Sunday, July 10, 2016

Minecraft and Children's Free Play

Early Thursday evening I sat down at a table at the Yacon Village Community Center, pulled down a book from the shelf, and just listened to the children play. Yes, I was spying on them. They were cooperating in a minecraft world. I don't really know exactly what they were doing, but listening to them led my memory back to my own childhood.

My neighborhood friends got together on Saturdays and through the summer to play games, and build forts, treehouses, and rafts. I relish those memories, and I have been saddened at times that my own children have not been able to do many of the same things. When we moved to the Albany area, we chose a rural neighborhood that we found out later had few children their age. Even if we had such children around, though, I think today's culture would not support their ability to play freely and largely unsupervised. I understand the drive to keep children safe, and I support it to some degree, but when we take it too far, it comes at a high price. Without free play, children lose opportunity to learn how to deal with people with whom they might disagree and to learn other social skills. Free play teaches them how to negotiate and how to deal with criticism.

My mind wandered back to Yacon Village and the Minecraft world. I realized something exciting: The children were free playing in Minecraft in nearly the same ways I recall my friends and I playing in the fields. Minecraft cannot provide the physical benefits of such play, but the types of interactions I heard between the children, including their conversations and decisions, were similar. 

One of the problems I see in the world today is a general lack of willingness for people to listen to and converse with those with whom they disagree. I think that the way children have been raised in recent decades has contributed to their tendency to want to be protected from differing viewpoints. Yet, I think that all is not lost for future generations. My experience listening in to Minecraft time proved to me that children can still learn to function positively.