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Werewolves & How We Learn

Werewolves. It’s totally trending in ALC’s. When the students came to visit from ALC Cloudhouse, they taught our kids this fantasy role-playing game that has recently made a huge surge in play.

Playing Werewolves

What is Werewolves? Do you remember the game Mafia? It’s pretty much like that except we aren’t pretending to be gangsters (I like this change). It’s more fantasy based, with werewolves, a fortune teller, Cupido, the witch, the elder, defender, and more.

Every person plays in a circle and a DM moderates the game. This is a very important role. The DM is the person who tells the whole story and navigates all players through the game. It’s pretty fun for adults to play…the ALFs played for 4 hours one night during our ALF weekend. It was led by a student from ALC Cloudhouse who also taught the kids down here at ALC Mosaic.

What I’ve found fascinating is the determination the kids have to play. To play this game you have to be able to sit very quietly and still while the village is asleep (you must have your eyes closed and you don’t want to give away your role when it’s your turn to wake up in the night). You have to be able to take turns and hear each other.

I have sat in on many of the attempts to play this game with the kids and always leave wondering why the kids think this is fun. I love the game, but it appears to me that most of the time the kids are trying to quiet each other so play can happen, getting upset about others not following the rules, then clarifying the rules, then trying again…and again…and again.

Each time I leave thinking, “Man, they will never want to play again,” which I get sad about because the game is really so much fun to play. But to my continual surprise, a child the next day will offer Werewolves and EVERYBODY wants to play again.

This confused me because I couldn’t understand why the kids would willingly go through this tumultuous experience another time of trying to play a game that requires everyone to be still and listen. Why would they want to sit through the challenging process of getting kids of all ages to be quiet for this game? After all, it seems like a game that’s really better suited for older people, like teens or adults, to play.

However then I’m reminded of a truth that I know from all of my experience living and learning myself and watching children live and learn. We all learn and acquire new skills when we are motivated intrinsically to meet a need or achieve a goal. The kids are willing to go through an experience that is challenging because they are all choosing to be there and are intrinsically motivated to experience the joy of this game. Along the way, they have to learn how to be still and how to listen to one another.

Adults telling kids, “It’s important to listen to one another!” without them experiencing any context as to why this might be important proves to be a futile request in my experience. They will learn to listen to others through meaningful experiences in their own lives. The more time they have to meet and self-organize activities in groups that are meaningful to them, the more they will learn the importance of hearing and listening to each other. The more the adults organize for them and “make” them listen (or force compliance to make them look like they are listening) the more they learn about the social construct of adults having the power and them being powerless.

Again and again, I’m reminded of this lesson. I will get frustrated at times trying to teach the kids a lesson that I think is so important, yet I fail over and over again when I do this. People learn most powerfully when they:

1) Learn from their own experience firsthand.

2) Choose the person they want to learn from (and this stresses the importance of facilitators focused on building relationships with children rather then teaching children).

3.) Have content/an activity they are so motivated to learn/experience that they are willing to endure any challenge to achieve the outcome they desire.

I see this proved through my observation of the game Werewolves. For the kids, the motivation is to have the experience of playing a large group game involving storytelling, fantasy, and strategy. I’ve watched a 7 year old go from crying when they don’t get the role they want to saying, “I want to play and I’m not to get upset when I don’t get the role I want.” I watched the kids this week work together to build a giant fort so they could all go inside to play Werewolves together. That happened on Thursday of this week, after many unsuccessful attempts to play the game. I had given up on playing with the kids because it was so frustrating, yet the kids kept on going.

After building the giant fort together, the kids played with @Charlotte and then an entire game on their own to completion – something I think I’ve only experienced once in all the many times I’ve tried to play with the kids. Most of the time we just end the game in frustration. Yet there was something magical about having most of the kids in the school work together to build a structure for the sole purpose of playing this group game together inside. I think it increased the level of community awareness and bonding, and increased the determination the kids had to focus and try their hardest to contribute to the game in a way that would allow it to be played to completion.

The kids going in the fort they made to play Werewolves

Through this experience I’m reminded again the power of games, intrinsic motivation, and when true learning happens. I’m grateful for all the lessons the kids teach me here each day.


  1. Steve Cooperman says:

    Yes, Nancy, as you said in your email, this reminds me so much of what Peter Gray talks about in ‘Free to Learn’ in terms of experiential, interested-driven learning, and especially the learning that takes place in what looks like ‘play’ where in Gray’s words ‘they learn to resolve their differences and take into account one another’s needs in order to keep the game going.’

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