What are Your Kids Learning from Minecraft?

Minecraft Logo via Gamestop

Minecraft Logo via Gamestop

My 5 year-old insists that I look at her 3-D virtual world on Minecraft every day. I don’t mind. In fact, I was shocked the first time I saw what she created on her own. I assumed the game was too old for her, but after watching her sisters play, she insisted that she needed to try it on the iPad, immediately.

My girls were completely absorbed and it seemed way too fun and entertaining to be “educational” . We have plenty of apps that fall into that category. They mostly sit on the iPad gathering virtual dust.

I noticed some really cool things happening, things that could easily be labeled learning.

I did not tell them.

Last week, I read that a Swesdish school recently made Minecrafting mandatory.  “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future,”  said a teacher from the Viktor Rydberg School. Around 180 students take part in the program. They learn to build virtual worlds, complete with water supply networks and electricity grids.

The game is designed for all ages. Each of my girls are deeply involved in the game, but enjoy different aspects of it. The Adventurer plays, interacts and builds with friends in the multi-player version. The Butterfly loves the action of survival mode. My little Princess loves to build tree houses and castles.

Here are 11 things my kids are learning from Minecraft:

  1. Reading. Beginning readers (like the Princess) can practice reading the names on the inventory list that is essential to building. Each item used in the game has  a “tool tip” to help players learn how to use it for building.
  2. Sharpens basic computation skills (addition and multiplication) through the creation of different structures.
  3. Exposure to and exploration of geometry concepts (ex: making a square based pyramid)
  4. Expand measuring skills.
  5. Practice problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  6. Survival skills (if you choose to play in survival mode).
  7. Spacial reasoning.
  8. Explore creativity in a variety of ways.
  9. Social and communication skills (in multi-player / survival mode). Players learn how to be a good citizen in a virtual world and can communicate with other players through writing.
  10. Teamwork through collaborative building.
  11. Art and Design. Players can play with design by building houses and structures with a variety of colors and materials or they can create their own sculptures and art within their world.

Still not convinced?

Sit down and watch them play. Get excited about what they are building. Help them find guides to building more advanced structures. Ask them to show you how it works and why they chose certain building materials.  Find out what they want to build next.

If they’re interested, download the Colosseum or another real life building and explore it, inside and out. Compare it to photos in a book or images from Google Earth.  Follow your child’s interest and see where it leads you! Roman history maybe? Architecture? How to survive in the wild? Geology? Topography and mapping?

The learning opportunities in Minecraft seem as wide as the worlds that can be created.  Some educators think it could even help students improve SAT scores.  For ideas on expanding your child’s learning (and fun) using Minecraft, check out this article about Using Minecraft in the classroom.

What are your kids building and learning on Minecraft? Do you have another suggestion for game based learning?  Tell me in the comments!

  • Emily

    This makes me feel a lot better, because my youngest (age 9) in particular is very involved with Minecraft…I knew it was a game I approved of from the little I knew about it, but I never really delved into how I could work with him on expanding his interests and curiosity through the game. I usually have no interest in the computer or video games that they play. I simply try to monitor their time on it and make sure it’s appropriate. But your idea is great — the next time he plays I’m going to sit down and talk to him about it more and see where it takes us….

  • My girls (ages 10 and 11) LOVE Minecraft! I hadn’t heard about the game being used in schools in Sweden, but that’s a fascinating way to use a game that really does teach children so much. I enjoy watching the kids play and use their imaginations to problem solve and create their own world, and now I feel even better about the time they spend on the game. 🙂

  • BigBlendedFam

    I think the game is cool and full of good stuff, but too much time playing and my son gets really cranky. I still think legos are better.

  • Awesome post Amy! I agree and think that video games/computer games get a bad rap because of the violent crap. But there is so much out there that is really incredible!

  • Amy

    I think Legos are terrific too. This seems a lot like virtual legos in many ways.I do think it depends on the child and what they like. And for many, too much screen time isn’t a good thing!

  • Amy

    Thanks Julie! My kids love to play video games / computer games and I do think they are learning quite a bit from them. I swear, my 9 year old knows all about physics from playing Ruff Ruffman on PBS Kids. My youngest taught herself to read last year on Reading Eggs. I try to keep them away from the violent stuff.:)

  • Amy

    I typically don’t enjoy sitting and watching them play a video game, but my little one insisted and I learned a lot from it! I think you will be surprised and impressed at what he is doing on Minecraft. Let me know how it goes!

  • Amy

    There are so many possibilities for learning with this game that I hadn’t even considered until I read the article about Sweden. I also read (somewhere!) that teachers are using the game to illustrate all different types of scientific concepts in the classroom, which I think is amazing.

  • Cyndi

    This sounds awesome! I’ve never heard of this game, but I’ll have to check it out. Who knew? It’s awesome that the girls are learning so much, plus they’re getting exposed to technology in useful ways. Awesome!

