Original Research

Digital play for language development in the early grades

Leonie M. van der Westhuizen, Donna M. Hannaway
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 11, No 1 | a925 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v11i1.925 | © 2021 Leonie Magdalena van der Westhuizen, Donna Mary Hannaway | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 August 2020 | Published: 17 March 2021

About the author(s)

Leonie M. van der Westhuizen, Department Early Childhood Development, Faculty of Life Sciences, Centurion Academy, Centurion, South Africa
Donna M. Hannaway, Department of Humanities, College of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: The digital world and the concomitant changes in early childhood education have created uncertainty for teachers not knowing how to adjust their pedagogical practices of using digital play to enhance language development.

Aim: This study aimed to analyse what teachers understand by digital play and how they use it for language teaching in the early grades, with specific reference to the reception year.

Setting: The researcher chose a primary school in an urban area that had digital technology available in the classroom involving eight Grade R teachers.

Methods: Semi-structured questionnaires and focus group interviews were used to collect data on how teachers interact with learners using digital technology. Non-participatory observations of these interactions were also noted. Data analysis considered teacher views about the role of information communication technology (ICT) in education, digital games, and the extent to which digital pedagogies can enhance language acquisition.

Results: The analysis found that the teachers are willing to experiment with digital games. However, there is a need to understand more about digital technology and increase their knowledge on using digital games when teaching language. Teachers shared the view that digital games should, as is the case with traditional play-based pedagogies, be used to enhance language teaching as this generation is growing up in a digital environment.

Conclusion: It was clear that the emphasis needs to be on the development of games, which use digital technology relevant to language teaching. Furthermore, the findings suggest that those pedagogies that use digital games relevant to the Digital Era be adopted. There is a need for further enquiry into teachers’ beliefs and digital literacy and practices in more diverse settings to further understand the value of digital play in language teaching.


digital play; Grade R learners; language acquisition; early childhood; digital technology; information communication technology; teacher pedagogical beliefs


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