At Abantey: The Roleplay Workshop, the theme is “learning outside the box.” For over 20 years, Becky Thomas has been offering kids in the Oakland area an alternative way of learning educational and life skills through the role-playing game she designed. Learn more about how Becky got started with The Roleplay Workshop and what sets it apart from other after-school and summer programs:
Tell us a little about yourself and how you started the camp.
I studied sciences at the University of Michigan and completed five years of graduate work in Ecology and Systematics at San Francisco State University. I received teaching credentials from SFSU in Life Sciences, Psychology, and General and Physical Sciences. I train in martial arts and draw on my decades of reading science fiction and my love of film for inspiration.
I’ve found a way to meld one of my favorite hobbies (role play gaming) with my love of working with teens into a unique educational enrichment program. For over twenty three years I have owned and operated the Roleplay Workshop, providing programs that help kids (many of them with learning and social challenges) develop problem-solving abilities, better social, and teamwork skills while having fun and using their imaginations.
Like many things, it started out in an unexpected manner. I was teaching a combined 6-8th grade class (ages 11-13), all subjects, at a very small private school in 1998. I had the students working on a project to ‘design a world’. We began with its structure (land masses, water), moved on to atmospherics (weather), and were looking ahead to designing cultures for each continent and their trade relationships. While the students were working on their class project, I used the time to begin design of a role playing game world and system.
My students ‘caught’ me.
They asked to play test the game. The school administration was supportive, so we play tested it a few times. The students got so excited about the game, that they talked to their parents, who approached me and asked me to run the game as a week-long summer day camp. I did. It was well received.
The next school year, I as asked to continue it as an after school activity. After three years, I was having much more fun working with the kids through the RPG, and felt I was having a bigger impact there than in the classroom. I quit teaching in 1993, and began running after school programs and summer programs full time.
Are there any special lessons or experiences you are trying to provide during the camp?
I believe that the best learning is learning that is fun. I believe that education does not have to be books, pen and paper or lectures; although there is a place for that type of learning/teaching. Some of the most important things that I’ve learned in my life, some of my ‘education highlights’, are from learning in a practical, hands on or interactive environment. I believe that we learn, are educated ALL the time, by many mediums.
I believe education and entertainment can be mixed and retain their separate value. For example science channels, discovery channel, role playing games, any games for that matter. A game does not need to have been designed to be educational to be educational. Examples include learning to use money in Monopoly, learning to count in card games, learning strategy and thinking ahead in strategy games.
What surprises or delights the kids most about your camp? What sets your camp apart from the rest?
Many students in my programs come to me later in their lives and talk about what they learned through my program and role playing game. Some of are things that are usually considered to be ‘educational’, such as statistics, ecology and physics. While other things are more amorphous, such as how to be a positive member of the global community, conflict resolution and communications skills, how to formulate a plan and how to take responsibility for decisions, good and bad.
Parents and students have also come to me and told me about how our program is more than just a ‘teaching place’. They say that the program provided a safe place (emotionally and physically). A place with adult mentors who are not teachers or parents (and all the limits that those roles impose), a place that imparted a sense of community.