Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Role Playing

As we began playing games for school, we naturally and painlessly fell into pretending as part of the learning process. One of the ways this happened was through the construction of stories. My boys liked to pretend to be someone else and act out a story. I noticed that this role-playing motivated them to learn new things. Soon, we began using this in our lessons.

Occasionally, in the elementary years, we turned our entire house into a miniature town. Each room in the house became a place of business, with signs, menus, goods, and services for sale. Each family member became a character with a name, a costume, and a history and started the day with a pre-determined amount of play money. We put things around the house up for sale with price tags. We offered services for a fee. Other family members would stop by the rooms to buy goods and services. Even the kitchen became a restaurant with a menu. Family members had to purchase their own food and beverages. Business owners were required to put reasonable prices on their "products" and to give correct change to customers. They were required to write proper signs, menus, and instructions for their businesses. It was amazing to see just how much math and writing my students ended up doing and how their enthusiasm for it never waned.

We made up stories in other settings, too. We used Lego men to construct stories with characters who had histories and personalities. Then we wrote these stories down. This gave my sons a solid sense of how to create a plot and describe things so that the reader can "see" what is happening. By playing out the stories first, they lost any sense of intimidation or writer's block. It was a happy way to introduce the writing of compositions.

For our history lessons, we pretended to live in the life of their times. Field trips were a great way to imagine another time period. We visited historic villages, forts, and battlefields. We wore costumes, cooked and ate the food, listened to the music, gazed at and imitated the art, did similar crafts, and pretended we were living in the time period we studied. We made Egyptian jewelry, Greek drama masks, Celtic stained glass, American Colonial Pottery, cowboy coffee and biscuits, and Civil War bullets. This approach to history was so popular that it became the primary vehicle through which we studied. I called it "history by immersion," because we immersed ourselves in another world and another time. My sons even wrote letters and other documents as though they were a real person writing from the period. By imagining, they put themselves vicariously into another life and came to understand history in a way that was meaningful and memorable.

We used this technique for other subjects as well. We pretended to be scientists when we were performing scientific observations and experiments. I encouraged this, because I knew that we learned best when their imaginations were engaged and when learning felt like play.

We used literature to charge our imaginations for our other studies. By reading a great book, we could imagine what life would have been like for fiction characters or real historical figures in another culture and time period. This served as a springboard for much of our creative role-playing. We are indebted to so many great authors, who wrote wonderful tales for us.

Some of you may be thinking that I am writing only about young children, but we actually enjoyed doing this all the way through high school. And we successfully engaged our friends in these creative endeavors, all the way into their teen years.

My advice? Don't overlook the enthusiasm, the identification, the depth of learning, that insights that can happen when we put ourselves in someone else's shoes.

Have you ever imagined you were someone else from a book or from history? Have you seen your kids do it?

1 comment:

  1. Oh yeah, I was Nancy Drew.... great memories of those adventures! Today I transport myself to the Regency era through Jane Austen! Great post, this gives me ideas to share at home. Have a great day!


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