging with technologies such as co-viewing and co-playing, young children begin to understand how digital technologies can enable communication within person-to-person relationships.

In digital play, children make and share digital creations as they develop a broad range of skills including communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. For example, they may bring one of their drawings or Mobilo creations to life by using an app on the iPad to take a photo and record their voice. They may view an object in the house or yard through a kaleidoscope app to explore colours, shapes, and patterns. Active movement can also be incorporated into digital play as children access apps for movement-based games, dancing and singing, or use tablets or phones outside to explore the natural environment.

Apps and software which can support children’s digital play include:

An interactive app that allows you to add a mouth and voice to any picture. This app supports children’s speaking and listening skills.

Draw and Tell: A creative app that brings children’s stories to life. Children can use this app to draw, colour, decorate with stickers, create animations, and record stories. This app supports children’s imagination, creativity, speaking, and listening skills.

Kaleidoscope Camera: An app that enables children to explore objects indoors and outdoors and turn them into geometric art. This app supports children’s understanding of colour, shape, pattern and design through arts-based and mathematics learning.

Camera: A multi-use app which supports children to photograph their own creations, video record themselves talking about their creations, and slow-motion or time-lapse video to explore changes in the garden, street, or community over time. This app encourages planning and presentation skills, creativity, innovation, and children communicating their ideas and understanding.

All apps shown above are free to download on devices at home, and all support age-appropriate digital play for children aged 3-5 years. For younger children, the Early Childhood Australia Statement draws on advice from the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years released by the Australian Government in 2017. As outlined in the Guidelines, sitting time with screen-based digital technologies by children 2-5 years should be no more than one hour per day. For children aged birth-2 years, the recommendation is no screen time.

Your role as adult

How you interact with your child while they are using apps and software on digital devices is of key importance. Dr Randy Kulman provides useful strategies for parents and caregivers to make time spent on digital devices more “digitally nutritious” for their child.

1. Be involved and know what your child is doing. As a parent or caregiver of a child growing up in the digital world, learn about age-appropriate games and apps and the experience they offer your child.

2. Listen with your eyes and ears. Spend time as an observer, watching your child play on digital devices. Use open-ended questions (What’s happening here? Tell me about this character) to learn about what they are doing and what captures their interest.

3. Encourage your child to be your teacher.When you ask your child to show you what they can do or how a game or app works, they need to think about how they use them. Listen to your child’s explanation for clues about what interests them the most and how they are exploring concepts and ideas.

4. More is not better. Set limits on the amount of time your child engages on a device. Digital play forms part of a broad set of play skills for your child, and balance is key. Look for ways to extend the ideas and concepts your child is exploring through digital content to other forms of non-digital play including Lego, drawing, and dramatic play.

In First Five Early Learning centres, digital play is encouraged in our kindergarten rooms at appropriate intervals via the use of iPads. Teachers interact with children as they use age-appropriate apps and software which promote learning through speaking and listening, imagination, and creativity. The role of teacher as a keen observer and participant in children’s digital play supports the transference of ideas across curriculum areas, and the extension of learning within the daily program.

Dr Melinda Miller
Director of Early Learning