Technology and digital media are an integral part of many adults’ lives, and the same is true for many children today. Not long ago, the conversation about digital media and early childhood learning focused on whether or not these new technologies should be part of early childhood education, at home or at school. But in recent years, the conversation has shifted to an acknowledgment that these things are a part of learning.

A recurring theme in all of the literature and studies conducted around technology and early learning is that while digital media can provide significant learning benefits for young learners, the adult-child relationship is essential to obtaining these learning benefits. 

According to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media, “It’s through relationships that we grow and learn best. This straightforward statement might offer the most essential clue to understanding how children gain the most learning benefit from their interactions with media and technology. Building on this, the essential question might be:

How does a child’s interaction with media and technology strengthen relationships?

It might be helpful to think about a child’s relationships in three ways:

  1. The child’s relationship to self: We might ask how the experience helps a child to understand and express him- or herself and to develop both competence and confidence.
  2. The child’s relationship to others: How does the experience help a child to connect, collaborate and share ideas with peers, family and others?
  3. The child’s relationship to the larger world, community and environment: For example, how might the experience help a child to appreciate the natural world or gain understanding and empathy for the lives of people and other creatures near and far?”

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has developed a comprehensive statement on young children and digital technologies in response to an identified need for guidance for early childhood professionals. The following excerpt outlines part of the statement developed by Early Childhood Australia, an organisation whose vision is that every young child is thriving and learning.

“The experience of growing up in digital contexts is not universally the same—not every child and family will use, value or understand digital technologies in the same way. As such, there is no simple answer to understanding the role and optimal use of digital technologies with, by and for young children in early childhood education settings. Instead of working towards a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, this practice advice recognises that educators are skilled at working in partnership with children and families, and making decisions in the best interests of the child.”

Play and pedagogy

Young children have opportunities for play and pedagogy in digital contexts. Play and pedagogy involve children using a range of digital devices for exploration, meaning-making, collaboration and problem-solving. Educators engage in active decision making about the use and non-use of digital technologies for learning.

Principle: Play and pedagogy promotes young children’s exploration, social interaction, collaboration and learning in digital contexts

Practice advice:

  1. Provide opportunities for children to explore and experiment with the functions of a diverse range of digital technologies alongside adult modelling and instruction in digital technology use.
  2. Promote play involving children in digital technology use with digital and non-digital tools and materials to build knowledge about the use of technologies for communication, collaboration and information sharing.
  3. Seek young children’s perspectives regarding the role and use of digital technologies in their own lives, play and learning.
  4. Model active decision making regarding digital technology use with, by and for young children that provides a balance of digital and non-digital experiences and activities in early childhood education and care settings.

More information and a detailed statement from Early Childhood Australia can be found here:

The Role Of Relationships in Children's Use Of Technology

Dr Sarah Golsby-Smith

Head of Learning and Teaching at PLC Sydney

Sarah has also taught in both government and independent schools, as well as across co-ed and both single sex schools i.e. girls schools and boys schools.