Supporting Parental Engagement in Early-Life Communication through Play

Appropriate language development is an important outcome of early-life development, significantly impacting outcomes both during childhood and later life. For example, it can result in children being slower to use words and, later, put sentences together. This can continue as a child begins school, hampering reading skills, classroom performance, and ability to socialise and make friends. These effects can also continue in later life, potentially leading to reduced employment options to reduced mental health. Parental engagement has been identified as a significant predictor in children’s language development and, thus, provides a viable proxy for design.

For this PhD, we believe that digital technology can positively impact parental engagement in their children’s language development by providing the means to engage in developmentally-appropriate play that supports supports language development. For example, initial experience-centerer design field work has identified existing parenting practices in terms of communication. We see digital technology as having the potential to seamlessly integrate with and build upon these practices, supporting parents as they seek new ways of play with their babies.

This PhD will consist of a number of smaller studies. The first of these involved an experience-centerer design inquiry to understanding parenting practices. This involved an empathetic engagement with parents during a play session at a local children’s centre. Through these, existing parenting practices in terms of communication were identified. Later studies are building upon this to explore the design of technologies that can leverage these existing parenting practices to parental engagement in their children’s language development through play. A final study will apply the design guidelines derived from this work in a pilot study to assess how such technologies may support parental engagement in their children’s language development.