Why we don’t do Minecraft homeschool

Several weeks ago I was watching Charlie Rose interview Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones, discussing their film “The Invisible Woman” which told the story of Charles Dickens’ secret relationship with a younger woman during the height of his fame.  In the interview, both Fiennes and Jones said they’d never read Dickens in school, which they found puzzling.  But then Jones said something I found truly insightful.  She said she was kind of glad that Dickens isn’t taught in school (at least in Britain) because then kids don’t associate his writing with something they don’t like, as often happens with Shakespeare.  On the contrary, they can discover his books on their own, when they are ready, and really enjoy them.

I bring this up because recently I’ve been hearing a lot about Minecraft Homeschool.   My son Ben loves Minecraft, and more than one person has asked me why I don’t sign him up for the classes that Minecraft homeschool offers.

The short answer is, “Because that would take all the fun out of it.”

You see, from my point of view, the best thing about Minecraft is that it is organic, and a different experience for each person.  You can learn the options as quickly or as slowly as you like.  Ben started out on a creative server set up by someone he knew, and spent weeks discovering all the different building materials and how best to use them, as well as how to create with redstone. (The Minecraft equivalent of electric circuits.)  He watched many YouTube tutorials as well as watching videos by and about people who had built detailed replicas of real buildings.   A year later and he has his own server, creates mini-games, plays in survival as well as creative and has friends all over the place with whom he routinely skypes while they play.

The homepage on the Minecraft homeschool site says “Proof that LEARNING IS FUN!”  (The caps are theirs, not mine.)   These are the kind of statements made to convince parents.   The kids already know that playing Minecraft is fun, and that they are learning a lot while they do.  So why mess that up?  Why feel the need to enroll a kid into a class on something he or she could easily learn on his or her own?   Oh sure, they have classes that focus on different eras in history  like “Viking Victories” and “Mysterious Maya”, but to my mind, these only serve to reduce the amount of overall creativity and learning.   Introducing out of game assignments – required videos to watch and quizzes to take – mean that you’ve turned Minecraft into just another class where someone else tells you what to learn, how to do it and then quizzes you on it.   It’s Dickens relegated to the classroom.  (Don’t even get me started on the invite only server party which is only open to those who scored 75% or higher total on all the quizzes.  “Do well on the quiz or you can’t go to the party!”  Ugh.)

Does this sound harsh?  I suppose it does.  I’m sure the people behind Minecraft homeschool had all the good intentions, but honestly I can’t imagine any kid choosing the type of classes offered, with all the requirements they entail, over being given free reign to learn and discover and build on their own or with their friends.   Which means the classes are really a way for parents to feel better about their kids’ gaming; a way for them to see it as “educational”.

But it is educational, all on its own, just as Dickens is great literature even outside the classroom.  And far more appreciated.

Making a class out of Minecraft does not give the game more value, it just drains it of a bit (or a lot) of the joy of discovery.  I don’t want to read Dickens because someone is going to quiz me on it.   My son doesn’t want to be graded on his redstone circuitry or whether he watched the History Channel companion piece on Mayan architecture.

Minecraft grows with the user.  The only limits are those of the imagination, which is to say, there are no limits.

If your kids enjoy Minecraft, let them.  No need to make it school.

——————————–

Thank you to Lisa Nielsen for suggesting I write this piece, and for the title.

 

35 comments on “Why we don’t do Minecraft homeschool

  1. We unschool and I mentioned Minecraft Homeschool to our eldest children (12) who leapt at the chance despite already playing single player, multiplayer on other severs and running their own server. We are in week one and they are really enjoying playing with people outside of the UK. The historical theme interests them and actually they get a kick out of their ability to answer the quiz and feel good receiving the grading scores – it’s all a novelty for us. They are still playing on their other games and other servers but all the while they are happy we continue.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Angela,

      If they’re having a great time that’s fantastic! It’s only when the motivation is mostly the parents’ and not the kids, that it becomes an issue.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Amy

  2. Dawn says:

    I also mentioned it to my son, who immediately turned it down.;) His interests are similar to your son in that he is very driven to learn on his OWN. He has been playing just shy of 4 months and two days ago set up his own server and added RAM to the game. He has no desire to “play” Minecraft for a grade. It would suck the joy out of it for him. :)

    • Amy says:

      Hi Dawn,

      Yes, ditto. How old is your son?

