Time Management

How Minecraft Teaches Kids Time Management

Pixel art of mountains and a Toggl logo

It’s never too soon to start working on a good habit. Teaching your kids time management early on can help them tremendously in the future. I also think learning should be fun. How would you react if I said Minecraft is the perfect time management learning tool?

Your first reaction might be “hang on a minute – computer games waste time! How are they supposed to help teach time management!?”

I know it might sound strange at first, but please, bear with me.

For those of you that don’t know – Minecraft is a sandbox-style computer game set in an open world environment, which the players can modify in any way they wish, encountering both friendly and hostile creatures along the way. Chances are you’ve heard this brief before, given that Minecraft is one of the biggest selling games ever made (and was recently bought up by Microsoft for a whopping 2.5 billion USD).

The educational benefits of Minecraft have been widely talked about. Beyond developing creativity, the game also has lessons on programming, project planning, math and even geology. Educators around the globe have picked up on this and these days, Minecraft is being used far beyond its original entertainment value. Take this example of using the game to create famous landmarks to aid in learning history lessons.

And so on, and so on.

OK, but how the hell does Minecraft teach time management!?

The game is built around a very specific core rhythm, with one Minecraft day divided into a more-or-less equal daytime and nighttime sections.

Changes in this cycle have a dramatic effect on the gameplay.

When the sun’s up, players can roam the surface of the world in relative safety, gathering building materials, tending to their animals and otherwise exploring the great outdoors. But come sunset, players have to find shelter – because during the night, monsters appear.

minecraft creeper

This pixelated blob is the scariest thing you will ever know.

Taking time into account when planning one’s in-game activities is a crucial part of Minecraft.

Given that the various projects people undertake in the game tend to be rather time consuming, time and project management plays a big part in how players go about interacting with the world.

To illustrate this idea, I’ll use my own game as an example (and this is totally not an excuse to play computer games at the office).

This is how I break down my Minecraft days:

1. Safe for work daytime

Minecraft daytime characteristics

This is me harvesting corn so I can breed more cows for meat. The scene is calm, and you can almost hear me whistling as I casually go about the work. I am calm, because I know the sun is up, and I can move around the outdoors without the fear of a zombie attack.

I use the daylight hours to handle tasks that require me to be out in the open, and to explore the boundaries of the map in scouting out new resources. But I have to keep an eye on the sun, because I can’t venture too far from my house. I have to be back before nightfall.

Because once the sun sets, it’s not safe anymore.

minecraft creeper

He waits.

When you’re working outdoors, planning your journeys is crucial. Luckily, there is no need for guesswork as the sun in the sky is a good indication of how much time you’ve got left to return to a safe place.

2. Unholy nighttime of terror

minecraft night characteristics

Once the sun has set, monsters start to appear in any unlit part of the Minecraft world – including the hitherto safe surface.

I spend the nights in the epic mines under my house. The various natural underground caves and caverns are teeming with monsters regardless of time of day, but when I stick to my well-lit mining shafts, I am safe from the heart-attack inducing creeper sneak attacks.

The only downside of being in the mine is that you can’t see the sun, and therefore have no way of telling if it’s safe to go outside again. Sure, you could go and look…

minecraft creeper

But f**k no.

Why would I want to know the exact time?

When you’re building something big, you need to be efficient in order to get as much done as possible in the precious limited free time you have (that is, unless you’re unemployed). I can do my mining whenever, but collecting timber and other resources on the surface has to be done within the confines of the daylight minutes.

And as they say, “the early bird gets the worm” – the sooner you get outside, the more time you have to explore, harvest and build.

I want to be out the door the second the burning zombies hit the ground – especially since I have a taste for mahogany, and the redwoods are a long walk from the house. Being a fairly industrious Minecraft player, I usually have a few chicken coops to tend to as well.

Man, Minecraft really sounds like work when you spell it out like that.

Learning to manage Minecraft time.

Fine, maybe calling it work is a stretch, but playing Minecraft does require a lot of real-life everyday skills.

I’m focusing on time management here, and a big part of that is planning. In order to avoid any nasty surprises, needless fighting and unnecessary death, you have to schedule your movements and tasks around the rules dictated by the game’s universe. As for kids, it teaches them to answer two basic management questions. The questions are as follows:

  1. Scheduling – Kids will have to estimate the duration of tasks. They have to answer the question of how much of what can I fit into the allocated time frame?
  2. Prioritizing – They’ll have to answer the question of which tasks do I have to complete before anything else, given that time is a limited resource?

Do these questions sound familiar? That’s because they are two big questions that we as adults have to deal with every day.

Minecraft is great as it forces kids to deal with these questions at an early age. It has powerful motivation to do so – remember that no gamer ever enjoyed running back and forth between places for no compelling reason.

Building good habits with Minecraft

Good work discipline isn’t just about asking the right questions. As humans, we are creatures of habit. Habits are the autopilot for your body. They allow us to outsource routine observations so we can focus on the important things.

Minecraft is great for building a habitual understanding of time. Since the concept of time is not something we’re naturally great at, building an acquired sense of the passing of time is extremely useful.

For example, after spending a few nights in the mines digging for coal, I start getting a pretty good sense of how long I’ve been underground. The more nights I spend down there, the better I get at coming back to the surface at the right time. Even as I’m focused on an activity (and mining is surprisingly mesmerizing), my body starts telling me when it’s time to go back outside.

In a sense, Minecraft’s rhythm helps me fine-tune my internal clock to match our concept of time.

Cool, so what now, I just give my child the game, or…?

It’s not just about making them play Minecraft. To learn a time routine, your kid would have to have something motivating them.

Minecraft has a monster-free “creative mode”. This is great if you just want to encourage a child to express and practise their creativity.

Time management wise, “survival mode” works better. In the latter, players run the risk of being attacked by monsters if they don’t mind their environment. The risk of being attacked (and possibly losing one’s items as a result) is a pretty good argument in favour of carefully planning your steps.

But there’s another crucial component to teaching time management with Minecraft – you also have to set limits to how much time a child can spend on playing the game.

This isn’t just for keeping them from becoming gaming addicts. If kids know there is an overarching time limit to how much they can do in the game on any give day, they’ll have to factor in their allowed computer time. This means they won’t just have to cope with the game’s mechanics, but they’ll have to keep in mind the big picture.

So go ahead, let your kids play – this might just be the most devilishly sneaky way of getting your kids to learn adult-stuff.

Just don’t forget the most important time management lesson while they’re at it – closing the game every now and then.

Learning adult stuff doesn’t have to be boring – let parents know and share this article on Twitter!

Full disclosure – I’m not a parent yet. If you have kids and have your own take on this, please let us know in the comments!

March 18, 2015