Today, we have so many apps and tools available at our fingertips. How far away is your smart phone from you right now? Maybe on the table, a docking station, or upstairs on your bed, or possibly in your hand at this very moment.
Have you ever seen someone tie a string around their finger? This old trick reminds the person that they wanted to remember something in particular and the out of place string wrapped around their finger reminds them of that memory.
Since we don’t normally keep strings on our finger, it can serve as a reminder to get something done. And we need reminders, otherwise, the day drifts into hours passed and minutes spent until the cycle completes and we witness the sun sinking behind the western wall with the same pressing feeling that we didn’t get anything done.
May I suggest setting aside all of the screens for a moment and do this one simple thing: make a list. Grab a mundane piece of paper, a blank one that allow you to freely express your handwriting. Retrieve a pen or pencil, depending on whether or not you like to scratch a hard line through your editions or buff them away with an eraser. Place the instrument on the paper.
Write anything that arrives at the top of your mind. Lay everything out on the hospitable parchment which holds all of the space for you. Without consideration, pour out your hearts desires, whether it arrives as a grocery list, unpaid bills, goals for schooling this next year, dream vacations or something you have been meaning to say to your mate. Deliver it up to the paper.
Watch in wonder, as your breathing changes. There it lies before you in honesty. Your thoughts, now in broad daylight, appear before your overarching witness. Whereas before, the jumble of activity in your brain looked more like a soup, this collection of words map out the recipe for how you think, how you dream and how you feel. Appreciate this feedback.
Finally, it all of it’s glory and imperfection. Post it. Not for anyone else to see, but give it just enough light to oblige your attention on a daily basis. You will thank that list many times over as it holds your thoughts for you. For now, my friend, your mind begins to create. Without clutter, and without encumbrance, it sets itself alight with the wings of the spirit and begins to fashion a life for you with the list in view.
Back in the 80s, my family homeschooled. I remember the days of workbooks, reading assignments, playing outside and household chores. Right now, we have experienced the COVID – 19 pandemic of 2020 and overnight, public education closed for the year. This landed most everyone staying at home with their children while performing online calls with teachers and classmates. My family of 5 was already homeschooling during this time so not too much for us changed. Although I remember that homeschooling usually involves playdates, field trips, and trips to the library, during this crisis, we aren’t truly homeschooling. That being said, I do think that this time can provide some much needed reflection on how to identify our values. As I mix together tabletop roleplaying games and homeschooling, think about your own values that you have had time to realize.
When I thought a little more about our situation, I realized that homeschooling is so much more than completing your textbook at home as if it was a sick day or if you were snowed in and the country shut down. During this time, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, having no real place to go and recreate anymore. Quite a few people joined me with online calls as well and we had a great time. So I thought of some ways that home schooling was a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons.
First, I decided to identify my values with homeschooling. As of now, we live in the information age. Find an opinion on a topic, and I’ll find a counter opinion. Find a truth and I’ll expose it as a lie. Find a fact and if we dig deep enough, science is just science and nature is just nature. Even reading through history, I’ve discovered that there are many takes on what happened in the past based on perspectives and sometimes, editing or omission of information.
Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot like that. When the story teller describes a scene of welcomed oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, they’re not going to give you every detail of information. Nor will each player experience the scene in the same exact way. When I’m done with my description, I ask each player to then ask me a question about the scene. This tells me #1 what I failed to inform and #2 what the players pay attention to in settings.
Do I see any animals?
How deep is the oasis?
What time of day?
Does anyone look thirsty?
These example questions prompt me to continue on with the description before assuming I know what they want to hear. It’s not that there are no caves nearby, but only that none of the players really care if caves exist. Theoretically, if a cave existed in that scene, no one remembers or their brains just simply blocked out the info so they could see what gave them interest.
Now tie this back into homeschooling. We see what gives us interest. And these lenses help inform our view of the world. The practice I’ve implemented is asking the children more questions. What do you see? What do you notice? What would you like to know more about? What questions do you have about your reading?
The next point is that on the opposite end of the table, the reason Dungeons and Dragons works as a collaborative story telling game is because every player and the story teller agree to share the same reality.
When the story teller describes a rickety rope bridge over a river of snapping crocodiles, the players then share that reality by testing the bridge, attempting to fly over using magic, befriending the crocodiles by feeding them a prisoner. You get the idea. If the players disregard the narrative by announcing they walk along the bridge with no consequence then the information given by the story teller is invalid. Now, some story tellers will then describe the consequences to the players careless actions, but even then, the players have to continue to agree that what the story teller describes is the same story they play in their minds.
Along with sharing the narrative, players agree to enhance the narrative by adding dialogue, describing responses to the sway of the bridge, tossing a rock down to the crocodiles to see how hungry they might be. This not only agrees with the narrative collectively, but builds a world that can further expand into another story. Like roots from a seed, they expand out and down to create a system of thought with a story.
Homeschooling requires agreed upon values. Teaching your kids at home is not just about handing them information to memorize, although most of study can be about memorization, kids love trivia! Teaching values using rhythms of life, routines and honoring choices with consequences impart the worldview that one is to adopt. How we spend our resources defines our values and homeschooling can really drive a person to identify the treasure they protect, the values of their life. Once they agree upon those values, then watching a child enhance them is one of the most innocent and beautiful events in creation. Their radical adherence and promotion give radiance to the value, arguably increasing its worth. Stop and take a minute to think about what you have found important during this time of repose.
Values are the last of ourselves to remain in the flames of trial.
Dungeons and Dragons. Homeschooling. I’m sure that like myself, you have little teachers in your life that show you the path. Gardening. Photography. I hope that when the rats begin to crawl back into their wheels, that when the bright lights and hum of activity increase back to “normal”, that you have made friends with your values. Shelter them. Grow them. And teach your kids to love them as well.
Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.
When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!
But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?
Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.
When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!
Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.
Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.
Do I have to talk with an accent?
What if l say the wrong thing?
How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?
The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.
This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!
So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.
Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast