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Call for Workshop Papers – Computational Play in Early Childhood Education

Computational Play in Early Childhood Education

Workshop session


This 3-hour workshop brings together practitioners, researchers, stakeholders, and students from the areas of design, learning, and innovation. We will explore how to design for computational play from a design-oriented play-responsive perspective. The workshop aims to discuss the role of play in learning computational topics such as programming, problem-solving, and communication, including personal expertise, research findings, design concerns, challenges encountered, and solutions adopted or proposed in the form of know-how considerations.

The workshop is organised around three main issues: (a) the notion of computational play, (b) designing for computational play in play-responsive environments, and (c) computational tools and techniques to support children’s exploration of and approaches to computational tasks. We seek to better understand research and practical experiences in computational play that are successfully used, and what they can teach the broader field of design, learning, and innovation for children.

The overall goal of the workshop is to explore and define opportunities, barriers, and limitations in applying a computational play approach for and with children in early childhood education.

The workshop is structured around four main activities: (1) Welcome and introduction, (2) Computational play live session with children and their teachers, (3) Group discussion and sharing, and (4) Summary and wrap up.

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Workshop Organizers/ Chairs:

Eva Brooks
Aalborg University, Denmark

Eva Brooks is Professor in IT-based Design, Learning and Innovation and Director of the research laboratory Xlab – Design, Learning, Innovation at Aalborg University, Denmark. Her research interests are within co-design, computational/digital play in early childhood education, digital learning and emerging technologies, and collaboration in digital practices.

Susanne Dau
University College of Northern Denmark, Aalborg, Denmark

Susanne Dau is a research manager and Associate Professor at the University College of Northern Denmark. Her research is addressing digital learning and technological literacy.  She is inspired by learning ecology with a strong focus on the connectivity between the environment, people and artefacts.

Lykke Brogaard Bertel
Aalborg University, Denmark

Lykke Brogaard Bertel is Associate Professor at the Aalborg UNESCO Center for Problem Based Learning (PBL) in Engineering Science and Sustainability. Lykke’s research interests are in the field of emerging technology in STEM, creativity and complex problem-solving, computational play, and AI in education.

Francesca Granone
University of Stavanger, Norway

Francesca Granone is an Associate Professor in mathematics at the University of Stavanger, at the Early Childhood Education Department. She leads the project DiCoTe “Increasing professional Digital Competence in Early Childhood Teacher Education with focus on enriching and supporting children’s play with coding toys” together with Professor Elin Reikerås, and the project “Utvikling av ressurser for å forstå hverdagen gjennom inkluderende forskning” with Enrico Pollarolo. Francesca’s research interest is about mathematics as a key for children’s thinking, creativity, and inclusion.

Emma Edstrand
Halmstad University, Sweden

Emma Edstrand has a PhD in educational science. Her research interest is centred around issues of tool-mediated activities. More specifically, her research concerns the potential of emergent technologies such as Virtual Reality environments, in teaching, digital competence in teacher education, and professional learning.

Elin Kirsti Lie Reikerås
University of Stavanger, Norway

Elin Reikerås is the leader of FILIORUM- Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education and Care, and professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Stavanger. Her research interests are within children’s early development in mathematics and language, and on digital play. Reikerås leads DiCoTe together with Francesca Granone. 

Background and Motivation 

Advanced and emerging technology such as social and educational robots, programmable electronic platforms (like Littlebits), Virtual Reality, and 3D printing are increasingly being introduced into the classroom with the aim of supporting skills of the 21st century, such as Computational Thinking (CT). However, few studies address CT in relation to early childhood education (ECE) activities. Activities in ECE are often designed for play where children creatively can explore, experiment, and express themselves through different tools. Such processes are characterised by being open to playful cycles of idea generation, imagination, problem-solving, and communication. Thus, it is pivotal to not roll out play when designing for CT in ECE. This workshop is organised around a live session on computational play with mathematics including children and their teachers from ECE.

The workshop is financed by NordForsk (NOS-HS 2022, 136106).

Research scope and underpinning

Computational play is a novel concept, which is scarcely researched (Bertel & Fredskilde, 2022; Lee, Joswick & Pole, 2022; Brooks & Edstrand, 2023). Most studies on computational issues in ECE relate to the more researched concept of computational thinking (CT). Lee et al. (2022) argue that when incorporating CT in early childhood education, children’s needs, and development have to be considered to ensure the progression of children’s thinking processes. The authors conclude their article by emphasising the importance of a play-like classroom setting as it can enable children to become creative problem solvers. In their study, Murcia and Tang (2019) investigated CT in early childhood education and acknowledged the nature of children’s play with tangible coding technologies, and the role of multimodal resources in their development of CT. In their study, children learned to code a Cubetto robot, and the outcomes from this showed that the tangible robot interface facilitated children’s development of multimodal digital literacies. Research by Bertel & Fedskilde (2022) has shown that potential for computational play can be found in digital technologies’ inherently “unfinished” state, facilitating playful responses to computational thinking. Computational play activities can enable children to carry out coding without requiring any extensive prior knowledge. In this way, the complex knowledge involved in coding which is integrated into the technology (e.g. a robot or digital toy) provides “short-cuts” for the children’s actions (Edstrand, 2016). Thus, the digital technology contains knowledge that the children may have access to without fully mastering them in their original scientific form (Vygotsky, 1997).

