Building blocks: How Minecraft may actually be helping your child learn

I’ve had this conversation (or similar) with many parents who bring their child to me for an assessment to investigate why they might be having difficulties with their learning. It usually goes something like this:

“What is she into? What does she like to do with her spare time?” I ask

The parent looks reluctant, embarrassed even. “This is probably really bad… she loves playing Minecraft.”

In gathering background information, I like to know what a child likes: what they enjoy doing, and what they choose to do given some free time. Many children choose to spend their time playing Minecraft.

For those uninitiated in the world of Minecraft, it is a computer game about “placing blocks and going on adventures.” (Minecraft) The player can explore the world, discover resources and build things, alone or with friends. There are infinite possibilities as to what a player can do within the game.

When I ask children about the game, I see the passion and interest in their faces as they describe their favourite aspects of the game or the amazing structures that they’ve built. Or even the YouTube videos they’ve watched to see what other players have done.

It is quite common for parents to feel concerned about this, that an interest in computer games might be a ‘bad’ thing, that it’s not a good use of time, or that allowing their child to play Minecraft may be detrimental to their learning.

However, Minecraft can provide many experiences that help children to learn and develop academic skills:

  • Maths: The use of the blocks in Minecraft involves visual spatial reasoning and geometry.
  • Science: The Minecraft world is ruled by scientific principles of biology, ecology, physics, chemistry and geology, and has been used by teachers to teach children scientific literacy and problem solving (link)
  • Planning and problem solving: Due to the open-ended nature of the game, players can decide on what they want to achieve and set about planning the steps needed to reach their goals
  • Creativity: Players are able to create whatever they desire within the Minecraft world, encouraging creativity and exploration
  • Community: Minecraft is a popular game and children can feel part of a community of players, even creating their own communities within the game.
  • Confidence: often the children who come in for a learning assessment feel a lack of confidence in themselves as academic learners but Minecraft is something that they love and are good at, which is great for their self esteem.

It must be acknowledged that spending hours on end in front of a screen is not healthy for kids, especially if it is at the expense of time doing physical activities, interacting with family members, or doing important tasks of daily life. But parents’ worry about their child’s love of Minecraft is usually unfounded, and the game can actually help develop many important skills for children’s learning development.

If your child loves Minecraft, it is okay to allow them to spend time playing the game as it can help them have fun and grow, and sometimes to learn without even knowing they are learning. You might even like to join them and explore Minecraft together!

Rebecca Rossi, Psychologist

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