Mom Meets Minecraft


Now that my 9-year-old son Calvin has learned how to type and use word prediction software, he has been doing his writing projects on a computer. (It has also given his parents a break from “scribing” his writing homework as we had been doing last school year due to his dyslexia.)

minecraft-windows-378084He has also discovered Minecraft.  In its very basic form, Minecraft is a computer program that allows players to build things using textured cubes in a 3D world. An article in a gaming magazine says about Minecraft: “But most impressive of all are the creations themselves: stupefying feats of digital engineering created from simple low-res cubes.”

My house that Calvin built in Minecraft

In addition to creating elaborate and intricate worlds, Calvin has also created for me a custom home glass block roof. (This has become my mental “happy place” where I visualize being teleported to whenever the need arises during a busy day :))

Sadly, a persistent, yet well-meaning, ogre named Dad plagued his worlds. You see, we only had one computer powerful enough to handle the heavy processing load such imaginative worlds demand, what with their functioning roller-coasters, transporters, pig powered justice-system and giant golden sheep.  And that one computer is Dad’s.

Golden Sheep and surrounding world Calvin built.

Golden Sheep and surrounding world Calvin built.

And while he tried to accommodate Calvin’s world-building needs, as a writer with deadlines, the Ogre…er…Dad, could sometime get grumpy to find his office chair serving as a chariot in the online melees that often ensued in Minecraft.  The challenge for this mother lay in how to appease the benevolent Ogre and the angelic child, simultaneously.

It seemed easy enough.  Get a new computer.  As an Apple family to the core, considering bringing a PC into our home was no easy task.  But since the space faring, building games and other programs Calvin was venturing into were available mostly on PCs, we decided one PC wouldn’t knock over the Apple cart.

While in Germany a few months back, Calvin’s Opa generously offered Calvin his old computer.  This has worked really well for the most part, but it tended to “lag” when playing Minecraft and other games.

So being the obsessive researcher that I am, I began to look into why.  One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was knee deep into the world of Minecraft and the world of people who adore it.  I was excited to find that I could go to a website and find what type of computational power it would take to make Minecraft work optimally.  This is what I learned:

Recommended Requirements:

  • •         CPU : Intel Pentium D or AMD Athlon 64 (K8) 2.6 GHz
  • •         RAM : 4GB
  • •         GPU : GeForce 6xxx or ATI Radeon 9xxx and up with OpenGL 2 Support (Excluding Integrated Chipsets)
  • •         HDD : 150MB

Well.  That was about as useful to me as if someone were speaking Martian.

9_logoThen I stumbled upon an on-line Minecraft forum.  As a veteran of gardening forums and “mommy-boards” where you post questions and exchange ideas, I am well accustomed to the wealth of tips, creative ideas and problems solving help available in such communities. So I signed up to become a member of

I didn’t think much of it, really.  I came up with a user name and password.  Then I struggled to figure out which of the many forum topics I should post under.  Again, much of the terminology was a bit Martian to me and I had troubles navigating where my question would fit.

So I found a generic one called question and answer.  That seemed okay to me.  So I explained that I was a mom, had a 9 year old who loved Minecraft and asked if anyone could suggest what type of PC to buy and where?  I needed one that would run Minecraft without lagging and then would also be an all around computer for school and Internet use.

Then I waited.  No immediate replies. Then I felt that awkward period where you wonder if you did something wrong and was getting shunned by the community.  You know, kind of the modern-day version of not knowing the community rules or lingo and then the existing community members rolling their eyes and figuring you are just too stupid to try to teach.

My bedroom in my Minecraft house.

My bedroom in my Minecraft house.

So I went to bed.  The next morning, I checked my query and I had a slew of replies.  My dejection the night before went to elation, as I was “worthy” of getting advice. I quickly found out that I had in fact technically posted under the wrong forum topic but by a twist of fate, it ended up being the perfect forum topic to make that mistake.  I had posted on the Q and A forum topic geared for people who have questions or technical problems about the entire website itself.

