“… a group of kids, ages 7 – 16, who spent most of their time building tiny little societies out of plasticene, and having economies, wars, everything you can imagine acted out. I have chosen this quote because the contents really illustrate several important themes – the freedom to choose activities that are all play and are so much more; the self-discipline; the dogged determination to do as much as you can of what you want; and last but not least how all of this “play” relates to outcomes:
“Plasticene was probably one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. There were days when we’d show up, go right to the art room, work steadily at it until lunch time, eat lunch at the table, and keep on going until we had to leave that night; and we’d never, never leave the room once. The villages would evolve. Sometimes you’d be building a gold mining community. Sometimes it would be a bunch of towns with hotels and saloons. It usually involved a lot of buildings, a lot of vehicles, a lot of people, and you’d make all this stuff. Then you would enact various scenes with it. You would drive your cars around and have certain battles and blow them up on occasion. But for the most part, you were building. You’d be building tanks and airplanes, just one thing after another. I did it at home too; you could bring them in already built.
“We only had so much clay and the fun was in the creating. Afterwards, the only thing you could do with it was to smash it and start over again. It was a constant build and smash. Sometimes we would decide to change modes. For a while everything would be Western. From there, it might go to a battlefield. From there it might go to factories. Western was probably the biggest thing.
“It lasted two or three years, on and off. Probably more. We were not being influenced by any outside source. We were a small group of people bouncing ideas off each other and leading ourselves wherever we took ourselves. We learned from what we could get out of books and from our own interests. We took all kids in, and let all kids be part of this.
And here are the outcomes:
“I think about it every now and then, and I did exactly what I’m doing now, except I’m doing it now in real life. I’m building a factory and making machines and talking to people all day long. Same exact thing. And very intensely. Day in and day out, the same exact thing I was doing in plasticene. Except that when you’re a kid you don’t really have as many of the same complications you have when you’re an adult. If you’re working on a plasticene village, the worst that can happen is you can lose your razor blade or something like that. And maybe you can find another one pretty quickly. There aren’t setbacks like you would have in real life, later on. You won’t run out of bricks for your building, because you’re making the bricks yourself.
“With the plasticene, I was making businesses. I made a lot of factories. I had a cannery at one time. I had a still. I had a bottling plant attached to the still. I could picture it – I had seen films and gone through books that would show you pictures of bottling plants and such things. It had to be realistic.
“It was the fascination of creating. You were creating things that you couldn’t have yourself, maybe, but you could still make them, and by making them, you could have them. And if you were going to do it and have it, you might as well have it as realistic as you could make it.