10 Life Skills Parents Can Nurture through Minecraft

Recent political and weather events like those in Charlottesville, Houston, and Florida offer a snapshot of a world in which knowing how to problem-solve, manage resources, cooperate, negotiate, and plan may mean the difference between life and death. Learning how to survive and thrive in a world shaped by conflict, change, and catastrophe requires life skills. Knowing how to nurture these skills is an important connected parenting superpower to have.

Minecraft, especially when played with others, offers a great platform for this work. Players flex their creative and problem solving skills as they build shelters, fight off mobs, and seek out and mine hard-to-find resources. They also develop skills as planners, decision-makers, and collaborators in their quest to complete epic (or even not-so-epic) builds. To do this they must prioritize and persevere. They must be able to communicate and resolve conflict. They must know how to ask for help, coordinate their efforts with others, and manage their time.

Research shows that building such skills requires repetition and practice. Providing multiple contexts for kids to develop their skills is one way to help them flourish. This might mean participating in programs like Connected Camps Afterschool, but could also include offline activities like cooking, project-based playdates, making maps, or gardening. Following are 10 essential life skills kids can nurture through Minecraft, and ways you can support your child’s learning.

Social SkillsSocial Skills

1. Teamwork

Kids who play Minecraft with others quickly recognize the benefits of teamwork. Having a grand idea is one thing; having the resources to implement the idea is another. Learning how to recruit team members, pool resources, negotiate designs, and assign roles to one another is all part of learning how to realize one’s ideas. In survival mode, teamwork takes the form of building a defense, and coordinating and executing battle plans. Teaching and learning from others is a central feature of the game.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

2. Strategic Communication

Evidence suggests that communication is the foundation of relationships and is essential for learning, play, and social interaction. In Minecraft, the chatter of online play is both social and strategic. To get anything done, kids must learn how to talk to each other. This includes learning how to get their message across, share ideas, give and get feedback, and say what they want others to do. Learning how to be effective communicators while using global chat and voice chat tools like Teamspeak or Discord can lead to increased confidence and self-esteem.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Give your kids the Exact Instructions challenge:

3. Asking for Help

Asking for help is something many people have trouble doing. Kids are no exception. In a culture where independence is so strongly valued, asking for help makes some people feel weak or concerned about what might be asked of them in return. Minecraft turns the tables on this situation by offering a context in which players are motivated to value the craftsmanship and skills of others, while also sharing knowledge and innovations. This is especially true in creative multiplayer mode, where kids of different skill levels build and play together. Asking for help is seen as a way to share and acknowledge the expertise of others.  

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Be a role model: pick a project for you and your child to work on together that is outside of your realm of expertise. Seek out help from others to complete the project, showing your child how effective and rewarding asking for help can be.
  • Encourage your child’s Minecraft YouTube habit, especially How-To videos, which we’ve written about here.
  • Help your child learn to use online Minecraft forums as a resource for their questions.


Emotional SkillsEmotional Skills

4. Persistence

Minecraft comes without an instruction book. Its gameplay can, at times, seem punishingly repetitive: mine, mine, mine, craft, build, repeat. Learning to build complex structures is hard; mastering redstone even harder. Despite all this, kids love to play the game. Why? One reason is that working hard can feel really good. Minecraft encourages and rewards deep focus. The game teaches kids that persisting on a problem is a way for them to achieve their gameplay goals.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Reward optimistic thinking, especially when that optimism is connected to a goal. Research shows that positive thinking can lead people to be more resilient in the face of day-to-day struggles.
  • Expect more: Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone. Help them stretch their own goals for what they want to accomplish in Minecraft by sharing videos of truly epic builds.
  • Teach your child to cook! Choose one or more of these dishes to master together.

