From Let Grow's youth correspondent, college freshman Dakota Antelman, comes this story of the value of non-interference. If you ever find yourself trying to explain why play time is not the opposite of academics, or enrichment, this may help!
Thank You For Our Weird, Weird World
My friends and I mediated international conflict and almost started a nuclear war back in elementary school. My teachers didn’t interfere, and for that I will never be able to thank them enough.
From grade one through grade five, my friends and I somehow each created a “world” populated by our favorite animal or machine. My best friend led “Guinea Pig World.” The girl I had a goofy second grade crush on led “Dog World.” I led “Rocket World.”
During our free time, we’d gather in circles and talk through often bizarre scenarios. For example, Dog World and Cat World once clashed for a couple weeks. Brooke, the owner of Dog World, told us that her dogs had woken up at night to find the cats invading. Marc, the owner of Cat World, insisted the cats were just going on a walk. The rest of us, hearing these stories take shape, debated what to do. Should we insist that cats couldn’t leave their world anymore? Or were the dogs over-reacting? Should they just let the cats visit?
In time, the game evolved and trivial conflicts gave way to matters of graver import.
My friend Sophie came to school one day with a “Constitution” she had written for Dolphin World. All of a sudden, a world wasn’t legitimate if it didn’t have a constitution. So we all rushed home that night and wrote up our own founding documents. We then compared them the next day to see who came up with the fairest one for their own guinea pig, rocket, dog, cat or car citizens.
A few months later, Dolphin World took over both Leprechaun World and Fish World, two planets previously unclaimed by any of us in my class. Suddenly worried about the idea of one person having more than one world, we decided that the practice had to end. We told Sophie she had to give up her two extra worlds. When she refused, we told her Guinea Pig world had used a “World Destroyer” to obliterate Leprechaun World. It would do the same to Fish World, we warned, if Sophie didn’t retreat.
Somehow our own fantastical worlds just so happened to share the geopolitical conflicts of our own human world. We sought to spread democracy through our constitutions, and settled border disputes between historically opposing groups (dogs and cats). We tackled expansionism and nuclear proliferation through the entire World Destroyer vs. Leprechaun World kerfuffle.
Had an adult tried to “help” us play, or suggested story lines, or made us quit “wasting our time,” our bubble would have burst. What we had was special because we made it completely independent of any guidance. We owned it, but we knew our teachers had the power to take it away from us.
They never did.
They let us keep telling our stories and writing our fake treaties. They let me be a pre-teen politician for a world that didn’t exist.
Now, almost a decade later, I’m getting my bachelor’s degree in journalism and publishing articles. I’m reporting real world versions of the fictional stories my friends and I created as kids. And a major reason for this is the curiosity and creativity nurtured by all that free play.
Rocket World lives.
Dakota is a journalist living in Central Massachusetts and studying at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. He covers topics from music to education. Follow him on Twitter @dakotaantelman.