Sarika is an Early Childhood/Primary STEM Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne. Sarika's research expertise resides in conceptualising kindergarten and primaryteachers' understanding of the nexus between creative STEM-based play by integrating technologies (robotics) in their teaching practices and educational programs in ways that promote children's learning and development. Sarika also designs customised professional learning courses to help early childhood educators implement STEM-based play in their programs. A new play-based robottherapy program is also available for Victorian kindergartens to access throughthe DET 2022 School Readiness Funding.

In her presentation, Sarika will share the findings from her three years of ongoing international research that examines how technologiessuch as Artificially Intelligent (AI) toys in home-based and early childhood settings might socially and emotionally support children with diverse needs through play. Building on the concept of “emotional capital” and employing a design-based research approach, parents and educators during the COVID-19 lockdown periods in 2020 intentionally used robotic toys to engage their children with diverse needs in play experiences. The data from both parents’ and children’s Zoom interviews, digital observations, and children’s drawings demonstrate how children creatively conversed with their AI robots ininnovative and empathy-based dialogues that generated happy feelings and a sense of ‘imaginary’ togetherness with their robot during the coding experiences. This study contributes to research by exploring the use of AI robotic toys together with physical and artificial environments and offers a case to build children’s emotional capital in enabling children’s social-emotional literacies. Some concrete examples of how educators and parents can use robots for children’s communication and language development, including STEM literacies will also be shared. You will take away knowing a lot about how robotic toys can be used as a play-based approach to develop children’s social interaction with their peers, carers, educators and families in everyday learning environments.