Intentionally Interrupting The Play

Overall, our classroom schedule is very consistent, except for on Day 4’s. On this day, we have a Library prep first period, which makes for a much longer middle block. We’ve experimented with different ways to address this.

  • We’ve slowly transitioned to our outdoor classroom half-way through our middle block, but this space doesn’t necessarily have the “big run” area that some of our students want and need.
  • We’ve opened up the gate that connects to our outdoor classroom and tried to provide this “big run” area, but when my teaching partner goes on her lunch, it’s challenging to watch both spaces without her there.
  • We’ve gone back out to the playground area that we use in the morning. This area has the “big run” component, but with it being the same space that the children explore earlier in the day, it holds less interest at this time.
  • We’ve tried to regroup in the classroom, take a short Brain Break, and do some movement activities within the room itself, but some children really need the fresh air and exercise during this time.

Today, my partner, Paula, and I decided on another option. We thought that we’d see which students need this outside time and which students can extend the learning inside, and then provide a small group outside option with the E.A. (Educational Assistant) support that we have during this time. 

We were both very excited about this plan until I got back from the first nutrition break today and watched (and listened) to the block play. The students created a wonderful structure using most of the wooden blocks and a variety of loose parts. They decided that they wanted to make a Dinosaur Hotel, and even considered the location of the dinosaurs in their structure plan. A large group of students worked together, problem solved throughout the process, and even shared the materials as they played. This sounds wonderful, and in many ways, it was, but after the students finished building, the play largely involved having dinosaurs fight each other. There was a lot of growling, a little pushing, and a ton of noise. At different times, both Paula and I looked at each other and said, “Maybe we should tidy them up. Maybe everybody needs to go outside.” We even discussed possible outdoor options.

This is when I thought back to the presentation I attended by Karyn Callaghan last year. She spoke about the value in an “intentional interruption.” This is what our group of students needed: a shift in focus as a way to change the play. I decided to give this a try and see what happened. I went over to the builders, and I asked them to tell me about their Dinosaur Hotel. I started to point to some of the different features. As they started sharing more, I said to them, “Maybe you could label all of these amazing parts, so that others will also know what they are.” Two students quickly agreed, and I passed them a bowl of sticky notes and markers. Pretty soon, these two children got others involved. Some students wrote using letter-sounds. Others added in familiar words. A few students even used pictures and random letters to communicate. They started to talk to each other about their signs, the parts they needed to label, and how to best communicate their ideas to others. 

What started as a loud area with play that seemed to lack purpose, and of which we almost stopped, became a focused, collaborative space, where students supported each other. We gently suggested a reason for students to share more, and that’s what they did.

Instead of cleaning up and taking everyone outside, the play continued and the conversations in the classroom got a lot richer. The few students that needed some fresh air, exercise, and a quieter space to socialize, went to our outdoor classroom with our EA and got exactly that. Day 4’s are not usually our favourite day because of this long middle block, but as we discussed after school today, the chance for this extended, uninterrupted play, makes us excited for the next Day 4. While today’s intentional interruption changed the play for a group of students, I think it also changed our thinking about play during this block of time. 

How do you (or could you) intentionally interrupt play? What value might this have for kids? At the end of last year, Karyn challenged us to give “intentional interruption” a try. After our experiences today, I’d like to offer the same challenge to you. I wonder what this might look like in different grades, and the impact that this might have on student learning. I think it’s worth considering. What about you?


4 thoughts on “Intentionally Interrupting The Play

  1. This makes me feel a little ashamed, Aviva, because I totally stopped some play because it was getting too loud and rowdy today. We’re working on our media movies and while some teams do their jobs, other teams can’t get started on their particular task until others are completed (i.e. we can’t film the action until the scripts are written and props/sets are built) – we had related work and play for them to do, but the noise level escalated so much that I had to close one of the options. I’ll need to work on the type of intentional interruption I use so it’s not just an “ender”.

    • Thanks for your comment, Diana, and for sharing this story! Please don’t feel ashamed at all. Until I heard Karyn speak, I always ended play when it was too loud or seemed to lack “purpose.” She helped me see the value in this intentional interruption. I am far from perfect, and sometimes I still put an end to play, but when I remember, I like to give this a try. I’m always amazed with how well it works. Often “disruptive play” can quickly become “great play.” Sometimes it’s just finding the best want to “interrupt.” I’d love to hear about some different things that you end up trying and how they go.


  2. I think we have all been in that moment when we think “I need to shut this down”. I was considering this while I was observing some boys at play with a variety of plastic animals and it always seems the narrative of the play is “let’s fight”. Out of desperation (I would like to claim it was an intentional interruption but at that point it was just the one thing I was going to try before I shut it down) I grabbed a toy and joined the two fighting animals getting my giant plastic giraffe to say “let’s go on an adventure”. Along the way of our animal adventure we made pretend food, figured out how to fit all four animals in the wooden truck and made it back in time for the animals to sleep in the barn….and I didn’t have to say no fighting…not once. Could it be that joining kids in their play is like an intentional interruption or is it just me the adult taking over the play?

    • Thanks for the comment, Jen, and for sharing this story! I wonder if the answer lies in if the play continues in this new direction when we leave. If we need to be there for the play to continue in this way, then is it an “intentional interruption” or a “takeover?” In the example I shared from yesterday, I made the suggestion to the group, but then I walked away from them. The students made the change happen. I see an “intentional interruption” as more of a suggestion (maybe a challenge of sorts) that changes the nature of the play. What do you think? Your question is a great one, and I think this discussion is one worth having.


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