By Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media contributor
Whenever I try making summer plans with my 9-year-old daughter, she balks at the idea of camps, telling me she just wants to "laze around." But because both my husband and I work at home during the summer, I need to find something to fill at least a few hours each day. And I finally found a camp that I know she'd love.
Unfortunately -- for nature-loving me -- it's a week-long Minecraft camp.
Are your kids also obsessed with this ultra-popular, sandbox-style video game? Minecraft involves building structures with blocks... and blowing them up with TNT. Personally, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, but she and her friends -- and my husband, truthfully -- can spend hours playing if I let them. And then more hours talking about the cool stuff they built and/or blew up.
To me, sitting around playing computer games in a business park doesn't sound like a summer camp -- especially because we live in Santa Cruz County, where the are plenty of camps offering horseback riding in the mountains and swimming in the actual ocean, where you also might see an actual dolphin playing nearby.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are things she can experience at Minecraft camp that she can't get at a traditional camp. So here's why I finally signed her up:
- I want my daughter to feel at home in the tech world. Research indicates positive associations between the so-called "STEM" fields -- science, technology, engineering and math -- and girls' self-esteem, confidence, and academic achievement. But according to the New York Times, women currently earn only 12 percent of computer science degrees. Going to a tech camp, even if it's focused on video games, is a good way to keep her experimenting with technology and just generally feeling comfortable being herself amongst a techie crowd.
- I want her to work on team building. A lot of parents worry that video games are anti-social. And if my daughter wanted to sit around playing a first-person shooter all summer long, I really would have to say no. But Minecraft can be collaborative. Even Common Sense Media's review points out that Minecraft's "option to work with others on larger building projects can help kids develop collaboration skills." My daughter doesn't really like playing organized team sports, which can be pretty competitive from a young age around here, so I do need to find other places where she can work with other kids and problem solve in a group.
- I want her to follow her passions. My daughter's interests don't always line up with my own: I'm often surprised by the clothes she chooses to wear or the movies and books she falls in love with. But I try to support her choices as much as possible so she feels confident carving out her own identity. Right now, she's passionate about Minecraft, and signing her up for a camp which still fits with our family's schedule and budget reminds both of us that summer is time for her try new things and follow her own curiosity. It's a time for her to figure out who she is, away from me and her small school setting.
- I know I can use it as a bribe. Nearly 10 years of parenting has taught me to pretty much never do anything unless it earns leverage. I made signing up for Minecraft camp contingent upon two things:
- She also has to sign up for a week of video game design at the same camp, so I know that she'll earn some creative tech-spertise.
- She had to promise to ride her bike to camp or do something active each day. This really got to the heart of my concern with Minecraft camp, because sedentary lifestyles have been linked to all kinds of problems, including heart disease and obesity.
We already shook on it: She says that if I let her "laze away" at camp, she'll actually sweat each day, too. Not the way I pictured summer, but I guess it works.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.