Events of potential learning: how preschoolers produce curriculum at the computer during free play periods

Bevemyr, M. & Björk-Willén, P.
Nordic Early Childhood Education Research Journal 12(8), 1-16.


The purpose of this study is to explore children's interaction with each other while at a computer during free play periods in preschool. The study investigates what kind of learning is going on at the computer, and the authors discuss this learning in relation to the curriculum goals and the children's own interests and communities of practice.


Overall, the study shows that children's free play at the computer can contribute different kinds of learning that are linguistic and mathematical as well as physical and social. In these potential learning situations, the computer functions as an active co-player in the children's interaction. Often, the computer game itself takes on a secondary role; the social aspect is the driving force of the children's participation in the situation. At the computer, the children form communities of practice, in which they learn from one another and explore various concepts. The authors conclude that free play at the computer can lead to learning in line with the curriculum goals. However, the children are not always aware of the learning, and learning is not always the focus of their interaction.

The authors identify two primary interaction patterns that take place when the children play in groups at the computer. The first interaction pattern is peer teaching, in which the children support or teach each other in the functions of the computer. The children position themselves in a teacher-pupil relationship, in which the computer is a co-player providing the children with sound and pictures that are integrated into their interaction. The second interaction pattern unfolds in everyday mathematics when the children use mathematical concepts as part of their interaction. For example, the children use numbers and first/last when agreeing the order of turns on the computer. The children's social interaction adds a mathematical aspect to the situation rather than the fact that they are playing a maths game. The children themselves are not aware that their interaction in connection with turn-taking has a mathematical aspect.

The authors stress that the children often use the computer games in other ways than those intended by the game providers. The children follow their own agenda and adapt the games to their own interaction. This is the case when the children intentionally make mistakes in a pairing fish game. The children still follow the objective of the game, which is to know the differences between shapes, but they adjust the game to their own context and use it to play with common perceptions of what fits together.


The authors draw on empiricism from two studies on children's interaction practices in front of a computer. In both studies, the data material consists of video footage from preschool classrooms with children aged 3-5 years. The first study includes two preschool classrooms with up to 20 children each, whereas the second study draws on data from one preschool (a total of 22 children). The video footage was analysed and indexed paying particular attention to the children's various interaction patterns.


Bevemyr, M. & Björk-Willén, P. (2016). Events of potential learning: how preschoolers produce curriculum at the computer during free play periods. Nordic Early Childhood Education Research Journal 12(8), 1-16.

Bevemyr, M. (2014). “Children’s Use of Everyday Mathematical Concepts to Describe, Argue and Negotiate Order of Turn”. I: Bergman, L. m.fl. (red.): Childhood, learning and didactics. Educare-vetenskapliga skrifter, 2014:2. Malmö: Malmö Högskola. 63-87

Financed by

The empirical material comes from two studies on children's interaction with each other at a computer. One of the studies is part of a larger project funded by the Swedish Research Council.