While many summer camps have children learning and playing together outside on a playground, one Vancouver summer camp is doing the same — but on a virtual playground.

At the MCKids Academy children play Minecraft, a popular game in which players gather resources (depicted as 3D blocks), make tools, and build things in a large world with varying terrain and habitats.

Anna Belluz, who runs the camp at Creekside Recreation Centre in Vancouver, said the game is popular with kids because it's an "open sandbox game" — a type of video game in which users have a lot of freedom to build and create.

She said it could be compared to a digital form of Lego.

More than just building

"In Minecraft you actually have to think through how you're going to go about building those things, because it's not just about punching a tree, it's about then crafting that wood into planks and then those planks into doors," said Belluz, who is known to the camps' participants as 'Momibelle'.

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Kids at the summer camp spend time outdoors as well as as indoors playing Minecraft. (Maya Sengupta-Murray)

She said she was first introduced to the game through her daughter whom she was home-schooling at the time. Belluz, who bought two accounts so she could play with her daughter, said she quickly realized there were many educational aspects to the game.

"Something really magical happened because I actually got to see how my daughter thought, through how she played," she said.

"[I] recognized that it was going to allow my daughter to focus in the right kind of way. So focus and then create something that then she could feel really great about."

According to the camp's website, the game also offers plenty of chances for kids to learn about literacy, numbers, geology, history and science through team-based activities.

Educational aspects

MinecraftEdu, a version of the game tailored for educators, was designed a few years ago and allows teachers to customize the game for their students.

Belluz said she uses that in her camps, customizing the game to prevent children from doing destructive acts (such as blowing things up) in the game.

She said she also follows provincial guidelines that recommend how much screen time children should have, and said that average the campers don't spend more than 50 per cent of the day playing the game.

With files from CBC's On the Coast



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