Why playing Minecraft is learning

minecraft steveI came across this interesting article by Dean Groom on the ways Minecraft works on children’s brains and how they learn while playing it.

The author’s major thesis is that imagination is the trigger for learning. This will simply not sit well with anyone fixated on traditional learning and test scores, but is increasingly accepted as being at the core of the skills that our children will need as adults. They will, amongst other things, need to be able to demonstrate flexibility and imagination and cooperate in shifting teams. Anyway, Groom lists eight things he sees happening when children and adolescents play Minecraft:

  • Sensation – Learning as sense-pleasure
  • Fantasy – Learning as make-believe
  • Narrative – Learning as unfolding story
  • Challenge – Learning as obstacle course
  • Fellowship – Learning as social framework
  • Discovery – Learning as uncharted territory
  • Expression –  Learning as soap box
  • Submission – Learning as mindless pastime

These are not individual ways of approaching playing the game. They all happen within the game, often simultaneously. The combination of these factors lets kids develop their imagination and creativity in a safe environment, in much the same way imaginative play always has. And in much the same way that imaginative play always has, Minecraft allows kids to make sense of the real world, to try things out, to explore and extrapolate. Groom concludes:

So if your kid is playing Minecraft, then according to deeply respected academic research and principles, she is not undertaking a mindless pastime. I’d argue playing Minecraft now might be one of the things that saves them from it in the future too.

The thing I particularly like about Groom’s thoughts is that he recognises that when kids lack motivation or direction they can just end up wandering about mindlessly until something happens and then goes on to point out that parents can be the “something that happens”. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that with parental involvement you can extract value from any game.

This is a lovely, thoughtful article and one which runs against the knee-jerk reaction that playing a computer game is a time-sink and a waste of time for kids.

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