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Child’s play: U of R study looks at pandemic’s impact on play

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 28, 2020 10:55 a.m.

Education graduate student Whitney Blaisdell’s first master’s class that focused on play, art, and story was inspirational for the mother and teacher – so much so that she is now pursuing a master’s degree focused on barriers to play and effective supports that can enhance family play. Blaisdell is seen here with her children Jonah and August.
Education graduate student Whitney Blaisdell’s first master’s class that focused on play, art, and story was inspirational for the mother and teacher – so much so that she is now pursuing a master’s degree focused on barriers to play and effective supports that can enhance family play. Blaisdell is seen here with her children Jonah and August. Photo: courtesy of Whitney Blaisdell

Whitney Blaisdell spends a lot of time thinking about play – it’s kind of her thing. The University of Regina Education graduate student is working on her master’s thesis that focuses on barriers to play and effective supports that can enhance family play.

“When I started my graduate studies the first course I took was taught by Karen Wallace and Patrick Lewis,” she explains. “It had a heavy emphasis on play, art, and story. That course, and some of Patrick’s writing has had quite an impact on me as both a teacher and mother. His paper, The Erosion of Play, has weighed heavily on my mind since taking the course.”

In her efforts to enhance Regina families’ access to important play information, Blasdell established the Project Play YQR website in 2019. The website started as a list of play spaces around Regina but has since grown to be a much more robust resource.

“Conversations around the importance of play are crucial - and that’s something the Play YQR platform helps to provide. I try to advocate and promote the importance of play. It’s easy to forget just how magical unstructured play, particularly in nature, is.”

Now, thanks to a $5,000 research grant from the University of Regina’s Community Research Unit, Blaisdell can

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Play researcher Whitney Blaisdell
with her son August. Photo:
by Danielle Tocker Photography

turn her attention to how COVID-19 is affecting play. Blaisdell, principal researcher, has partnered with the Regina Early Learning Centre (ELC), a child and family development centre that works primarily with low income families to foster healthy development of children to five years of age. The Centre is just one of the many organizations in Regina that has been forced to change the way they deliver services because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have made some initial adjustments to how we are providing support to the families who rely on us for programs and services during this time of physical distancing,” says Monica Totton, ELC’s Early Years Family Resource Centre coordinator.  “This research will help us to more actively engage with families to determine more intentional ways to support them playing at home during this time of uncertainty. It will also allow us to extend our reach to the broader community and enhance our tool kits with ways to support families who are finding it challenging to be isolated at home with young children.”

On March 24, for the safety of its citizens and to help flatten the curve, the City of Regina announced it was closing 165 playgrounds as well as dog parks, skateboard parks, picnic sites, basketball, pickleball and tennis courts because of COVID-19. The measure essentially removed most of the chief areas of play for Regina families.

“The play spaces and programming around the city are important,” emphasises Blaisdell. “When I ask people about play, they talk about going out. They talk about gathering with people. They talk about maintaining their own playfulness and passions which depends on other people stepping in to help with their children. What's happening in our communities [physical distancing], although entirely necessary, most certainly has an impact on play. We are eager to explore these impacts, and also eager to create greater accessibility to play in the home, whatever that may look like.”

Blaisdell has already added plenty of COVID-19 information to the Project Play YQR website. The site includes articles, family activity lists, educational resources, articles on the pandemic, family schedules/calendars, and much more.

“I look forward to working with the ELC to address the barriers to active play that have arisen because of the closure of most physical play spaces in the city,” says Blaisdell. “As a community we will be in the position to help each other get through this difficult period by facilitating conversations through social media about creative ways to play at home.”

Blaisdell is currently teaching full-time. She will be devoting more time to the research when the school year ends in late June.

The Project Play YQR website can be found here.

The Regina Early Learning Centre website can be found here.

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.

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