206: Roleplaying, Free Play and the Preschool Gamer

Roleplaying, Free Play and the Preschool Gamer

Free play - the act of playing without any structure or organization - is an important part of every child's development. But what if you want to introduce your child to gaming? Filamena Young thinks up a different kind of ruleset to nurture both her daughter's creativity and her interest in roleplaying.

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This article is the perfect reminder that "role-playing" is just another word for "pretend." Many people disregard imagination as a childish experience, as a nostalgic reminder of the time when life was just a stage, and we could put on any play we wanted.

It's no mystery that children imitate their parents; psychologists call it a learning method, but parents see it as sentimental role-play, as if it forms a unique bond between parent and child. People don't realize it, but gaming today owes everything to children. "Pretend" wouldn't exist without them. Because back then, life was a game.

With that said, I like to think that children are natural born gamers. As they progress through life, they discover that everything has rules, that they can interact with the world, and that with the right imagination, anything is possible. No matter how you raise a child, they will always retain a strand of creativity.

I found this article to be very well written. It's filled with mother's worry, but that only makes it all the more touching. Good job.

I'm not a parent, but I introduced a 10 year old child to roleplaying, very gently. I told him a bit about how it worked, which rules we were keeping and which we were ditching. Essentially, everything was free, except for some things on which I would roll a d20 (althoug the success threshold was quite arbitrary.) Actually, we both had a lot of fun, making up rules as we went.
An example scene went like this:
"There's a ditch in front of you."
"I look for a bridge."
"No bridge. You can jump over it with some difficulty."
"I try to go around it."
"You have to walk for two hours, and remember that you're supposed to be getting away quickly."
"Oh, right. OK, I jump over it."
"OK... roll, er, a 15 or higher."
"It's such a high number because I'm a hobbit, right?"
"OK." (he rolls a 14)
"You reach the other end, but slip. Now you're hanging from the edge of the ditch."
"I try to pull myself up". (rolls a 20)
"You're over the ditch, then. Congrats."

I think this really helped him to learn how to think outside the box. While I was the one who created the world for him, he shaped it through his actions, and pretty much did anything he wanted. It was a lot like freeplay, actually.
We even had a bit of a second session a few days after that where I introduced him to actual roleplaying (before that we had only had actions. He understood quite quickly when I told him "It's like one of your school plays, except you're writing the script as you go along")

At the end of the article it all just hit me with this thought.

"Shamus Young has a wife?!"

It was a real nice article and you do see that even passively some parents do a lot of the mentioned activities. What I am curious is those children who are essentially "forced" to focus in on a single activity to become the best at. Recently a 16 year old dropped out of high school so he could get into the draft for Major League baseball. Something like that isn't natural and the parents had to push him in that activity much like many child star actors do.

Good article!

Regarding plastic rayguns and foam swords: my kids (both 7) often play combat games, but they're not particular about using things which are supposed to be weapons. Small soft toys make fine missiles. Cushions work well as both swords and shields. The sofa cover is both a royal cloak and a spectre's shroud. And the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark makes a fine exercise ball... or the other way around, I forget.

The point being that if you're going to encourage imaginative play you might as well go the whole way! :-)

I'm abit skeptical but I think the theory of it all is good.
To explain myself I think it is better to do all of those activities with a group aka. the zombie thing with the kids chasing eachother around afterall who better to ignite imagination then someone else brimming with it?
It becomes a wheel of imagination!

Happy to see you've gotten some ink here. Well done!

This is something I've thought on when considering how to be a good (future) parent. There's so many things that my own parents have done for me that I didn't even realize, and sitll don't completely understand, that the entire task seems daunting. Then again, having a child isn't supposed to be easy... it's supposed to be hard, but fulfilling. Whenever I hear my dad tell me he's proud of me, I know that he's felt some of that fulfillment.

Also, I find it very easy to play games with kids (I've had lots of little cousins). The hardest part is overcoming the language barrier if they're difficult to understand. I'd rather not patronize them, but sometimes I just nod my head and go along with it.


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