But the people who answered my question were a few former moderators and other members with a lot of experience. So I was getting some really top-level advice.  They apparently took pity on my mom-computer-ignorant-self and answered my question.

I was asked a few questions about what the computer would be used for and my budget.  The responders were commenting and replying to each other as they put their heads together to answer me.

One person suggesting that my son and I build the computer ourselves.  He said that would be best as no “big box” store could provide a custom configuration to fit our needs.  More importantly, he suggested that it would be a bonding experience with my son.  Well, that sounded kind of cool.  So I replied that this sounded like a great idea (not letting on that I was petrified at the thought but figured Calvin and his dad could figure it out with me just smiling and providing appropriate bonding support, whatever that might be.)

Next thing I knew, I was getting even more help.  They began to post ideas on configurations, debating with each other about it. Then, one of responders actually went onto another website called and created a computer for me with each part priced out from the cheapest source and all I had to do was go in and order each part.

Motherboard. My favorite component of course.  Mother.  Board.

Motherboard. My favorite component of course. Mother. Board.

Then one person posted tutorial videos that we could follow when building the computer.  Then another gave a bunch of do’s and don’ts and suggestions on building your first computer without blowing it up or getting electrocuted.

Then another person suggested a tweak to the original configuration that had been recommended as it included capacity that we probably did not really need since my son was into building type games and not the video games that require more of something else. They all decided this change in configuration would save us money.

All this help from the forum’s volunteer members was extraordinary.  So I thanked them again profusely and said I would order the computer components they came up with.

All in all, there were about eight or more people involved in this process that was completed entirely on-line through the forum with everyone posting over a period of about two days.

Art wall that Calvin created in my Minecraft house he built for me.

Art wall that Calvin created in my Minecraft house he built for me.

Naturally, I was curious about these very kind and high-level experts who made up this cool, smart and totally kind and helpful community.  As I clicked on each of their individual profiles, I was blown away. I had been dealing mostly with kids.  One was a 14 year old from Ireland, another, a 14 year old from the UK.  Another was an 18 year old from New York and a yet another was a 17 year old from Finland.  The oldest of the bunch was 22 years old and has his own computer programming business that he is working to get off the ground.

They were articulate, open and friendly. I particularly loved one part of the back and forth where they digressed into a techie discussion that I could not begin to follow. One reminded the group that they may scare of the OP (original poster: me) so they should take care to keep things in my zone.  And they did.  The high level of discussion and courtesy they gave to each other as they debated (and sometimes disagreed with) could be a model for many of us adults these days. They were all working toward a purpose (helping this non-tech mom of a 9 year old get a computer for her son). They kept their eye on solving a problem and did so together, with respect to each other and me.

With kids like this in the world, I have hope for a peaceful world.

So the computer components are ordered……a few have already arrived, so let the building begin!


Calvin’s Seeds of Wisdom #21 (and Soaring with Learning Challenges)

What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time, my then 8 year old son Calvin was at one of our public schools that we knew from the beginning was not a good fit.  It took about a month but then thanks to a number of our amazing public school officials, we were fortunate enough to be able to move him to another public school that fit him and his “learning style” from day one.

Our county has a unique cutting edge program for children who are “Twice Exceptional.”  Calvin and his peers are both highly gifted with exceptional abilities as well as having learning disabilities.  So Calvin was selected to join a class of children who are “Gifted and Talented” or GT as that term is defined by our state and county, as well as having a designated learning disability or LD. It is termed the GT/LD program.  Calvin was in second grade at the time and the GT/LD program was a combined class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders so Calvin was moved up from second grade to third grade so he could join.  In Calvin’s case, on the LD front, it is dyslexia and this made learning to read a major challenge. He also struggles with hand-writing. (We learned that Apple creator Steve Jobs had a similar profile as do many inventive and creative people.)

Here is a link to a site that discusses the Twice Exceptional or GT/LD program in our county.

(Although no child ever fits neatly into one category and I have generally rebelled against labels, I have found over the past year that finally being able to access information and services through these designations has been liberating for Calvin and us, his parents.)

