The geeks shall inherit the earth.
In Texas, a group of kids who scored significantly higher than the rest of their district peers on a statewide test had magical powers to thank. They were all members of the Dungeons & Dragons club.
How can playing a game make you smarter? Well, at Let Grow we believe almost all playing makes kids smarter. In play, kids play learn focus, cooperation, problem-solving, leadership, risk-assessment, and pretty much everything good except how to bake brownies.
In Dungeons and Dragons they get all of that plus some math and science skills, too. And as KQED reports in this fascinating article, it's not just that the "smart kids" are the ones playing DnD:
[M]any of the kids in the club at the Title I school had histories of struggling with academics.
For Kade Wells, the teacher who runs the club at Davis Ninth Grade School outside Houston, the answer is simple: “Playing Dungeons & Dragons makes you smarter.”
The declaration is bold, but the scholarly support and anecdotal evidence is compelling. Studies have shown that the highly social and collaborative nature of the popular fantasy role-playing game cultivates a range of social-emotional skills, which can lay the foundation for improved learning. In addition to these crucial soft skills, teachers and professors who have used the game also claim it directly benefits core academic competencies.
The key is that in play, the kids' curiosity is turned on. A curiosity happens to be education's rocket fuel:
It’s not difficult to see how collaborative world-building involving storytelling, decision making, invention, research, calculations, negotiation, role-play, and active spatial visualization can stimulate a developing intellect. And, despite the burnish of fantasy, invented realms are derivative, and thus applicable, to the real world.
So what can parents and teachers learn from the acumen of game players?
1 - Unlike workbooks, the problem-solving required for a game has a goal that actually matters to kids. Psychologist and Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray often talks about the boys he played ball with back in grade school. Some were failing math but they could calculate their favorite ballplayers' averages in their heads -- because THAT was important to them. Giving kids a chance to pursue something just for the love of it inevitably means they will learn some real-world skills.
2 - When kids play, it is so fun they will work hard at at it. Harder, perhaps, than at homework. Whether it's a role-playing game, hockey, origami -- you name it -- they are learning to practice, try out new strategies, and tolerate the frustration that goes along with the old "try, try again" mode of getting better.
3 - Free time is not wasted. It can be the richest learning time in a child's life. Whether they are making friends or discovering a new interest, they are expanding in ways every parent and teacher wants to see.
You probably remember a game you loved playing as a kid. We'd love to hear about how it enhanced your life, perhaps to this day!