Currently, researchers and practitioners may find themselves in an “in-between” state, which can be described as a “vacuum” between what computational play is able to do here and now, and what we want it to do. However, this is by no means a vacuum when it comes to learning. In fact, emerging computational play situations’ inherent immaturity and imperfection might indeed be the very thing that sparks children’s curiosity and motivation to pursue careers in these fields. Children’s exploration, questioning, reflection, and reasoning while engaged with digital resources offer opportunities for them to develop confidence and joy in computational play experiences (Bertel & Fredskilde, 2022; Brooks & Edstrand, 2023). However, in their study, Brooks & Edstrand (2023) demonstrated that computational play requires new ways to be scaffolded to not counteract children’s independent experimentation, testing, and creativity. Considering this in the context of ECE, we claim that there is a need for moving beyond deficient models of CT. The research field of CT in ECE could be more robust by integrating overlooked needs and interests of children and thus engaging them more substantially in computational play on their own premises. Play represents a dynamic and complex activity requiring and leading to complex symbolic constructions. Vygotsky (1933/1976) noted play as children’s primary source of development. Vygotsky (1987) also pointed to creativity as a process that includes play as well as imagination asking the question of “what-if”. Play, then, can become a powerful source for children’s way of approaching computational activities.

Throughout the workshop we will explore and define opportunities, barriers, and limitations in applying a computational play approach for and with children in early childhood education. This to better understand research and practical experiences in computational play that are successfully used, and what they can teach the broader field of design, learning, and innovation for children.


In this workshop we aim to provoke discussion on how to approach computational play in early childhood education. It is structured to give participating audiences ample opportunities to debate and seek solutions to the design of computational play focusing on children’s engagement in computational topics such as programming, coding, and problem-solving. As a full group, we will reflect on opportunities, challenges, and barriers to support computational play in early childhood education. To do that, we will facilitate a live session with children and their teachers on computational play with mathematics, as well as enable group dynamics using diverse tools such as scenarios and excerpts from children and teachers in these contexts to fuel reflections and discussions. Below we describe each workshop activity in detail:

  1. Welcome and introduction (30 minutes)

We will introduce ourselves, present the background and aim of the workshop, how it will be organised. Also, the participants will have a few minutes to present themselves and their experiences in this context.

  1. Live computational play session with children and their teachers (75 minutes)

A group of children and their teachers are invited to participate in a mini workshop designed for computational play with mathematics where the children will collaborate to solve mathematical problems with robots as a mediating resource.

  1. Discussion and sharing (45 minutes)

Workshop participants will be divided into groups considering participants’ backgrounds to establish working groups with trans-disciplinary views and experiences. Participants will discuss and identify challenges, barriers, and opportunities to which they will propose new ideas to create play-responsive computational environments in early childhood education. How can we design for computational play to foster children’s exploration, interaction, and imagination? Which tools and techniques should be considered? Which strategies could be used to promote computational play in early childhood education? This part of the workshop ends with group sharing where one participant from each group shares their outcomes followed by a general wrap-up of the results.

  1. Summary and wrap-up (30 minutes)

Summary and reflections. Investigating participants’ interest in planning for a special issue in a journal.


All registered papers will be submitted for publishing by Springer and made available through SpringerLink Digital Library.

Proceedings will be submitted for inclusion in leading indexing services, such as Web of Science, Compendex, Scopus, DBLP, EU Digital Library, IO-Port, MatchSciNet, Inspec and Zentralblatt MATH.

All accepted authors are eligible to submit an extended version in a fast track of:

Additional publication opportunities:

Paper submission

Papers should be submitted through EAI ‘Confy+‘ system, and have to comply with the Springer format (see Author’s kit section).

  • Workshop/ Short papers should be 6 pages in length (including references) as positions papers, initial studies, or case studies

To attract researchers, we invite you to write short papers of 6 pages (including references) as positions papers, initial studies, or case studies, covering one of the following topics:

  1. The notion of computational play
  2. Designing for computational play in play-responsive environments
  3. Computational tools and techniques to support children’s exploration of and approaches to computational tasks. 

Important dates

Full Paper Submission deadline
31 August 2023   10 September 2023
Notification deadline
25 September 2023
Camera-ready deadline
5 October 2023
Start of Conference
6 November 2023
End of Conference
7 November 2023