Minecraft is everywhere. If you have a school-age child, chances are that it’s installed on at least one of the devices in your home. Your child probably even plays it at school — not just during free periods but in the classroom. Proponents of the use of Minecraft in the classroom (we think it has fantastic potential) tend to focus on the ways the game can help teach academics. Minecraft can engage kids in learning math and science concepts, reading, coding skills, and even gives them a medium for artistic expression. What we don’t hear about as often, however, is the effectiveness of using Minecraft for building soft skills — the real world skills that help kids become better students and more well-rounded individuals: critical thinking, problem solving, positive psychology, and social emotional learning (SEL) skills.
It’s true. Minecraft can actually teach your kid to be a better person.
Soft skills go hand-in-hand with executive functions like self-control, self-awareness, and flexibility. Kids need practice with empathy, gratitude, self-assessment, and emotional resilience, and activities that give them senses of connectedness, control, and purpose. Soft skill practice leads to kids (and adults) who respect themselves and others, are self-motivated, can build healthy relationships, and are responsible, contributing community members.
When teachers use Minecraft for classroom projects, they not only target academic subjects, they immerse their students in soft skill practice. Students are usually asked to collaborate, which means working together in person as well as online. Collaboration requires kids to think critically, be flexible, communicate respectfully, and take the perspectives of others as they work together to accomplish a task. Being a member of a team can give them a sense of purpose and control, and help them feel connected to something bigger than themselves. And when things don’t go smoothly, they also have the opportunity to gain experience solving their problems without adult intervention, which is key to developing healthy SEL skills.
Minecraft as a hobby itself leads to a sense of connectedness. Minecraft has broken records as one of the best-selling games of all time, with nearly 107 million copies sold across platforms. Its biggest demographic: kids under the age of 15. A kid who doesn’t play Minecraft is a rarity, meaning your child’s love of Minecraft is allowing them to be part of mainstream kid culture. And they don’t have to play Minecraft: Education Edition at school to get soft skill immersion. MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) in general are good for building self-awareness and social skills as players interact and work together toward a common goal. Minecraft has the distinction of being more wholesome than most.
Additionally, kids who enjoy playing Minecraft for their own entertainment often develop an interest in coding and computer science in general. There is an entire Minecraft subculture of players who are also “modders,” who code their own modifications to the game. Coding by its very nature is practice with social and self-awareness. Because modders design and create things that will be seen and used by others, they are practicing empathy and resilience. How will others like this? Is it easy to use? It doesn’t work the way I wanted, so now what?
Minecraft players can not only modify the game, they can set up entire servers with specific world and player rules. This has resulted in the establishment of servers to create safe places for specific communities (like AutCraft, the server for players on the autism spectrum). One such server, GROKcraft, is set up specifically to maximize the SEL skill practice kids can get out of Minecraft. GROKcraft moderators allows kids as much “conflict and collaboration as possible…without adult intervention.”
Of course, just letting your child play Minecraft as much as they want isn’t going to cut it. Knowing how the game can tap into these real world skills is half the battle. Strike up conversations with your child about how they engage with other Minecraft players, in and out of the game. Ask them about the kinds of problems they encounter while playing, and how they go about solving them. You might even try playing along with them… or at least sitting down and watching for a little while.
To learn more about Minecraft and what makes it such a great game for kids, see our Minecraft playbook, which we’ve written for parents and teachers who want to learn more about how to talk about and play the game with kids, the executive functions kids practice in the game, and how to help translate that practice from the game to the real world.
Featured image: Flickr user Kevin Jarret