Cultivating Social Skills with 20-Sided Dice

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Several years ago, Darren and I got into playing Dungeons & Dragons. Now we’re seeing its effect on our teenagers—and we couldn’t be happier.

I know, I know. Dungeons & Dragons is evil in dice form!

In reality, though, the most shocking thing about D&D is how innocuous the basic game is. Anyone wanting to create a dark and disturbing world certainly can do so. But that’s not the default. Our household of storytellers and game-enthusiasts enjoys the Tolkien knockoff campaigns, throwing fireballs at orcs and trekking across the perilous wilderness.

While all the kids enjoyed it, Gamerboy showed particular capacity for the mechanics of the game. (He has a natural affinity for most games, hence the blog name.) I think that it also appealed to him because, in real life, he often finds himself at a loss. He doesn’t instinctively understand social rules and interpersonal cues, so even when he wants to connect to others, it doesn’t come easily to him. D&D gave him a world where the rules are written out and objectives are clear.

Darren incorporated D&D into Gamerboy’s schoolwork over the years, assigning him to create campaigns and lead them for us as the Dungeon Master. It’s not easy being a Dungeon Master. The DM has to create the entire story, including enemy encounters that are challenging but not overwhelming. He plays multiple monsters and characters, needs to know statistics and rules, keeps track of each player, and narrates what’s going on. Depending on what the players decide to do, he’s got to adapt his story to unexpected turns.

So Gamerboy’s first attempts weren’t exactly the stuff of epic poetry. But a good thing about homeschooling is that we can make abundant time for our children’s interests, instead of cramming them in as “enrichment.” In this encouraging environment, Gamerboy thrived.

When the local library announced that they were forming D&D groups for teens, Gamerboy (15) and Bookgirl (16) both jumped at the chance to join. For three weeks, their small group met each Saturday to play. Then their DM’s overcommitments caught up with her, and she had to drop out. No DM, no game. If only someone else in the group had practiced running campaigns since he was 11 years old . . .

Gamerboy took over, and the group played on. When bad weather prevented them from meeting at the library, they all coordinated a multi-person chat over their computers. That’s when Darren and I got to listen in on the result of all these years of Dungeons & Dragons games.

Within the game, Gamerboy knew the “social rules” and understood how to deal with each person. He figured out what the players enjoyed and what they didn’t care about. Banter and silliness were rampant, which Gamerboy handled with aplomb as he kept the game moving. D&D gave him the framework he needed to connect with others.

So am I urging all families to form household gaming groups? No, that’s not my point. My point is that Darren and I made time and space for Gamerboy to cultivate his interests, which in turn positively affected his real life. And that’s something that all homeschooling parents can do—20-sided die not required.

-Sara

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis

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