Education Adventures: D&D is the Ultimate Game of Dress-Up

Education Adventures is a column written by educator Megan Hardy. Through the Outschool program, Megan teaches a series of Life Skills courses using fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. During the six week campaign, heroes head out to save the land from an evil ruler, facing challenges and battles and making friends along the way while learning logic and critical thinking. The campaign is designed specifically for children ages 9-14 and highlights problem solving, logic puzzles and team work while participating in a grand adventure. In the Education Adventures column, Megan shares insights and lessons she learns through teaching D&D for students and their experiences.

D&D for students Education Adventures dress-up
Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons allows players to open a chest of costumes and choose the one that makes it most fun for them to wear on incredible adventures. [Art by Seth Lange]

D&D is dress-up with unlimited possibilities

My daughter is nine and has always loved to play dress-up. She would spend hours changing outfits and having fun with her play clothes. She would go from being the princess, to the witch, and then to the explorer. She no longer plays much with her play clothes. Instead, Dungeons & Dragons has become her playclothes chest, and the dress-up options are so much better.

I have had over a hundred students, many of whom I have helped with the character creation process. What I have discovered is that my daughter’s attitude is not unique among kids. For many kids, it’s not about building the absolute best character as far class/race combo. Instead, it’s the ultimate game of dress-up.

Nothing illustrates this more than race choice. First off, let me be clear. If there was a popularity contest among D&D races, dragonborn would win by a mile. My students love them. I have had a dragonborn in every class imaginable. I have had dragonborn rogues, rangers, sorcerers, wizards, druids, warlocks. You name it, I have had it in dragonborn form. It is rare for me not to have a dragonborn in a given class. It doesn’t matter that their rogue won’t get the dexterity boost. It doesn’t matter the wizard won’t get the intelligence boost. All that matters is they are an awesome dragon creature. They go nuts over being able to speak Draconic and let loose with breath weapons. It’s dress-up taken to the next level.

Another race that gets a lot of love from students (and seems to be a favorite of my nine year old) is tiefling. Those horns are quite the lure. They love the idea that they are part demon. Now let me be clear: I have never had a student play their tiefling in anything but a neutral or good fashion. It’s not about actually being part demon that they like. It’s the fact they look like one. Once again, it’s dress-up. I mean, who wouldn’t want cool purple or blue skin and horns? It’s an amazing costume to slip on.

The other race I see kids really being drawn to are elves, specifically wood elves. Now, I get elves in all subraces for sure. However, wood elves seem to have a particular draw. The idea of being part of the forest draws kids in. They picture a mythical race that spends their time in the woods with animals. They feel free to run, jump, climb, and interact with all sorts of animals. When seen this way you can fully understand the draw wood elves have for kids. Now, is this the reality of wood elves in D&D? No, not entirely. But it is how they perceive it.

All of the races in D&D are costumes the kids can put on for the course of the game. It’s pretend play taken to the next level. When you are a child, you are small, so why not pick the race that turns you into dragon person?  Why not pick the race that gives you the appearance of a demon? Why not pick the elf living in the forest?

dress-up
Sometimes the dress-up game extends beyond the game table, as the cast of Critical Role illustrates here, as well as countless incredible cosplayers all over the world who bring the characters of D&D to life.

Of course, picking the race is only the first part of the dress-up process.  When my daughter would dress-up, she would pick the outfit first, and then the accessories would come out.  A costume isn’t complete without accessories. In D&D the accessories are your class, and they totally make the outfit.

Just like races, there are certain classes that just seem to be more popular than others among my students. First among these are rogues. My students love rogues. If you view Dungeons & Dragons through the lens of dress-up imaginative play, this makes total sense.  A rogue is a ninja, a possible thief, a possible pirate. A rogue gets cool daggers. They are stealthy and move like the wind. They tend to be really good at Sleight of Hand to take what they want.  For kids, these are all exciting and slightly forbidden things. The rogue is a great accessory to go with their character race costume.

