What did you want to be?

The postal worker in the play corner may morph into another form as the world around us changes. This article looks at where creative play leads us. Virtual and otherwise, it’s all real.

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Few of us have exactly the work life that our childhood selves planned. Thank goodness. Despite a dog phobia my four-year-old self briefly dreamed of being a dog trainer, putting a sign up on our quiet street to advertise. I ran from every dog before and since. The real thing was too real. The closest I came to a career in canine wrangling was late in adulthood, finding and sticking with an ambitious puppy, now grown into a wily dog that has tested every bit of courage, authority and training skill I can muster.

Australia’s Got Talent, The Block, Masterchef and other reality television may be responsible for a surge in home renovations, dance classes and kitchen catastrophes among adults. It may be steering today’s pre-schoolers to dream of celebrity, cooking and celebrity-cooking.

What were the options when you were a child? Depending on the decade it may have been nurse, teacher, secretary, housewife. Policeman, postman, builder or astronaut. A movie star, doctor, author or graphic artist. Hands up who wanted to be a coder or software engineer?

What we make available for children’s play, what they see around them, needs to be from all facets of the child’s world. Opportunities for hands-on play help develop skills, create social interactions and forge confidence and competence, although children do not necessarily need the real objects. Pre-schoolers for instance do not need a hot stove top in the home room corner in order to explore cooking. A toy stove or box, foil pans and a cardboard ‘switch’ serve the purpose.

This is why we should let go of the arbitrary divide between the real world and the virtual world when we consider play equipment. Children occupy both worlds. Along with fairy gardens, dress ups, clay and climbing frames, children’s equipment can and should include the digital world. It needn’t be an actual smart phone or laptop. A wooden block doubles as phone or tablet, a lego microphone, an old keyboard, a deconstructed computer or a digital camera work just as well. What they do with the imagined or real device is what matters.

Such play is a vital part of children’s real and future world. While the education sector stays fixed on screen time and cyberbullying and the community argues about what broadband network to have, Australia is steadily falling behind in using the digital economy. We do not have enough software engineers (nor are enrolments encouraging). Alone among OECD countries Australia has no national plan for science, technology and innovation according to this week’s The Conversation. Key sectors—education among them—have been slow to adopt advanced information technologies.

All Australian organisations face the prospect of their operations changing and being redefined underneath them. In flagging big changes to Australia’s postal services this week the Minister for Communications, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP told the ABC that measures for private postal users will be put in place. However business in his view—and that includes the operations of early childhood education and care services, not for profits, privates and government—needs to get up to speed with a new way of operating.

At the moment he said, 95.97 per cent of letters are sent by business and government despite the huge expense of sending a letter compared to an email.

‘The only reason businesses and governments are still sending letters is because of inertia and because they haven’t updated their billing systems and they haven’t addressed their own internal mechanics’ the Minister said.

When today’s three to five-year-olds dream, talk and play, what equipment do we put in their hands? What ideas are we helping take shape and what are we excluding or demeaning with ‘go outside and play’, ‘can’t you do something else’, or by using digital devices as a reward for good behaviour. When they take their place in the adult world (only ten to fifteen years from now) how different will their work life and their world be from children’s play now?

Are your operations ready for the time when the postal worker in the play corner and the postal worker in the ‘real’ world no longer deliver?

Find more on creative play at Early Childhood Australia’s Learning Hub or go to the Digital Business Kit for more on being a digital citizen and using technology with young children.

Click the video icon below to see Minister Turnbull talk about children’s future and the Digital Business Kit at Wee Care Kindergarten.

Communications Minister Launches Digital Business Kit from ECADigitalBusiness on Vimeo.

Additional sources:

‘The national security issue that will hit Australia’s economy’, Gregory Austin, The Conversation, 4 March 2015.

‘Australia Post: Malcolm Turnbull confirms plans for two-tier mail service, wants postage stamp cost to rise from 70c to $1’, Emma Griffiths, ABC News online, 4 March 2015.

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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