Big Games, Small Learners

I can think of no finer subject on International Tabletop Day than stories of our younger generations being introduced to the joys of tabletop gaming! Many of you know that I spend at least one afternoon a month volunteering at my local library, teaching teenagers how to play, and run, Tabletop Roleplaying games. This isn’t a story about me though, I want to send up some accolades to the duel efforts of my wife, Sarah, and her co-worker Shane on their efforts to bring the joys of gaming to their students at Wright City West Elementary, here in Missouri, and find ways to encourage learning through these games as well.

shanes room

Just over a year ago Sarah began helping Shane develop a board-gaming curriculum in his Spectrum classes. See, Shane works with their district’s Gifted program. The only experience I have with children in such programs is having been in one myself. Many times these kids are incredibly bright, but may lack some of the social skills that make utilizing their gifts, in an effective manner, difficult. Shane has spent countless hours figuring out how collaborative board gaming, and even games where one needs to strategize against multiple opponents, into ways to develop social skills and analytical strategic reasoning. I think most of us realize, deep down, that tabletop gaming easily accomplishes these duel needs, and likely more. Personally I keep pestering Shane to write a piece for the blog with even more details surrounding his excellent program.

Shames room

Shane’s students love Machi Koro. Both the original & Bright Lights Big City

Sarah, being something of a board gaming guru herself, spent plenty of time introducing Shane to games she loves playing. Letting him know what she thought might be a good fit for his students. This wasn’t really enough for her though, she really wanted to devise a method to bring her love of gaming to the student en masse. She came upon an idea through her work with the Parent\Teacher committee that she helms as the teacher coordinator for the group. The last two years they had put on a successful Father\Daughter Dance but had never done anything for the mothers and the sons of their school. Sarah saw this as a perfect time to inject some gaming into the equation. She pitched the idea of a Mother\Son Game night, and the group took to the idea and I have to say, last night was a big success!

For a first time event, there was a large showing. Obviously games of all stripes were on the agenda, like the physical games in the gymnasium, but Shane and I ran a room with tables littered with board games for people to enjoy. One of the challenges we faced was the fact that the event was only going to last for two hours so we had to pick games we owned that would allow for multiple plays within that time frame. I ended up mostly helping introduce people to Gamewright’s Forbidden Island. I’m happy to say that both groups survived the sinking island and flew off to victory. Shane did a lot of floating around, assisting with multiple games and I spent a bit of time helping new players learn Iello’s King of Tokyo. Even got to help folks play a little of Michael Iachini’s Chaos and Alchemy (a game I was fortunate enough to playtest way back when!)

One of the best things about our board game room was hearing parents talk about how they had never known games like this existed. They expected the board game room to contain all the board games of their youth, and while we did provide games like Connect Four, Operation, Candyland, Sorry, etc., they typically wanted to try their hand at the new stuff. It is a testament to Sarah’s investment into this idea that many walked away intent on discovering more “games like this”. Especially because they could see how much their kids loved playing these new games. I sincerely hope we’ve created some burgeoning gamers out there!

game night library

The library for the Mother\Son Game Night!

Sarah has told me she wants to build on this, make it more than just a thing done for Mother\Son night, she trying to think on ways to build it up! Perhaps dedicate a full Saturday to inviting the families of surrounding communities to play games at one of the school buildings. The thought is fanciful of course, lots of logistics involved there, but it’s certainly a wonderful idea I’d love to see come to fruition. If anyone has the drive to see it done, of course, it’s my wife.

I just can’t wait to see the different ways Sarah and Shane bring tabletop gaming into the lives of their students. I know Shane wants to learn more about tabletop role playing games next, he’s only dabbled, and I’m excited at the prospect of assisting him in that goal. I know through personal experience that kids and teens can learn a lot from games like Dungeons and Dragons, thorough my work at the library, social skills, reading\writing, and arithmetic. It’s all there, packaged in a fun way that encourages collaborative teamwork as well. I’m only an amateur in the field of “teaching” with these tools though, in the hands of experts like Shane and Sarah it could do some really cool things.

-Melvs

If you enjoyed this article you are going to love Sarah’s. She delves into what teaching through learning means for her. I urge you to check it out!

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One thought on “Big Games, Small Learners

  1. Pingback: Game Enlightenment | Melvin Smif's Geekery

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