A couple months ago, I read about Roleschooling from Travelingkids.com. The article invited homeschooling parents to educate their kids through the use of Role Playing Games (RPGs). I was intrigued, but unsure of my qualifications; Afterall, unlike my husband who spent countless hours of his high-school years playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends' basements, I spent my time hanging out with the teenage deviants of my class and had never touched an RPG. As someone who only embraced her "inner nerd" later in life, would I be able to not only learn how to play RPGs, but also use them as a teaching tool for my children?
It turned out to be easier than I thought. My homeschooled kids (twin girls, almost 7, and a boy, almost 5), have not had many opportunities to become jaded by their peers about what is "cool" or not. As a result, almost every game they play together is essentially "role playing". They make up stories to act out, or pretend to be their favorite book characters ("The gods of Mount Olympus" was a constant theme when we were reading Greek Mythology, "King Arthur" was a favorite a couple months ago, and lately it's been Lulu, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Magpie from my own new book Math and Magic in Wonderland). When I asked the twins to make up some characters and write about them (for their "language arts" assignment in homeschool), they had no trouble at all. I asked them some prompting questions and told them to make sure to write down their characters' strengths and weaknesses. L wrote about (and dressed up as) a good witch named "Glinda" -can you tell she's a Wizard of Oz fan?
E wrote about a dragon (and his dragon army). She'll be getting a copy of Dragonology for her birthday next month.
Next, it was time for the adventure to begin. I began narrating a story about how Glinda was sitting in her room when a lizard crawled up to her window carrying a message from the queen asking for help (dragons had surrounded the castle). E played the messenger lizard and I asked L to read aloud the pretend letter. There's no shortage of creativity in these kids, so it was easy to make up the story together. I asked Glinda (played by L) if she wanted to go to the castle through the Perilous Woods, or take a shortcut through the "Lost Lagoon". Glinda preferred the forest, since she'll die if water seeps into her heart (through her super-absorbant witch skin). To find out which route she would have to take, we had to roll the dice...
Dice rolling is a big part of Role Playing, and a wonderful opportunity to practice math skills. The girls are currently working on memorizing their multiplication tables, so each of them rolled two 10-sided dice and announce the product of the two integers. The girl with the higher number gets to decide what happens next; In the example of which path to take, if L's product was higher, Glinda could go through the woods, and if E's product was greater, Glinda would have to brave the swamp. We continued telling the story, using dice roles at critical points. The girls especially enjoyed the battles between Glinda the Good Witch and Killer the Dragon. The product on the dice dictated who would give the next blow (or cast a spell).
Even if you have zero experience with Role Playing Games, I would highly recommend trying out this exercise in interactive storytelling and dice rolling for all families.