Screens or no screens: Understanding young children’s use of digital technologies

Full reference
Robinson-Kennedy, M. (2019). Screens or no screens: Understanding young children’s use of digital technologies.  NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal. Special issue presenting early childhood position papers, 22(2), pp. 18 - 25. Retrieved from

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You may also be interested in the following paper:
Anderson, R. and Toh-Heng, H.L. (2019). Factors influencing the use of digital technology in early childhood education. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 22(1), 31-45. Retrieved from

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Original Position Paper
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Screens or no screens: Understanding young children’s use of digital technologies

Maya Robinson-Kennedy



Children are accessing digital-technologies at younger ages and at an increasing rate, especially in the home environment. There is growing evidence that the type of digital-technology, the time spent accessing it, and the resulting displacement of other activities, are both the most significant factors to consider and the most frequently overlooked. As a result, young children’s development and wellbeing may be negatively impacted, and learning opportunities missed. Parents and Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) educators have different approaches to children’s use of technologies. Parents have reported using screen-time to occupy children and/or manage behaviour. There is also a belief that many digital games and programs are educational. ECEC educators have demonstrated a dearth of knowledge and confidence in implementing technology into the curriculum, and therefore often do not use digital-play in their pedagogy. This paper proposes that in order to harness the potential of digital-technology as a tool for inquiry, creativity, imagination, and play, we must look beyond screen-based devices to technologies that promote children as producers, not consumers, of digital content.

Key words: Digital technology, screen-based learning, digital play, ICT.



Digital technology usage, by children birth to five years old, is one of the most topical and polarising debates in the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector (Early Childhood Australia [ECA], 2018; Stephen & Plowman, 2014). Growing numbers of children under five are now using digital devices at home, however researchers, educators, and parents are not aligned in their beliefs or approaches to technology (Dunn, Gray, Moffett, & Mitchell, 2018; Ihmeideh & Alkhawaldeh, 2017), which may pose a significant problem for its effective implementation into the curriculum (Palaiologou, 2016b; Thorpe, et al., 2015). This is despite information and communication technologies (ICT) being identified as an important Learning Outcome of the Australian Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009).

Parent’s attitudes toward digital technology, as an aid for education and development (Oliemat, Ihmeideh, & Alkhawaldeh, 2018), have seen at home ‘screen-time’ exceed government’s recommendations (Department of Health [DoH], 2017; ECA, 2018). However, teachers are underutilising ICT due to low confidence and mixed perceptions (Blackwell, Lauricella, & Wartella, 2014; Thorpe et al., 2015). Furthermore, the media’s focus on the potential harm or benefits of ICT (Noyce, 2016) fail to address the diverse range of technologies and the way ICT can be incorporated to meet children’s needs (Neumann, 2015; Thorpe et al., 2015). A shift is required from focusing on dichotomy surrounding digital-play, to understanding how children might be educated as ‘digital- citizens’ (ECA, 2018), using ICT to extend their experience, and become producers of digital-media, rather than consumers (Lawrence, 2018; Stephen & Plowman, 2014).

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