Saskatchewan Point of View

Dungeons and Dragons is the perfect homeschooling tool during the pandemic

The collaborative roleplaying game could work wonders in schools, too

Posted: November 12, 2020

Aubrey, 13, and Rhys, 8, survey the battle map and decide what to do during a session of Dungeons and Dragons. Cam Houle has been using the roleplaying game as a homeschooling tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Cam Houle)

This is a personal essay by Cam Houle, a dairy farmer from Osler, Sask.

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When Saskatchewan schools closed in March, I found myself in uncharted territory and a little overwhelmed with the thought of homeschooling my children — or at least facilitating their education in our own home. 

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I was somewhat at a loss as to how to maintain an environment of learning and ensure my kids continued to advance at least at the basic levels of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Then I realized I had found an almost ideal solution a long time ago, and that it was as simple as playing a game with my kids.

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game and, in my opinion, the single most valuable pastime for children who are middle-school age or older.

Cam Houle takes on the role of Dungeon Master in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. ‘There is no limit to the scope of things that may or may not take place in the collective imagination of a DnD group,’ he says. (Submitted by Cam Houle)

It also saved my butt during the Great COVID-19 Shutdown of 2020.

DnD (as it's called by those in the know) is a collaborative fantasy game that involves dice, paper, maps and little plastic figurines. There is a Dungeon Master, who is in control of most of the storytelling aspects: running the bad guys and describing the environment. In essence, they are in charge and make the game work smoothly, while the other players take the roles of fantastical characters. The party is working together to achieve their collective goals — at least in theory. The party of adventurers might steal an artifact from an evil goblin king or usurp a malignant royal family from the throne or even save an entire nation from the brink of war. 

This is the view from behind the Dungeon Master’s screen, where they roll secretly, take notes and make the story flow for the party. (Cam Houle)

There is no limit to the scope of things that may or may not take place in the collective imagination of a DnD group — and that's part of the reason why it makes such a great learning tool for young, malleable minds.

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But there's more. It struck me one day after we had finished playing a session. One of my children was fervently reading to research new spells that he might want his wizard character to use. My youngest, six at the time, was drawing a portrait of what he thought his halfling rogue character should look like. (He was taking it quite seriously.) And yet another kid was writing a novella about his barbarian's backstory, which would explain why he was an adventurer who left home. 

Rhys shows off a drawing of the goblin rogue character he plays. (Cam Houle)

Come on: that's practically school work.

In the game, if the players want to take out a troll that's been harassing a village, they need to find it, then roll dice to "swing their sword," add and subtract various numbers, compare those numbers to some targets that the Dungeon Master provides, then roll more dice and do more math, and repeat that process to decide who wins the fight. Sessions involve rapid mathematics for hours in a safe social setting, and the players are having so much fun, they don't even think about the fact that they're learning.

Gavin, 10, holds the dice used in the game. Dungeons and Dragons requires a lot of rapid mathematics, but it doesn’t feel like school work. (Cam Houle)

Dungeons and Dragons teaches children and adults about reading, writing and arithmetic. It develops teamwork, the imagination, acting and performing skills, and also your manners. 

I feel like DnD is so valuable, it could be included in the school curriculum. At the very least, parents should look into this immersive game as a way to strengthen their children's foundation of fundamental learning skills, get them off their screens for a little while and spend quality time together.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cam Houle

Cam is a dairy farmer from Osler, Sask., along with his partner, Jaime, and their children. They milk 42 Holstein dairy cows.