Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spreading the Learning

Last week I posted a link to my blog on /r/rpg over on Reddit, and a user asked me some great questions:

How do you keep your embedded curriculum relevant to each of your children's lessons? I don't have much understanding of how homeschooling works, but I'm interested to see how you can avoid having the eldest child solve all of the simpler problems aimed at the younger two.

I gave an answer over there, and considered just linking to that and calling it a day.  Then I decided that I'd like to answer it again here.  I've given it some more thought, and I talked to my wife and got her thoughts on the subject too, which I'll share.

1. Keeping game content relevant to my children's lessons

This is how I interpreted MrWiggles2's first question.  The underlying assumption in the question is that my kids' curriculum and the content in our RPG games are tightly coupled.  This was actually something I blogged about trying to do early on when I first started integrating RPGs with the kids' homeschool education.  The idea was that my wife and I would look at what the kids would be learning in the coming months, and then I would take that and weave it into my game planning and preparation.  It was a lofty goal.

Sadly, it didn't happen that way in my house, for several reasons:
  • Gymnastics and a few other things don't leave us sufficient time to play RPGs often enough for this level of planning to be possible.
  • Making dungeons is a creative release for me, and the dungeons I create kind of go where they want to go.  

There, I said it.  My creativity is a beast, and I selfishly give it free reign.  Looking at subject matter and trying to make a dungeon around it feels forced to me.  The dungeon I'm making now, by contrast, has things in it that are good educational content, but I chose that content based on ideas that came to me when designing the dungeon.  

And the time thing really is a big deal.  By the time we got around to actually playing something that I had planned specifically to coincide with their lessons, the lessons would be long behind us.

I'm not saying that you can't tightly weave targeted subject matter into your games.  I'm just saying that's not how it's happening at our table.  

My wife's take on content:  she has observed our kids recognizing in their core curriculum things they have already learned in the game.  This is a happy accident, but it has happened on multiple occasions.  One prime example is the Skull of Fibon.  Just recently they learned about the Fibonacci sequence at co-op, but my kids already had it down cold.  Just one way the RPG complements the core curriculum.

2. Keeping older kids from solving all the problems

In my answer on the Reddit thread, I acknowledged that I hadn't actually thought about this before.  Since then, looking back on our games, I realized that the reason it hasn't been much of a problem for us so far is because I haven't hit the kids with a whole bunch of puzzles yet.  On the few occasions when they faced puzzle-like obstacles, everyone freely offered ideas and there was at least a modest degree of listening and cooperation.  In truth, though, young Nora has been dominated a bit by the oder two, so her ideas seldom make it to the forefront.

  • Separation:  you can't solve a problem for your little sister if your character isn't there with her.
  • Conditions:  E.g., blindness, unconsciousness, etc.  You can't solve the puzzle if your character can't see the pieces.  And you can't share your ideas with each other if you've been silenced by a spell.
  • Class-based puzzles:  Make puzzles where it only makes sense for one of the characters to have the knowledge to solve it.  For example, it's a plant-based puzzle, so the druid has to solve it.  The trick is to make it so it doesn't feel forced.  Easier said than done, I know.
  • Just go ahead and force it:  The DM just decides who he/she wants to solve the problem.  "I want Nora to try to solve this one."

My wife's take on evenly dividing the puzzle-solving load:  surprisingly, this wasn't a big deal for her.  She's fine with whoever solves it.  As long as everyone is paying attention, there will be benefits for all.

Finally, I just want to reiterate something I said on the thread:  I don't get bogged down in what the best way is to maximize the academic benefit.  I focus on having fun and letting any learning happen naturally. 

That's how we roll.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your wife. It seems like in our games, the kids are so excited or curious, that they are all engaged in the learning process even if they aren't the one who actually "solves" the puzzle. In our Egyptian campaign, every kid learned hieroglyphics on their own, even if they weren't one of the main ones translating the hieroglypics during the game playing. Also, when you have a week between sessions (we have the same) a lot of learning seems to happen during the week as well. Reminds me of going to a "Percy Jackson" party at a local library and every kid there seemed to be an expert on Greek Mythology (and NOT just what was in the books - they just naturally got curious and learned it on their own).

    Catching up on your posts! Thanks so much for sharing!

    - Linda