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ROCHESTER, NY—The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted children’s routines, diminished their opportunities to play, added to their emotional burdens, and increased their stress dramatically, according to Lynn Borenstein, an instructor at—and supervisor of—the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis Psychoanalytic Education Program (PEP) and an emeritus member of faculty at the Institute for Clinical Social Work in Chicago. To complicate matters further, the pandemic pushed the therapy that so many children rely upon into teletherapy, removing the safe and comfortable environment of an office. In an article in the latest issue of the American Journal of Play, Borenstein argues for the importance of play in helping children cope with COVID-19 and explores ways to incorporate play into virtual therapy sessions.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday reality changed dramatically in ways hazardous to child development,” Borenstein writes. “Children experienced—and tried to integrate—a seriousness brought on by the pandemic that often surrounds them both at home and in e-learning at school.” She notes that opportunities to connect and play with peers declined, too, and free play in recess became restricted.
These challenges extended to the critical therapy that so many children need. Borenstein notes that teletherapy has been used for more than 20 years, but for many kids, it was a new experience. While teletherapy eliminates the need to sanitize or socially distance, it makes communication more challenging—particularly with children who might struggle to maintain their attention via a screen—and makes it more difficult to be playful, an important element in children’s therapy.
Borenstein writes that the imaginative potential of a therapist and child can still be harnessed virtually through creative play and thinking outside the box, such as roleplaying during the sessions, playful banter and storytelling, the sharing of emojis or memes over the screen, and more. It helps to create a connection between therapist and child that can be otherwise difficult through the screen. Through this type of engagement, “the child can transition from feelings of isolation, anger, sadness, and hopefulness to feeling a renewed sense of agency.”
She challenges those in her field, “Can we use our imagination to engage such sparks of initiative? Is it workable? On behalf of the children we serve, we need to try.”
The full article and complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be read freely online. Additional articles include:
“Ethnography as Play,” by T.L. Taylor. The author argues that ethnography, a method for observing, describing, and understanding cultural phenomena, is a kindred of play. Based on her research and knowledge of play in digital gaming environments, she draws several parallels between the practices of ethnography and the practices of play. She explores the complexities of play in games and expands our understanding of the work of ethnography as play.
“The Power of Board Games for Multidomain Learning in Young Children” by Daniela K. O’Neill and Paige E. Holmes. The authors conduct a broad, cross-cultural review of the literature in fields such as psychology, education, speech-language pathology, early intervention, and library science concerned with board games and learning in young children. While pointing to the nascent nature of the research in many areas, they highlight how board games, especially those featuring co-operative play, can foster multidomain learning and offer promising avenues for future research.
About the American Journal of Play
The American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year by The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.