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Minecraft For Kids? Why Schools And Parents Are Encouraging Video Game Play

My friend JP is thrilled. He’s registered for Minecon this weekend. He’ll be going with his 9 year old son.

I love the idea of the Father/Son Con, but I don’t get Minecraft.

I mean I know it’s a thing, and I have the app, but I don’t really know much more than that. My son’s friends who have older brothers know about it, and he’s asked me a couple of times about it. I just don’t know if I want to expose my 6yr old to the deep dark world of gaming.

I once had a PS2. I owned it for just a couple of weeks before I sold it. I spent an entire weekend locked inside playing Metal Gear Solid and realized it was an obsession that needed to end. I already spend too much time online, I don’t need to spend more time gaming.

Still, JP loves Minecraft for his son. He has a private server set up for his son and friends, and he can monitor everything that’s going down. The hacking culture of the game even inspired his son to pick up programming – at age 9.

I think that’s pretty cool, but I still don’t know much more beyond that.

JP explained it to me as “virtual Lego.” And it makes sense. “I watch kids create the same way they do with Lego blocks,” he tweeted. “That’s it. Lego missed the boat in my opinion big time. The went with 3rd person shooters, what is Legoish about that is ask?”

And as I watched my sons play yet another Lego Star Wars shoot ‘em up game on the iPad tonight I’m frustrated I haven’t figured out a better way for them to use their digital time. They love building with the bricks, they can easily take that energy to the virtual world.

So I’ve been digging in and it’s more than apparent that Minecraft is not only a good thing to pick up a love for programming, it has many other educational benefits too.

Here’s just some of the things that people say are great about Minecraft, and places you can learn more about it to see if it’s something you want to get your kids into.

  • Why Everyone Loves Minecraft 1 of 11
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    This is a video game that is different. Schools love it. Parents love it. Kids love it. Click through to see how and why you should love it too.

  • Video Games Are Good For Boys 2 of 11
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    Barry MacDonald, author of Mentoring Boys, argues that video games are good for kids. "I have noticed that most boys who play appreciate the complex problems they solve to achieve success [and] willingly delay gratification for weeks to get to the next level," he writes. They also "welcome the social interactions that gaming provides [and] collaborate with others to achieve success. MacDonald thinks we should guide boys with computers (and games), not shut them down.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Science says gaming is good 3 of 11
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    A New York Times piece on Minecraft quotes studies from Silicon Valley research projects suggesting hand eye dexterity, memory, and problem-solving skills are improved. Iowa State University had surgeons play video games before surgery and found those who gamed were more accurate in the OR. "Minecraft extends kids' spatial reasoning skills, construction skills and understanding of planning," said Eric Klopfer, a professor and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Scheller Teacher Education Program. "In many ways, it's like a digital version of Lego."

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Mandatory class at a Swedish high school 4 of 11
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    You want education that thinks outside the box? One Swedish high school has Minecraft as a mandatory course. "They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future," teacher Monica Ekman told The Local. "The boys knew a lot about it before we even started, but the girls were happy to create and build something too - it's not any different from arts or woodcraft."

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Some don’t get it 5 of 11
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    Maureen Devlin is a teacher from Massachusetts who has been campaigning to bring Minecraft to her elementary school. "[L]ast year I watched the way that neighboring students created Minecraft virtual habitats for animals which taught the visitor about the facts and information related to the endangered animal, both the creators and the visitors were captivated by the displays," she writes on her blog. "Just yesterday a boy on the playground was telling me all about he and his friends' collaborative Minecraft creation--the vocabulary he was using made me wish I had a dictionary nearby." Still, her request has been denied for a second year. She argues that teachers bring Lego and superheroes and board games to the classroom, and this is no different.

    Image via Minecraft screenshot

  • MinecraftEdu 6 of 11
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    There's a MinecraftEdu program putting together classes and teachers from Finland, Sweden, and the US to share ideas and educational plans for using the game in the classroom. Teachers around the world are teaching kids about languages, history, and science all through Minecraft.

    Image via Minecraft screenshot

  • Use it to relate to your kids 7 of 11
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    Barmy Rootstock has a great post where he had his son teach him what this world is all about. He warns parents that we need to appreciate the things our kids are passionate about. "If I don't try to understand the things you find important, we're going to have less and less to talk about," he writes. "You spend more time on Minecraft than I'd prefer, but if I'm going to have any hope in hell of influencing that, aside from heavy-handed restrictions enforced under threat of punishment, I've got to get to know Minecraft as you see it." And so he and his son went a video tour of the manufactured world ..

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Gender neutral 8 of 11
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    Minecraft is a truly gender neutral game. It's about building things. While LEGO has wavered recently and served up more soft-colored pieces and sets, Minecraft is straight up good for boys and girls Cecily's daughter is into it as are her friends. "At the pool the other day, my daughter overheard someone talking about Minecraft, and they became instant best friends," she wrote.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Because coding 9 of 11
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    Last month I argued that schools need to spend more energy on teaching kids how to code instead of asking for budget increases to buy more ukeleles. This video is just such a great reminder of the power of computers and how they will be vital in any and every future employment. Simple things like Minecraft get our kids thinking like engineers and understanding how to manipulate these digital tools to succeed. Watch Jack, Bill, Mark, and others explain it.

    Image via YouTube screencap.

  • Then there is the bad side of gaming .. 10 of 11
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    The fact I stayed inside that entire weekend playing Metal Gear Solid is the warning you need to heed when it comes to gaming. As part of a balanced educational program that includes many different environments and ways of learning, it's wonderful. The dopamine your brain releases when you play games is addicting - it truly is. So limit the game time just as you limit screen time lest you be training your kid for a lifetime of living in your basement.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • How do you learn to play? 11 of 11
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    There are tutorials on the Minecraft site and all over YouTube. Another site, Twitch TV, lets you watch people play Minecraft live, so you can see what it's about. (This is good for any video game, if you want to get a handle on what sort of action your kids are getting into)

    Image via Twitch

The Verdict? 

I’ll follow my son’s lead on this one. If it’s something that he continues to ask about and show an interest in, I’ll mess around with him and see how we both feel. In the meantime, I’ll continue to try and figure out exactly what the heck this game is.

What about you? Are your kids into Minecraft? Is it a good thing or bad thing?

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