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Nurturing Computational Thinking Skills in Children from 0-3 without Digital Screens

Computational thinking need not necessarily involve computers or screens. These important cognitive skills include problem-solving, logical reasoning, and creativity.


The development of computational thinking is a valuable skill set needed in our increasingly digital world. There are various ways to foster computational thinking from birth to three years old without relying on screens. By engaging children in hands-on, real-world experiences, we can lay a strong foundation for their cognitive development as they develop skills which will benefit them as they continue to learn and grow.


Sensory Exploration and Sorting:

From an early age, infants explore their environment through their senses as they touch, squish, smell, taste, listen and see. Providing them with opportunities for sensory play, such as playing with textured objects, toys with various colours, shapes, and sizes, or even sensory bins filled with rice, playdough scented with natural scents, moon sand, or water play, can enhance their cognitive development. Encouraging them to sort objects based on their attributes, such as texture, colours or shapes, helps develop their ability to categorise and classify, which are key elements of computational thinking.


Building with Blocks and Manipulating Various Objects:

Blocks are excellent tools for nurturing computational thinking in toddlers. Simple building blocks or interlocking toys can be used to create patterns, structures, and even basic algorithms or sequences. As children stack, sort, and connect these objects, they develop spatial awareness, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking abilities. Encouraging them to experiment with different arrangements and designs promotes logical reasoning and creativity.


Problem-Solving through Open-Ended Play:

Open-ended play materials, such as playdough, clay, or loose parts like buttons, pebbles, and sticks, provide opportunities for problem-solving and creativity. Children can engage in imaginative play, creating stories, and scenarios that require them to think critically and find solutions. For example, they may build bridges of various lengths or ramps for toy cars or create a variety of shapes using playdough cutters. This kind of play nurtures their ability to think critically, adapt to challenges, and explore different possibilities.


Exploring Cause and Effect:

Children learn about cause and effect by interacting with the environment and materials around them. Simple activities like dropping objects into containers or pushing buttons that activate toys or music help children understand the relation between their actions and the resulting effects. This knowledge forms the basis of logical reasoning and sequential thinking, fundamental aspects of computational thinking.


Storytelling and Narrative Play:

Engaging children in storytelling and narrative play fosters their cognitive development and computational thinking skills. Through imaginative play with dolls, puppets, or stuffed animals, children can create complex narratives, build characters, and sequence events throughout their storytelling. Encouraging them to imagine different outcomes and solve problems within the storyline enhances their creative thinking and logical reasoning abilities.


To conclude, nurturing computational thinking skills in babies and toddlers is possible without engaging digital screen technologies. By providing hands-on, real-world experiences that focus on sensory exploration, sorting, building with blocks, open-ended play, cause and effect, and storytelling, early childhood educators can lay a strong foundation for children's cognitive development. These 'unplugged' activities allow children to develop important computational thinking skills while fostering their creativity, problem-solving abilities, logical reasoning, and adaptability, therefore paving the way for children to become confident and competent independent learners.


About the Author:


Paula Walshe is a published author, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in ECE at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her PhD research focusses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) in ECEC.


In 2023 Paula published her first book entitled "Síolta in Practice" which is a guide to implementing Síolta quality standards in ECEC. It is published by Boru Press and is available here.


Paula has also co-founded a Twitter community of practice page and podcast @ECEQualityIrl . You can listen to the most recent ECE Quality Ireland podcast here.


You can contact Paula or learn more about her work here. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @walshe_paula / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

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