I consider Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) an integral part of our homeschool and I’m so over anyone (including 20-years-ago me) who rolls their eyes at it, laughs at it, scorns it because it’s “geeky,” or dismisses it as a weird or irrelevant pastime. I could go on about how weird other hobbies are, too (hello, ferret racing), but I don’t have time to worry about who’s cool and who’s not.
Anyway, integral to our homeschool? Integral? Yep. Off the top of my head, here’s a quick rundown of the curriculum tie-ins that tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) offer that are way more fun than most of the curriculum out there:
Math. There’s basic math skills aaaaaaall over D&D, from adding together your die roll and your hit points to calculating damage and whatever. That’s just like first or second grade drills, though. There’s plenty of other math if you’re curious enough — this guy even combines it with spreadsheets and coding to work out some intricate numbers for the passionate gamer.
Reading. There’s tons of reading to be done in D&D. At a minimum players need to be familiar with the Players Handbook and it’s a good idea to know the Monster Manual as well. If you’re DMing you also need to know the Dungeon Master’s Guide and be able to find what you need in it quickly. There are modules for running stories that must be read to prep for a session. There are also websites and wikis and novels, for Pete’s sake, and just tons of content out there for the passionate gamer to read. And it’s now pretty well established that it’s easier to learn to read, and enjoy reading, if you’re allowed to read stuff you’re interested in. So let ’em at it!
Writing. Most of the DMs in Draco’s group of 11- to 13-year-olds write their own adventures to run (they rotate the DM role between a few who like to do it) instead of grabbing a story from a published module. Link, at eight years old, is also writing his own D&D adventure to someday run for his group. But they’re not writing essays, you say? Or ABAB poems, or short stories in the style of Ernest Hemingway? Who cares! They’re writing. My opinion here is same as reading: Let them write things they’re interested in, and they’ll become better writers. YMMV, I guess. I mean, if it’s important to you that they write essays, sure, have them write essays. But don’t write off the importance of them writing a D&D adventure for their friends, too.
History & Science. Classically, D&D is fantasy-based (think J. R. R. Tolkein: wizards, rangers, orcs, goblins, etc.). But it’s flexible if you (or your kids) want to spend time writing or adapting adventures with more sci-fi or historic content. (In fact, one or two of the kids in Draco’s group lean more toward writing sci-fi adventures than the classic D&D fantasy. They make it work.) There are also lots of other RPGs, many of which employ historical and scientific themes. We haven’t played them so I can’t speak to them except in theory. My theory is that curriculum-adjacent RPGs will likely stir interest and relevance in the curriculum proper. You might even find your kids (a) bringing stuff they learn from the regular curriculum into the game and/or (b) developing an interest in unexpected topics as a result of the game. Try it out!
Mythology. If you know me at all, you know I’m a huuuuuuge fan of myth and fairy tale, and it seems to go hand-in-hand with D&D. Seriously, I don’t think you can roll a d20 in game without hitting an archetype. Flip open the Monster Manual and you’ll find creatures drawn from mythology the world over, scratch the surface of any character and notice how it’s an echo of every similar character from myths throughout history, study the deep structure of story and see how the principles span everything from the tales our ancestors told around campfires to the tales our kids tell around the tables in the back rooms of game shops. Why do I think mythology is so damn relevant? I suppose I need to address that in a blog post coming up sometime soon.
Art & Craft. Not all gamers get into making D&D-related art, but for those pulled to do so, the game offers a rich universe of potential subjects and mediums. Miniatures are the obvious place to begin — you can buy them pre-made, create a custom one online, or make your own, then paint them to suit you, then actually use them in the game! Drawing and painting images of your characters, settings, or storylines is another obvious way to engage art through RPGs, but the possibilities are really limitless: make masks, maps, weapons, armor, costumes, tools, jewelry, magic items, dice, dice bags, books, castles, forts, villages, plushies, scrolls, treasure boxes… You could spend forever making D&D-related art and never get to the end of it.
And even those who don’t make art still have to conjure up images of the unfolding stories in their imaginations so they can participate in the game. The guidebooks and modules feature images that help players visualize where they are and what they’re facing. Again, it’s not Vermeer or Van Gogh at the art museum, but if it feels relevant to the child, it’s a wonderful place to start.
There’s so much more to say about the benefits of D&D to homeschool kids, but this post is getting long enough. I’ll do another post soon discussing the less-tangible benefits of tabletop RPGs in the homeschool environment.
Cheers for now!