While your kids are playing video games, like Minecraft, they're also building their cognitive skills in problem-solving and higher order thinking.

If you’re not familiar with Minecraft already, let me introduce you to the magical world of video game building that your kids probably already –or may soon – live in.
  
Minecraft is one of the most popular games in the United States with over 127 million registered users as of February 2017.  It’s the second best-selling video game of all time, behind only Tetris. Think of it as a digital Legos without those annoying small pieces being spread throughout the house.
 
The Minecraft app drops a player into different worlds and then encourages them to build everything from small log cabins to gigantic castles, using blocks or other resources acquired during the game. Players can link up with other players using the same Wi-Fi signal in a local area network.
 
Mastering Minecraft involves imagination, strategic planning, logic, some basic physics as well as spatial reasoning.
 
Unlike other video games, there are no levels to pass to open new worlds, but modes do matter. There are two types “creative” and “survival” mode. The creative mode is great for beginners, with the focus on creating and skill building without including monsters or lose a player losing player lives. The survival mode includes scary creatures, such as zombies and creepers that must kill (or be killed themselves), so scary characters and violence can be a concern.

Mastering Minecraft involves imagination, strategic planning, logic, basic physics and spatial reasoning.

How Did Minecraft Become So Popular?

Minecraft became viral by word of mouth by creating a game of secret knowledge sharing.  Players pass along tips via social media, school and post on gaming forums. “In Minecraft, knowledge becomes social currency,” says Michael Dezuanni, an associate professor or digital media at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

Social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit have played a significant role in the popularity of Minecraft. A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication showed that one-third of Minecraft players learned about the game via internet videos.
  
The single biggest tool for learning Minecraft lore is YouTube with more than 70 million Minecraft videos, majority of which are explicitly tutorial.
  
Cautionary note for parents, keep in mind for any user-generated content, bad language and inappropriate images may be contained in the videos.  Consider guiding your child towards YouTubers stampylongnose, iBallisticSquid, and Amy Lee for Minecraft video presentations that are clean, fun, and even educational. 


Why You Should Let Your Kids Minecraft

Minecraft has evolved to teach skills that include math, science, problem solving and even history lessons. While your kids are playing a game, they are also building their cognitive skills in problem-solving and higher order thinking. In fact, as of 2016 Minecraft now has a version just for schools to use, “Minecraft: Education Edition or MinecraftEDU.”


There are various ways to purchase Minecraft:

  • You can download the app
  • Buy directly from Minecraft.net
  • Purchase a gift card available at most retailers 
  • Enter the Zift Minecraft X-Box giveaway below

Video or in-app mobile games are part of almost all children’s and adolescents lives these days with 97% playing for at least one hour a day. “Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored,” said lead author Isabela Granic, PhD, of the research study The Benefits of Playing Video Games, Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. “However, to understand the impact of video games on children’s and adolescents’ development, a more balanced perspective is needed.” 

The study found that playing shooter video games improved a player's capacity to think about objects in three dimensions; this higher level of thinking was not found in other types of video games, such as puzzles. “This has critical implications for education and career development, as previous research has established the power of spatial skills for achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,’ Granic said.

Study results indicate that the more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, the more they improved in problem-solving and school grades the following year.

Other findings included enhanced creativity and the possibility that playing video games may help develop problem-solving skills and can be effective tools to learn resilience in the face of failure. By learning to cope with on-going failures in games, the researchers suggest that children build emotional resilience they can rely upon in their everyday lives.

Additional studies support the findings above, including a recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA), which found children that play action games can experience:

  • Improved spatial navigation
  • Improved reasoning
  • Increase in creativity
  • Enhanced perception
  • Improve decision-making & problem-solving skills
  • Helped to develop emotional resilience

Additional research conducted by S.R.I. International reveals that video game play might be responsible in measurable problem-solving and memory improvements. 


How Does Minecraft Help to Develop Skills?

I know it sounds a bit too good to be true, so let’s break down some of the specific skill benefits

Creativity

Minecraft is more than just stacking and unstacking blocks. Players have created Scottish castles, an Egyptian pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the U.S.S. Enterprise from “Star Trek,” and even the entire capital city from “Games of Thrones”, or an entire world from their imagination.


Teaches Resource Management

Players learn how to calculate the cost of their resources to use on tasks. For example, wood can be acquired by hand, but it is faster to use and axe; however, an axe will eventually wear out, so they need to make decisions on which resource to acquire by following different recipes of the game to create tools such as an axe.


Geometry Skills

In building their words, kids use their spatial awareness and geometry skills while building structures with these blocks. Learning to stock blocks in a way that is structurally sound, so it will not fall. Minecraft’s introduction on how to use shapes and space may help make geometry easier to comprehend when they encounter it in school.


Collaborative Learning

The Minecraft culture encourages users to share ideas on how to customize their worlds through public servers, forums, and Wiki Guides. Additionally, collaborative learning improves critical thinking skills.



Visuospatial Reasoning Skills

Users learn how to manipulate what they have collected to build dynamic structures. This type of logic is called Visuospatial reasoning (a.k.a. the visual perception of objects) and is the foundation for abstract thinking and problem-solving. These skills are essential to help determine a logical conclusion to answer science and math equations.


  
Problem-Solving

Minecraft allows children to use higher-level and critical thinking to problem-solve. During the game, depending on the mode they’re playing in, they may have to resolve a zombie attack or lack of food.



Math & Calculations

For kids with a math phobia, Minecraft can be a fun platform to learn or reinforce basic math skills. The game is built on a giant grid and each square in that grid transfers to a square of space on the playing field. Depending on what your child decides to build, they need to calculate the number of blocks they will need for the foundation footprint. For example, a building that is five squares wide by nine squares long will need stacks of 64 blocks.


Be Aware of Minecraft Addiction

Even “good” games that help build numerous positive skills can be played in excess. Parents need to be conscious of how much time their child is engaged with any screen time activity. It is no secret that video games can become addictive and Minecraft is no exception.
 
There was an article that went viral last year that describes a young boy getting severely addicted to Minecraft. Some doctors who have studied the effects of technology addiction go as far as to call Minecraft and other video games “digital heroin” or “electronic cocaine.” The boy mentioned in the article is a severe case of technology addiction but the child in the article is far from the only child that has crossed the line into technology addiction.
 
The key to avoiding or limiting technology addiction is to create balance in your child’s life between their digital life and non-digital life by:

  • Encouraging outside sports in addition to video games
  • Promoting play with physical puzzles or Legos rather than strictly virtual online games like Minecraft
  • Enforcing screen time limits especially during meal time, homework time, and sleep time.

Helping your child to self-regulate is an important step; consider having a conversation with your child to set a time limiting daily play and all screen time activities.

As parents, it is essential to establish boundaries and set healthy limits on all screen time activities, but when we are supportive of games like Minecraft kids have the opportunity to learn skills they will need as an adult like creating, collaborating with others and accomplishing tasks.


Learn more about Minecraft on our Parent Portal.


About Kristin MacLaughlin

Mom of three, fosters rescued dogs, and is helping to drive the conversation about digital parenting as VP of Consumer Marketing for Zift.

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