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The Digital Universe of Young Children

Project Manager, The Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education barbro.hardersen@iktsenteret.no

Researcher, The Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education gbg@iktsenteret.no

The digital universe of young children (Guðmundsdóttir & Hardersen, 2012) is the first research report by the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education on children below school age. The main findings show large differences in access to ICT, in the media experiences and digital competence that children from 0 to 6 acquire at home. In the analysis we examine how the picture of children’s digital daily life can help to strengthen the digital competence of kindergarten employees and of the new kindergarten teacher training. As a next step, this may help to strengthen the kind of pedagogical content kindergartens offer in the future.

Keywords: Digital competence, pedagogical use of ICT in the kindergarten, digital culture of young children, mapping of ICT in the kindergarten, new kindergarten teacher training


The report The Digital Universe of Young Children is the first study and research report on children below school age by the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education. Its goal is to map the experiences with digital devices of 0-6 year-olds in their free time, and thereby provide a picture of what type of digital competence they bring with them when they enter kindergarten. The survey was conducted in October and November 2011 and was conducted as a panel study. The findings presented in the report are based on responses from 1 277 parents of children in the 0-6 age group.

The background for the survey is the lack of knowledge about the use of ICT by young children, either in their free time or at kindergarten. The task assigned by the Ministry of Education and Research (2012) to the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education is therefore to develop an updated knowledge base. The Centre can integrate the findings into further research and activities in relation to its commitment to kindergartens, and in order to strengthen digital competence in the kindergarten. Knowledge gathering that includes the very youngest can simultaneously strengthen further work on digital competence when viewing the entire educational pathway as a whole.

The report is the first in a series of surveys of digital competence in the kindergarten sector planned by the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education. In this first stage of our studies of the kindergarten sector we have prioritised mapping of the digital usage patterns of young children. What kind of access do children aged 0-6 have in their free time to different types of digital devices (at home and with friends/ family), how and for how long are these devices used? In addition we wished to elucidate how large a part of the child’s free-time activities are digital. Specific knowledge of what role digital devices play in contemporary child culture will provide a basis for further research, as well as ensure relevant advice to the sector.

By ICT we mean information and communications technology. ICT consists of various digital devices, also known as digital tools. Digital devices include a range of technologies such as computers, DVD/Blu-ray players, tablet computers, various mobile phones and devices on which children play computer games.

Our focus is directed towards children’s use of games and watching TV/films on various digital devices. Touch-sensitive screens (touch-screens) are also of central importance in the study. Touch-sensitive screens constitute a relatively new technology that is spreading fast, also among the youngest of us, because it is intuitive and easy to use.

Through knowledge about children and their digital universe in their free time, we know more about the children admitted to kindergarten, and thereby also more about how the staff can make the kindergarten’s pedagogical programme more relevant. In this way we can participate in developing a professional skills enhancement programme geared towards the staff’s use of ICT, and help improve the quality of the kindergarten sector and of future kindergarten teacher training. Moreover, we know from the Centre’s Monitor reports of 2003-2011 that systematic commitment to enhancing digital competence of the teachers is a decisive success factor in integrating and optimising ICT in schools.

The various digital universes of young children

Parents report that the activity that 0-6-year-olds most often engage in today is play and free play. This reminds us that although we live in a society that is defined by technology, play is still the main activity in contemporary child culture. Play and child culture are constantly changing, and therefore adults cannot use their own experiences as a reference for growing up today. Children can, for example, play with technology, or be inspired by technology or through technology. Adults who work with children, or who for other reasons are interested in the children’s culture, should therefore continuously seek knowledge of new perspectives on child culture. The digital perspectives of child culture, and the pedagogical opportunities this provides, need to be professionalised to a greater degree in the kindergarten sector.

The study can be summarised in the following portrayal of children’s digital universe:

Many digital universes

Today, 0-6-year-olds have not one, but many digital universes. The time spent and the type of technology that children use varies, and it is difficult to generalise when describing children’s daily digital life. Most children have wide and diverse experiences with traditional and more recent digital devices:

  • Many children begin their use early, and some have multiple digital experiences in their first year of life. Children have experiences with digital devices such as TV, DVD/Blu-ray, games consoles, computers, digital cameras, mobile telephones and tablet computers, as well as some experience of Internet use.

