Kathryn E. Ringland: The Future of Play

For Part 3 of the Voices on the Future of Childhood series, we asked experts to offer their insights and predictions on what play will—or better yet, should—look like when families are released from isolation. 

Disabled children leading the way: Playing together online

Kathryn E. Ringland, PhD, is currently an NIMH Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and Co-founder of the Kaina Institute for Equitable Research.

We often view online play and socialization as “less than” what occurs offline. Two years ago, I wrote a piece that called for a more balanced take on online play spaces in comparison to physical ones. Now, as we are in the midst of social distancing brought on by a global pandemic that has dramatically impacted our everyday lives, the need to consider the variety of forms play takes is as important as ever.

Play is a vital part of childhood. Suddenly, given COVID-19, we have lost many of the ways we play together. No longer playing together on the playground. No longer going to a friend’s house for the afternoon. However, we still have many options, including online video games.

Fortunately, this is not new territory. Digital games have been a space for play and being social from their creation. For disabled children, these platforms are key for playing and socializing. Communities like Autcraft, a Minecraft community for autistic children, are a blueprint. Using the technological infrastructure and careful rules about how to play, children can play together online, even while at home during a pandemic. The relationships children develop in these spaces are as real as those on the playground. As parents, we can build these game spaces for our own children, fostering social closeness while ensuring physical distance.

My hope is we collectively remember this lesson after physical distancing is eased: face-to-face play is wonderful, but online play can be just as important for children’s play experiences.


See more posts in this series:

Voices on the Future of Childhood

Bo Stjerne Thomsen | Helen Hadani | Jill Vialet | Kathy Hirsh-Pasek | Kathryn E. Ringland |
Makeda Mays Green | Roger Hart | Ronda Jackson | Rosanna Lopez