Like many of his peers, Calvin’s spark for learning was beginning to dim, together with his confidence, when he found himself struggling with reading and writing when other children in the class managed these skills with apparent ease.

Soon the focus at school became on remediation, focusing on the “problem” only and not him as a whole child with both strengths and challenges.  In the process, Calvin’s ability to understand and absorb complex concepts and above-grade level material was lost in ineffective teaching methods by well meaning teachers. As parents, it was painful to watch and not understand the special education system, educational jargon and what options we had available to us.  The learning curve for us was excruciatingly steep but we were fortunate to eventually meet people who provided to us the keys to understanding what was happening.

Now that Calvin benefits from an advanced curriculum that is challenging and meets his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge, together with strategies to help him with his learning challenges (the use of technology including keyboarding and voice recognition software, books on tape, a scribe) and a talented reading teacher, Calvin is soaring, thriving and enjoys school again.

How did we know the first school was not a good fit?  Well, in addition to the daily tears and Calvin’s mantra that he just does not fit in at the school, in true Calvin fashion and in his dry sense of humor, here is what Calvin reported to us about the old school……

–They were talking about gravity and I already know all about it.  So I did not learn anything new.

–Me: “How was the classroom part?  Calvin: “It was okay.  Well, actually, it is worse than when I got strep throat.”

–“The snack is terrible and you can’t bring your own.”

–“The lunch is all chemicals and the drink is not even real juice.  It is colored water with artificial flavors.   It isn’t even healthy food.  They gave us candy!  We got smarties with sugar.”

–“The lunchroom is so crowded that everyone has to sit shoulder to shoulder and it is too crowded.  I can’t stand that.”

–“The playground is terrible and small. Why can’t they cut out the huge parking lot and make the playground better for the kids?  It’s a ghastly playground.”

–“It is old and I don’t like it.”

–“The room and halls are boring. What they have on the walls are uninspiring and uninteresting.”

–“I feel like it is a work camp.  A prison.  They have big metal fences instead of low wood fences outside.  It is like we are prisoners.”

–“I want to take over the Public Address system and play the song, “We don’t need no education.  We don’t need no mind control.”

Fast forward to this year.  In addition to Calvin happily running out to the bus that picks him up in the morning and coming home in the afternoon with lots of great stories about the day’s adventures, here is what Calvin likes about his new school:

–“I like that the halls are filled with the art that students have made.”

–“The playground is open and the only thing that prevents kids from going outside the playground are some trees unlike the old school that had nothing but asphalt.  At my new school the vast majority of the playground is a large field.”

–At my new school, they teach to my learning style and I am learning a lot.”

–“The lunch room is less crowded.”

Nurturing the Rainforest

(Credit: Ode Magazine)

The brain is a rainforest.

“People with conditions like ADHD, dyslexia and mood disorders are routinely labeled “€œdisabled”. But differences among brains are as enriching—and essential—as differences among plants and animals. Welcome to the new field of neurodiversity.”(

It will be people who have brains like my son’s who will push society forward in its limited understanding of how the brain works and beyond the deficit and disability models.They will bring society fully into understanding neurodiversity and how to nurture the whole child by recognizing that the brain is a rainforest and how we must collectively focus on the strengths and gifts (and diversity) rather than what we, in our limited views, see as disabilities. As one of my son’s doctor’s said, “Calvin will be one of the world’s great thinkers and will solve great problems.  Your job as the parent is to nurture him and get him intact through systems that are not generally set up for children like Calvin.”

Calvin has been described by a doctor as being “highly gifted.”  She went on to explain that he is “Very bright and multi-talented, superb conceptual thinker,  kind-hearted, empathetic, sweet, gentle, great sense of humor, sophisticated vocabulary, advanced common sense reasoning skills, well developed ability to generate and support logical arguments, outstanding verbal fluency.  These strengths are joined with “vulnerabilities” in language development in comparison to these outstanding conceptual and problem skills.”

