Many parents today are tearing their hair out because of their child’s Minecraft obsession.
But… it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom.
The good news is that children can benefit from playing Minecraft. Really, they can.
As a children’s brain and technology researcher I’ve seen the positive potential that Minecraft offers children. Sure, it has to be carefully managed and used for appropriate amounts of time, but Minecraft has the potential to help children learn.
So you can breathe a sigh of relief. Your child’s digital Lego world infatuation can be an “educational” experience for them.
It can help them to learn a range of educational skills and concepts.
So what can children learn from Minecraft?
Executive function skills
When children play Minecraft they develop planning, problem solving and communication skills. These skills are referred to as “Executive Function” skills. They’re a critical suite of skills that help children become successful learners in the 21st Century.
They’re sometimes referred to as “higher order thinking skills”. Minecraft can be a great way to develop executive function skills (and your child is often oblivious to the fact that they’re developing such important skills as they think they’re “just playing”).
Minecraft can be a great (and sometimes subtle way) to entice children to read.
At a recent Parent Seminar a father shared a powerful story about his 9 year old son who was a very reluctant reader (typical for boys of that age).
But his Minecraft obsession had motivated him to read and he’d recently downloaded and read an 82 page PDF book all about Minecraft. His father was ecstatic as he’d previously shied away from any reading opportunity and now he was engrossed in reading.
Children can also use the quill tool in Minecraft to take notes. This gives them an authentic purpose to write.
There are a host of incidental and procedural maths skills that children can acquire from playing Minecraft.
Children can incidentally learn about geometry, counting, multiplication, division, ratio and time. Children learn to count the number of blocks in their inventory, For example, when using the crafting system children can develop some basic mental computation skills. (e.g. “I need 5 lots of sugar cane to create paper”).
And because they’re playing in an “authentic” world, their mathematical skills can have a cascading effect.
They may learn one skill and then realise they need to perform other Minecraft tasks which leads them to develop further mathematical skills.
For example, they often need to estimate the number of blocks required to build a wall which then often leads to learning about multiplication (because they realise it’s quicker to multiply the length by the breadth as opposed to counting individual blocks.
Children also learn about the concept of time from playing Minecraft, as a Minecraft day/night cycle is 20 minutes long.
They can also develop some advanced geometry concepts playing Minecraft. They quickly learn the names and attributes of various 3D shapes including cubes, cuboids and square based pyramids.
Ask teachers and these are often concepts that are laborious for students to learn because they’re so abstract.
Like any technology, Minecraft is just a tool. It’s neither good nor bad, it really depends on how it’s used.
Parents definitely need to assume an active role and supervise their child’s Minecraft use (Internet filters and parental controls are no substitute for active parental involvement). But taking an active role with what they’re building and creating in Minecraft also ensures that you can guide their learning.
You can “capture the teachable moment” and help them to advance their knowledge and skills.
So as parents, it’s possible for us to harness children’s enthusiasm and fascination for Minecraft. We can turn their “obsession” this into potential learning experiences and in doing so, we can help to ease our “techno-guilt”.
Have you sat with your child while they played Minecraft, did it change your opinion of the game?