Post-industrial play? What do digital technologies, media and popular culture suggest for a contemporary perspective on young children's play in the early years?

Year: 2012

Author: Edwards, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Post-industrial perspectives on society focus on how digital technologies have enabled new forms of social and communicative interaction between people and social organisations. In the field of education it has been increasingly necessary to consider the implications of what a post-industrial society means for learning and teaching. This has been represented by theorisation and research into the concept of 'new literacies', and the role of 'new learning' in education. There has also been discussion about the role of the 'digital-disconnect' between children's home and educational technology use, and debate regarding the veracity  or otherwise, of generational concepts about children being 'digital natives'.

In the context of early childhood education similar research and discussion is also necessary. However, in a field of education where play is understood to describe both the process of learning and development, and used as the vehicle for curriculum itself, the problem is even more complicated. This is  because in early childhood education the implications of post-industrial society in terms of learning and teaching are not just about educational practices - they are about the relationship play is understood to hold to children's social and cultural experiences. Therefore, for the early years, post-industrial educational issues are as much a question about whether or not (and how) children's play may be changing as a result of digital technologies as it is a question of pedagogical concern. 

This paper explores the nature of children's post-industrial play, drawing on data from interviews conducted with families of young children aged 20 months to 5 years with a focus on children's play activities and their engagements with digital technologies, digital media and preferred popular culture characters. Sociocultural theory is used to frame the exploration because of the emphasis it places on understanding children's play as connected to cultural experiences, and on cultural experiences as being generationally constituted by people over time. The findings suggest potential for thinking about children's play as involving 'cross-over' activity in which more traditional play experiences are interfaced with digitally-informed and popular culture experiences and narratives. As a basis for pedagogy this raises questions about the extent to which post-industrial conceptions of society are likely to be adequately reflected in the early childhood curriculum.

Chair: Dr Michael Henderson, Monash University