Monday, February 8, 2016

Reasons to Play RPGs with Kids: Developing Problem Solving Skills

Young Centurions has a cover! Look at the pretty!!! Speaking of pretty, I also have a new website. I lurved the old one with a lurvely lurve, but I’m starting to branch out beyond teen comedy, so it was time to revise. So it’s double pretty! An explosion of pretty! Like firing a cannon full of supermodels. Only…well…not.

Anyway. We’re in the final days of the Fate MoreKickstarter, which gives you an opportunity to order Young Centurions--along with a bunch of other cool games--now and have it automatically shipped to you when it becomes available. Because sometimes being lazy is okay and even encouraged. But if you’re not into the Kickstarter thing, don’t worry. YC will be available for purchase later, and I’ll make sure to update the pretty new supermodel cannon website with the ordering info when it becomes available.
With the Young Centurions game coming out soon-ish, I’ve been talking a bit about some of the cool things you can do with tabletop roleplaying games and kids. I think a lot of parents and teachers would use them more if they only knew how many things you can do with them! I’ve already talked about teaching cause and effect and teaching them the value of failure, and today I’d like to briefly talk about how you can use RPGs to teach kids to solve problems on their own.

I’m going to be honest; as a parent, this is something I struggle with. I want to support my kids. I want them to know they have my help with homework, that I’ve got their back with problems, that they’re not alone in dealing with whatever they’re dealing with. But it’s so hard to keep that in balance, because they also need to learn that they’re capable. Smart. That they don’t quite need me as much as they once did. It’s sad-making but necessary.

The biggest problem that I run into is that they’re used to having constant help and support. They’re used to being able to ask us for the definition of an unfamiliar word or, at the most, look it up on their tablets instead of taking the time to figure it out on their own, which is ironic because sometimes the process of finding the answer online takes longer than it would have taken to just THINK ABOUT IT. And their default is to call for help. They will sit in the chair next to the clock and ask me what time it is. They'll ask me where to look for their lost soccer socks instead of looking in all the places they looked last time. Please don’t let me imply that they’re lazy; I honestly think this is a habit more than it is a willful desire not to figure things out on their own. It just hasn’t clicked that they’re capable of answering all those questions on their own, and my repeated suggestions to look at the clock or stop and think about what they did last time aren’t getting it done. I needed (and still need) to do more.

Here’s where RPGs come in. In a storytelling game like Young Centurions, the players are faced with a series of problems. For example, Eugene Falks is picking on the smaller kids again, and you’re watching from your hideout. He doesn’t know you’re there. Do you stay safe and let him beat up on those kids, or do you help them? Is there a way that you can help them without putting yourself in danger? Maybe you could trick him, but how?

In today’s world, they’d get an adult, right? But this is a no-risk way to explore problem solving on their own.

I find that this approach works best in scenes with kids only, if you can manufacture that scenario. For example, if my husband was playing a character in this scene, the kids would all defer to his decision-making, and for teaching purposes, that’s what I don’t want. So I might use this scenario in a session where he can’t make it, or have him break off with one of the kids and play out a conversation while I run the scene with Eugene Falks with everyone else. And then, no matter how hard it is, I have to resist the urge to make suggestions. Encourage them to think it through. And, if necessary, allow them to fail. Again, remember that we try to make failure interesting in RPGs. Perhaps they take the time to think it through and manage to successfully trick Eugene and get away safely. But maybe their hasty decision making results in them getting pounded. What do you do then? You could shame them by pointing out that they didn’t use their brains and look at the result. Or you could follow that up with another opportunity to do it right. Perhaps their characters are sitting there nursing bloody noses when the original victim sneaks back to thank them for trying. Maybe he got away while Eugene was chasing the characters, and now he wants to reward them with some information about Old Man Jenkins. But the dump, where Old Man Jenkins lives, is extra dangerous. Even more dangerous than Eugene was. So now they’ll have to learn from their mistakes and try it again…after their noses stop bleeding.

And of course, as soon as they do manage to do it right, it’s important to reinforce that. Make sure they realize that they’ve solved this complicated problem all on their own. Talk through the early mistakes they made and how they learned to do better. And encourage them to look at the clock or figure out that definition on their own next time.