'The only limit is your imagination': Summer camp kids build skills playing Minecraft
Game modified by educators to promote creativity, collaboration and problem solving
Instead of hanging off the monkey bars some children kicked off summer camp today by logging on to a computer.
The children aged eight to 10 are enrolled at MCKids Academy's week-long program where they play Minecraft, a popular Lego style adventure game where players gather resources, make tools and build things in a large world with varying terrain and habitats.
The day is split between time spent playing Minecraft on a laptop and time spent playing outdoors.
Anna Belluz, who runs the camp at Creekside Recreation Centre in Vancouver argues if children were at home they would be spending all day starring at various devices, but this way screen time is monitored.
"Here, at least, what we can do is work with the kids. Work through when we need to take breaks and what is the appropriate amount of time [on the screen]," she said.
Minecraft is often described as a virtual sandbox that can promote creativity, collaboration and problem solving.
"The only limit is your imagination," said Belluz.
"Right now for this crew it is about learning how to type," she said. "The ones who can type quickly and accurately, they are our future programmers, really."
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MinecraftEdu, a version of the game tailored for educators, is designed to allow teachers like Belluz to modify the game for their students.
The game can be customized for users to build and explore in a virtual world while teaching players about math, natural resources and geography.
"For history, we are rebuilding something that had appeared historically. Then talking about it as we build it and explore the reasons why it was built," she said.
In this summer camp, children are also taught about Internet safety and gaming 'etiquette', for example to not destroy what they've built, steal from other users or use profanity.
Good for kids who have trouble focusing
Belluz said chidlren with special needs greatly benefit from this summer camp.
In today's camp, she has four children with varying learning needs.
"Great thing about Minecraft is it is easy to work with for children who otherwise have difficulty focusing," she said.
The game also encourages socializing, as kids work together to come up with ideas and ask each other for help.
Belluz admits that when she first began teaching it four years ago it was a tough sell to parents, but after Microsoft bought Minecraft and expanded it for classrooms it has become more popular.
"Now suddenly, we have a stamp of approval," she said.
So far, 700 children have gone through the program.