 5. Recovery from Failure

Disasters happen all the time in Minecraft. Stuff gets blown up and burned down. Players spend hours building up an inventory only to lose it all. Mojang, the developer of the game, updates the game, adds new features and suddenly players no longer know how to play. Learning how how to recover from failure quickly, positively, and with new knowledge about what not to do the next time deepens a player’s relationship with the game. As kids acclimate to a world where change is constant and rebuilding is expected, the more resilient they become.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Teach your child to share their mistakes with others. Doing so will help them see failure as both an opportunity to learn (“Well, that didn’t work!”) and as a chance to save others from a similar fate.
  • Let them play games. Games like Minecraft offer an environment where it’s OK to fail. As a result, kids see it as a safe space to get things wrong.
  • Garden together: nature provides ample opportunities for learning to recover from failure!

 6. Negotiation

Multiplayer Minecraft offers lots of opportunities for interpersonal conflict. In survival mode players compete for resources. Creative mode players often clash while working on projects together. Learning to negotiate with others to get what you want is an acquired expertise. Because Minecraft offers a fairly low stakes environment for taking risks, kids can try out different negotiating strategies. On moderated servers like Kid Club, the online counselors take it one step further: they work with kids to see conflict as a problem to be solved, rather than a context for assigning blame.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

Organizational SkillsOrganizational Skills

7. Planning

Not everyone is a planner by nature and you might have a child that loves to dive in head first without any pre-planning. This probably works out some of the time, but not always. This is true in Minecraft as well. Players can get away with a “design-it-as-I-go” attitude in creative mode, given that resources are unlimited. But being able to achieve really complex builds, or excelling in survival mode requires players to plan ahead. Kids develop their own strategies for doing so, including making maps, drawing sketches, and breaking down and assigning tasks to members of their team.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Encourage your child to keep a Minecraft sketchbook. When they come up with an idea for something to build, ask them to sketch out what it will look like when it is complete.
  • Before your child starts to recruit others to help them build, have them think through all the different tasks that need to be completed. Help them prioritize the list and assign time estimates to each.

 8. Time Management

When your child sets off to build a mega rollercoaster in Minecraft with the help of three friends, time becomes an important resource to manage. Your child not only needs to be able to prioritize tasks per their importance to their overall goal, but also judge how long it will take to complete each task. Given that most kids play Minecraft for a limited number of hours each day or week, they have to learn—by trial and error, mostly—how much building or mining or crafting can be done in a typical session. In survival mode players must take time into account when planning a day’s activities, as dangers lurk in the shadows once night falls.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Do a project where you and your child create a circle graph of your perfect day. Compare results!
  • Have your child set a goal for each session of Minecraft, thinking through what they want to accomplish within a concrete time frame.

 9. Decision-Making

Children develop the capacity to make decisions with experience and maturity. To do so they must learn to know when a decision needs to be made, think of possible options, evaluate those options and then choose one to deploy. With experience they learn to review their decisions, reflecting on the outcomes of the decisions made. Minecraft creates a wonderful context for kids to hone these skills, given the control players have over what to do in the world. The game’s open-ended nature demands decisions from its players, posing the challenge, “Now what will you do?”

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Play strategy board games like Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, and Dominion.
  • Coach your child through tough decisions. This post offers some great tips for how.

Survival Skills

10. Spatial Awareness

Minecraft is often referred to as virtual Legos and the comparison is apt. With both, players must learn how to manipulate objects in space in a way that helps them create more complex structures. The ability to visualize objects — and the way they fit into a space—is what experts call spatial awareness. Building anything in Minecraft requires differing degrees of spatial awareness: players must learn to estimate the number of blocks needed to construct a house or farm, for example, by calculating the distance between two points.

What you can do to nurture this skill:

  • Turn off the GPS.
  • Make maps.
  • Play with Legos and puzzles.

Future Matters

Helping your child develop a sense of independence and preparedness for the future takes time, effort, and a little ingenuity. Use the ideas offered here as a jumping off point for activities that will have relevance for your family and fit into the rhythm of daily life. Connecting with your child around their interest in Minecraft not only grows life skills but allows you to share in the fun!

Image credit: The Noun Project, hurricane Frederick Yocum


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