  • Sybil

    Fantastic post! I will definitely look more closely at what my 6yr old daughter is doing and engage more with her on this. I’m fascinated by it, thanks to reading your article.

  • Melanie Chisnall

    It’s so refreshing to come across something positive being said about a game for kids these days. Most are full of violence, and not suitable at all – no matter those who say it’s “just a game”. Haven’t heard of this game, but it sounds like a lot of fun and something I’d want to play too!

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  • Sybil

    Amy, can you please supply links to the articles you’ve read? Pretty please?

  • Stacy Harris

    Funny… my daughter just asked about this. One of her friends from school plays it all the time but honestly, I thought it was another shoot-em up type game. I might have to let her purchase it after all! 🙂

  • Joshua Harp

    Until a creeper blows up the structure they spent ALL day working on and they drop an f-bomb or something.

  • Amy

    Here’s one that I think is helpful – there are lesson plans (designed for / by teachers to use in the class room that may be easily adapted to homeschool use. If I can track down the others, I’ll post them here!


  • Amy

    Yes, there’s that! I should have mentioned that…but if you don’t play in survival mode that doesn’t happen. I guess that’s boring for older players though…

  • Amy

    It’s not a shoot em up game, but don’t have her play in survival mode if she is easily frightened…there are zombie’s and other things she may not like. My youngest really hates survival mode and focuses on the building and the fun stuff.

  • Sara

    As a 16 year old who, like some of these kids, spent time when I was younger on games not dissimilar to minecraft, I have to disagree with this.
    Games do not fulfil a child’s imagination, and in the end despite them learning skills (that are not really measurable in scientific terms) children forget the time they spent on them.
    My best childhood memories are of parents reading to me (point no. 1) playing with duplo which is a larger version of Lego (points 2 and 3) climbing trees and exploring the woods with my friends (points 6, 9 and 10) and painting, which I spent a lot of my time doing (points 8 and 11). As for point 4, I disagree – measurements on a game do not count for real life, especially on minecraft where all the dimensions are pretty much the same. Walking down the road would improve your measurement skills more.
    And yep, I’m still not convinced! Everything that is claimed to be good about this game you get out of real life. Playing games can lead to over dependence on them or addiction, loss of social interaction, RSI, bad posture, eye straining and bad grades.
    I’m not saying get off the games completely. But remember that what they’re supposedly “learning” does not outweigh the negative impacts, and please limit the games to half an hour to an hour a day.

  • Amy

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sara. I appreciate your point of view and I do realize that outdoor play, spending time interacting / playing /talking with parents and friends is more valuable then time spent on a game. I encourage parents to sit down with their kids and see exactly what they are doing when they are on Minecraft and to take those interests that come up there and explore them outside of the game.

    I happen to feel that there are a lot of positives to this game – especially on days like today (it’s 7 degrees here) when playing outside is not really something my kids want to do. That said, I allow my kids a fair amount of freedom with their gaming time, and they haven’t chosen to play much at all today. As far as games go, this one seems to have the most potential for expanding on learning.

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  • Sara

    I still believe in my experience, speaking perhaps as a child with a parent with these views who has grown up, that time on the game is time wasted despite the fact you may explore the interests they gain from it outside of it, because what is there to explore? The game is limited in every respect. I have teen friends who’s interests have not branched out from the game, but become the game, which is a big risk to take. Perhaps you’re right in saying that there are positives in the short run, but in the long run the opposite is true (see my other points). And the alternatives aren’t just going outside, as I know far too well living in a cold climate.

    Just because it is the best game to expand on learning does not mean it is good, it just means it is better. There are an infinite number of good ways to expand on learning, and I think it could be more damaging to believe that a game is doing a child good than to acknowledge that it is a computer game like most others. This is not a dig on anyone’s choices, I just want to make it clear that believing a game is a positive thing is a mistake.

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  • Russell Selkirk

    Even if it is not the ‘best’ way, there are definite positive aspects to it, and like most things that will stretch young minds in different directions (creative problem solving and critical thinking, which are required to build structures and complete tasks in a game like Minecraft), those ‘lessons’ will never be lost. I grew up in the very early age of computers (TSR-80/Commodore-64/8086), and the experience of ‘playing’ on computers definitely shaped me going forward. So I will have to disagree with your assertion that “believing a game is a positive thing is a mistake”, is itself a mistake. Like any other thing however, there needs to be limits. There needs to be a balance, just like anything else in life as too much of anything will be bad for you no matter how ‘good’ it may be. As long as it doesn’t become an addiction or a distraction from the other things in their lives, I say it is a good thing.

