George Lucas Educational Foundation

Too much is never enough: managing a child's time playing Minecraft

Too much is never enough: managing a child's time playing Minecraft

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"Minecraft." Merely mentioning the word in the presence of a typical school-age child will evoke an immediate and passionate response - often including a lengthy and highly detailed explanation of their latest "build" or in-world accomplishment. Minecraft is more than the latest game craze, it is a bonafide *PHENOMENON* that has captured the hearts and minds of children worldwide. They are collaborating, they are exploring, they are creating complex structures and learning about systems - all good things - but their appetite is nearly insatiable. The question becomes: how much Minecraft is too much?

I run an after-school Minecraft program for about 40 mostly elementary students and constantly get asked that question by parents. As a veteran of virtual worlds including Second Life, I know how powerful (and addictive!) an immersive 3D world can become. There is no "end," there is always someone "on," and there is always something to "make" or "do". In my experience, the QUALITY of the online time is the key - what the online user is LEARNING or ACCOMPLISHING. Problem is, most parents aren't able to easily make that determination, and as a result, feel uneasy when kids relentlessly ask for more and more time in-game.

So, I'm wondering: how do those of you with Minecraft-playing children structure or limit their time with the game? Is it considered "screen time" like anything else or do you treat it differently? Or do you have no rules at all? Let us know in the comments!

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I'm really trying to distinguish with my teachers and parents that not all screen time is created equal. There's a huge difference between watching cartoons for an hour and building a world, or making a movie, or writing a story. I'd much rather see children doing the latter instead of the former, and screens can help them do that.

This isn't to say that kids still shouldn't balance screen time with playing outside and engaging in social activities with others. But we should be pushing for quality screen time as much as for just simply balancing time.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Sometimes I worry that my kids are becoming part of the Borg

That's a good point Dan. I know my own kids are absolutely addicted to Minecraft- my son is equally addicted to its cousin Roblox. Figuring out how to make the web version of the game run on our aging Mac was a project that he (and my husband) spent hours researching and problem solving- imagine the joy in my house when they finally figured it out!

We have pretty strict limits for screens in our house, but they're usually enforced by the activity scheduled and homework load rather than by me. (Not that I haven't taken a laptop away from a kid with an admonishment to "go outside and play for pete's sake!") Once homework is done, if there's no practice to run off too, they can each have about 45 minutes. (The get 2 hours on the weekend, but it has to come in shorter blocks and nothing until their chores are done.) They set a kitchen timer and are responsible for managing it, knowing that going over time mean means they have to do that many minutes of extra chores. It's amazing- they only have to wipe down the baseboards in the bathroom once before they become very conscientious about the time!

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

My son has had Minecraft obsessions from time to time, and I've seen him bring a computer to a friends house where they all play together. I think there are serious skills to be learned, in terms of setting up your own server or world to play in, but largely I kind of don't always get it myself. It's certainly less objectionable than alternative online games, but I;d love to hear more from you, Kevin, on what you think drives kids with Minecraft and what they are learning from the process. I'd love to have a deeper understanding of it myself :)

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teacher, learning experience architect, workshop leader; design thinker, maker, makerspace developer ; published author.

Laura, I love how you have set limits and let the kids enforce them. Also love the 'compensatory' approach to overages. Very creative and very effective!

Do your kids play singleplayer or multiplayer? Survival or Creative?

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teacher, learning experience architect, workshop leader; design thinker, maker, makerspace developer ; published author.

Hi Whitney,

What I've learned ... the process of setting up a server is definitely something beneficial and imminently doable for middle schoolers and up. It's fairly straightforward (a bit more complex for MacOS) but quite intricate in terms of configurations necessary for "mods" (surely you've heard the word). The real power of a private server is just that - it's completely private and the kids maintain control over who accesses it and when. It's a great opportunity to allow them to develop responsibility in terms of managing the server and its participants. I've seen middle school kids get some serious cred with older gamers due to their skills. Another real plus: because the only people "on" their servers are people they allow in (a process called "whitelisting,") you have the ability to know exactly who they are playing with. This, to me, is very important.

As far as in-game building skills, ask them what the coolest thing is they ever saw created with "Redstone" and then challenge them to make something similar (or close). The awesome power of Minecraft as an educational tool is the ability to construct INTRICATE, fully functional, complex moving SYSTEMS and structures. The skills needed to create complex builds like these are not insignificant. And, just about everything a kid needs to know how to do is on YouTube, but, be forewarned - there is a LOT of profanity out there. One outstanding series of "clean" how-to videos is here:

Mary and Dad's Minecraft Adventures

Of course your kids might consider this series LAME, but, you can take comfort in knowing they won't encounter objectionable language.

Have your kids started making their own YouTube videos yet? Most do, and this also is a great learning experience AND opportunity to explore the importance of building and managing their digital footprints. There are many great screencasting tools, one of my favorites is!


Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

It's funny Kevin- my daughter is all about creative (she's a bit of an artist and has *never* had any interest in survival or combat gams). My son does both, but now that he's figured out how to make the multiplayer to run on the computer, he's much more into survival mode, playing against his friends.

Diane Main's picture
Diane Main
Ass't. Dir. of Instr. Tech. 9-12 and CompSci teacher from San Jose, CA

I agree with you, Dan. In fact, I'm sad that my son is so busy with homework and other stuff lately that he hasn't had time to even PLAY Minecraft! I think it's a better use of his time than homework. He almost never gets to watch TV either. Can you believe we don't even have to worry about screen time?

Tara Baker's picture
Tara Baker
graduate student, wife, mother, nature lover, and soon to be family coach

In our house we have two days designated as video game days. On these days video games are earned by doing chores (cleaning a bathroom, vacuuming living room, helping with laundry, cleaning room, etc). One of our video game days is on the weekend and therefore time allots depends on chores and can go as long as 2 to 2.5 hours. The other day is a school day, no games may be played until homework is finished and these days only allow about 30-45 minutes due to our busy schedule. We have one day a week that is "movie day" and then Sunday is usually a family TV day, like sports. That is it! no more. No buts about it. Time is up, time is up and if the child will not turn off the game, the parent will. If a game needs to be saved, there is about 3 minutes to find it then off it goes. We are consistent and have been for about 3 years. The key is consistency. Our children are 11, 8, 5. As the children age we will change our routine, but one thing will always stay the same, family time is more important than screen time.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

We tweeted about this topic. Admittedly, we were a bit provocative and wrote: Why there's no such thing as too much Minecraft:

Here's a sampling of what our community on Twitter had to say in response:

Suzanne M Grenoble, @GrenobleM
perhaps, but there IS such a thing as too much screen time

Rosanne Rust, RDN, @rustnutrition 4h
We love Minecraft. Personally I think the 2-hr screen time is outdated. Better to match screen time to outdoor play time

TeacherCoach, @MandyVasek
11 yo daughter is fascinated w/ MC. She's made videos to review for science tests using mc. Recently made one of rock types.

Snowy Ermine's picture

I think that 30 minutes is enough for kids under 10 and after that 40. I'm 11 i play for about 40 minutes unless a friend calls me on skype. She does about once a week and we play for about an hour together i'm no addicted at all.

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