Homeschooling with Minecraft: From Chaos to Complete Curriculum

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“Mama, when can I get Minecraft? All my friends have Minecraft!….” (pause 5 minutes) “What about now, can I have Minecraft NOW????” Sound familiar? That was the soundtrack of my life for a couple of years.

Before the pandemic, computer time at my house was strictly limited and computer games were only educational. My daughter’s pleas to add Minecraft to the mix were non-starters – monsters, mayhem, and unsupervised internet interactions were 100% off the table.

While mayhem and unsupervised internet is STILL off the table… what a transformation! Four months into our Minecraft journey, when my daughter and I sat down to plan 5th grade, she asked that “everything be taught with Minecraft.” And while I did my best impersonation of a teenager eye roll, I accepted the challenge, because… Minecraft can be so much more than monsters and mayhem. Given the sheer JOY it brings to my daughter, the challenge to teach “everything” using Minecraft is well worth it at our house.

There were several steps between nixing Minecraft and adopting Minecraft as a primary teaching tool:

  • The first step on our journey of transformation was internet research. To say I am not a gamer is an understatement, and Minecraft lingo was completely foreign to me. Creative, survival, single player, multiplayer, realms, mods vs. moderated, OYE! Once I understood that Minecraft CAN function as a computer-aided design tool, I began to understand why my daughter (an aspiring architect) would be so attracted to the program. Techiemom (link below) helped me get over my fear of the unknown.
  • The second step on our journey was defining parameters. Since we were approaching Minecraft as a design tool, my daughter was initially limited to “single player” (no creepy strangers, no playmate interaction to supervise) and “creative” mode (no monsters, no fighting). Just an unlimited blocky universe in which to build whatever she could imagine. And WOW could she imagine!
  • The third step on our journey was expanding skills. Though she was willing and eager to learn though trial and error (something she struggles with “IRL,” or “in real life”), it was quickly clear that Minecraft had far more capabilities than she would discover on her own. I was thrilled to find a virtual summer camp hosted by MODA (Museum of Design Atlanta, link below). MODA had a full line up of Minecraft virtual summer camps, all approaching Minecraft as a tool for design. Using MODA’s multiplayer Minecraft server and Zoom, she spent long summer days building with her new buddies while learning about architecture, engineering, planning, the design process, and even fashion. MODA’s multiplayer server gave my daughter plenty of mates to build with – and practice friendship skills like negotiation, compromise, how to give and receive feedback, and generosity. I was thrilled to have her interacting with peers who were vetted by MODA, with MODAs strict rules for interaction and moderation (ie, there is an adult charged with enforcing the rules). No creepy interactions with potential stalkers! No online bullying!
  • The fourth step on our journey was “The Big Challenge” – when she challenged me to teach “everything” through Minecraft. And why not, when working in Minecraft increases her confidence, her willingness to take risks and learn from errors, gives free rein to her creativity, and brings enormous JOY to her day?

To meet the challenge, we joined Skrafty, a homeschool Minecraft server (link below). I wanted to find a venue where she could take classes with academic content which tapped her Minecraft enthusiasm. There are several servers to choose from, but we tried Skrafty. Skrafty is run by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers. There are classes which have a Minecraft component – and a LOT of areas to simply play different variations on Minecraft with other homeschooled kids. The two classes we have tried so far have provided a fine base to build from, and they have given me ideas about how to integrate Minecraft into academic content.

Skrafty is now my daughter’s primary Minecraft play space, with a constant stream of peers to interact with. The server is tightly moderated for inappropriate language using an automated system. I feel confident there are not stalkers, the kids won’t exchange identifying information, or engage in inappropriate language. However, automation is great at spotting specific words and not so great at spotting unkind interaction. Relative to the MODA server (which is more like a conversation at a table with an adult and a bunch of kids), Skrafty is more like a big playground. There IS an adult presence, but a lot happens that adults don’t necessarily hear or see. The unanticipated benefit of our 3 months with Skrafty is high levels of social interaction and peer negotiation. After a full year of pandemic isolation, the friend drama was an unexpected, but positive, component of Skrafty.

And how are we doing on the “Minecraft for Everything” challenge? Pretty well. Here’s the rundown:

Literature/History/Art: A Skrafty class called “Medieval Literature” is the spine for our literature, history and art unit study for this year. (The online class covers 8 novels, leaving plenty of room for supplement.) Minecraft related assignments so far include: a pixel art representation of Robin Hood, which led to a discussion of symbolism in art, building a Medieval apothecary, which led to research on Tudor building techniques, and building a Gothic cathedral, which led to virtual field trips to cathedrals all over Europe.

Cathedral built in Minecraft. Photo by Anne Boynton

Writing: My daughter self-identified as “not a writer” – until she wanted to tell the story of her Minecraft adventures. Now she is writing a series of short stories about the adventures of her Minecraft character. She is even willing to tackle the revision process, complete with lessons on grammar and punctuation, to prepare her stories for “publication” to our family.

Spelling and Typing: Communication in Minecraft is often limited to typing, which is a HUGE motivator to my daughter to work on both her spelling and typing. We got a one year subscription to Touch Type Read Spell to get her grounded in touch type finger position, and add our own spelling/typing lists to the program with words she needs for communicating in Minecraft. Suddenly she is motivated to practice!

Math: While we haven’t abandoned standard math curriculum, Minecraft is FULL of opportunities to supplement math instruction with “hands on” (well, “mouse on”) math lessons, from calculating perimeter, volume, lines of symmetry, multiplication, ratios, and coordinate planes.

Microeconomics: Another unanticipated benefit of Skrafty is a play space called “Economy Zone,” which combines survival Minecraft (monsters) with a kid powered economy. I had not planned to teach market analysis, business planning, cost of goods sold, marginal pricing, and principles of advertising, but those have been some of the hottest topics this fall, all generated by her experience in the kid economy. Skrafty provides a great environment for testing business strategies in real time.

Though summer camp season is over, MODA (Museum of Design Atlanta) continues to be an important part of our lives. DEAL ALERT: until the end of 2021, MODA has a grant to provide its on-line educational programming for FREE. They have a twice weekly schedule of “one off” special topics classes aimed at upper elementary kids. Upcoming topics include “Engineering – Paris” and “Build a Lego Holiday Village.” Programs are offered in Minecraft, Lego, and Tinkercad, but the instructors are flexible – children can work in their preferred platform. There isn’t the same level of learning that the summer camp format allowed, but it provides an opportunity to interact with peers around a specific topic and be inspired by what other people are building. Check them out while they are free!

Links:
Step One: Techie Mom helped me see how Minecraft could be more than just monsters.
https://techiehomeschoolmom.com/how-to-use-minecraft-for-homeschooling/

Step Three: MODA, aka Museum of Design Atlanta, has virtual programming for kids interested in
design using Minecraft, Legos, Tinkercad and more. FREE through the end of December!
https://www.museumofdesign.org/Kids

Step Four: Skrafty provides homeschool classes and tightly moderated Minecraft play space.
https://whenyouriseup.com/minecraft-homeschool-server/
Skrafty says of itself, “We have 100s of online homeschool self-paced courses and awesome live classes taught by teachers who agree with our statement of faith.” That faith perspective is embedded in many classes, like science. That may be an asset for you, or not. We do not use Skrafty for science instruction, nor for history instruction without careful preview.

 

Anne Boynton is in her 24th year of homeschooling, and loving every minute of it.  (OK, let’s be honest, loving MOST minutes of it!).  Her home base is in Lynchburg, VA.

Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers.  Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction. Inclusion of links does not indicate endorsement.


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