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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on many aspects of children’s day-to-day lives, including their play. Measures such as lockdowns, school and playground closures, quarantine, isolation and social distancing introduced to curb transmission have resulted in major consequences for where, when, how and with whom children can play.
This article reports on interim findings from ‘The Play Observatory’, a 15-month project researching children’s play experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collecting data through an online survey and online case studies, the research offers insights into ways in which children’s play has endured, adapted and responded to restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
This article focuses on children’s digital play throughout this period, including examples of digital gaming, online play, social media, playful creation of digital media texts and hybrid online-offline play. Drawing on theories relating to dynamic literacies, multimodal perspectives and the Reggio Emilia concept of the ‘hundred languages’, this article examines the role of the digital in children’s contemporary play practices and the specific affordances of digital play during times of stress, uncertainty and physical distancing.
The findings highlight ways in which digital play continued, adapted, evolved and reflected children’s experiences and understandings of the pandemic. The study reveals the complexity of digital play and its place within contemporary digital childhoods, troubling simplistic notions of ‘screen time’ and highlighting the increasingly blurred boundaries around digital and non-digital practices, calling for educational approaches that value digital play as significant meaning-making.
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