The affordances and limitations of computers for play in early childhood (ED-MEDIA 2008)

ED-MEDIA 2008 paper: The affordances and limitations of computers for play in early childhood

Abstract: The widespread proliferation of computer games for children as young as 6 months of age, merits a re-examination of their manner of use and their facility to provide opportunities for developmental play. This paper describes a research study conducted to explore the use of computer games by young children, specifically to investigate the affordances and limitations of such games and the features of children’s traditional play that can be supported and further enhanced by different kinds of computer play. Computer games were classified and selected according to game characteristics that support higher order thinking. Children aged 5 and 7 were observed playing the games, and a preliminary analysis of findings is given, together with suggestions for further research.

In early childhood development (ECD), spontaneous play is very important. Currently, EC software can be too game-based or too educational.

For ECD, play is a part of socio-emotional and cognitive development. Pretend play lays the foundation for abstract thinking (Vygotsky). It is an early version of role playing.

Children’s play, especially in its make believe or pretending game forms, is a critical precursor to a major feature of our adult narrative consciousness (Singer & Singer 2005)

In the context of play, digital game-based research seriously considers the benefits for teenagers and adults. Not much research has been done on digital games for ECD, hence this study.

Games used in the study included puzzle games (At the Vet’s and At the Doctor’s), an adventure action game (Pajama Sam), and simulation games (Dogz and Sim City). Only two participants (siblings aged 5 and 7); the chief data collector was their mother.

Findings: digital games do support and stimulate pretend play in children. Open-ended games such as simulations, e.g. Dogz, really promoted pretend play. Conclusion: Opportunities for engagement and developmental play exists in the playing of computer games by young children.

Authors: Irina Verenikina, University of Wollongong, Australia; Jan Herrington, University of Wollongong, Australia; Rob Peterson, University of Wollongong, Australia; Jessica Mantei, University of Wollongong, Australia

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