  • Saritabeth

    Another perk is making music with configured with redstone and notes in sequence. Some of the songs I’ve seen are musical wonders. And Sara, I’d like to say to you that I admire your idealism, but different people learn in different ways and respond better to games as a way of learning than others. Balance is key, of course, but don’t close off something because you think something else is better.

  • Sara

    Maybe there are positives. But unlike different ways of learning, the negatives outweigh the positives and do not accomplish anything of meaning in the real world. (by meaning, I mean art everyone can admire, or something solid like lego. skills from doing these transfer into other areas of life, however I believe minecraft is fairly limited in that respect.)

    The reason games are fun is that they release endorphins which give you the same kick as playing with friends, going for a run, or on the bad side of things, self harming and smoking. These endorphins alone are not bad, they make you feel good – but they’re the main reason for addictions. When do you know if a child is addicted? You don’t, as addictions start small and grow slowly. By the time they’re fully formed, the damage has been done. Games make you release endorphins for doing nothing, making you addicted or dependant, and since they fulfil the desire to be curious or learn, I think it’s damaging for younger children especially.
    Maybe minecraft teaches you things, (a very small amount compared to some of the activities I stated) but as a child who grew up with similar games as I have previously mentioned, I think this the wrong lesson, especially in younger children.

  • Russell Selkirk

    When you are old enough to have children responsibly you will be able to determine what and how your children may or may not do. It is very easy for you to say “the negatives outweigh the positives”, but you are still at the stage in life where you really do not have enough real world experience to back up your theories on a subject such as this. As with ANYTHING in a child’s life it is the parent’s ultimate responsibility to decide if something is right for their child, how much is enough and to enforce that consistently. All children are different and thus mature differently, so it will have to be on a case by case basis at what point they are ready for something like Minecraft.

    In regards to releasing endorphins, there is an article by a neurologist stating that it is indeed this releasing of endorphins that makes using games in education a good tool for the job. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/video-games-learning-student-engagement-judy-willis
    As a neurologist, I believe she has the schooling and research background needed to make these assertions, and as such I have a tendency to side with her in her ideas as to whether games can be an effective tool in teaching on a neurotransmitter level.

    As for whether what they learn in a game is qualitatively better or worse than other forms or methods, your perception is just that, your perception. I wish you luck in your future endeavors as a researcher in this field, because that is what you will need to do in order to objectively quantify the data in a way that will prove or disprove the idea. I will continue to use real world experience and what scientific data is available as my benchmark until then.

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  • I play Minecraft with my 9 year old and it’s been a great opportunity for us to bond over a hobby together. For those that think that Minecraft is mindless and doesn’t stretch the imagination, think again. The amount of thought and imagination that goes into working with Redstone on the game is mind-blowing. Did you know that there are kids out there creating working calculators and computers inside of the game? The redstone circuitry is unbelievable. I tip my hat to all of the gamers who pull that stuff off.

    One of the issues I ran into early on with Minecraft was finding a safe place to play online with my son. So… I made one. I run a server called Towncraft and we pride ourselves on being Family Friendly. We’ve got profanity blockers, parents on staff, and we monitor chat and private messages closely.

    We see nearly 200 players per day, many of whom are parents and their kids.

    If any other parents were looking for a place to play Minecraft online with their kids, give http://towncraft.us a look.

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  • Naomi

    There’s plenty of education professionals who would disagree with you, and plenty of children who have entirely opposite experiences as you think you had. Here’s the thing: not everyone really realizes when things teach them lessons. A lot of learning is subconscious, and so is using that knowledge. People like to make fun comments about never using algebra, but most actually use the skills they learned from algebra daily. And even if you are right and the game gave you nothing of value and all of these negatives, your experience is not the rule. Teaching methods for different subjects are not universally the best for every person, because there are extreme variances between person to person on how they best absorb knowledge. So even if you didn’t learn anything at all, it’s more likely that you personally just don’t learn well in that method rather than that video games = damaging. Which is a common, but untrue trope, and comes from a general fear of change that advanced technology has brought. There’s negatives to overuse (just like everything else in the world, actually), but that in no way negates the positives developed from a healthy hobby.

    I wonder if you used the game to it’s best potential, because creating complicated redstone contraptions is a huge exercise in logic development for most children. It’s a wonderful introduction to STEM and other tech fields. Maybe your friend group is why you feel that there is nothing the game can make you have interest in besides for the game, because I can think of 5 different things my child has wanted to learn more about solely because of this game. People abusing the tool =/= the tool is bad, which is why thousands of people use it in education successfully already despite your friends having poor hobby management.

    So please, in the future, keep in mind that your experiences and entertainment preferences do not override the experiences and preferences of others or the general professional opinion on the matter, and therefore are not grounds for you to be telling people what tools to use to teach their children and how, and certainly not for you to be insisting that they are actually harming their children by utilizing a hobby in an educational way.