Were you ever a modeler? Do you remember yourself opening those boxes from Monogram or Revell containing all of the plastic makings of an airplane, a ship, a car or a truck? As you pulled off the lid that often had an action image of what you were going to build, you could see the assembly instructions folded neatly inside, a sheet or two of decals and all of the parts, large and small, still connected to their plastic runners. With model cement, perhaps a small knife to help separate the parts and clean the edges of any flash and a table where you could spread everything out, your workspace was ready. To open the cement, you would jab a straight pin down into the tip of the tube, and when you removed the pin a small bit of glue would follow it out, giving off the distinctive smell every modeler knew so well. You were still young, but you imagined yourself someday driving or even flying the full size, real life version of the model in the box.
For many of us, those models were our first exposure to working on those vehicles. When you’re eight or ten years old, you won’t be maintaining any drag racers or fighter jets, but putting those models together, you were in charge and while building something with your hands, you learned the names of all of the parts and how each one connected to everything else. Whether the instructions called for an aileron or a radiator, you identified it, held it in your hands, put it in place and learned. When the day finally came and you graduated to the full size version, the parts and pieces might have been bigger, but you already knew what they were. Take it apart and work on it? Sure, why not? You built one from scratch when you were a lot younger, how hard could it be? You had a level of confidence born from experience and it served you well.
Building those models was a common experience not that long ago, but I haven’t seen as much evidence of it in recent years. Building those models brought along with it the experience of taking a pile of parts and turning them into something you could be proud of and display for others to see, you gained building skills, technical knowledge and often, the desire to work on the real thing when you were a bit older, it was the early stages of what often became highly developed hands on skills as the modeler became an adult.
Fascinations and interests while a child can often lead to a vocation or avocation as an adult and perhaps this is another reason why there is such a drop off in hands on skills of the kind far more common in the past. How many pre-teens or early teens are building models these days? I haven’t seen many on display lately, nor have I seen any other hands on hobby to take their place. That’s not to say it isn’t happening, but what would it be?
You can’t get the same knowledge and skill looking at or manipulating images on a computer. You have to physically experience the building process, properly orienting and trial fitting a part, getting it to fit just right, understanding the process of what has to come first because later you won’t be able to access a certain spot as other parts are installed, it’s a learning experience that carries over to all sorts of physical objects later in life.
In an earlier long and passionate post, I suggested that those of us with hands on skills to pass on to a younger generation should create some opportunities to do just that. Model building is an easy way to do it. You can work with kids who are quite young and after the project is done, they get to keep it and put it on display. They can tell their friends, “I made that,” and feel the pride that comes from real accomplishment. That’s how you build self esteem that lasts because it’s based on something more than words.
Revell and Monogram have merged and then changed hands many times over the years, the models are still available, but, like so many other activities, model building has faded in popularity and kids seem more interested in other things. Maybe what it needs to come back are a few of us willing to create that hands on spark in a young person we can influence. Maybe it’s time to buy a few models and spend some building time with a younger generation. Be a positive influence, you never know where it may lead.