It’s no secret that Minecraft is wildly popular, and has been for some time. Since its creation in 2009, Minecraft has captured the minds and imaginations of more kids than we can count (and even some adults!) Merchandise, a movie, school educators, and our very own summer camps have caught the Minecraft fire, and the blaze is only spreading.
Perhaps the words “redstone,” “blocks,” and “Enderman” are already staples in your home. Like many parents, you may be worried about exactly how much time your little one is spending on the computer playing a game that looks like it came from the first decades of the internet.
Surely it can’t be healthy for them, right? They can’t possibly be learning from just playing, can they? Actually, they can and they are!
Yes, Minecraft is educational because it enhances creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, and other life skills. In the classroom, Minecraft complements reading, writing, math, and even history learnings. Importantly, Minecraft also instills business principles, STEM knowledge, and a global perspective. Both fun and educational, Minecraft is easily on our list of best games for kids.
Learn more by clicking the links below and jumping down the page. (If you’re still in the dark about exactly what Minecraft is, read this brief summary for a crash-course.)
One reason Minecraft is good for kids is the promotion of creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, and collaboration—all of which stand out as the less-tangible, non-academic benefits Minecraft provides. It is these life skills that will give kids the boost needed when they eventually work their way towards succeeding in college and future careers.
Minecraft is unique in that it’s an unlimited world where kids can create literally anything they can imagine, but within the constraint that everything is made up of blocks that must fit within the 3D grid of the game.
Pirate galleys, re-creations of both fictional and real-world cities, and even your favorite sci-fi ships probably already exist in Minecraft, and were also built by someone who hasn’t graduated high school yet. Now that’s some major creativity! (Seriously, go Google “cool things built in Minecraft.” It’ll blow your mind.)
“Survival mode,” where various creatures come out at night and attack players, is just one facet of the way Minecraft encourages problem-solving. Players are dropped into various environments and must quickly figure out how to find and build shelter, make weapons, and collect food in order to survive. Strategy comes into play in a big way here, as each Minecraft “day” lasts a scant 10 real-world minutes, meaning players have to think on their feet if they want to stay alive.
Minecraft is also unique in that there is no way to “win.” Players must decide for themselves what they want to get out of their time in the game.
Do they want to collect resources and build cool stuff? Do they want to band together with their fellows and defeat a boss? It’s up to them!
Such independence—and the positive reinforcement that comes when they check off the next goal on their chosen path—builds self-confidence and lets kids feel like they’re in charge of their own fate, a feeling that can sometimes be lacking in the rule-laden real world.
Kids can play Minecraft on servers (learn how to set up a Minecraft server here), either with their friends or with others around the world, and work together to achieve goals. They pool resources, build structures, defeat enemies, trade tips—the communication and cooperation involved is endless. Kids can then take these social skills and apply them to their lives off the computer.
One mom, Michelle Conaway, has written multiple blog posts on the benefits she’s seen from her children playing Minecraft, especially in the most basic skill sets—reading, writing, and math. Many schools have started to use Minecraft in the classroom, even, and for good reason.
Her sons’ reading comprehension, spelling, and interest in journaling and other creative endeavors have all gotten a boost from that blocky, virtual world. The key? Motivation.
“It’s simple. They’ve found a useful reason to learn to read and to extend their skills. It makes sense to them,” Michelle says. “The motivation emanates from their desire to advance in the game.”
Michelle’s sons’ spelling and written communication have greatly improved. “Multiplayer servers rely heavily on the chat section,” she says. “Their writing skills improve because they have the desire to be heard and express themselves. It’s even flowed into other aspects of their lives, including email, Facebook, writing letters, and making homemade books.”
In Michelle’s house, trips to the library to check out books about gemstones, biomes, and even space have become a common occurrence, due to the real-world elements her sons encounter in the game.
This means research skills come into play as well. To advance in Minecraft, players must look up information, hints, and tricks, involving anything from Wiki pages to YouTube tutorials and more. They learn how to analyze the endless resources at their fingertips to discover what’s useful to them and what isn’t. (Sounds similar to the way college theses get written, no?)
Math is another huge and potentially surprising part of Minecraft.
“I’ve seen kids figure out how many minutes they have until ‘night time’, average the amount of food needed to go on a mining adventure, divide supplies evenly among players, and estimate the area needed to build a city,” Michelle says. “The math concepts are all around them and they can’t help but learn them if they want to be successful at their game.”
Michelle’s youngest even asked her to quiz him with multiplication flash cards, something he'd never done before. “He got every one of them correct—without ever doing worksheets or working from a textbook,” Michelle reports.
Minecraft has many natural applications to mathematics, and it has been used by many educators to improve engagement and boost results.
Teachers allow kids to manipulate blocks, construct more complex shapes, and solve geometric problems in Minecraft. One teacher in Los Angeles found his “Mathcraft” program “helped increase the math performance of his class from 18% correct at the beginning of the year to 83% correct during the end-of-year retesting, while drastically improving the academic culture of his class.”
Wait, history too? Yes! Hear me out.
Minecraft can in fact help engage students who might be turned off by the memorization of historical facts and dates. Why? Because in the game, you can import fully-reconstructed versions of famous buildings and landmarks, or build your own.
What better way to bring history to life than going on a virtual tour of the Great Pyramids, the Globe Theatre, or the Coliseum?
When kids get a closer look at these buildings, they can develop a greater understanding of the architecture involved, and compare and contrast how different structures were built.
You read that right—Minecraft can even be directly applicable to workplace skills that will help your youngster land a solid career someday.
Minecraft can prepare your child for a career in various fields like systems administration, management, and business. How? By hosting a server. The benefits are enormous, as Mark, a marketing specialist, discovered when he started playing on a server that belongs to a friend of his son.
“My son’s 17-year-old friend had to acquire and maintain the hardware, learn the technology for hosting a Minecraft server, keep up-to-date with the product releases, find and install mods (add-ons), regularly ensure the mods are compatible with the latest Minecraft release, maintain the server, and provide support to all the players on it,” Mark says. “Don’t system administrators get paid good salaries to do this kind of work?”
Indeed they do. Mark also noted that his son and friend are actively promoting their server on Twitter, Facebook, and forums, which means they’re gaining marketing experience as well.
Don’t want your child to be a server admin? There’s plenty of other workplace training to be had in Minecraft. In addition to familiarity with computer hardware and functions, kids gain experience with video game design principles and coding (more on that below). These STEM abilities (science, technology, engineering, and math) are essential in a 21st century workplace; some even call coding the new literacy!
The fact that kids can play with anyone from around the world is a fabulous mirroring of the global marketplace that business has become. How much further ahead will your child be if they go into an interview already proficient with common telecommunication tools like Skype, and the social skills to communicate clearly and effectively with people from around the world?
The social nature of Minecraft teaches sharing responsibilities, designating roles, negotiating designs, and completing projects—all incredibly valuable career skills. Such skills can be the hardest to teach, but are also the most desirable to future employers.
One unique aspect of Minecraft is how customizable it can be. With that, one popular way to customize the game is through modding, or altering the original programming code of the game.
These modifications, or "mods" for short, are add-ons built by third parties (often the kids themselves) to enhance the game. Designing mods involves learning Java, the programming language in which Minecraft was built. It also involves developing skills like debugging, revision control, and utilizing Photoshop.
Thus, kids can create their own blocks, ores, and other items, and share them with friends. They create their own tools and objects while coding and learning the fundamentals of Java. (More on choosing the right programming language for your child.)