Minecraft: Hey Parents, It’s Better than you Think!

images-1Kids are getting into middle school and high school and having some ugly experiences on Facebook and other social networks without an understanding of how to interact with people online. With Minecraft, they are developing that understanding at a very early age.” –Joe Levin, founder co-educational director TeacherGaming

It is good for parents to learn about the positive benefits of certain video games—especially if  their kids seem to be obsessed with them. My children and their friends absolutely L-O-V-E using Minecraft, an open-ended video game program that allows players to build constructions from textured cubes in a 3D world.  It is an extremely engaging game – they look for items such as wood, bricks, iron, and even sheep (for the wool) and then build communities out of cubes in order to live and play in this virtual world. When in survival mode, they make sure to eat and stay healthy – avoiding zombies at nightfall who wreak all sorts of havoc. When in creative mode they get unlimited supplies of resources and can even fly. Videos of Minecraft creations posted on YouTube contain dynamic, detailed, and incredible worlds created by users all over the world. While you may not completely appreciate the following video, the thought, planning, design and creation that went into the development of these structures is quite impressive:

My son sometimes works in Minecraft with an additional iPad next to him, open to an app containing reference information. I have discovered him using (while searching the house desperately for my own mobile)  3 computing devices at once (the laptop, the iPad, and my just-found iPhone.) At times he has sat with groups of friends, each on their own device—all connected, collaborating and creating together.

Now, as with technology use in our household, my husband and I enforce limits on the amount of screen time for the children. We want a healthy, balanced dose of school work, reading, physical activities, playtime, and yes, technology. Especially when traveling and there is open-ended time that has the potential to be entirely devoted to technology (i.e. car or plane rides, and even resting between family adventures and outings,) we make sure to enforce the rule that screen time matches the amount of time spent reading.

Overall, we want our children to learn to understand how technology is an important and undeniable part of our lives; how to use it wisely; and how to behave while using it. We don’t want to leave all of these lessons up to the schools — it’s too critically important to miss and we need to be the positive reinforcement. If they develop an understanding of the limits, guidelines, and proper use now as elementary students under our guidance and direction, we hope (knowing we can never guarantee) that  these lessons will carry on through their teenage years.

Learning and Minecraft

The use of Minecraft is being incorporated into various educational programs throughout the world. As described by author Lisa Guernsey in “An Educational Video Game has Taken Over My House,” 

Minecraft has many markers of what makes for a good learning environment: child-initiated projects, deep engagement, challenging tasks that push kids to persist and reach higher goals, excitement over what has been learned or discovered, tools for writing, and multiple modes of play that enable kids (and adults) to mold the game to their liking.

Educators are finding that Minecraft can support their work in the classroom with students to help develop these skills and others. In  Disruptions: Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool, Nick Bilton describes how schools around the globe are starting to integrate Minecraft into their curriculums. For one school in Stockholm, Minecraft is a requirement for every 13-year old student. They learn about city planning and development. Other educational programs teach students about world cultures and science, such the ones described in Minecraft Spawns Classroom Lessons. An organization made up of a collaborative of researchers, educators, and programmers from the US and Finland called MinecraftEdu has been working with the Swedish developer of Minecraft to make Minecraft affordable and accessible to schools globally.

Positive Social Interactions

The positive benefit of Minecraft that I never really thought, however, about was learning about how to behave and interact online. During a beach vacation this summer with another family, all four kids “crafted together” around the dining room table after a long day of riding bicycles and swimming in the ocean. Each child used a separate device – either a computer, iPad, or mobile phone. But all were connected in each others’ worlds. They searched for metals, built houses, hid from the zombies, explored together, and even at times, got into arguments (“Hey, that’s my sheep!”) They did, however, always work it out and would come to an understanding with a positive outcome. They knew the rules and were able to transfer the norms of face-to-face social interactions to their online relationships.

In the following video, listen to a group of second graders give their teacher a tour of a recently built hotel, noting how excited and engaged they are, and how they relate to one another.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Minecraft, visit the following sites:

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