Minecraft is a well-known brand that’s positioned itself as a strong kid-friendly entertainment option. You’ve seen the shirts and merch. You may have also seen the film, read the books, built the LEGO sets or gotten around to playing the game it’s all derived from. But is interacting with this trendy franchise enriching for your child, or does playing Minecraft have no real educational upside?
What Is Minecraft?
First launched in 2009 by Swedish developer Mojang, Minecraft started on PC before finding its way onto almost every platform available, from mobile phones and tablets to traditional video game consoles. It was designed to be a sandbox game, meaning players are free to traverse and explore each randomly generated world while interacting with and changing their surroundings. The art design is welcoming, the controls are easy to master and the menus are intuitive.
The game’s basic loop asks players to gather resources and craft materials from those resources. They’re then tasked with building structures and weapons to defend themselves during the nighttime. At night, all sorts of creatures can roam the virtual world, including the iconic green creeper.
Players can upgrade and customize their creations with the materials they scavenge. The levels players exist in are randomly generated, but once they get the hang of things, players can change almost anything as they see fit, creating their own Minecraft world.
After launch, a creative mode was added to the experience that eliminated the threat of death in favor of the opportunity to experiment.
In 2014, Microsoft acquired Mojang and Minecraft along with it, but the company hasn’t forced the franchise into exclusivity. Microsoft’s willingness to make Minecraft available across multiple digital storefronts means the game maintains its accessibility and, therefore, its popularity. As of April 2021, Minecraft had sold more than 238 million copies—this number makes it the highest-selling video game of all time—and almost 140 million of those players are monthly active users.
A number of spinoffs have been released that expand upon the core Minecraft experience. In 2015, point-and-click adventure game experts Telltale games released a story-driven title, aptly named Minecraft: Story Mode, with a sequel following in 2017. In 2020, Mojang launched Minecraft Dungeons, a classic top-down dungeon crawler set in the Minecraft universe. The latest spinoff, Minecraft Legends, is a strategy game slated for a 2023 release.
Minecraft Education Edition
Yet another iteration of the game—2016’s Minecraft: Education Edition—added more than 500 lessons across different academic subjects and was developed in partnership with NASA, World Wildlife Federation, and other educational entities. It turns the game into an education tool, adding special features like teacher controls into the virtual world. Teacher controls allow the teacher to act as a de facto Minecraft system admin, enabling and disabling permissions for students as they participate in game-based learning.
5 Reasons Why Minecraft is Educational for Kids
Helps Them Become Good Digital Citizens
The things that happen in our shared virtual space have ramifications in the real world, so to raise a generation of good citizens, educators should also impart lessons in good digital citizenship. Minecraft’s social aspects promote positive discourse, neighborly dispositions and the advantages of working towards a common goal.
Assists With Emotional Learning
Learning with Minecraft means learning the gameplay loops, mechanics and rules of the software before ever truly succeeding at anything within its world. These absolute parameters can be an obstacle for children, but as they find the patience and self-confidence to learn the game’s language and excel, they’ll also learn to manage emotions like frustration and anger.
They’ll also discover more about their own learning process. This sort of self-awareness and self-management is known as emotional learning, and can be an invaluable skill to learn at any age. Is Minecraft good for the brain? It can be, and it could be beneficial for emotional intelligence, too.
Kids can learn how to code
Once they know the ins and outs of Minecraft, young people can use their knowledge of those intricate processes and awareness of the way the game communicates with the player to learn a useful new skill set: coding.
Code builder is a feature in Minecraft: Education Edition that acts as a built-in learn-to-code program, allowing students and teachers to script their own changes to the world and view their results.
Helps children develop a wide range of useful skills
As you’ll read below, Minecraft can help introduce or strengthen skills and concepts essential for a student’s academic success. A lot of those skills also have everyday applications when interacting with the modern world, like the aforementioned coding and digital citizenship.
Skills That Minecraft Develops
Microsoft said 35 million students and educators in 115 countries are licensed to use Minecraft: Education Edition, with 98% of teachers stating that problem solving was the number one skill their students took away from the experience.
In Minecraft’s base mode, called survival, players have to manage meters like health and hunger that drop due to encounters with enemies and performing tasks like mining. Additionally, they’ll need to craft the right items and build a shelter to survive the game’s dangerous nighttime phase.
Learning and retaining information can be easier when students are enjoying themselves or applying the lesson in a perceivable way. Sometimes, when this happens, unintentional learning is part of the process—like the improvement of reading skills necessary to utilize Minecraft’s chat feature, its on-screen tutorials and some of its menus.
Minecraft touches on more than one mathematical discipline, making it a vehicle for teaching math to students across multiple grade levels.
In order to craft items and advance through the different stages of the game, students need to count materials in their inventory and match current totals with necessary amounts for each item. This teaches basic addition and subtraction. If they’re looking to craft duplicates of the same item, they’ll encounter division and multiplication.
More advanced concepts, like geometry, are explored as students build structures and interact with the game’s blocky world. Physics can also be experienced in-game, and while this subject is often part of the science curriculum, its laws are often expressed using the language of mathematics.
In an effort to service as many learning styles as possible—and add variation to classroom classics like lecture and debate—instructors in the social sciences have adapted technology as a way of bringing the outside world into the classroom. With Minecraft, that world can become immersive and interactive in ways a video or PowerPoint aren’t able to replicate.
Students can become anthropologists by exploring recreations of ancient cities and observing the way humans lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. They can get a bird’s eye view or be present on the ground for some of humanity’s defining events, like London’s 1666 fire. They can visit distant landmarks, like Taj Mahal, or wonders lost to time, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Minecraft also affords young users the opportunity to create their own history by working with classmates or friends to gather resources and dig ever deeper into the game’s procedurally generated worlds. Players can choose roles, like defense, building or exploring, and pool resources to reach their goals. In creative mode, children can work together to foster creativity, collaboration and a sense of community.
Additionally, Minecraft teaches other useful skills that sit alongside teamwork in a category called soft skills. Communication, time management and self-motivation are among them, and it’s estimated that over 40% of careers require these skills if a worker expects to thrive in those positions. Each of these traits are helpful in academia and everyday life, too, meaning they’re valuable well before a student joins the workforce.
How to Use Minecraft as an Educational Tool
For instructors, Minecraft: Education Edition provides useful administrative options that allow for classroom management while encouraging individual exploration. Mojang and the Minecraft community have created a large number of in-game educational materials that span a wide variety of subject matters. Minecraft could have a place in math, language arts, social sciences and technology classrooms, and its capabilities allow for new ways to learn established concepts—as well as exciting ways to learn new skills like coding.
For parents, playing Minecraft together can promote bonding and create lasting memories for children. Education Edition is also an option at home, while a large number of websites, like Juni Learning, provide courses for the sandbox game.
Explore Online Minecraft Courses for Kids
No matter the lesson, Minecraft’s ability to act as an aid for both instructors and learners has proven to be a valuable educational asset. As a tool for educators, it’s only limited by the creativity of the lesson planner—that is, after they learn how to utilize the game as a tool for instruction. As a tool for learners, it’s an accessible, adaptable, highly useful application with a wealth of materials already available.