Occasional Paper Series #45

Playing Through Tragedy: A Critical Approach to Welcoming Children’s Social Worlds and Play as Pedagogy

by Cassie J. Brownell

“Look out! I’m the coronavirus and I’m going to kill you!” exclaimed a second-grade boy as classmates rounded the final staircase banister. His hands raised high, curled in monster-like claws, the 7-year-old roared as his feet picked up pace and he chased his peers from the school stairway into the warm outdoor air that mid-March afternoon in 2020. His peers shrieked in delight and took off running in all directions across the primary school’s outdoor play yard in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The following evening, I recounted this moment of play to the students enrolled in the graduate course I taught on elementary literacy. Most of the students were classroom teachers. While some laughed in surprise, others shared that “Corona Tag” had become a popular game in the weeks leading up to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon, our graduate classroom was abuzz with stories about the play of kindergarten children related to COVID-19 alongside descriptions of intermediate learners’ curiosities about the virus.

About the Author

Cassie Brownell is an assistant professor of curriculum, teaching, and learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Her research takes up issues of educational justice and equity in early childhood.

Cassie Brownell

“Welcoming Play in Times of Trauma: A Response to Cassie Brownell”

by Karen Wohlwend

I’m honored and delighted to welcome Cassie Brownell to a growing community of early childhood play researchers. In one sense, welcoming implies an unequal power relation where an established member of a community introduces an unknown newcomer. This feels a bit disingenuous. Cassie is already a rising star in our field and really needs no introduction! Her work is part of an exciting new trend in literacy research that blends play with social activism and community building.

Read Full Response Essay (pdf)

Karen Wolhwend