Investigating how caregivers at community playgroups use social media and how this knowledge can help children learn is the focus of new research to be conducted by Early Childhood Researcher Dr Karen McLean at Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Learning Sciences Institute Australia (LSIA).
Dr McLean was recently awarded a $369,996 grant by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards to conduct the research which will have national applications.
Her project, ‘Caregiver learning about play in community playgroups and social media’ will examine the various ways that caregivers in community playgroups use social media to plan children’s activities and how the caregivers document and share this information.
Community playgroups are operated on a voluntary basis and have been part of the Australian early childhood landscape for more than 40 years, with approximately 150,000 parents, carers, infants and children participating in more than 6,200 affiliated playgroups every week (source: Playgroup Australia, 2018).
“Children participate in playgroups at a stage when their brain is growing. Playing is a vital part of child development because play encourages them to actively think, plan, create, experience, investigate, learn and physically interact,” Dr McLean said.
“Play is also important because it provides time for parents to bond with their children and see the world from the child’s perspective.
“We know that playgroups are using social media to manage children’s play activities and to communicate information to families. With this research, I really want to dig into the social media activities to discover the ways that families are using various social media platforms to share information and what they do with that information once it has been shared.
“Most importantly, the research findings will help us develop new ways to support community playgroups’ social media activities and discover the best ways for caregivers to play with children and improve their educational outcomes.
“Our main aim is to help families find as many tools as possible to become confident and capable to support their children’s development and help them to grow into healthy and resilient young people.”
LSIA Director Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith said the grant was an important recognition of Dr McLean’s scholarship and her expertise in the field of Early Childhood Research. “Dr McLean will be recruiting playgroup families to participate in her study later this year,” Professor Wyatt-Smith said. “This line of research is a significant innovation in Australia. It has major implications for efforts to support children’s development both in this country and internationally.”
Dr McLean is a researcher in the Early Childhood Futures research concentration in ACU’s LSIA. She commenced her career in primary and early years’ education in regional Victoria and has been working in early childhood education in tertiary education for over 10 years. Her research interests encompass children and adult learning with a focus on literacy, technology and play-based learning.
ACU’s LSIA is a national research institute hosting a team of eminent researchers and international scholars undertaking funded research studies with a range of government and industry partners. Its priority is connecting research with policy and practice. They achieve this by providing a forum for researchers, scholars, policy-makers and practitioners to collaborate and share evidence-based knowledge to enhance quality teaching and learning.
(Source: Australian Catholic University)