With technology skills becoming as important as readin’, ritin’ and ’rithmetic in today's digital world, many parents want to ensure that their children develop the right skills for the future. But many don’t know where to begin and how to make learning tech skills fun for their kids.

A new online course, “Server design 1,” is using one of the most popular video games ever – Minecraft, which has more than 100 million registered users and has been a hit among younger players – to teach code to children between 8 and 14. The course teaches kids how to create a Minecraft world that they develop and design themselves using Java code. 

This is the latest online course designed by Youth Digital, a technology education organization whose mission is to “create creators” by teaching children how to code, develop apps and design 3D modeling in a fun but challenging manner. 

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“What’s so great about tech ed is that it really has the ability to shift the way kids see the world and change the way they interact with technology, which is obviously a huge part of their world and will continue to be as they grow up,” says Justin Richards, Youth Digital’s founder and CEO. 

He said his approach is to get kids motivated by “learning how to make something that they are actually excited about.” But while young people want to make apps and videogames, the resources often aren’t there, he said.

“If you ask children, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to make an app this summer? Or create a videogame? Or a fashion collection? Or a Minecraft mod?’ almost across the board kids would say ‘yes.’”

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“Server design 1” allows players to design servers that will let them define the rules of their Minecraft experience from the ground up. It provides students with other motivators, like course badges, coins and funny videos that reward learning, but “ultimately it’s that intrinsic motivation around wanting to create their own video game that motivates them,” Richards said.

Just ask Ronan Boyarski, a 10-year-old student from Virginia who is enrolled in the course.

“I loved learning about how to code in Minecraft,” Ronan said. “It opened up all sorts of new possibilities for me … Youth Digital really showed me what I wanted to do with my life. I really wanted to become a game designer, because once I started coding, I loved it.”

For $250 a year, students can expect to learn coding in Java and basic programming concepts. If students get stuck, they can type in a message to teachers who are ready to assist. The course includes access to a Java server, curriculum, tools and hosting with Youth Digital.

Youth Digital’s other online courses include 3D Animation, App Design and even Fashion Design. It also has summer camp programs in cities across the East Coast.

“We don’t just teach them how to do one thing and how to use the product,” Richards says. “We are really trying as a product to teach them how they can explore and how this is just the start of years potentially of digital creation before they get to college.”