I spent the morning observing children's interactions at the local aquarium. The aquarium invites a great amount of dialogue simply by it's exciting underwater inhabitants. What it also offers is a rich setting in which to engage in fantasy play. In particular there is an area designed like a campsite with a canoe and life jackets and a tent complete with a camping stove and food. What a wonderful invitation for play! (There's also a lovely area where children can explore a yellow submarine and dress up like penguins.)
As I was watching children from toddlerhood to early primary play in the campsite I noticed a disturbing trend. The children would be completely engaged in play and I would hear shouts of "let's sleep in the tent!" or "oh no, a big wave is coming, get your life jacket!". Children from different families would be engaged in an elaborate dialogue and the plot would just begin to thicken when suddenly the children were yanked back into reality by the adults.
Over and over again I witnessed the interrupting adult. In their haste to adhere to a perceived need to stick to a schedule of fun and see everything in the aquarium(a huge impossibility to be honest), the well intentioned adult took away the child's fantasy play. I saw this happen so many times today that I lost count. While the children were perfectly ready and content to dive into a fantasy world, the adults grew impatient and asserted their power of the children by ending their explorations.
I worry that as professionals who work with children that we are guilty of the same thing. We are also guilty of being the interrupting adult. How many times do we stop a child's fantasy play in order to move on to a different aspect of the day that we have decided is more important? How many adventures have we ended in our impatience and desire to move on? I know that this syndrome is the result of a larger societal push to "educate educate educate", but as Vivian Paley so eloquently describes, fantasy play is the work of the children.
Rather than becoming play interrupters, we should be play protectors. After all, isn't that where the learning truly happens?