In February this year, Minecraft passed 100 million users. That’s a lot of kids virtually mining, building, interacting and destroying things! My step son (he was 16 at the time ) loved Minecraft – he’s since moved on but still plays occasionally. He and his friends would be online for hours building virtual houses and buildings. They were really quite impressive – functioning solar panels, electric doors and even running water! His understanding of geology was also impressive! He knew which sites to mine for different resources and was able to see how materials interacted to make whatever he wanted.
About the same time that he was obsessed with Minecraft, my students in Grade 5 were also playing online at the same game. Their passion for the software was quite amazing – they’d rather Minecraft than go to recess or eat lunch. Gaming over food? They must be mad!!
So I had to investigate of course. I wanted to know more about the virtual Minecraft world and be sure they were safe online.
￼Also – I’m just nosey and wanted to be in on the conversation!
While some of the advice on the education site is a little dubious if you ask me – ‘a great place to teach kids to read’..?? – there are some valid points that I’ve seen in the classroom – the fractions concepts used to make tools/resources is a good example.
So we ventured into Minecraft in the classroom. We happened to be studying the environment that term so it was a good a place as any to start. After some initial cyber-safety rules (read those below) my kids worked to create eco-houses online.
They. Were. Awesome!!
There was insulation in the roof and walls, they had recycled the water from the sink to the washing machine. Toilets that flushed with rain water and of course solar panels everywhere. Some even had built the structure of the house to be environmentally friendly with small windows and north facing windows (we are in Australia remember – south facing is good!). If you’re not sure why that’s impressive – for every small piece of engineering they created, they had to figure out the materials and compositions they needed, mine them, refine them and build them. FYI: A solar panel takes a lot of work and a lot of fairly scientific knowledge – start with sand, end up with solar panel… ?!?!?
So what do you need to know about Minecraft at home? Well, apart from anything. It’s fairly harmless. I say ‘fairly’ because there are a couple of ways kids can play that you need to know about and make decisions about…
First they can play Creative Mode (unlimited resources available to them). This mode means they are focused on building and creating, not on killing or being killed. I like this one for Primary School kids.
They could also play Adventure mode. This one is like a training platform for kids. They can play/move/interact within maps and worlds that others have created but can’t just randomly destroy things (well, not without a bit of hard work). Adventure mode is supposed to introduce kids to the Minecraft world and show them how things work in preparation for….
Survival mode. This one is where they have to create a safe place and then defend themselves (or hide!) from the monsters in the world. This one lets them ‘feel’ hunger – which means they have to mine and create food or kill animals to cook on their fires. It’s not bloody or gory from what I’ve seen and doesn’t involved ‘killing’ humans, only animals and monsters. A big plus in my book. They can ‘die’ in this mode and if they do they magically reappear at the entrance to their world (called a ‘spawn point’). A conversation about regeneration a la Dr Who or spiritual Reincarnation might be the go though ;0)
So it’s up to you what you allow your child to do in Minecraft – but having an idea at least about what they are doing is a good start :0). Here a few things to think about…
1. If they are in Primary school keep them in single player mode. This means they can play in whichever mode but aren’t interacting (potentially) with strangers out in the world of the internet. Interaction in Minecraft is usually through a chat function – and people can say whatever the h**l they want! You don’t have any control over who says what here – which I why I don’t recommend it for younger children.
2. Play a game. No really. Have a go. I’m no expert but I spent a few short sessions in the ‘world’ with the kids and it meant I had an understanding of their conversations and the vocab they use. Hearing a kid talk about ‘spawning’ out of context is just…weird! Get them to show you how. Ask questions. Be the student. Let them be the teacher. The more you do this the less likely it is they will cover up an issue when they have one.
3. Talk about it. Ask them how it’s going, who’s building what and why. Ask them about the monsters – if you are allowing Survival mode. Be involved and understand what is going on their real world too. Are their friends playing? Do they talk about it at school? Who is the expert in their group? You’d ask these things about their soccer team – ask it about their online world too.
4. Think carefully about upgrading. You want to manage your child’s online time so of course you have to think about what you allow access to. Most kids, at least the ones I know, quickly go beyond the trial version and want the paid one. I think its about $25 at the moment. It’s fine to upgrade but make sure you do the payment and the sign up. You want to control the credit card and what they are buying. I parent I know ended up cancelling his credit card because his 9 year old had memorised the number and was using it wherever he felt like online!!! Be aware that our kids don’t always understand that buying virtual ‘things’ cost real money!
5. Check in regularly. So you’ve played a game with them, you’ve had a chat and you’ve upgraded safely. Our job is not over! Oh no! We need to keep checking on them and just chatting about their online worlds. Play another game, maybe if you’re tech savvy set up a LAN server and play with your child online. Make sure they know you are in their virtual world to help if they need it.
There’s a lot of info here but if your child is online with Minecraft, it’s worth thinking about these things. Don’t you agree? I love Minecraft and I’d much rather see kids playing this than some sniper-kill-everyone-I-see game. Think of Minecraft as a way to teach them what’s real, what’s not and how to behave in an online space.
Now it’s your turn – go have a look at Minecraft and see what all the fuss is about!
Is your child a Minecraft follower? Share you story with us below!