Embracing Minecraft


What’s up with Minecraft? And why are parents so worried about it? Let’s talk about it:

“My kid is playing Minecraft All.The.Time!”

Comments like this always make me start with some questions...
Really? ALL the time? No karate practice, Shark Week on TV, Pizza with the fam?
I don’t think it’s always.

A lot? Maybe. Probably.

Would you be that parent from the 50’s or 60’s saying, “My daughter won’t get her nose out of that book! Why won’t she climb a tree?” The Minecraft lament is the modern day equivalent!

A lot has been written about the benefits of playing videogames. Dr. Peter Gray writes in The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing VideoGames,

"If you look into the actual research literature, you find very little if any evidence supporting the fear-mongers claims, and considerable evidence against those claims. In fact, systematic surveys have shown that regular video-game players are, if anything, more physically fit, less likely to be obese, more likely to also enjoy outdoor play, more socially engaged, more socially well-adjusted, and more civic minded than are their non-gaming peers."

Understanding Minecraft

No official manual exists for Minecraft. It’s a trial-and-error kind of thing. That alone is a plus, really. It’s the perfect example of the scientific method at work. Make a hypothesis - give your best guess - then make your attempts to see if you’re right. When you’re not, brush yourself off and adjust your course. Unlike school, where the more you unsuccessfully try something, the more you’re labeled or ridiculed, in Minecraft, the more you try, the better you get!

Critical thinking skills and opportunities to problem-solve are all key components in this game. Your child can work on his projects alone or with a group online - whatever fits his temperament or mood that day. From the comfort of their own home, they'll learn how to cooperate with others. Teaching and learning from each other is something all Minecraft players learn to do.

Some parents wonder if their kids will ever stop watching YouTube videos about Minecraft. Of course they will. Either they’ll move on to something else, or they’ll not need those videos as much. But, something to know... since Minecraft doesn't have an instruction manual, most kids learn more about how to play the game by watching numerous YouTube videos. They're learning from other kids, discovering and exploring what they need to be successful at the game. Learning how to research, having that kind of resource available, and knowing how to use it will serve them much more than that dusty encyclopedia set sitting in the back of the library.

In Educational Terms…

While I'm not a big fan of dividing life up into subjects, I realize that sometimes people who are new to the unschooling concept may need to see this. When parents can clearly visualize how life is full of various subjects intertwining in and out - they tend to loosen the grip a little and trust that everything a child needs is right there in their world.  Maybe this will help you.


The building aspect brings children the opportunity to learn about scale. Applications in math and geometry are obvious. A few math concepts that come up frequently include:

  • Area, perimeter, and volume in three dimensions
  • Time and clocks
  • Ratio and proportion
  • Estimating and measuring distances
  • Fractions
  • Graphing

Parents talk about the kids’ use of terminology like bedrock and biomes, plate tectonics, circuitry, and various sources for power and fuel. Geology, physics and environmental education play into the game. As does biology (with animal husbandry and even animal cells & DNA)


More and more, technology is seen as something important in a child's education. Minecraft gives them familiarity with the computer, how YouTube works, game design, and even computer programming within the game.


Many children have learned to read painlessly through their participation in Minecraft. Journal writing and messaging between players helps to improve their spelling, their story-writing skills. Kids are writing and reading each others' fan fiction at FanFiction.com and Wattpad.com.

Clive Thompson writes in How Videogames Like Minecraft Actually Help Kids Learn to Read (Wired.com):

I'm praising Minecraft, but nearly all games have this effect. The lesson here is the same one John Dewey instructed us in a century ago: To get kids reading and writing, give them a real-world task they care about. These days that's games.

Social Studies

Historical figures interact with players which encourages engagement and interest in the time period as well as the person himself. One paragraph in a book during a history class cannot compare to this kind of immersive game playing.


Mapping, architecture and home building, transportation options, survival, food choices - I’m not even sure what subject to PUT these in…. They’re a little of several subjects. And this is yet another reason why keeping track of subjects is like deliberately putting speed bumps in your own road.

For Parents


The best way to learn more about what your child is learning through Minecraft is to play it with him/her!  This gives them the opportunity to be your teacher - which builds confidence and skills at being able to convey important points. Who knows, they may create a part time business some day teaching younger newer players how to get started or build mods! I’ve found a handy tutorial for you - What Not To Do on Your First Day of Minecraft! - so you can have more success.

Making time for something your child values helps so much with building the connection that’s vital for unschooling to work. Even if you’re not a computer game person, give it a try - share their joy!  And if it really bugs you to play it, reframe it in your head. Notice the expression on your child’s face. Watch how determined they are to move through the game. Think about how lucky you are to have this time with them, living, playing and learning together.


A Few Resources

Want to Read More?

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3 thoughts on “Embracing Minecraft

  1. Alex says:

    PAM: Yay! Sue is a long-time unschooling mom, founder of Unschooling Mom2Mom, and a coach. She has been on the podcast a number of times, as have two of her kids ( Katie Patterson and Alyssa Patterson ). And I am so happy that she s back. SUE: All right. Well, with the question, how can I do this without it affecting their learning? That s easy enough. You just record it and don t necessarily tell them what you re recording. You re just observing, you re having interactions with them, and you re gathering the data from that. And then, you translate that into the school-y talk that your state wants, or whoever is needing the report.

    • Sue Patterson says:

      It IS a good title. I wish I had seen the one at your site first though, I would have thought of something else. Maybe I can add a subtitle or something. 😉

      That would be great to add it over on your site – thanks!

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