Our play based learning specialist Harrison Reed works with A Team Tuition developing child-centric learning methods and study skills. Play based learning is usually associated with younger kids, but Harrison believes that older children and teens can also benefit from “learning, without knowing it.” So how do you give older kids the downtime they need, with no screen time – while sneaking in a few lessons?
Harrison the Gaming Geek has some tips!
In the gaming world, Harrison Reed is pretty well known. He runs card game tournaments and events, writes strategy and review articles on board and video games, and has been selected to compete for a $50K prize pool with other elite gamers. In short, he has serious “Nerd Cred.” Harrison has the insider info on no screen time play as learning – let’s dive in.
Play based learning beyond Scrabble
With parents dusting off the Scrabble board, the old Game of Risk and other tired but tried and true board games, kids are “enduring” play based learning as part of the online curriculum. But what if it was child-led play? What if, with no additional screen time, your child could develop mathematical theories, use core study skills and delve into a new world of educational fun?
Trading Card Games
Trading Card Games (TCGs) and Collectible Card Games (CCGs) have been around for decades, with Magic: The Gathering considered to be the first released in 1993.
Harrison says: “Personally, Magic is the game I have spent the most time and effort in, and to this day is my game of choice.”
Other games that are extremely popular all over the world are the Pokemon TCG, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cardfight Vanguard and many, many more.
If you’ve never driven your kid to a remote park to catch a rare Pokemon, are you even a parent? But technology is a relatively new thing in trading card games. It’s 99% zero screen time!
High-level and Practical Maths
Playing just about any TCG has a huge amount of maths involved. Managing the various game resources – health totals, cards in hand, cards in deck, the stats of the cards in play – all require extremely quick and accurate calculations. This is an incredibly practical life skill – from working out fuel costs and lunch, to deciding on a phone plan. Being both accurate and quick with your simple calculations is a fundamental skill that many students lack and may require additional help to support.
As well as the simple maths involved, there is – similar to Minecraft – a huge amount of depth in TCGs. Players have invested entire PhD research papers on analysing the deep maths behind TCGs, and Game Theory – analysing real-life situations through game examples – is a recognised strategy in economics. In fact, I’ve even invested some of my own time and effort into analysing the maths behind Magic (which you can read about here).
Risk v Reward Analysis
Speaking of Economics, balancing the risk of a particular action against the possible rewards is also an extremely useful life skill. TCGs have a huge amount of hidden information, which means that players need to consider what each opponent could possibly have and act accordingly. As well, there is the additional level of risk analysis in terms of competitive play. Is it worth the effort of travelling to an event and paying the entry fee with the potential to win prizes?
International and Social Game
Trading card games are a universal language. I went on a trip to Japan and found myself in a tiny card store in the back streets of Osaka, playing Magic in a room with a Frenchman, an American and a whole bunch of Japanese guys, all of whom had a limited command of English. And it didn’t matter at all, because we were all able to communicate through Magic, and have a great time.
I also spent several years working as a Tournament Organiser at a local card store, here in Brisbane. Part of that responsibility was to organise and run twice-a-week competitions for our players, upwards of 30+ each night. These were people from all different ages, backgrounds and walks of life – a retired engineer who played with his son every night, a group of schoolkids who hung out each week together, and a young man with cognitive impairments who could barely speak, but was one of the best players I ever met. There was a community of people who came together, enjoyed a social hobby together and built friendships that they still have today. One of those schoolkids even got a job out of it!
With the popularity of Netflix shows such as Stranger Things, and YouTube series like Critical Role, tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons have never been more popular. Vin Diesel (yes, that Vin Diesel) plays on set between takes, and wrote the foreword to the commemorative 20-year edition. It has come a long way from Satanic Panics and being written off as ‘something for losers to do in their basement.’ RPGs are very popular online games, but if you’re looking for no screen time play based learning, you can crack out the basement style board and get older kids and teens to take up roles at the kitchen table.
Representation and Expression
More and more young people are coming to terms with their identity at a younger age and seeking ways and means of exploring and expressing that individuality. RPGs give the perfect example of doing so in a safe context. Maybe a young person is coming to terms with their identity as a trans individual. They can explore that identity and express themselves through role-playing as a character of a different gender (and Magic has an excellent short story about one of their characters who is exactly that!).
This is Seelah. Seelah is the ‘default’ Paladin character in the original Pathfinder rulebook (Pathfinder being an excellent quality spin-off of Dungeons & Dragons). Seelah is a black woman, who wears practical armour (for any woman who has been put off gaming due to the sexist portrayal of women, this is a great role model for girls). She is treated as a comrade by the other adventurers in the story, and her skin colour and gender are not mentioned at all. There are dozens – hundreds! – of different versions of Seelah out there, not just muscle-bound barbarians and helpless damsels waiting in towers to be rescued. Young people who feel marginalised for whatever reason – their gender, their sexuality, their skin colour – can feel powerful and take agency through role-playing.
And that is a very valuable thing indeed.
It can be non-combative
While the default mode for an RPG is to be a combat-orientated game, there is absolutely no reason that it has to be. One of the example campaigns and scenarios I have seen run to great effect revolved around Harry Potter.
In this scenario, the player had no interest in going on quests or slaying monsters. They were, first and foremost, an artist. They created their own store in Diagon Alley, completely from scratch. They drew their own art of the store, what the products looked like and what they looked like as a witch. And the Dungeon Master running the game took the role of various patrons of the store, would put on characters and voices and shopped at the store. This had the benefit of giving the player a creative outlet and direction for their art, helping them to learn to speak with different people – something they struggled greatly with – and the basic Maths skills of running a store.
This is just a possible example of how RPGs can provide hours and hours of entertainment for a young person, without having to leave the house or cost anything! With no end in sight for the current lockdown, now is the perfect time to get together as a family and run a roleplaying campaign. Free resources are available online for how to put together a campaign, and most card and game stores are still offering online shopping and delivery. Who knows, you might learn something about your kids you had no idea.
Encourages Reading, Writing and Public Speaking
Epic fantasy has been around for literal centuries by this point, and some of the best is still being written today – Game of Thrones, for example. More traditional RPGs draw heavily from that background, meaning that there are millions and millions of hours of content that a young person can engage in, if they find RPGs interesting.
From stories based directly on campaigns – The Dragonlance Saga by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman – to the classics like Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia, RPGs can open up worlds of interesting literature that have previously been hidden behind the door marked ‘nerd.’
And that is even before you talk about the writing and creative output required to run a campaign. Most aspiring Dungeon Masters will write hours upon hours of content, story and dialogue before they even sit down to a table. Which is great! That helps build their creative writing and public speaking skills in a setting where they don’t even realise they are working.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, there are a whole lot of reasons that you should be encouraging your children to get involved with games – within reason. Treat it like a diet. Games and gaming – whether that be on a computer, a game system or sitting down at a table – should always be part of the meal, not the whole thing. Always make sure that if your child is playing games online, they are doing so safely – check if they are using voice or video chat, and what sort of people they are talking to. This is a great opportunity to go beyond Scrabble and foster an interest in no screen time, play based learning for older kids and teens. Games are not just for basements any more.