  • There are clear differences in use between the youngest and the oldest children, where traditional devices such as TV and DVD/Blu-ray players are the devices typically used by the youngest. The older children have experiences of several different digital devices. Only the use of tablet computers is more uniform across all age groups.

Digital divide:

Not all 0-6 year-olds have equal access to a digital universe in Norway:

  • For example, more than one in three (35 %) of parents state that their child has not used a computer, and almost four in ten (38 %) have not used a touch-sensitive screen. Therefore a fairly large group lacks personal experience of digital devices.

  • Only 3 % report that 0-6 year-olds have not watched TV. Of all the available digital devices, experience of TV is therefore what most have in common.

  • We have not been able to pinpoint any great gender differences in children’s access to and use of digital devices. However, we see a clear difference in the access to and use of digital devices between the youngest and the oldest children.

Parental guided use:

Parents participate with their children when using digital devices. They set the boundaries and rules for children’s digital activities:

  • Parents regulate children’s access and use by having various rules related to use at home.

  • Children turn to their parents for help when they encounter challenges with using digital devices.

  • Parents are mainly positive about children’s use of digital devices, and report that their use stimulates children’s development.

Free play dominates:

Despite 0-6 year-olds having many experiences of different digital universes, parents report that play and free play are the activities that children most often engage in during their free time.

New perspectives on digital competence in the kindergarten sector

This new knowledge base about children today, and their digital environment, will give the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education a greater opportunity to design relevant measures to strengthen the digital competence of kindergarten staff and of future kindergarten teacher training. We can link this study to pedagogical practice and relevant frameworks for kindergartens. Based on the findings, digital competence in the kindergarten sector can be defined and updated as follows:

  • Use of digital devices in the kindergarten entails seeing, recognising and developing children’s various digital activities in order to transform these into pedagogical practice that is integral to the content and tasks of the Framework Plan (Ministry of Education and Research, 2011). This also involves play and other expressions of media experiences. The study shows that traditional media are just as central as newer media to the child’s digital universe. It is therefore important to have a broad approach, and knowledge of the differences in use related, for example, to time and age. Pedagogical practice also entails being able to use children’s digital experiences and digital devices, both spontaneously and during planned pedagogical activities in the kindergarten.

  • Being able to include a digital competence perspective in every child’s personal development, through good personal development processes. By having updated knowledge of children’s own culture, including the digital perspective, the staff can utilise this knowledge at an early stage in relation to the child’s further personal development processes and thereby provide a good basis for all-round development. These personal development processes include a perspective whereby the digital aspect is also significant, not only for the child’s construction of meaning and how he/she deals with the digital world, but also for participation as a critical and democratic member of a larger community.

    The prerequisite for development of digital competence in the kindergarten is that the equipment works, that the infrastructure is in place, that information security in the kindergarten is attended to and thereby that the technology itself does not put a stop to the development of digital competence.

    The study shows that various digital devices have become an ever more important element of children’s culture, and a natural part of children’s play and exploration. In the next stage it will be exciting to investigate, for example, what parents mean when they report that the use of digital devices is stimulating for children’s development, or why they have the rules that they do for children’s access or use. In future studies it will also be useful to obtain knowledge of why the parents are positive or negative about the effects that experiences with digital devices have on children. At least as important are more in-depth studies of children as users, and the play and learning potential connected to technology. This will be followed up further at the Centre in order to help strengthen digital competence in the kindergarten sector to the widest possible extent.


    Egeberg, G., Gudmundsdottir, G. B., Hatlevik, O. E., Ottestad, G., Skaug, J. H., & Tømte, K. (2012). Monitor 2011. Skolens digitale tilstand [Monitor 2011. The Digital State of Affairs in Norwegian Schools ]. Oslo: Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from: http://iktsenteret.no/sites/iktsenteret.no/modules/pubdlcnt/pubdlcnt.php?file=http://iktsenteret.no/sites/iktsenteret.no/files/attachments/monitor2011.pdf"

    Guðmundsdóttir, G.B., & Hardersen, B. (2012) Småbarns digitale univers, 0-6-åringers tilgang til og bruk av digitale enheter på fritiden [The digital universe of 0-6-year-olds, access to and use of digital devices in young children’s free time]. Report, Oslo: Centre for ICT in Education. Retrieved August 8, 2012 from: https://iktsenteret.no/ressurser/smabarns-digitale-univers

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