      Best,
      Amy

    • My son had the same response- couldn’t see why anyone would want to sign up for a class when you could just donut all on your own. Like Amy’s son, he has is own server and makes mini-games, and he is an avid redstoner and map maker. He loves Minecraft and has learned so much from it. We have really embraced the game as a family- all of us playing, having Minecraft parties, going to MineCon etc- l have blogged about this too (www.robinstevenson.com). The Minecraft community seems very generous when it comes to sharing knowledge and ideas, and the various forums andvYouTube tutorials etc are a great resource. No class needed. I do think some kids enjoy structured learning more than others, and for a kid who likes- and chooses- to engage in it, Minecraft homeschool is probably a lot of fun.

  3. Stuart says:

    Interesting post Amy, this has caused some discussion here.

    thanks,
    Stuart

  4. Ali says:

    My unschooled kids were invited to join the class with some old friends they never get to see. One decided to try it. After the first week he quit. He said it was too limiting and controlling. He would way rather just Skype his friends and do their own thing than follow someone else’s plan on an arbitrary topic. Some of his friends liked the class, but those particular kids enjoy more curricular style learning in general. To each his own!

  5. Julie says:

    I understand both sides to this. However, my son begged me to sign him up for one of the homeschool Minecraft games because he just loves to learn and adding Minecraft to it makes it “awesome” as he says. We will see where this goes. He has been playing Minecraft (and Marathon) for years. I have a few kiddos that would squawk at this idea of Minecraft with school and a couple who droll over this idea. For us it is just extra knowledge in our curric, never to take place of our regular homeschool day. How great it is that we can choose how to school and what is best for our family! Thanks for making me think of all sides!!

    • Annie says:

      This is exactly my comment, haha! My son has been asking and asking for me to find a Minecraft curriculum. So we’ll see! I don’t intend to limit him to only playing Minecraft if he does the classes, so I can see what the writer was saying, but for moms like us…whose kids are begging for it, it was sweet relief to see someone else had done the work of creating the classes!

  6. Gill says:

    “I can’t imagine any kid choosing the type of classes offered, with all the requirements they entail, over being given free reign to learn and discover and build on their own or with their friends.”
    I thought that too, which is why I didn’t suggest it to my children for several months after discovering it. My eldest jumped at the chance, however, and signed up for another straight after the first one.

    This IS free reign to learn and discover. That’s what unschooling is about for us. One wanted to and one didn’t. For me, the important thing about unschooling is not to assume we know ‘what children want’. We don’t. They do. Every individual child wants something different and sometimes added requirements are a challenge children want to rise to.

    I worry about assumptions people make about children’s choices and how, if they happen to be a little structured, or a little academic, that they must be really about making their parents happy or that their parents have somehow pressured them into it.

    If we accept that all children are different, surely we can accept that, even if we can’t imagine why they enjoy it, some actively seek out the kind of learning that minecraft homeschool provides them with?

    One of my unschooled children revels in maths workbooks, but prefers to have free rein on minecraft. The other revels in minecraft homeschool and wouldn’t dream of doing structured maths for fun.

    That’s the beauty of unschooling. The fewer assumptions we have about what ‘children’ like (as if they are a homogeneous group), the more choice we can provide for them.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Gill,

      Thanks for your comment, and you are right – if the child chooses to take the class and loves the assignments,etc, then that is fantastic and definitely a part of unschooling. My point was about parents who want to make Minecraft “educational” by imposing a type of curriculum onto it, but I should have been clear that I only oppose that when it is not the choice of the child.

      Thanks again!
      Amy

      • Jind says:

        we (or you) can talk all the shit you want about Call of Duty, Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch gives there fans what they want, MORE CALL OF DUTY.I love BF3, but releasing one map pack of NEW maps, not old maps, NEW maps, ONLY ONE MAP PACK in nalery one year since the game was released is not very pleasing.

    • Jody Nova says:

      >>>> If we accept that all children are different, surely we can accept that, even if we can’t imagine why they enjoy it, some actively seek out the kind of learning that minecraft homeschool provides them with?

      This is an amazing question and one that speaks to my heart so deeply. Jody Nova here, owner of Minecraft Homeschool…. I would love to tell you a story about my son, the creator of Minecraft Homeschool. Unless you are in our inner circle, you probably do not know that it was an 8 year old unschooled boy that created this company. Out of his love for structured learning, clear cut challenges, and feedback from someone other than his mom. He wanted to build the 7 Wonders of the World in Minecraft – with friends. He wanted me to find learning material for him, challenge him with builds, and let someone else tell him how his work stacked up…. Is it so wrong for him to love this because he is unschooled? Do we have to condemn kids that flourish in this environment because we unschool? It feels painfully harsh to me for an unschooling parent to berate the structure of something simply because they believe in lack of structure as the sole best thing for any child.

