For almost three years now our kids have been going out every week and attacking their friends with swords. Yes, that’s right, they go out in the woods or to an island and have battles. No, it isn’t terribly dangerous (the worst injuries have come from wasp stings), and yes, there is parental supervision.
It’s called Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, and it’s really more about imaginary play for big kids than it is about the battles, although there are plenty of those. Why do we do it, besides the fact that it’s fun? There are lots of reasons we think it’s good for our kids.
It fosters imagination and active play
Aren’t little kids totally adorable when they’re pretending to be pirates or princesses or space explorers? But after a while it becomes less “cool” to do imaginary play, and a lot of kids get their fantasy fixes from books or video games. Unless, of course, they hang out with a group of homeschoolers like ours, where fantasy role playing IS the cool thing to do.
Most of the kids spend a fair amount of time at home creating costumes, weapons, shields, magical potions, and the like, and then get together to create imaginary worlds where they can use these things. My favorite was a “flamethrower” that squirted water, which was great fun in the summer. Some kids come with one or two items to assist their imaginations, while others go all out with elaborate accessories and characters.
LARPing is also great at encouraging active play, in both senses of the word. The kids are outside weekly running around getting exercise, and they are participating in an open ended game where they get to make lots of decisions. They are not inside playing scripted video games or board games with limited choices, or being entertained passively by videos. Nor are they inside running about wrecking the house and making too much noise for enclosed spaces!
It’s good for speaking in public and learning to interact with others
Each week one of the kids is chosen (or volunteers) as the storyteller for the next week, and comes up with a theme or storyline for everyone to follow. Are they all on the good side, battling Lord Evil and his invisible minions? Or are the human characters and the non-human characters are on opposite sides with secret bases for each? The plots can be simple or complex depending on the whim of the storyteller.
One important rule is that everyone is listened to. You can’t shout down someone else’s idea. In the vein of all good improv theater, the rule is to say, “Yes, and…” rather than no. This teaches some important social interactions, as well as making it much more fun for everyone.
The kids also have to learn to get along with everyone. There are rules to follow for everyone’s safety and enjoyment, and only certain kinds of hitting with soft weapons are allowed in the actual battles. It’s co-ed, with kids aged 10-18 participating, although they have kindly made an exception for our youngest to join in at age 6. He generally goes off with a friend or two and climbs trees or turns a rock into a “crafting table” to make stones and sticks and moss into useful fantasy items.
It’s great for parents, too
Why is it great for parents? Because the hardest thing about it for me is getting everyone into the car on time with all their gear—fantasy gear, cold weather gear or hot weather gear, snacks, etc. Then I get to hang out with the other parents getting some light exercise as we follow the kids about at a distance in case they need us. The kids are great about being responsible for themselves, and with a couple of them playing with our youngest I generally don’t worry about him as much as I would otherwise. Many of the parents of the older kids are comfortable with light supervision by a few of the adults, and take the opportunity to get some work done.
The real reason it’s great for parents, though, is that we get to see our kids playing outdoors with other kids, making up their own games and having fun. Isn’t that really what we want for them?