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Preschool children and iPads: Observations of social interactions during digital play

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Research Findings: Digital play is now commonplace in many young children's lives, but not in preschool settings. This situation is likely due to the fact that the existent literature seldom highlights what digital play looks like, the various ways it can be situated, and what young children do when they play together with digital devices in the preschool setting. The present study addresses this limitation by providing a close examination of the social interactions of young children as they engage with different types of iPad apps and each other. Observational data of 20 dyads of children during digital play analyzed qualitatively revealed that children exhibited a range of social behaviors from competitive to collaborative as they engaged in 4 types of digital play: practice/task, exploratory, construction, and pretense. Forms of play and exhibited behaviors were shaped by interrelated factors of children's individual characteristics and relationships, classroom culture and routines, adult views and actions, as well as aspects of the digital device itself. Practice or Policy: Selecting open-design apps, attending to digital play structures, and monitoring peer play more closely may lessen competition, enhance collaboration, and lead to more complex digital play. (author abstract)
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