Getting playschooled

Sometimes, in play, you can think you’re doing things right and then discover otherwise.

I was helping a 5 year old out of her car seat just now.  On the drive she’d been telling me all about Sarah – her 3 year old daughter, invisibly sat and strapped into the car seat beside her.  When we arrived I jumped out and opened the child-locked door.  The girl unbuckled her own strap and stepped into the footwell.

“I have to let out Sarah,” she said, reaching for the other strap.  One came undone, but the other was stuck fast.  “SARAH,” she said, then turned and asked me for help.  I reached in and found the button.

“Don’t worry, Sarah,” I said to the empty car seat.  “We’ll get you out of here in no time.”

“Noooo,” said the girl.  “Don’t you know that Sarah is imaginary?”


4 thoughts on “Getting playschooled

  1. How did you miss that?!! Get that playworker antenna switched on! 🙂 Seeing the imaginary should be on job descriptions.

    Now, switching tack slightly: I read, somewhere, how children shouldn’t be made aware of their play (in consultation exercises) because then it’s not the whole unconscious spontaneity of play any more. Seems to me that this girl in the car was fairly conscious of her play.

    Then again, the question I’m thinking of now is: did your well-meaning actions inadvertently pull the girl from the unconscious to the conscious realisation of her play, or was her ‘Don’t you know that Sarah is imaginary?’ part of that play flow development?

    In short, did you inadvertently hinder or help along that play frame?

    1. Ha, I know right?

      I think the issue was that I wasn’t supposed to see Sarah; Sarah belonged entirely to the girl. While she asked for help it was purely a hardware issue, and not the invitation I misread. I think at my sloppy intervention the game shifted from “seeing Sarah” to “having an invisible friend”.

      Such is my after-the-fact interpretation, especially building on some more conversations with her today. I think she’s currently exploring the questions of “What is made-up? What is real? Who gets to decide?”.

      Of course, she doesn’t know (or care) that for us those are questions to last a lifetime.

      1. ‘What is made-up? What is real? Who gets to decide?’

        I was once training on play types and the group and I were talking around ‘fantasy’ and ‘imaginative’ play. One group member asked: ‘So, what about Santa Claus/Father Christmas then? Is that fantasy or imaginative play?’

        Umm. Of course, when you look at it from the ‘what is real?’ perspective of the child, this muddies those comfortably differentiated play types up somewhat.

        By the way, have you noticed how fantasy and imaginative play get so mixed up all the time in various books and training material? It’s no wonder playwork students get confused. Even in First Claim someone has copied Taxonomy’s ‘imaginative play’ example and written it in for ‘fantasy play’. This troubles me!

        OK, so slight deviation from ‘invisible Sarah’, but not too far away that I thought it a place where the above could sit.


      2. Absolutely agreed, there’s lots of confusion and overlap in definitions of fantasy and imaginative play. I think for some adults, these two terms would be used to define play as a whole (of course, we’d disagree with that, but still). Bob’s abbreviated breakdown is usually given as:

        Fantasy Play – play which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way which is unlikely to occur.

        Imaginative Play – play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply.

        And I think that those are nuanced differences! They only make sense with examples – and they are only useful for us grown-ups. And of course, in other countries they use other taxonomies entirely!

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