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Happy Friday the 13th! I thought today we could learn about one of the kids' favorite past times. Minecraft. It's like a giant virtual, interactive lego set.

Minecraft is a game that looks very familiar to us who used to play video games in the 80's because it's done in the '8 bit' style of graphics. But Minecraft is more than just running around kicking turtles or swinging over pits. In Minecraft you land on a world, and you can build on that world, defeat zombies and other creatures, raise a herd of sheep or chickens, ride on a pig, build a house.. or a replica of an ancient Egyptian city, mine for resources and make new creations, help villagers, defeat dragons, or many many other things. You can also create "mods" or modifications for the game, making your own designs. There are several "Dr. Who Mods" out for it, for example.

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Schools are even using Minecraft as educational tools.

New Los Angeles Charter School used it to found and build their own civilization:

"That was a project where the kids, in groups, had to work together to survive without starving or running out of a food supply," said teacher Dan Thalkar, "and then slowly build their own society and civilization with all of the aspects that actual civilizations have."

"Minecraft is useful in the classroom because you can use it for pretty much anything you want," Thalkar said. "That’s the beauty of the way the game was designed and how open ended it is. If you want to use it for something for math or for science you can, either just by using the game itself or by modifying it."

Thalkar and other teachers are beginning to use Minecraft to teach concepts in math, science and the humanities. They can use the blocks to teach scale and breed virtual bees to teach genetics. The game can be used to create electrical circuits and complex machines, which can then be used to teach about concepts in electrical engineering. Students can also create and then trade goods, which is one way to teach about concepts in economics.

Kids can also use the game to learn and improve social skills, interact with friends, and create videos to teach other kids new things in the game, or just for fun. My son, Draco and his best friend who goes by "Penguinken9" made this shortly before Penguinken left for bootcamp for the Airforce:

The one you hear laughing at first then saying "let's kill it with fire" is Draco of course. He had a cold at the time, so his voice is rough. He said to make sure to tell you he doesn't usually sound like that LOL. His favorite part comes at around 19:25 when he's mining and accidentally digs below his own feet falling into a cave beneath... which happens to be filled with zombies. They have a lot of fun playing the game together, and of course making youtube videos.

Bit loves to play as well, though her play is quite a bit different from Draco and his friend. Bit watches a Minecraft video blogger called iHasCupQuake who creates these ornate houses and worlds, and explains how to do the same.

She's more into creating a home stead and civilization, helping villagers, and crafting objects than the boys are. She likes to play Minecraft and read her audio books at the same time, because it doesn't require a disk to play. She had a lot of fun reading "Little House on the Prairie" and building her house at the same time they were building theirs.

This game allows so much versatility in how you play and what you do with it that I know families with 4 year olds who play, and grandparents that play. It can be used to teach, to learn and hone social skills, to demonstrate knowledge of ancient civilizations, to learn about farming and biology, and just to have fun either alone or with friends. You can play Minecraft for free, but to get the full benefits you do have to buy it. It's $27 for a lifetime membership with no other fees to play, so the cost is extremely reasonable. Both of our kids got their own membership for Christmas last year, and they play it daily.

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