Computer tablet makes children's play less creative

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Published 22 November 2022 at 09.38

Domestic. Preschoolers' play with computer tablets is less creative and imaginative compared to their play with physical toys. This is shown by a new study from Uppsala University, and the difference is marked. The results go against what is sometimes claimed – that new technology would make children more creative.

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In a collaboration between researchers at Uppsala University and at the Institute of Education at University College London in Great Britain, nearly a hundred play activities were compared in two groups of preschool children, 2-year-olds and 4–5-year-olds. 30 children at two preschools participated in the study during the preschool's free play, i.e. play without much involvement from educators.

The researchers conducted a multi-method study in which they recorded video from when the children played at the preschool. They examined both patterns in the children's play and what the children did when they played with computer tablets, compared to physical toys such as bricks and dress-up clothes. In playing with computer tablets, the focus was on what the children do on the screens and with their peers.

The study shows that the play with the computer tablets was more exploratory but had less elements of pretend and fantasy play. The nature of playing with computer tablets also differs from games that children of that age usually play.

In the curriculum for preschool, Lpfö 2018, the guidelines for care, development and learning state that preschool teachers must be responsible for each child may use digital tools in a way that stimulates development and learning. As a result, tablet computers have become established in the country's preschools and a part of many children's everyday lives. Both educators and researchers have seen the possibilities of new technology.

– Our results were clear but also surprising given the curriculum. We hope that our results are significant and helpful for staff within the preschool, but also for parents and others who encounter children and technology in everyday life. While there are possible learning mechanisms for exploratory play with computer tablets, there should be an awareness of the ways in which new technologies affect children, says Robin Samuelsson.