Why use RPGs in the classroom?

Edited by Michael Hansen

So why use RPGs in a classroom? What benefit does it bring to their education? 

Roleplaying games, or RPGs, have traditionally been associated with teenager or adult crowds and will generally follow complex stories and include things like violence or other themes. Recently, there have been several RPGs have been created with young children in mind. These RPGs use simple stories and mechanics to help introduce younger children to the world of RPGs. As a grown up, or GU, leading these children through these stories, you play a very important role. To understand that role fully, it is good to keep in mind the skills that RPGs help to strengthen in children. RPGs have faced many differing opinions and have worked hard to overcome these stigmas and present themselves for what they are, a powerful tool that can be used to help teach children. As a GU, you are a very important teacher to every child. 

Kids learn best through play. Period. However, there is a difference in quality of play, directed play and free play. RPGs offer a safe environment for children to explore social situations with the benefit of an adult there to help them navigate as needed. The quality of play can be as rich or simple as you would like it. If you are new to this whole gaming thing, keep your story easy to follow. Base it off of fairy tales that the kids know and recognize. Free play options in the world will allow children to explore naturally, using language to navigate through their story. This may take some practice to get used to, but adds a great benefit to the children's experience. 

In a classroom setting, RPGs offer a much needed break from traditional classroom expectations. They provide enriched learning in math, language, social and emotional skills, and imagination. RPGs offer a very quick way to grab the attention of young minds whose attention spans have not been fully developed and uses several different approaches to help lengthen those attention spans. We will discuss each of these areas separately now. 

Math skills are the most apparent skills in this game. The use of dice helps with counting. Children need to figure out: 1) how many dice to roll, 2) what numbers are on the dice, and 3) how many dice in the roll succeeded. These are 3 very important , basic skills a child will benefit from in the long run. Counting dice. Pass/fail rates and one to one counting skills are all included in these skills children learn how to 'count out' as well. This is a skill that can be forgotten, but is a very important skill in understanding what counting is actually for. To do this, tell the child, before they roll dice, how many successes they will need to win their roll. Then have them count out how many dice meet the winning condition, then compare their numbers. The children go from counting and comparing greater or lesser numbers to counting up numbers and comparing those. The math skills for younger children are very complex and build up early skills for more difficult math later in life. 

Language skills are one of the most underrated skills that roleplaying games utilize. Children have to learn to tell stories and describe actions, which is hard for adults to grasp. Letting children do this at a young age helps to build up those skills early. Sequencing stories is a great language building skill and will help children follow grammar rules and story understanding in the future. Children love to tell stories to begin with. Think of how big of an impact that would have if their stories actually did something. Being an active character in a story and affecting the other characters around them is magical for children. It encourages them to use language to describe the world around them, what they are doing, and how they are interacting with everything. This gives them control over the story, and in turn, control over language. To have words and sentences actually have effects on things is powerful. 

Social and emotional skills are extremely important for young children to have. Children use play to work out social situations or emotions they may not yet understand; it is a safe way for them to explore these feelings. Learning how to cope with the emotions they feel, empathize with others and recognizing things that may bring out these emotions are all skills that can be strengthened through RPGs. Everything from bullying to gender rolls can be explored and, as the GU, it is a great opportunity for you to help answer questions for your children or observe and see how your children will react. These are the skills that kids will remember and take with them the rest of their lives. You play a very important role in leading them through this, and can help them become stronger individuals in this area. 

The imagination is the last skill, and one that is largely forgotten in this day and age of standardized testing, common core and fitting square pegs into round holes. Imagination drives innovation. Kids need to have a safe place to explore new ideas that may or may not work, without the fear of failure. Kids should be allowed to try and connect the dots in a story in new and interesting ways. Sometimes it will work, sometimes they forget a step and it fails. Encourage them to keep trying. By encouraging our kids to solve problems in unusual ways, we are openly encouraging them to think outside the box. New technologies, innovative practices, and many other successful endeavors stem from the creative mind. Kids are natural builders and thinkers. Sometimes they think SO far beyond our comprehension that we see it as wrong and discourage that type of thinking. As educators, that handicaps children in the future. There are many child inventors, and all of them had an adult that encouraged them along the way.

RPGs also fulfill another crucial role when used correctly. Many school districts are adopting the Common Core curriculum standards. Leaving personal opinions out of it, when used correctly, Common Core can help guide educators on teaching children of every age group. RPGs are, by their very nature, adaptable. RPGs can be used to teach in compliance with these guidelines without stifling children's creativity. You are able to tailor skills and information to what you want to teach at any level. Older children can use dice to figure out more complicated math structures. They can also write out their own stories to share with their classmates. 

RPGs present a very diverse and useful tool in every GUs arsenal in teaching children many different things in a fun and new way. There are many different ways to present information, and stories can be tailored to each child's interests, development progress and needs. RPGs have come a long way in the past couple of years, with many new games coming out with children in mind. It will be well worth the time to find one that suits your needs.