Children should combine digital play with traditional games to ensure they stimulate their imaginations, a University of Wollongong lecturer says.
Irina Verenikina, senior lecturer in educational psychology in the School of Education, and her colleagues are looking into how digital play - such as iPad apps - affects children's development.
Now in the first phase of the project, Dr Verenikina has interviewed parents about how their little ones interact with electronic devices and found many were unsure how children should spend screen time.
"Their main concern is what kind of play they should choose, because digital play is very different to traditional play.
"The way they play depends on the software, because it's structured around what the game offers the child, while in traditional play on the floor, they just do whatever they like and imagination is the most important part."
She said the best apps were ones that allowed children to use their imaginations and explore their creativity, such as open-ended games that let kids draw their own pictures or write their own stories. Apps that combine the digital and physical worlds are also beneficial.
"We want something that is not highly structured, that allows children to explore and invent, just as much as on-the-floor play," Dr Verenikina said.
"The key is to look into a combination of activities. We recommend any digital play is embedded in more traditional play."
Where a mobile device is positioned can also affect how children play and interact with their environment.
"For example, we observed two cases when iPads were given to children on the table, then the children would sit and not move, but when positioned on the floor in the play area, they actually move around so much," Dr Verenikina said.
"Children are keen to move around, if they play and sit at the iPad or computer without moving, it's not natural for them."
The research will continue throughout 2014 and 2015.