      I have 4 children, and they are all different. My daughter would never do MCHS because she is too busy creating the next most amazing horse farm. She loves it as you described it, without bounds. However, put my son in front of Minecraft and he wants a road map, a framework, structure, friends, and adventure….

      He has picked every single class we offer, with the exception of the creative writing classes, and he has grown in amazing ways in his ability to function in groups, think creatively, exercise leadership, and see the grey in the world, instead of his black and white. He is amazing, his vision is amazing, and he is loving the fact that he has found 1500 kids that feel just like he does.

      Please do not condemn something just because it is different or not right for your child. I love that you took the time to post a rant on our company, it allows others whose children don’t fit into your son’s mold to speak out as well.

      I hope these thoughts make it through to your website, but I expect they will not. Maybe at least you will hear my son’s story and take it to heart. He was crushed when he found your post on Google and cried for days that someone could think such a think of his creation.

      Ms. Jody – the Mom of an AMAZING and SPECIAL boy with a vision.

      • Amy says:

        Hi Jody,

        Thank you so much for your comment! It is wonderful that Minecraft Homeschool was created by your 8 year old unschooled child. Unschooled kids are the most amazing people (in my humble opinion). I think it would be great if you wrote a bit about it on the site – it would be an inspiration for other kids.

        One of the reasons I write this blog is because I am far from perfect and while I hope that what I write can sometimes help or inspire, I also want people to sound off when they see an error in my argument or have something constructive to add, as you and others have done regarding this post. So thank you for that. It is much more rewarding to write when there is give and take.

        If I were to rewrite this post – now that I know the genesis of MCHS – I would make it clear(er) that my issue is not with children who choose to participate, but with parents who are attached to the idea of classes and assignments and want their kid to enroll because of that. It was such a parent who prompted the post – their children loved Minecraft and so she enrolled them into Minecraft Homeschool, which they agreed to because the condition of continuing to play Minecraft was attached to their participation. But then they didn’t want to do the assignments and it became a source of tension and argument in their home. Minecraft in any form was effectively ruined for them.

        I am in favor of any activity or pursuit that complements the interests of a child, no matter how structured or unstructured, as long as it is not being forced by the parent to assuage their own need for structured learning.

        If I suggested otherwise, I was in error – please apologize to your son for me.

        All the best,
        Amy

  7. Thank you very much for this post. I for one got what you were trying to say because *gasp* I am one of those moms who first look at the educational “value” before enrolling or joinging, etc.
    We also don’t unschool in the full sense of the word, as I “introduce” a language or math “concept” to my boys (5yrs and 7yrs respectively) weekly by following a curriculum, but then I leave them, and low and behold, they use that to figure things out for themselves which leads to more curiosity and more enquiries!

    But seriously, I do understand what you meant to say and took to heart that learning will take place when they enjoy what they are doing, no matter the learning style. I as parent shouldn’t just want them to join Minecraft (or any other community – with us it is Dragonschool – Riders of Berk) because of what they can learn, or that they do it in lesson form, etc.

    Any advice on other safe, online communities for comicbook design, etc.? I’m fairly new to this and not sure where, what, why, who…

  8. I’ve never heard of that one, but my daughter absolutely loves Skrafty classes. We do a lot of geekschooling around here. Doctor Who classes, too!

  9. Aimee Mayfield says:

    My boys love minecraft homeschool. In fact so much that they inspired their older sister, who didn’t want to do MCHS at first, to build the lost city of Mohenjo-daro! They loved that they got to choose what they signed up for. Sometimes they don’t want to do some of the reading but they always love the videos and the build and can tell me all sorts of cool things they learned. There is a huge amount of creativity involved and I don’t believe they’ve been stifled at all. In fact they’ve gotten some really great ideas from the experience and STILL love minecraft. Even if they hated the experience it wouldn’t have ruined minecraft. I don’t think that kids doing things they don’t particularly want to do is a bad thing. That’s life. Of course if they hated it I wouldn’t force them to sign up for another class. And that’s life too.

  10. Sarah says:

    I showed Minecraft Homeschool to my two middle children. They adore Minecraft and they wanted to sign up right away. We signed up and over the weeks, they gradually developed a loathing of completing their week’s work. They began with a real love of it but the shine faded very quickly and they stopped wanting to play there because it wasn’t really “play” anymore. When it came time to enrol for the next session… we didn’t. We let our kids return to their previous server and the fun came right back to it.

    Our experience is that Minecraft Homeschool, despite the wonderful intentions of the creators and the immense amount of work and care they put into it, had the exact effect that the writer described for our kids.

