Like so many others, my children are obsessed with Minecraft. They learned how to play the game on the Minecraft PE App (which is a lighter version of the game made for the iPad) but discovered the full version at their cousins’ house about a year ago. Since then the two of them have saved every penny they were given or earned so that they could buy their own computer to play on.
Homemade Minecraft Bank, circa 2013.
Some people think Minecraft, a sandbox game, is the ultimate educational tool. While I do worry about screentime, I also agree that Minecraft is an awesome vehicle for learning almost anything.
Here are just a few of the areas I’ve watched my 5 and 7-year-old develop in as players roaming freely through their virtual worlds:
- grammar and punctuation
- problem solving
- telling time
- goal setting
- time management
- conflict resolution
The reason Minecraft is such a powerful learning tool is that it offers so much freedom to players, limiting them, mostly, only by their imagination. They can pretty much build or create anything they wish using the tools that Minecraft gives them.
Minecraft does have limitations, though, and in January of this year, Molly found one of them. She wanted to change the color of an item (her sword) to look like her beloved blanket, Bucky. But she couldn’t.
Pink Bear and Orange Bucky on the left, Molly, and Striped Bucky on the right.
As I scoured the internet for instructions on modifying the game that even I could understand, I came across Youth Digital, which offers online programming and computer classes for kids. They offer a course called Mod Design 1, which promises to teach kids to program their own Mod (an alteration of a program code of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version) from scratch. In doing so, students also learn the fundamentals of Java Programming.
Molly could learn to change her game as she wished, all while learning to code? At her own pace? And Joe or I could sit along with her? Sounds good to me!
The course costs $249.99. It’s recommended for ages 8-14. Without knowing more than what I found on their website and from a few brief reviews online (Youth Digital was only started in 2010), I was hesitant to spend that kind of money on my 7-year-old.
I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog. After checking me out and deciding we were a good fit, they said yes.
We started the course right away.
Added benefit – – learning to code in your pajamas, with Dad, at night after he gets home from work!
So far we’ve gone through all the introductory steps like installing software and defining “Java” and things like that, plus, Molly learned how to make her own sword and modify its “recipe” for it. We still have a ways to go but here are our initial impressions:
- Youth Digital gives students 365 days to finish a course, which is good, because we blew 35 of them immediately after we signed up in tending to my Mom in NY. The ability to work at your own pace is critical to making learning fun and possible. It’s awesome to have the flexibility that time allows. Yay, Youth Digital for making this pretty stress-free!
- It is best to designate one computer for this course, as it will have several downloads on it. I had hoped to bring the course to NY but it was too hard. It may have been easy if I knew anything about computers, but I don’t, so I was afraid to try.
- I watched the introductory videos with all three kids and they literally laughed out loud at Justin as he ran across the screen. They loved his style! He made a lot of jokes and he constantly reminded us of how to get help if we needed it.
- You do not need any previous programming experience for this course. You can even follow the lessons if you are a computer cooler, like me.
- This is real Java programming. As such, it is challenging, even for a 39-year-old.
- Molly says the explanations make it “very easy”. I agree, although I did need to hear some of them more than once. We just replayed the videos as needed.
- The site is easy to navigate.
- The course is divided into segments and each segment includes a video, task(s), and a quick quiz at the end. Each segment has taken us about 30-45 minutes, mostly because we like to play around with the game. Sometimes we do only one segment. Others, 2 or 3.
- The review questions at the end of each lesson are, according to Molly, “just right” in difficulty.
- So far, and we are really just getting started, there are no negatives. I do wonder though, why this is just targeted at kids. Learning to code Java through playing and changing a game like Minecraft is a great way to teach adults too!
I will write additional updates as Molly works through the course. Let me know if you have questions and I’ll try to get them answered!