Theorising digital play: A cultural-historical conceptualisation of children’s engagement in imaginary digital situations

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    In the early childhood education literature, a growing number of studies have referenced digital play. Many of these studies seek to describe how young children play with digital devices, notably,how they engage with different kinds of apps. This work collectively illustrates a range of play behaviours where a number of important understandings about how young children engage in virtual contexts are given. However, little theoretical work has been directed to determining if what children do on these devices would constitute play. This paper seeks to examine this literature and present a theoretical discussion on what might characterise a cultural-historical conception of digital play where the essence of digital play for children aged 3 to 5 years is considered. The analysis and theoretical discussion presented draws attention to the special nature of digital play as including an imaginary digital situation, the emergence of special forms of digital talk, digital placeholders and digital pivots to support imaginary play, and the intermeshing of digital play and social pretend play. Development of digital play, the dialectical relations between play–digital play themes, and the psychological dimensions of digital play were also noted as key for conceptualising digital play. Together, these ideas extend Vygotsky’s (this issue) original conception of play and capture new societal conditions where children readily access and engage in new forms of play on digital devices.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)75-90
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Research in Early Childhood Education
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Cultural-historical
    • digital
    • play
    • early childhood

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