Sticks and stones

Yes, they can break bones. But sticks and stones, are more importantly, the life blood of a great deal of imaginative play here and indeed not used to wound at Sudbury Valley at all.

People sometimes look around the our campus, outside and in, and wonder why a school that is so devoted to allowing kids to play without limit – to obliterating the line between work and play – has so few visible toys. Our playground is certainly minimal.  We haven't really got any toys that belong to the school except a lot of blocks – and some board games that have accumulated haphazardly and are used mostly in the cold weather months.

It is a little hard to explain. Until you see our students in action. Those of us who work here see that action every day. Everyone (it is all over the media) pretty much understands that playing Minecraft is about as educational a pastime as you can find. And there are usually people of all ages all over the place pursuing Minecraft, other sophisticated and complex games, and of course (almost) everything else you can do with a computer.

But what else is going on? Why are these Minecraft players outdoors so much of the day? What are they doing? Don’t they get tired of exploring the campus?

Well, no. Because the campus is a limitless source of raw material for their imaginations.

One can hardly refer to the shelters that children build, and proudly outfit and decorate, as debris huts. There is nothing about them that says "debris." They say care, attention, and concentration on fundamental needs for shelter and for decorating one’s homes.

forts_1 forts_group

Commerce? A whole complex of businesses can be made from the pieces of used slate lying around – including art in no small quantity. Several stores compete to “sell” the slate. Others sell “candy.” (Don’t eat this at home!)  Others sell gifts – elegant little parcels gleaned from the natural surroundings and artfully packaged with natural materials. Others sell important household items. Acorns? Those pesky things have immense use, but in fact you aren’t allowed to use them for one fun thing – which is “wars.” Last November, Kelly Shultz wrote about a complex society that had occurred right after a rainstorm, when a bunch of small twigs and tiny cones from a particular tree (and acorns and small stones, let us not forget those!) afforded boundaries, firewood, money – including a bank, a baby-sitting venue, a postal facility, a library, etc.


Nature has provided them with endless materials. All the accoutrements a small society needs. Which indeed is what we are, and every kid knows it.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.