For a moment, let’s imagine the home corner in preschool where children can play in the toy kitchen. With its appliances, fruits, and vegetables, it’s a safe, nurturing space where children can act out scenarios like those they’ve seen at home. In doing this, they make better sense of the world around them. Environments like the toy kitchen encourage imagination, motor and social skills, and help children learn to share and co-operate. 

The toy kitchen is just one example of the beneficial nature of play. As parents and educators, we understand the interdisciplinary nature of play – it is far more than just what we do when we’re not working. However, because of its vital importance as a learning tool, play must be considered critically to ensure it’s as safe and beneficial as it can be. 

Fortunately, many educators and organizations share our feelings about the importance of play in a child’s development. The Digital Futures Commission (DFC) is one of those organizations. In November 2021, they launched a report titled ‘Playful by Design: Free play in a digital world’. According to DFC, their report “looks at one of the most important aspects of a child’s development – free play – and how platforms succeed and fail in facilitating it”. Their goal when conducting their research was to survey how young people aged 6-17 play online, and comparing these findings to reports of the children’s wellbeing. 

Remarkably, DFC found that 49% of children surveyed say they “play” on the internet everyday. However, they also found that only 29% say they play outside daily, and just 22% play daily “in real life”. When such a large amount of play is happening online, DFC recognizes the essential nature of looking at online play through a critical lens. This is especially important when 73% of 6-17 year-olds they surveyed reported enjoying offline play, while just 45% found enjoyment playing online. This data begs the question of why children aren’t having fun online, and what potential dangers are negatively impacting their playful learning experience. 


What do children want from online play?

DFC asked children what they’d change about playing online. Over half of children surveyed gave the following three answers – they’d like online spaces to: 

  • Be easier to use and play within
  • Be better suited and more appropriate for young people
  • Offer more opportunities to be creative

Children also wished the internet would: 

  • Provide more control over who may contact young people
  • Be a space where people were nicer to one another 
  • Offer support if an upsetting event occurs

So, now that we know how children would like to improve their online play, you may wonder what parents can do to protect their child on the internet while they’re playing? As DFC says, “we often worry about physical spaces for children — playgrounds, parks — but digital spaces, where they spend so much time, are neglected and not held to the same standards.” This issue has only been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic: now, children rely even more on digital spaces for play. DFC’s report addresses this by highlighting the need for online playgrounds to be “designed as a space where children can not just be safe, but also thrive”


Natterhub: A safe space for online play 

Let’s think back to the toy kitchen analogy – if children played in a real, adult kitchen, they’d risk cutting their finger on a knife, or burning their hand at the stove. This is because adult-sized kitchens were not designed with children’s safety in mind. So, while children can play and learn in a real kitchen, they can also get hurt, and take steps backwards. 

Like an adult-sized kitchen, the internet and its social media platforms were not designed with children in mind. Therefore, children will likely encounter dangerous content with the potential to damage not just their online experience, but their opportunities to learn through play.  Natterhub is an online space crafted specifically for children. If the internet is a vast and elaborate kitchen, Natterhub is a toy kitchen – safe and rich with learning experiences. 

In designing Natterhub, we addressed children’s wish and teacher’s needs for an online environment that’s easier to use, and better suited for young people by creating a safe space where children are free to play – and make mistakes in the process. We acknowledged some harsh realities of the online world by creating a space where children can learn the importance of online kindness and digital citizenship. We solve their wish for support by always keeping teachers a click-away, should any child need assistance. 

Like a toy kitchen, Natterhub models an online platform, but eliminates detrimental risks. So, in this environment children can learn through play freely, without getting their fingers burned.