Digital summer camp Part 2: Of managing a child’s Minecraft time

By Anne Collier

“I’m sad that my son is so busy with homework and other stuff lately that he hasn’t had time to even play Minecraft! I think it’s a better use of his time than homework.” That’s a comment from a mom and educator in San Jose, Calif., posted under an article by educator Kevin Jarrett in Edutopia last fall: “Too much is never enough: managing a child’s time playing Minecraft.”

Because he ran an after-school Minecraft club for some 40 elementary school students this past year, Jarrett got asked by a lot of parents, “How much is too much Minecraft?” His answer: “In my experience, the QUALITY of the online time is the key – what the online user is LEARNING or ACCOMPLISHING [emphasis his]. Problem is, most parents aren’t able to easily make that determination, and as a result, feel uneasy when kids relentlessly ask for more and more time in-game.”

So further down, in the Comments under his article, Jarrett offers a question parents can ask young Minecraft aficionados in order to get a sense of its value: “Ask them what the coolest thing is they ever saw created with ‘redstone,’ and then challenge them to make something similar (or close).” If you do that and something really fun, interesting and creative happens (which would not be at all surprising), I hope you’ll comment about it below!

“The awesome power of Minecraft as an educational tool,” Jarrett writes, “is the ability to construct INTRICATE, fully functional, complex moving SYSTEMS and structures. The skills needed to create complex builds like these are not insignificant. And [a, though your kid probably already knows this, a word to the wise:] just about everything a kid needs to know [about] how to do [it] is on YouTube.”

According to elementary teacher Marianne Malmstrom, whose students designed their own Minecraft game-within-a-game, “Games are the ultimate learning systems” (see this interview with her).

Learning and play are one and the same to kids; it’s we adults who have been conditioned to believe that play is the opposite of work, a time-waster. In fact, the opposite of play is not work but depression, according to psychiatrist Stuart Brown (see this). Minecraft is just one example of how kids love to learn/play. If it’s just as hard to call them to dinner when they’re immersed in Minecraft as when they’re in the middle of a great game outdoors, you just may be interrupting some really fun (informal) learning! Joy is a much a sign of learning as concentration. Look for how much joy is involved in what they’re doing, then think about how you want to manage that.