First, it was Reader Rabbit. Then it was Math Blasters. It didn’t take me long to realize what was happening. My boys were learning a lot more by playing games than completing worksheets.
Well, that is to say, they completed the worksheets only if I stayed in the room. Otherwise, the thing would end up crumpled up, hidden under the couch, and then the dog would be blamed for eating said document. (Yes, even dogs in a homeschooling family can get blamed for missing homework.)
This led me to wonder what other electronic/video games there were out there that taught my boys without them realizing they were learning things.
One day one of their public school friends asked if they had a membership on something called “Club Penguin”. I have to admit, CP is very cute what with all those silly penguins doing fun things in cool costumes. Except, what do you do when you’ve won all the contests, earned more points than there are things to buy?
Enter Roblox, the game that looks and feels like a certain small plastic brick building game. But it isn’t. That company has a trademark and Roblox has made it clear they are not affiliated with that company at all. You can create an avatar, just like CP, but it allows you to create your own modifications. Your kids will call it “modding potential”. My oldest says it’s a game maker inside of a game.
This game uses the programming language “Lua” and this where the boys got started programming actual computer code. Before I was a SAHM I was an Application Developer/Information Analyst for a very large bank. I’ve been wanting to teach my boys how to program but wasn’t satisfied with any of the tools out there. Many of them really are largely geared towards adults or priced out of our budget.
The Roblox Wiki takes kids step by beginner step through learning the Lua programming language. The best part is, they can do this on their own without any help from you. It isn’t a pretty way to learn programming but it did get the boys’ feet wet. Again, there are a lot of things you can do with a free membership but nowhere near what you can do with a paid membership.
After two years of playing Roblox another friend asked if they had heard aboutMinecraft. (Minecraft also looks strikingly familiar to that certain plastic bricks game, too. More about that later.) The boys love playing Minecraft the very best of any of the online gaming worlds. It does have to be purchased and then downloaded to your computer in order to play. My oldest says that Roblox is a “make everything yourself” game but Minecraft is an adventure and survival game that allows you to build your own worlds.
You don’t have to do any programming as this is largely a “point and click” game. If you want your own server does require programming code, though. My youngest managed to do that, based on his knowledge gained from previously learning Lua.
These games are treats for the boys after working hard on their studies. I’ve even used them as part of their studies, not withstanding the learning programming code. We did a study on architecture by looking at famous buildings. We learned what the purpose of the building was, what aesthetic the architect was going for, that kind of thing. http://www.archkidecture.org
(J has been using this book to design his own Minecraft houses.)
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The boys can still play with their friends back home in Ohio and Indiana. They will get a friend on Skype with the laptop video camera and then are also able to play in their Minecraft world, via the same server. I call it “PlayDate version 2012.”
What really makes my boys happy, ecstatic, over the moon, is that LEGO took a real liking to Minecraft. It might have something to do with their very large following. LEGO has this program where you can upload a design and if you get 10,000 supporters they will put it into production. The Minecraft set met that and more. Now you can have the actual plastic brick blocks but are reallyMinecraft blocks! (Now the boys’ hobby is coming up with ideas to meet the criteria. Their father says I can mark that effort down under economics and art.)
As you can see, my kids’ passion has become computer games. But, I don’t have to let that stop me from educating my kids!