Newly-opened UOW Children’s Technology Play Space will serve as an inspiration to use technology in smart and innovative ways

23 Mar, 2022

When the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child launched last year, times had never been more precarious for in-person relationships.

The COVID-19 pandemic had thrust all of us into the digital space, whether we wanted it or not. Work, school, play and entertainment were all facilitated through technology. From Zoom calls, e-lessons and telehealth appointments to virtual catchups with friends and online yoga – there was no escape from being online.

Unsurprisingly, many parents had started to voice their concerns and tensions about digital screen time, often feeling guilty about their children’s use of technology. Families felt that the messages about how to use digital technologies with kids and available screen-time guidelines were often conflicting. That’s why the pragmatic, research-based approach of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child was a welcome relief for many.

Now, a year later, another iteration of the Centre has just launched within UOW’s Early Start, next door to the much-loved Discovery Space. Called the UOW Children’s Technology Play Space, it is a living laboratory with digital experiences available for children from birth to eight years of age and their parents, as well as a place for educators and industry partners to come and work with the research team. The space will offer an opportunity for interdisciplinary and intergenerational dialogue, and an inspiration to use technology in smart and innovative ways.

“The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child and its newest addition, the UOW Children’s Technology Play Space, is dedicated to creating positive digital childhoods for all Australian children,” says Professor Lisa Kervin, the Research Director at UOW’s Early Start and Chief Investigator at the Digital Child Centre.

“UOW research has been leading the way in our understanding of digital play, particularly digital imaginative play. When we think about our children’s relationship with technology, this kind of play is crucial for development as a way to explore, experiment and manipulate their understandings of the world,” Professor Kervin said.

UOW Children’s Technology Play Space has been designed to provide a place for children and their families to be involved in cutting-edge research around how technologies can be safely used with young children. The space will host a number of research projects for the Centre, focusing on the educated child, the healthy child and the connected child. Located alongside Early Start’s Discovery Space, Children’s Technology Play Space will be available to the public through regular digital playgroups (details to be announced). During these hands-on workshops, both parents and kids will learn how to use technology smartly.

“Never before has technology been so important in families’ lives. Families are dealing with mixed messages about what is and isn’t appropriate for their children. The reality is that digital technology is firmly part of the lives of many families, including young children.”

“Yet what’s important is for parents to be able to choose quality apps for their young children and learners and to facilitate the smart use of these apps at home. The design of the digital tools is essential to how it will affect children’s development, as, for the most part, technology might equally restrict or encourage the developmental process. Not all screens and uses of technology are equal,” Professor Kervin said.

There’s evidence showing that technology can be a wonderful addition to any child’s development, fostering literacy, creativity, self-regulation and growth. For example, researchers from the Digital Child Centre have created recommendations for parents to guide the selection and use of apps for digital play. According to these guidelines, apps should be fun but, at the same, motivate children to use their imagination while encouraging collaboration with others. They should also feature a creative component, enabling children to produce (not just consume) the digital tools and offer a connection between on-screen and off-screen play. Alongside this are considerations for privacy and online safety for children.

In addition to digital playgroups, the Children’s Technology Play Space plans to also open the space to educators and families at different times for a seminar program to investigate children’s digital experiences and share evidence-based examples.

This article was adapted from a story originally published on the UOW website. Read the original story.

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The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child acknowledges the First Australian owners of the lands on where we gather and pay our respects to the Elders, lores, customs and creation spirits of this country.

The Centre recognises that the examples we set in diversity and inclusion will support young children to respect and celebrate differences in all people. We embed diversity, inclusivity and equality into all aspects of the Centre’s activities and welcome all people regardless of race, ethnicity, social background, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and national origin.