Working with the BBC, researchers have developed parent-friendly suggestions to enhance children’s enjoyment of, and learning from, CBeebies online games.
More than half of pre-school children, aged three to four, have access to tablets at home (Ofcom, 2015). As the use of digital devices and media has increased, so too has debate around screen time, leading some parents to worry about its impact on children’s healthy development. However, research has shown that technology can aid learning and creativity, particularly when parents are actively involved in the games their children play online. To find out how the CBeebies website and apps might become springboards to further learning, the BBC asked Professor Lydia Plowman and Juliet Hancock to review over 80 CBeebies online games.
Building on previous work with an award-winning children’s broadcaster
The CBeebies website launched in 2002 and has steadily grown to include a range of activities themed to CBeebies television programmes. The BBC first began to work with the Children and Technology research group at the University of Edinburgh in 2012, when Lydia Plowman and colleagues undertook a detailed evaluation of the learning benefits of eight CBeebies games.
The 2014 review, of ten times as many games, provided an overview of their educational value, areas of learning, and overall enjoyment. The researchers then developed guided interaction points for parents, encouraging them to get involved in online activities with their children and to extend these digital interactions into similar, everyday activities in the home.
Making games for children accessible and enjoyable to parents
‘Creativity’ and ‘Learning’ are two of the BBC’s six Public Purposes. Working with researchers has enabled the Corporation to ensure that games aimed at young children are also enjoyable for parents, making screen time a more social experience and one more likely to stimulate learning.
Such has been the success of the collaboration that the BBC now also includes guided interaction points on its free Storytime app for early years readers. In 2016, it commissioned suggestions for a further 16 games on the CBeebies site.
Reaching wider audiences through online and print articles
Beyond the Cbeebies site, the BBC has published an article by Plowman and Hancock, ‘Are tablets good for children?’ on its digital encyclopaedia, BBC iWonder. Timed to coincide with the build-up to Christmas, when many children receive handheld digital devices as presents, this was first published in December 2014 and republished in November 2016.
In the lead-up to the new school year in 2016, the social enterprise ParentZone published a similar piece, also written by Professor Plowman, in the free magazine, Digital Parenting. With the support of Vodafone, this was distributed to over one million schools, youth organisations and caregivers nationwide.
The research has given us a deeper understanding of how our audience interact with some of our games and what the benefits of playing those games may be. This has not only given us a different perspective on existing games, but is also feeding into the way we advise parents on how best to support their children when using new technologies in the future.