Computers have altered children’s ability to imagine and play

Art of Technology Schools competition shows dramatic changes in kids’ creative thinking as technology embeds deeper 


A national UK study into children’s attitudes to technology has provided clear evidence that children are incorporating computing into their individual inner worlds and have found another way of playing and imagining which accommodates the change.

Children of all ages from across England and Wales submitted paintings and drawings to the Art of Technology competition, supported by IT and services supplier Stone Group. Following completion of the competition, the artworks were analysed to establish the effect that technology is having on children’s education, their opinions, friendships and decisions.

The conclusions provide some dramatic action points for schools and parents, putting the integration of technology into education back at the top of the curricular agenda.

Research conclusions

Blurred boundaries of on and offline - Children do not distinguish between on and offline as ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ life anymore. Computing, and using Image removed.computers, is real life. When asked what goes on inside your computer, children view the computer as a reflection of the real world

Technology is a window into a new world - Features of the real or natural world are disappearing from children’s creative representations of their lives, often replaced by elements of fantasy or sci-fi. Many of the artworks depict a blurring of the distinction between the man-made and living worlds. There is also a strong sense that technology helps to generate original thinking

WiFi as a vehicle for experience and enjoyment – WiFi, its existence, the control of it and access to it is of deep concern to children. Analysis shows that children see it as almost elemental, as immutable as the weather, literally part of the landscape. It’s represented as omnipresent, over-arching and essential to human connection and collaboration, with many of the artworks conveying a sense of wonder and amazement at the power and potential of WiFi

Computers are just a means to an end – Children see computers as a gateway to content, entertainment and activities, not as an activity in itself. They are hyper-aware of brands, logos and a multitude of media services, from Minecraft to Netflix and various specific games and education software programmes

Image removed.Parents not in the picture on internet safety – The analysis shows children recognise potential online dangers and know internet safety boundaries, etiquettes, and the need to be selective in what they access and the personal information they disclose in order to stay safe online. But a lack of parental or adult presence in any of their artistic depictions of e-safety leaves questions about what authority they learn from and respect

If you don’t know, then you’re not playing with us – Although it’s a well-told adage that children’s technology knowledge is often greater than that of adults, the research shows that it’s becoming presumed knowledge, much like reading and writing. Children expect each other to be living the same reality as they are – where computers are totally present. As a result, the computing curriculum needs to be aligned to this new way of thinking, with a focus on higher level creativity and computational thinking, supported by teaching staff with the skills to drive this movement

Research methodology

Entries to the Art of Technology, a drawing and painting competition run by Stone Group, were analysed by eminent educational psychologist Dr Image removed.Kairen Cullen. Submissions were received to three categories:

What’s inside your computer?

What does WiFi look like?

How do you stay safe online?

Dr Cullen psychologically analysed fourty of the entries individually, providing a comprehensive report.

Regarding her conclusions, Dr Cullen commented, “This is the sort of study that should be noted by those looking to incorporate technology into a pedagogical strategy. The analysis of the artwork has very much shown three major and over-arching psychological themes of the core human needs for achievement, belonging and control, which the modern curriculum should be taking into account.

Image removed.“Technology clearly offers many opportunities as well as challenges to the fulfilment of these needs and by trying to understand children’s perceptions, ideas, worries and fears we stand a much better chance of developing the positive potential of technology.

The competition has highlighted the fact that children are comfortable and at ease with technology in their lives. It’s obvious from the rich creative aspects of the competition entries that children have incorporated technology into their individual inner worlds and, in this way, have found another way of playing and imagining, which is so essential to their overall development, wellbeing and preparation for life.”

Simon Harbridge, CEO of Stone Group commented, “We were amazed by the response to the competition from schoolchildren and the variety of entries blew us away. We provide schools with technology, from tablets to cloud storage systems, and we’re fascinated by the detail many entrants put into the technical aspects of computing.

“Although some may see the proliferation of logo knowledge as concerning, we regard it as recognition of what children see as essential tools for living and learning, and what they regard as aspirational.

“Our challenge as parents, educators and technology providers is to affect balance in a child’s immersion in technology. Yes, a change in children’s ability to imagine and play is a flag, but it’s not necessarily a red one.”

The Art of Technology competition was judged by popular children’s illustrator Jonny Lambert, whose books, including his latest, The Little Why, is an Early Years education staple.

The winning picture was submitted by Ashton Gate Primary School in Bristol. Jonny Lambert selected this particular entry because he was impressed with the abstract and modernist approach the child had taken to incorporate the different elements of their life within the constraints of what the inside of a computer might look like. He commented: “I can imagine this piece as a science museum poster. The child has taken a very mature approach to extracting the different, and important, elements of their life, within the square box of a computer. This child has a fantastic grip on the use of perspectives in artwork and provided a fascinating insight into their inner world – all encompassed within the confines of technology.”

Jonny added: “I have been bowled over by the entries to the Art of Technology competition. I feel very fortunate to have seen all of the artworks and thereby get a glimpse into the minds of our children as they grow with technology. My career as a children’s book author, and illustrator, means that I spend time looking at ways in which I can communicate with young readers. Technology, by its very nature can be quite insulating, but I was so encouraged to see that this idea did not come across in the artwork. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was clear that the young artists saw no distinction between their online and off line lives – they move between the two seamlessly – with little evidence of the concerns, we as adults occasionally have. I was also very encouraged to note the level of understanding of online safety and how threats should be addressed.”