  11. Casey Armer says:

    I wish I would’ve read some reviews before we tried a class…my son has been an avid player for over five years. After less than an hour on the server he was kicked off for breaking a rule that wasn’t even in the “Orientation Rules”…he has Asperger’s and is extremely sensitive, the entire ordeal left him very upset and confused. I totally agree with you!!

  12. Kristina says:

    I understand the heart of the article. I am guilty of trying to suck the joy out of Minecraft for my son by making the class and assignments a requirement – so that I felt he was “getting something out of the game.” It’s more outside pressure I feel than what I truly believe. I KNOW my son is learning so much by JUST PLAYING the game. However, even though he hasn’t spent any time on the assignments, he ABSOLUTELY LOVES the weekly BUILD CHALLENGE! That is a WIN WIN, because he was challenged to try something new by taking the class and though it didn’t go how I had planned, he PASSIONATELY awaited this aspect of the Minecraft Homeschool site each week – working together with other players to build – an no worries about inappropriate behavior on the server. Kudos to mom and son for creating the site. How awesome!! :)

  13. Sahara says:

    Thank you for this. Someone had told me about Minecraft Homeschool and because my 5yr old Daughter is pretty much obsessed with the game, I considered signing her up. I’m a first time Mom and attempting to go the Unschooling route of Homeschooling. I honestly have no idea what i’m doing. This sounded like something perfect for both of us, but after hearing others experiences, I think we’ll save out money. She only has Minecraft on Xbox so i’d have to buy the PC version, pay for the classes, etc. Too much money for her to try it and decide it’s not for her.

  14. Kelly says:

    My son does Minecraft homeschool and enjoys it very much. He has “moved up” in rank and been given more responsibility which has done wonders for his confidence. He enjoys the play aspect so much that he doesn’t mind the lessons and even finds some of them so interesting he will research them and learn more after class. I understand what you are saying but think in most cases kids would be happy to have minecraft as their curriculum for the week and as long as the kids enjoy it who cares why parents choose it. Thank your son for us Ms.Jody and let him know that Corndog413 and his mom think it’s great!

  15. Annie says:

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but feel I need to comment that Minecraft Homeschool came about in my google search because my 9yr old son has been BEGGING me to find a minecraft curriculum. He loves it so much, he wants to be learning from it. I barely know what the thing is, but all my kids love it. I am looking forward to using it as a fun supplement.

  16. Alyson says:

    Yes, it sounds fairly misguided.
    Both my sons love Minecraft homeschool, they do it for fun. Plus regular Minecraft. Kids do actually enjoy learning about topics that interest them you know.
    Sometimes adhering to the very strict rules of unschooling is obsessive and counterproductive. Do what your kids love, not what the unschooling pundits ( who are mostly out to make money) tell you to do.

  17. William says:

    Alyson, I think you’ve got a great attitude here.

  18. Christine says:

    My kids love minecraft homeschool. We only will sign up for what they want..but my kids will not sit and study history willingly or really want to read textbooks. I love minecraft homeschool for the fact my kids love everything on it. They love being challenged and love seeing others creations. we did one class that had the grand canyon in it and from the learning content and the excitement my kids got we decided to to visit the real thing. For me i love that it sparks new interesting topics for my kids. We only do ungraded and my kids loved it. They also like that its a safe server and as a mom i know they are ok ! Some people like more structure than others. We are a bit adhd with school (scatterbrained and unorganized) and having this keeps my kids interested and learning as well as creating. :)

  19. Marie Whytsell says:

    My grandchildren love minecraft so we gave them each two classes on subjects they are interested in: The Civil War and the Underground Railroad.
    In addition, we put videos in their homeschool library and are taking them to museums, such as the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., and outdoor natural museums such as a walk through battle sites at Yorktown, Va.
    We hope that the combination will feed their desire to know more about American history.

  20. Katie says:

    To each their own… we’ve done it and my kids loved it and still remember everything they learned. I think it’s a great option for many homeschooling parents.

  21. Nicole says:

    Someone mentioned it to me as well, for my 5 and 8 year olds. I laughed and said, “well, I guess if I wanted them to stop playing Minecraft, I could do that…”

  22. […] there are programs out there that use Minecraft and make curriculum to fit, I think this article by Unschooling NYC, titled “Why we don’t do Minecraft homeschool” sums it up nicely. While it is uber educational, it doesn’t need to be forced, nor even […]

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  24. anon says:

    Just (unfortunately) stumbled across this blog post. Ugh.

    There are a plethora of children who benefit from MC classes. It just FITS their style of learning and playing…and it IS motivation for them to LEARN, then get to PLAY.

    Frankly, I think this blog post is unnecessary and RUDE.

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