Last Monday morning, rightly or wrongly, I was immensely proud of my 9 yo son, Michael as I dropped him off to the Academy of Interactive Arts in Watson for a Minecraft Movie Maker course over two days.
Michael is a geek through and through and has always been a challenge to get interested in anything that doesn't involve a screen. He's not lazy per se, but it's difficult to motivate him to do homework and get him in involved in other activities. Like most young boys, his passion is technology, and as a techie person myself, I'm very proud of that.
He's not bad academically, he's social and he's popular. He's just not that interested in things outside of the 27inch iMac or 5th gen iPod Touch that are never far from his reach. Games-wise, he'll play anything, but his passion is Minecraft.
So, when it comes to the school holidays and appropriate extra curricular activities its always a bit of a battle...
A few weeks ago, I came across a program in the US where kids went away on 'geek camps' during their school vacations. The camp involved staying in a dorm at a university or similar for a week and then learning to program part of the time and then playing Minecraft for much of the rest. Despite Michael's resistance to traditional camps and being away from home and the family, when I flagged the idea of something like this with him one afternoon Netherlands way home from school, he was beside himself and more or less begging me to sign him up. Having disappointed him with the fact that we weren't going to be sending him to the States for a week to play Minecraft, I began to look around for similar program's (much) closer to home.
As far as I could see there aren't any go-somewhere-and-camp type programs in Australia, but there are short courses offered in the holidays. Speaking with a friend one breakfast about my wanting Michael to be a part of something like that, Jamie mentioned that a friend of his had enrolled his kids in some sort of short day program during the school holidays offered by the Academy of Interactive Entertainment through their Watson, ACT campus.
The programs offered are available for kids from 7 upwards and aren't all Minecraft-based. At first glance, all the Minecraft courses we pitched at the older kids (11-15) which was an initial blow, but a call to AIE confirmed that the age was more of a guide rather than a hard and fast rule, and that younger kids wild be considered, based on experience. Michael's dedicated Minecraft career has spanned several years to date and I'd consider his skills to be, um...'advanced'.
We got him booked in on a two day Minecraft Movie Maker course and he could barely sleep with anticipation. Dropping him off, he was super excited, although still a little wary of joining a class of kids much older that he didn't know. We signed in and walked him into the kid-filled lab, which is normally used for teaching 3D game programming, where all the machines were being imaged with a new environment supporting Minecraft. He walked in, sat down at a spare machine sandwiched between two other geeks, started clicking away and I don't think he looked back to see me leave.
Collecting him that afternoon, he was disappointed to see me - on account of the fact that he was waging some massive battle with kids across the room.
It wasn't just playing games. The main thrust of the course was to direct a movie set in a Minecraft world. Ideas for a plot were workshopped and the whole thing was planned out on the first day along with construction of the 'set'. The world had been overrun by zombies (naturally) and so a pirate blimp world had to be created several hundred feet up. The construction was filmed and then on day two, the scenario was played out and recorded. The teachers edited the whole thing together with appropriately majestic music and the finished product looked great. (I'll post here when I get back home)
At the end of the two days he left seeming a little down after the high of the two days of fun with his people, pining for the next school holidays where he hopes to get into a course again. I think it was worth every penny to see the level of enjoyment and satisfaction he got out of it. Between now and the next holidays, I'll be investigating other similar options for him. I'm keen to get him more involved in the developing side of things moreso than the playing side, but baby steps...
I'm not sre what else is out there along a similar vane in Australia, but I think there's a massive business opportunity for someone to start a camp-style Minecraft/development course for young kids who share this passion. There's no shortage of demand Maybe some kind of evergreen course that runs on weekends, rather than just in the school holidays. If anyone knows of anything...please let me know. ;)