Digital Media and Technology and its Relations to Learning in and with Nature

© 2016 Woodlands Primary and Nursery School, Telford, UK

As a group of practitioner-researchers we are interested in how digital media and technology can be used in creative and expressive ways to create new knowledge, communicate and express learning, feelings about the world in which we all inhabit. We work with young children aged, 2-6 across two international contexts, one in the West Midlands, UK and another in Stockholm Sweden.

Funded by the European Union Erasmus + the aim of our research is to explore areas of real/virtual/ imaginary contexts, 2D and 3D dimensionality, graphics, sounds, musicality, dance, drama, and storytelling, seeking the unexpected and diverse ways of children’s meaning making. We aim to look for relationships and patterns between the phenomena under investigation that challenges traditional categorisation and schema’s of learning. We welcome complexity and the idea that there are many multiple and simultaneous ways of seeing and thinking. We see uncertainty as a place of possibility and knowledge as a fluid and ever evolving state, open to variation, diversity and change.

We want to work with digital media with a vibrant and dynamic relationship to the world that holds a a reflexive malleability to support a dialogue with learning.

Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990) reminds us that:

“The teachers art is to connect in real time, with the living bodies of the children with the living body of knowledge.”

Children’s learning in and about nature is at the heart of their own research into the world of ideas about what it means to be alive and growing within a context of other things and beings that are alive and growing also. In using digital media and technology, we are finding out the ways in which that can mirror and reflect the diversity of ways of learning, knowing, seeing and communicating in expressive ways to others. We want to avoid the use of digital media that claims to ‘capture’ children’s knowledge at the beginning of a cycle of learning or topic/theme that then reuses that same media at the end to capture what is now known once the learning is seen as ‘complete’.
We share here three brief examples of how digital media i.e. a data projector and an iPad have been used to embody an experience for children to explore in creative and expressive ways.

© Madeley Nursery School, Telford, UK

In this first example, the language of shadows brought narratives into the children’s play as they responded within a large-scale  projected image of a tree they had been taking photographs of in their nursery school grounds.The children shared stories and ideas as they danced, sang and moved between each other and around the screen, interacting with shadows.


“There’s a monster in there, watch out it’s hiding.” Archie-Lee

“No there isn’t – they [the trees] are singing ‘I love you.” Eowyn



This idea of the trees singing became a strong focal point within their meaning-making as songs were composed and re-presented in clay tablet forms and drawings that were given back to the tree as a gift from the children and community.



Hillfields Nursery School, Coventry, UK

In this second example, children have been invited into a projection tent where an image of a flower and butterfly have been projected. One of the children picks up a camera to photograph with intent a part of what she sees. In this way she uses the camera as a framing device whilst also experimenting with the language of photography and the technical functionality of the camera as tool.



p1130791In this third example, we can see how the child is creating meaning and beauty in nature, by capturing in photography something that in real time or in future time can be transformed again and added to. She has carefully collected and arranged her subjects and is actively framing these through the lens of an iPad. This image through photographic editing apps, drawing and painting apps, or multimodal screen casting apps can be changed and transformed again with a new energy, where we can begin to see increased intention in the creative and expressive modalities.

We might say that in all of these examples, a context of desire has been generated that enables the children to explore and express what they are becoming to understand and know. They combine learning processes that are cognitive, metaphoric, imaginative and logical. Gunilla Dahlberg (2016) has said of working with young children that;
“Our starting point is that children are exploring the world and trying to create meaning. Being attentive to their creation of meaning creates desire, and when children have desire, they also learn other factual knowledge. A learning teacher must listen to the child with all senses.”

We are trying hard to be learning teachers, actively listening to the processes of children’s meaning-making using digital media with all of our senses. In some contexts of learning, such as the above they are static within a space and the ‘stuff of nature’ is brought into that context for further contemplation and elaboration. Other times, the digital media has arrived in nature in portable ways. In this we have found tablet technology a valuable resource because of its portability.


Gunilla Dahlberg (2016) speaking at the Sightlines Initiative and Institute of Education
conference titled “Loris Malaguzzi in the UK: what future for early childhood education?”, London, February 2016

Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990), “Free Play. Improvisation in Life and Art”, published by: Tarcher Penguin, USA


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