Another class my students seem drawn to is sorcerer. In general, the magic using classes are popular, but none moreso than the sorcerers. I have given lots of thought as to the sorcerer love. Sorcerers give you control. They get to sculpt their spells. They alter them to fit their needs. For kids, this is a big deal. They are testing boundaries and want to have control whenever they can, so what would be better than to control magic that runs through your veins?

The second most popular magic class is bard. Bards are flashy. They are front and center. Bards would love a good dress-up session. I find when kids build bards they spend a lot of time thinking about what instrument they will have. For many them this is a defining feature of their character. I have had two bards who created a special favor from a fan. They both decided on amulets that protected their bards from flying food. Once again it’s imagination dress-up play and the details matter. They have a picture of their character in their heads. Maintaining that picture and playing out their vision is a good chunk of the fun for them.

I can’t talk about classes and what my students are drawn to without mentioning druids. Druids are a constant in my classes. I often do character creation sessions with new students who needs some help. When I go over the different classes their eyes light up when I mention what druids are and what they do. The idea of of changing into an animal is amazing for them. This is the ultimate dress-up. All my druids choose Circle of the Moon, because to them why else would you become a druid? Also, they get attached to specific animal forms. I have had one student who has been in two of my classes now. His druid is always a polar bear. I have another druid who always chooses a lion. She loves to run and pounce. As a druid, she tends to be easily scared. When she is a lion she has no fear. For kids, this is such an amazing thing. Imagine being able to change into a terrifying animal every time you were scared as child. The appeal of the druid makes total sense.

One thing that has truly surprised me in my experience teaching Dungeons & Dragons to kids is how few barbarians and fighters I get. Among adult players, these are all popular classes. However, kids are not a fan. I’m not saying kids don’t like using weapons. Trust me when I say that every kid in my class tries to use a weapon at some point. Even my wizards and sorcerers, at one point or another, try to swing a blade when they have a chance. But these classes don’t have the cool magic. They aren’t as fun as “dress-up accessories.” They don’t have the cool Stealth rogues have. They don’t get use spells from the get go. They can’t change into something else. The kids tend to find them boring. However, when there is one in class the kids soon realize that they are wrong. It’s the boring costume they didn’t want to try on. Then once someone puts it on, it is suddenly so cool. I have one student who has been an amazing gnome wizard through two of my classes. I’m starting a new higher-level class this week. He signed up for it and is goliath barbarian, because he learned what most D&D players learn: the fun is trying on different costumes.

In the past few weeks my daughter and husband have rolled up several different characters together. She is 9 and growing up. When people find out she loves D&D and plays regularly, they say “Oh, that’s so grown up.” So much of what she does these days reminds me that she is no longer my little baby. She is growing up. However, when she plays D&D I see her as she was four years ago — playing dress-up and living in a world of imagination play. D&D is an amazing game played by adults of all ages all over the world. Yet, for kids, it’s a bridge between childhood and growing up. Yes, it’s something that requires maturity and logical thinking, but it also draws upon your imagination in a way few other things do. It’s dress-up they can keep playing well into adulthood. It’s a dress-up chest that we all share, and it truly has the best costumes.

Dungeons & Dragons classes

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Follow Megan Hardy:
Megan Hardy is a homeschooling mom to four kids ages 3-13. She has a geeky family and uses their geek loves to enhance children's education. She's taught several classes in local co-ops from history for young teens to early elementary science. Her personal background is in history, with a Bachelor's Degree in history with specific focus on European history. She has also studied literature and mass communication. All of these tend to be channeled into her teaching style. She is also a mom of two special needs kids, and has learned how to build lesson plans around individual needs. She believes learning is a fun process when approached through the window of something the child already loves whether that is gaming, comic books or anything that has captured their mind. You can find parent reviews of Megan's courses and information about upcoming classes through her profile page at Outschool.com. She is happy to answer any questions parents have through her email at ksukitty1979@gmail.com.

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