Play with texts is key to primary learning
They believe that early years teachers often focus on computer-related activities at the expense of other forms of ICT. But sitting 4-year-old children at computers intended for adult office workers is unlikely to provide them with useful technological skills.
The report said: "Desktop computers were originally designed for adults to use individually in the workplace. They are not ergonomically suited to very young children because of their size, position and fixed location."
Equally, young children are unable to contend with written computer instructions.
Instead, the researchers suggest that teachers extend the definition of ICT to include mobile phones, still and video cameras and electronic keyboards, as well as toys that simulate laptops and barcode readers. Such items are fun to use and can easily be incorporated into imaginative play. Many of the lessons learnt using this technology are simple but vital.
"ICT develops operational skills," the researchers said. "This includes understanding the functions of items such as the on-off switches, showing that taking an action can produce a response."
Teachers can also discuss the role of different types of technology outside the classroom, prompting children to understand its social and cultural uses. This helps them recognise the use of school-based knowledge in the wider world.
But all ICT play should include a degree of adult guidance. This can include gesture, touch, language and emotional support. For example, an adult could demonstrate use of a digital camera, directing the child through photography activities and carefully selected questions.
As teachers demonstrate the technology for pupils, they become more creative themselves, observing and planning potential classroom uses.
The researchers concluded: "Children's learning with ICT goes beyond developing skills such as hand-eye co-ordination or using a mouse.
"ICT can help to develop children's dispositions to learn, by increasing self esteem and confidence or by supporting independence and persistence in the face of initial difficulties."