“It’s called Dyslexia.”  That is the name of a children’s book that I read to Calvin tonight after we talked about the fact that he is dyslexic. We threw the word out there and then owned it. Calvin embraced that he is dyslexic. I embraced the fact that my son is dyslexic. Although we are still getting our heads wrapped around it, we are on our way. It has been a very difficult year and a half since we were first introduced to the fact that Calvin had challenges in school. Watching him struggle, battle with the knowledge that he was not able to do what others in his class could do, working to help him focus upon his strengths and consulting with his AMAZING teacher, reading specialist, director of learning services and other team members at his school to navigate what was going on in his brain, body and emotions, all the while trying to ensure his confidence and sense of self remained intact. But it was not until two weeks ago that we fully understood what it all meant. Needing to get more specificity and clarity, Calvin went through a series of neuropsychological tests and, at one end, he is highly gifted to the level that the test (for 6-16 year olds) could not test him further as he reached the 16 year old range. However, at the other end, he is dyslexic. That means he is impaired in reading, decoding, and spelling. It is a neurologically based impairment and often genetic. Estimates are that about 15% of the population have dyslexia.

Before I read the dyslexia book to him, I started to go into the politically correct explanation of how everyone has “learning styles” and how we worked with doctors to figure out his learning style. I carefully avoided the “LD” label, short for “learning disability.” I started with the predictable parental sing song tone and an explanation worthy of all the expert books on how to tell your kid he has a diagnosis. An official diagnosis. A label. (As I was saying the word “dyslexia,” I internally struggled with it because for so many purposes a label or diagnosis is “needed” (insurance, public schools to ensure help, society that often needs to categorize us, ourselves in order to grasp the challenges and find solutions, etc.) yet is totally unrelated to who Calvin is and what he is capable of. Nothing could possibly define the essence and potential of an amazing child who we knew from birth, was unique. A word cannot define a person and it cannot define Calvin.

So as I got all wrapped up on doing the right mommy thing and the internal conflict I have about labels and blah blah, in true Calvin style, Calvin cut to the chase and said to me, “stop talking about all that learning style stuff.” I could tell in his tone and look that he was in essence saying, cut the crap, give it to me straight. He ALWAYS can sense when someone is not being direct with him. I love that kid.

So I asked if he wanted the straight scientific scoop. He did. Of course he did. He LOVES science. So I gave it to him straight. I told him that he has dyslexia. At that moment, I knew I hit a cord. He was in his comfort zone. I was talking facts and science.  I explained to Calvin how it means his brain is wired a certain way that in effect makes it harder for him to learn to read and write. However, at the same time, in some neurological way that at some point science will be able to map and explain with precision, it also means he is off the charts creative, inventive, articulate, empathetic and so many other things that he blows my mind. So when he commented to me that him being dyslexic meant he was “defective” (telling me that this is in fact what he has been feeling all this year and last with the reading and writing struggles), I told him to look me in the eyes and listen to me carefully: “you are not defective.”   I went on, “Yes, your brain is wired in a way that makes reading and writing harder to learn. But this is a gift. It is a gift because for whatever reason (a reason that it will take people with brilliance like you to tell us how it all works), it also results in your extreme giftedness and creativity.”

Then I went on to read the book, “It’s Called Dyslexia.”   When we got to the part about famous people with dyslexia, I nearly cried. With each name, and explanation where he did not recognize their contribution, Calvin grew in confidence and stature. To the point where he got so excited that he literally dropped to the floor in dramatic relief (drama yes, but his way of expressing genuine emotion through and through).  Albert Einstein.  Leonardo da Vinci. Walt Disney. Beethoven.  Even Tom Cruise and Whoopi Goldberg.

After that, I pointed to the stack of books that I had just received from Amazon. I explained to Calvin that the books were all about dyslexia and we would be reading them to figure out how to support him at home.  We would also get support for him outside home. I also explained that the books had some fun games that we could play and that would help him.  I joked that I am not much fun so had to read about how to be fun.  He told me that I am  in fact fun. I said okay maybe so but I just need to learn how to be fun in a way that it will help him learn. So we are on our way…..