Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Introducing Dungeons and Dragons to School-Aged Children

“You wake up groggy for your turn at watch. The dream you had before you woke still plays within your mind. You can hear the rustling of leaves off to your left– it’s probably just a small animal hunting for food. Suddenly, the sounds of the forest around you go silent, unnaturally silent. You stand up to take a closer look when you hear it, the soft flapping of large wings getting closer and closer and closer. What do you do?”

At this point, the player has to make a decision. They could ignore the sound of wings coming closer, they could wake up a friend and see if they hear the same thing, or they could even go investigate alone. (Or they could come up with some off the wall thing to do that completely surprises the Dungeon Master, you never know with kids.) The player makes their decision and the Dungeon Master (DM) quietly says, “Okay, so you decide to take out your bow and shoot an arrow in the direction of the creature. You hear a very angry roar answer back. . . Roll for Initiative.”

Dungeons and Dragons and other Tabletop Role Playing Games (TTRPGs) are a great way to sneakily build skills that children will need not only in school, but later in life. Some of those skills are: Vocabulary Building, Problem Solving, Team Work, Communication, Listening, Storytelling and Imagination growth.

Let’s break these skills down.

Vocabulary Building:

            When a Dungeon Master begins to set the tale, they describe the setting in detail, down to the scurrying animals under the leaves. This is a great time to introduce new words to their players. In a recent D&D module, the word “widdershins” was introduced. To run widdershins means to run counter clockwise.[1]

Team Building:

            When playing Dungeons and Dragons, there is a party of adventurers working toward some kind of goal. Often at the beginning of the adventure, the characters meet somewhere in the game– sometimes a tavern or a town. Not only do the different characters have to figure out how they act or react to other characters, but the children playing those characters have to do the same with the other children. Figuring out how to get different characters to come together for a common goal is a great way to introduce team building.

[1] 

Photo supplied by author; Dungeons and Dragons, virtual session.

Problem Solving:

            A Dungeon Master will throw puzzles at their players. This could be in the form of a difficult  scenario where they need to use diplomacy to get things done, or it could be an actual real world puzzle thrown in front of them. Some Dungeon Masters throw a timer on the table to add a sense of urgency to the situation. The players have to work together to solve the puzzle between time is up. Not only are they learning to work together, they are learning how to work under pressure.

Listening and Note Taking

            A Dungeon Master’s favorite player is the one who takes notes and remembers what has happened in previous sessions. Learning how to take legible and credible notes during a D&D session can help the child learn to take better notes in school– which can be a huge benefit to their study habits. Good note takers develop discerning listening skills– the ability to pick out the important information and know what needs to be remembered.

Photo supplied by author; Dungeons and Dragons, in person session.

Communication and Storytelling Improvement

            Role Playing Games give the players and game masters the tools to communicate. The stories are unscripted, whatever they decide is what happens. The players learn how to express themselves through the characters they chose to play.  Players have to find ways to communicate with one another.

Role Playing and Acting

            Dungeons and Dragons is a crash course in improv. It is also a way for kids to deal with scary emotions and situations in the real world. Through role playing, students can discover how they may react when faced with racism, death, and phobia in a safe place. Role playing also helps students explore who they are or who they want to be.

Bonus benefit: Friendships

            Looking at my own group of D&D friends, this game has brought people together who probably wouldn’t have met. We have a Hugo and Eisner award winning comic book artist, two medical professionals, an IT guru, two library employees, a teacher, a kitchen manager and an animal shelter specialist– and we fight off the forces of evil on a weekly basis. D&D brought complete strangers together and turned us into great friends. (It’s pretty difficult to kill a dragon together and not be friends.)

“The angry roar wakes your companions. They scramble to grab their weapons while dodging the giant claws of the angry white dragon that is descending upon them. The wizard of your party starts to unleash a spell against the dragon as giant jaws come dangerously close to the raging Barbarian. All of these happening within seconds of each other. What are you going to do?”

Photo supplied by author; Adult White Dragon, ready to attack. . . ROLL FOR INITIATIVE!

This blog post was written on behalf of the School-Age Programs and Services Committee by Amberdenise Puckett. When she is not doing storytimes and other programs for the Palm Beach County Library System, she is a Dungeon Master leading both 8-11 year olds and Teenagers through fantastical battles.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/widdershins

3 comments

  1. Tori Ogawa

    This is fantastic! Our system has been contemplating how to get D&D programs for elementary students started, so this is a wonderful introduction to all the skills D&D helps kids develop. Any recommendations for how to get started for a librarian new to D&D?

    1. Amberdenise Puckett

      The easiest way to get started with DND is to find a game to play in. I was lucky to be at a branch during our renovation that had a monthly game. The DM running the game let me create a character and play along. The best way to get a handle on the rules and how to run a game is to play. I had only been playing for about 4 months before I started running games at my home branch and it was rough those first few months. But, with practice, I’ve gotten much better.

      I was really lucky when it came to getting a group going. Our system had two steady games when I started our teen group at my library and then when I started the younger kids group, the siblings of those kids signed up and brought their friends. I encourage parents to play in both my teen and the younger group and that helps.

      If you are starting a group, I recommend getting a DNDBeyond account, talk to them ahead of time and they can set up a club account for your library system which will let you have larger campaigns. DNDBeyond will make character creation much easier. If your library buys the materials through dndbeyond, your players will have access to all source books you own. My kids each have their own free accounts and we (our Friends of the library) pay a yearly subscription for them to be able to access it through the games we create.

      I hope this helped, if not, I’ll try to answer more thoroughly. Good Luck!

  2. rockinlibrarian

    Don’t forget math! There’s not only adding and subtracting of hitpoints and calculating hits on monsters; I was helping my 7th grader with probability and statistics homework recently, and we had a laugh about how they’d already mastered most of it from rolling dice in RPGs!

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