So I sat down this afternoon, gave myself about four hours, and wrote up a starter rule set for a toddler role playing game. I figured that if it took longer than four hours, it was already too complicated for a toddler. It didn’t even take that long to do. I wrote it and got in a short nap! It all came together so nicely that after dinner we all sat down to playtest.
And we encountered the first challenge. GeekBaby doesn’t name any of his toys. When i asked what his Bear’s name was, he said “Bear.” I rolled with this, and started the story with how the bear had no name, and it made him sad, so he decided to go out into the world and look for a name. GeekBaby decided the grocery store was the obvious place to look for the bear’s name, and that the best way to get to the grocery store was to stow away in the car. But he needed a flashlight to see in the dark. So the bear rolled to climb up the dresser and got a flashlight, and we hit the second challenge.
My child doesn’t know his numbers! He can count reasonably reliably (he tends to omit 5) and add or subtract one from concrete items in front of him without recounting them all (again, reasonably reliably for three). But he doesn’t know 1 is one, much less 14 is fourteen. Right away, all the math teaching moments went on the back burner. He still likes to roll the dice, and I’ll honestly be content with him enjoying the role playing aspect of the game.
Anyhow, the bear made it up the dresser with ease, but foolishly turned on the flashlight right away and the little boy started to wake up. If the boy sees the bear moving around, it’s game over! After some prompting, and some discussion of putting on coats to go outside and play, the bear turned off the flashlight and tried to climb down the dresser.
It was harder to climb down the dresser with the flashlight, and the bear fell, which also disturbed the boy. But since it was still dark, the bear could creep out of the room unseen, and escape.
And in the hallway was a shadow beast with long sharp shadow claws and glowing red eyes. We had a little battle, during which sadly the flashlight was knocked out of the bear’s paws. Things weren’t going well for the bear when Maverick showed up, zapped the shadow beast by turning on the flashlight, and saved the day. (Maverick is a beanie baby leopard in a flight jacket.)
Around the battle with the shadow beast, I realized GeekBaby was getting tired (very little nap time today) and losing interest in the game. He showed a lot of interest at first, I thought, but things had started to go downhill, so Himself jumped in playing Maverick, retrieved the flashlight, and ended the battle, and then it was time for bath and bed.
Things I learned:
- Roll with your toddler being a little uncooperative. GeekBaby has no interest in naming his toys, so I made the bear’s lack of a name the point of the story. And GeekBaby got into that.
- Don’t push the math. Allow them to do it if they’re inclined, and remember that the creative play of the story is good for them too. GeekBaby doesn’t do very much creative play, and what he does do is entirely reenactments of things he’s seen. Sometimes it’s creative, and sometimes it’s just exclamations over how Woody and his friends are going to be burnt up by the fire. Chiefly, my kid just wants to do whatever I’m doing, which means he wants to play role playing games too. So I’m using that desire to sneak more creative play into his diet.
- Always have a narrative way to defeat a challenge. It didn’t initially occur to me to use the flashlight to defeat the shadow beast, Himself came up with that idea. But it’s a good one, and if GeekBaby hadn’t been so tired we would have tried to gently lead him to the idea instead of Maverick saving the bear. From now on there will be at least one narrative method of defeating challenges.
- Always be gauging your toddler’s attention and enjoyment and stop when he stops enjoying the game.