Today’s the last day of school on the medieval frontier of Northern Virginia...the medieval side. (Alas, our school board thinks starting school the second week of August, putting the first term SOL testing right before the December holiday break, will increase SOL scores instead of focusing on paying teachers decently and letting them teach instead of handle bureaucracy....) Already last week summertime recommendations started coming home: a list of recommended “series” books for summer reading, a 22-page handout with math problems to solve, a list of educational websites to visit, a page of “dice games” that are really just math exercises with dice, and a thick, door-stop-sized reading/writing workbook someone ordered but apparently didn’t use all school year. All this comes slathered in the repulsive stigma of homework, something the seven year-old Little Guy has grown to dislike and resist throughout the school year, more so in these final weeks before summer vacation. So what’s a parent to do? I’m turning to two things we know and enjoy: fun themes and games.
“Introducing Newcomers to Games: Theme & Mechanics.”) Just the other weekend we caught him sitting in bed
reading a Star Wars book aloud to our cats (granted, they like
hanging out in his comfy bed anyway, but apparently reading was a
bonus). We’re embarking on a first-edition Star Wars Roleplaying
Game campaign at his insistence; so far he’s enjoyed accurately
adding up the results of numerous d6 rolls, especially when tossing
handfuls of dice when using a Force Point. He reads all the powers
and attacks on the cards when we play the Pokemon collectible
thinking of a few game-related activities that can both entertain him
and stretch those intellectual muscles during summer break:
Rory’s Story Cubes come to mind: roll a handful of
the dice and start choosing symbols to inspire a story, even just a
sentence. The related game, Untold: Adventures Await,
currently seeking funding through Kickstarter, provides a bit more
structure in crafting a storyline. I have a ream of lined handwriting
paper I picked up at a discount book fair recently and it’s perfect
for practicing handwriting (something the local schools don’t seem
to spend much time on) and writing a few sentences inspired by Rory’s
Story Cubes rolls. I’ve seen other dice sets meant to inspire
storytelling efforts (notably
Imagination Generation Story Time Dice but also various
media-themed Rory’s Story Cube sets), but I haven’t acquired or
tried them yet.
We have a few card games that reinforce reading and math concepts.
The Minecraft Card Game? caters to his interest in Minecraft
but also forces him to make choices gathering elements and crafting
tools as well as totaling the points needed to win the game. We
haven’t played the Pokemon collectible card game in a while
but it’s a good diversion for an afternoon; it engages him in
reading the card powers and calculating damage and hit points. He’s
indicated an interest in the Star Wars Destiny game which
merges cards and dice mechanics – like many such games it involves
practical reading and math skills – but until I can acquire two
starter sets (which seem to be hopelessly unavailable through the
distribution chain), we’ll have to wait.
Daniel Mersey’s The Men Who Would Be Kings Victorian skirmish rules for use with my
collection of 25mm Star Wars minis and 54mm Star Wars Command figures.
Games: I’m tempted to broaden our roleplaying game experiences
because they reinforce lessons in reading, writing, and math. Much as
we’ve enjoyed Hero Kids, I’m tempted to try B/X
Dungeons & Dragons for a deeper
math and reading experience. Of course we’ll continue our Star
Wars Roleplaying Game campaign, for which we’ve also recruited
my wife and one of her co-workers.
Experience: We have several opportunities out of the cozy home
gaming environment to put school skills to use and managing his
expectations and frustrations in a social setting. The local library
has a few Pokemon card game events over the summer, something
I’ll encourage if he shows interest in picking up the game again at
home. He’s indifferent about the library’s summer reading program
(truth be told he reads a decent amount on his own, assuming it’s a
subject that interests him), though it is sponsoring a few special
events we’ll attend, most notably the “Snakes Alive” show with
critters his Dad can’t stand. A few road trips to area gaming
stores as well as a regional convention can offer him practical
experience evaluating products he wants and spending a given budget.
Last year we gave him $20 to spend as he wanted at the big summertime
convention; he was extremely disappointed after spending it all (and
then some) the first day and asked “Doesn’t my $20 regenerate
tomorrow?” Gaming in public can also provide opportunities to learn
how to manage his feelings in both winning and losing graciously.
So that’s our
plan for both having fun and keeping school skills fresh during the
summer break. It’s a father-son plan customized to our interests,
game collection, and opportunities as well as the Little Guy’s
intellectual and maturity levels. This specific plan isn’t the best
one for everyone seeking to take this path, but it might offer some
ideas for parents hoping to keep their kids engaged in learning while
having fun with games.