Playing IT safe

An essential toolkit for early childhood education

In an increasingly connected and digital world, experts agree it is never too early to begin teaching children about cyber safety and respectful online interactions,Emily Campbell writes.

It’s why every early childhood education professional should be aware of Playing IT Safe, a freely available program jointly developed by the Australian Federal Police, eSafety Commissioner, Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.

Launched in 2020, the Playing IT Safe website contains a variety of comprehensive resources for early childhood education teachers and assistants to use when teaching infants, toddlers and preschool aged children about online safety.

The variety of play-based games, activities and lessons have been designed to engage with children in a fun, interactive and age-appropriate way to help them understand technology and develop the foundation for good online safety skills.

Start the esafety conversation early

According to a spokesperson from Australia’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner, young children become active technology users as they grow, through playing with technology and being connected online.

“Research shows that 81 per cent of parents with children aged 2-5 years report that their child is using the internet,” the eSafety spokesperson said.

“However, only 57 per cent of parents directly monitor usage by viewing what is on their child’s screen and 37 per cent of parents think their preschool aged child spends too much time online,” they said.

“Technology is now a part of children’s lives from birth: they witness adults using it, see themselves captured in photos and video and are surrounded by digital content.

“In response to the clear need for information and resources, eSafety is constantly expanding its offering in the area.

“Playing IT Safe provides a suite of advice and free resources to help encourage young children to have positive experiences with technology and build their understanding of online safety.

“Our program is built around four key online safety messages for young children: be safe, be kind, make good choices, and ask for help.

“eSafety resources are designed to be practical, relevant and engaging, created in collaboration with experts and based on evidence from the eSafety research and focus groups,” they said.

Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Professor Michael Dezuanni, an investigator with the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child said it was important to instill good habits in children from as soon as they have access to technology, so they can learn to become responsible digital citizens.

“The internet, in its various ways, is just becoming part of childhood and even very young children now use digital devices daily, so it’s crucial we teach children about good digital citizenship from the early years of their education,” Professor Dezuanni said.

“Whether its parents handing a tablet or mobile phone to their child to watch television or keep them distracted for a few minutes, or a young child interacting with a smart device like Alexa in the home, the internet is becoming increasingly available to very young children.

“The Playing IT Safe resources developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation with the Australian Federal Police are excellent, so I’d certainly recommend those,” he said.

Given the increasingly digital landscape children are growing up in, experts agree it’s important to expose children to some technology so they develop digital literacy skills, but to also balance that with online and cyber safety considerations.

Technology is now a part of children’s lives from birth: they witness adults using it, see themselves captured in photos and video and are surrounded by digital content.

The Playing IT Safe resources aim to actively engage with young children to teach them about these topics while using technology, rather than simply having a conversation.

Keeping it age-appropriate

The Playing IT Safe preschool resources are suitable for preschool aged children who have completed the infants and toddlers’ activities and have a basic understanding of digital technology and online safety.

A major benefit of the activities is that they are play-based and can be adapted and scaffolded to suit the different learning needs of young children.

Activities include games and songs revolving around topics like how to deal with pop-up content, taking photos, getting consent for taking photos and understanding image manipulation.

In addition, other activities teach children about concepts including passwords, GPS, Wi-Fi, the internet and who to contact for help if they get into negative situations both online and offline.

Content is categorised into age-appropriate activities which outline all relevant information like clear learning objectives, instructions, required resources and prompts.

The website has an educator guidance section with resources to guide early childhood education staff on how best to use the play-based activities and includes conversation prompts and questions to ask of children to help progress their understanding.

The parents and carers section includes an explanation about Playing IT Safe and links to curated resources about using technology and the internet in safe and appropriate ways, which can be supported by the family at home.

Positive feedback

IEU-QNT member and former Director at Vera Lacaze Memorial Kindergarten in Toowoomba Bridget Kings was an early childhood education teacher for 40 years up until her recent retirement.

Bridget said she and her colleagues have seen enormous change in children’s lives with regards to technology use.

“As technology is all around us in the world, we want children to value its use within the proper contexts and develop understanding that as with everything in life, there is a need for balance,” Bridget said.

“Children learn from the world around them and from observing their own experiences, so very young children quickly learn how to utilise and access content on devices by swiping across screens.

“Although it can be a powerful tool for education, technology and the internet cannot meet the human needs to adequately stimulate children’s brain development and understandings of language like human interactions can,” she said.

Essential resources

Bridget says she and her colleagues were impressed by the Playing IT Safe website, which contains lots of informative content and professional development for early childhood education teachers and assistants.

“Playing IT Safe also has learning experiences which can link into the conversations and discussions you have every day with children at the kindergarten as you take photos of their artwork, their creations and of each other as they play and learn together,” Bridget said.

“You can also share the resources that support our families as they engage in conversations about screen time and appropriateness of content with their children at home,” she said.

Members can access the Playing IT Safe website and resources free of charge by visiting