05/17/2013 04:04 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Why I Enrolled My Kid in Computer Camp

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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 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

More Camp Talk at Common Sense Media
Camp Virtual Summer Learning Guide
Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?
14 Movies About Camp

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