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Math Mondays: Role-Playing Games

As adults, we role-play on a daily basis, often throughout the day: We take on the role of parents, employees, friends, lovers, kids to our own parents, caregivers, advisors, and probably more. These identities are all part of our day-to-day lives; our behavior is in constant flux, consciously or unconsciously, to fulfill our many social roles.

But we also participate in role-playing as a form of excitement — to gain new perspectives, to have new experiences, to express emotions, to connect with other people, or to simply be entertained. Every time we read a book, watch a movie, or go to the theater, we are engaging in role-play.

Sometimes we take it even further. We go to interactive theater, for instance (have you been to Sleep No More, yet?). We dress up and go to Halloween or balmaske parties. Many of us are even fans of “role-playing” games, whether it’s charades or a character-driven video game.

So it makes sense that children love role-play so much. It’s a way of exploring their world in a dynamic way, but mostly, it’s fun!

Improvisation is a form of role-playing which I highly recommend you to try with your child, if you haven’t before. The golden rule of improvisation is not being allowed to say “No!”

When you’re improvising with your child, if she says, “I went to the pet shop and bought a dinosaur,” under the rules of the game, you’re not allowed to say, “No, dinosaurs are not pets.” That ends the game! Instead you have to go with the story: “Where is the dinosaur going to sleep? Where are we going to get its food to eat? Do we need to walk the dinosaur like a dog?”

A favorite childhood game is make-believe. Make-believe is a form of role-play with no rules other than acting out a certain character. Children use their vivid imaginations to become doctors, firefighters, moms and dads, little babies, witches, artists, singers, pilots, drivers, cops — there is no limit! They go to imaginary places, meet imaginary friends, do imaginary things.

\When they role-play they experience how it is to be someone else but also they express emotions, follow their curiosity, learn new things about the world around them, and actively create new experiences. Make-believe is an important part of every child’s life and is crucial for their social, cognitive,  emotional, and creative development.

As parents, how can we support their make-believe play?

  • Believe as they believe. If he tells you his stuffed animals have started a rock band, the best thing you can do is to put some music on and rock out with them.
  • Avoid toys and activities that are overly rigid, dictating the story in advance and leaving nothing to the child’s own imagination.
  • Avoid correcting them. Instead, improvise!
  • Expose them to different characters, roles, and cultures. Read different kinds of stories, talk to them about different cultures, take them with you to different places in the world.
  • Encourage them to use their toys and prompts in different ways.
  • Observe them. You’ll learn a great deal about their emotions, their perception of gender roles, and their understanding of the world around them.
  • Respect. No play is child’s play. If you don’t agree, scroll up and re-read the first two paragraphs of this post!