Children and workers in Ukrainian orphanages will learn some play skills as Megan Ritchey, a new Case Western Reserve University alumna, heads to Kiev as a Fulbright Scholar.
Ritchey has proposed a research project to teach the play intervention developed by Sandra Russ, CWRU professor of psychology, to educators and social workers in the country’s orphanages.
Russ’ intervention helps children learn to cope, express emotions and develop social skills by engaging in free and imaginative play. It focuses on helping children improve creative problem solving, which should help with coping with problems in life.
Before Ritchey embarks on her nine-month academic experience, she will learn the Ukrainian and Russian languages. She also will apply to medical schools in the last weeks at home in Pickerington, Ohio, to pursue a career in psychiatry.
Ritchey, who has worked as a department assistant with Psychiatrist Robert Findling, professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center, also will continue work on a research project — one of the first to examine creativity in 30 school-aged children with bipolar disorder.
Victor Groza, an expert on international adoptions and CWRU professor of social work, also prepared Ritchey for the trip by providing background information on Ukrainian orphanages that helped Ritchey design her research project for her Fulbright Scholarship application.
She learned from Groza that many parents who adopt children from Eastern Europe have concerns about their child’s ability to regulate their emotions and sensory abilities.
“It just clicked that this would be a good research project for the Fulbright,” Ritchey said.
She also learned some parents place their children in orphanages because of financial difficulties or a child’s health problems. Because some parents regularly visit their children, these orphans are not eligible for adoption but live in the institution until they reached an age of majority, which is at the age of 16.
“After leaving, some orphans end up on the streets in a life of crime or prostitution. The suicide rate is also high among these orphans,” she said.
Ritchey hopes by teaching Russ’ play intervention that young children today might be better equipped to deal with some of the hardships they will face in their latter years.
Ritchey will use puppets to interact with the children and assess their creative play abilities. Then she’ll use lots of toys for the play intervention. Children will be given the play assessment again to see if they have improved their skills.
“It is inexpensive and simple to teach,” Richey noted.
“Megan is a great person,” Russ said. The psychologist first encountered her during a SAGES University Seminar several years ago on the psychology of creativity.
The classes changed Ritchey academic course from engineering to psychology and biology.
“Her interest in creativity was sparked in that course, and we started to work together,” Russ said.
Ritchey developed her honors thesis on creativity in bipolar children and used the play measure that Russ developed and has used for more than two decades of research on the importance of play.
Ritchey is one of four CWRU students who received Fulbright Scholarships.
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