Programming with kids using LearnToMod and Minecraft

I’ve spent years experimenting with how to teach kids programming, mostly using Scratch. But now we’ve found a new favorite: LearnToMod! Kids love Minecraft, and LearnToMod is entirely based on Minecraft, so it’s a perfect match!

We now do a Mod Club every Saturday evening, my older kids (9 & 11 years old) and some of their friends. It’s basically a programming school based on LearnToMod and Minecraft programming. Reeeeaaaally fun, the kids go wild (OK, me too)! AND they learn lots while doing it. To them it’s “magic powers”, not “programming skills”.

I made a 5 minute video showing how it works:

LearnToMod provides almost 200 small programming lessons, starting from Hello World and then moving on to loops and functions and variables and all kinds of stuff. All lessons have really clear instructions and almost all of them involve something actually happening in the Minecraft world, which keeps it exciting. So kids can be pretty much self-guided, with just a little bit of support.

They use a visual programming language (Blockly, derived from Scratch). That’s great because it lets you focus on learning the program concepts, like loops and functions, without having to stumble around with detailed syntax. But since you can also see the Javascript behind the scenes, you can learn from that and write Javascript mods later. So the graphical programming is like a stepping stone (or gateway drug, if you prefer…).

As you progress you earn badges and points and other rewards, like inspiring video clips and things like that. It really does a lot to keep you going!

Last session we did a Mod Duel. The three kids got 30 minutes to prepare attack scripts against me (not allowed to use direct kill commands, but other more creative ways of attacking me, like burying me in sand or conjuring a prison cell full of monsters and teleporting me in), and I wrote defense scripts. Basically a duel where we only can use our “magic powers” (programming skills). I managed to survive one whole minute, not bad!

We’ve added another slight twist to our Mod Club sessions: a Lego house (yes, actual physical plastic bricks). Each kid has their own color, and on each completed lesson they “earn” a Lego brick in that color and use it to build on the house. That way, the house becomes a visual progress meter for the evening. This serves as a subtle reminder to keep doing the lessons and not spend the whole evening just goofing around. Goofing around is a great way to learn too, but some lessons are needed to learn new concepts (like loops, or parameterized function calls), and extend your magic powers!

Here are the kids proudly displaying their house from last session!

Kids programming

… and then back to programming:

Kids programming

Give LearnToMod a try! It works for grownups too :o)

9 responses on “Programming with kids using LearnToMod and Minecraft

  1. Thanks for sharing, Henrik! So looking forward to my daughter to grow up quickly to start programming with her. She’s 4 and a half months though, so might take a while…

    How’s the support for TDD or tests in general? I reckon the feedback loop is pretty tight already, since you check the result immediately in Minecraft. But I’m still missing the concept of tests here.

  2. Wow! getting started right now on the train 😀

    I’ve been doing some Scratch with my kids, and some JUDO to help them to learn how to write Minecraft mods eventually…

    But now they can start right away it seems! Which is all they ever wanted! Awesome!


  3. Thats really cool! Maybe we should try it here at home as well, that might could be a good way for me to learn too 😉


  4. Henrik,

    Could you explain in a little more detail how you run the Mod Duel? Is this run on the LearnToMod servers, or did you setup your own Canary server(?) with Scriptcraft installed? If it’s on LearnToMod how did everyone develop their scripts in private and then get them all loaded onto a common LearnToMod server?

    I know that you can effectively hand mods to your friends on a LearnToMod server but am not clear on how a friend would bring along their own mods.

    Anyways so far we just signed up for a single account and although there have been a few glitches, I would still recommend it as a great value.


  5. Hey,

    In learn to mod you get the blocky language and there is also a js version of the code generated. I thought it might be possible to copy & paste the js into a minecraft world directly but googling doesn’t suggest so – can you comment on how you can use the js?


  6. Hi Henrik,

    Wow, sooo cool!

    Can’t wait to try it with the kids at school!

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

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