The paradox of play: How Dutch children develop digital literacy via offline engagement with digital media

Joëlle Swart*, Hanne Stegeman, Lucy Frowijn, Marcel Broersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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This paper considers how children develop digital literacy through offline practices of play. By inventing games, children rehearse and build up the competences, knowledge, and skills necessary to engage with online technologies in later life. While prior studies on digital literacy and play have explored children’s digital interactions with media, children’s play around media is increasingly traversing online-offline boundaries. Consequently, we argue that to fully comprehend how children build up understandings of the digital, paradoxically, we should also consider how they engage with digital media in offline settings. Drawing upon participants observations of 8–12-year-old children attending afterschool childcare (N = 77) and in-depth interviews with children, their parents, and pedagogical staff in The Netherlands, we develop a typology of practices of converged play through which children replicate, remix, and re-enact digital media in everyday life. Our findings emphasize that children’s digital literacy is foremost a social practice developed primarily in relation with others, within and beyond the digital realm. Thus, we argue that taking a sociocultural and non-media centric approach to play is vital for understanding children’s development of digital literacy, in a way that does justice to children’s continuous exposure to and immersion in digital media in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Children and Media
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11-Dec-2023


  • Afterschool childcare
  • audience studies
  • children
  • converged play
  • digital literacy
  • ethnography
  • non-media centric approach
  • sociocultural theory

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