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29 October 2012

iPreschooler: The Possibilities of Digital Play

Keywords: education, games, internet, interview, learning, preschoolers, tablet, Australia & Oceania, gaming, interactive media, media,

Tablet apps for preschoolers are getting more and more popular. Most parents embrace digital play tools and value their educational potential. According to a study in e-journal He Kupu, however, play and fun are just as important for preschoolers’ healthy growth, development, and learning. Tablet apps can stimulate preschoolers imaginary play by activating ideas from digital games to real life.

Take aways

  • Preschoolers prefer tablet applications that trigger their imagination and creativity. 
  • These apps also stimulate preschoolers to extend their digital play to real life. 
  • The technical help preschoolers need from parents during iPad use, stimulates interaction and creates opportunities for involvement in preschoolers’ imaginary play. 

Study information

  • The question?

    How do game applications for the iPad provide opportunities for spontaneous play and how do preschoolers respond to these apps?

  • Who?

    Three families (4 parents aged in their mid to late thirties; 3 preschoolers aged from 3 to 4 years old; all children had one or more siblings)

  • Where?


  • How?

    The researchers interviewed parents about their children’s access to computers and digital games, and their opinions about digital play. The parents also observed their child at home when they played some selected game applications on the iPad. Applications were selected that targeted preschoolers and had reached the ‘top 50 education aps’ of the Apple iTunes website. Children’s playtime was recorded on tape and analyzed for their engagement in imaginary play. 

Facts and findings

  • All parents valued the educational aspect of digital technologies as important, while the role of play and fun was not mentioned spontaneously as a positive aspect for their child’s healthy growth, development, and learning. However, when asked for it, they stated that digital play could also be valuable. 
  • The preschoolers quickly lost interest in the simple applications labeled as educational games. They preferred apps that triggered their imagination, where they could develop their own play, like Puppet Pals. This app is designed to engage preschoolers in the art of puppetry, selecting characters and scenarios.
  • Parents indicated their child extended their digital play to other social activities. For example, in interactions with their siblings they brought ideas from digital games into real life. 
  • Preschoolers sometimes needed technical support from parents, especially in the beginning. But this technical support actually brought more than just a helping hand, it also created an opportunity to socially interact and to engage parents in their child’s imaginative play.
  • Critical note: The results might not be representative of other parents and preschoolers, because only three families were studied. The study only gives an impression of digital play in certain families.