Minecraft Guide for Parents

Wyoming Bones in Minecraft
Wyoming Bones in one of his many Minecraft Adventures

Minecraft Lingo

So your kid (or grandkid, niece, nephew, spouse, etc) has started playing Minecraft. That's great! Minecraft is a fantastic game, especially for letting kids explore their creativity in a healthy way. In survival or adventure mode (Don't worry- I'll explain what those mean in a bit!), kids can also experience risks, deal with defeats, and celebrate victories. But I'm certain you've noticed that Minecraft comes with its own lingo. Your kid is probably talking about Mobs, or Googlies, or pretending to build a wall to defend from Illagers.

But what does any of that mean?

Don't worry! Minecraft might have some strange terms, but I've written this handy guide to get you up to speed on some of the more confusing Minecraft specific words. Think of it as a Minecraft to Parent Dictionary.


Lets start with the basics. What is Minecraft? Minecraft is a video game that started out as basically Digital Legos, and that is all it was for the first little bit. Just like in Lego, you had different color blocks that you could build with. And just like with Lego, joy came from simply building cool creations.

Minecraft now has three different game modes- different ways to play the game.

The first is Creative Mode. Creative mode is a lot like the original Minecraft- you have access to every block in the game and can build, and break, anything you want, while flying everywhere. This is my kids' favorite mode, which I can understand. I loved playing with Legos as a kid, and playing in Creative Mode feels a lot like that. Just a kid and their imagination. This type of game is also called a "sandbox" game, because it allows you to go in and build your own world.

The second is Survival Mode, and is the default game mode in Minecraft. This mode limits your abilities in a lot of ways, but those limits provide much of the fun of the game mode. You have health and can die in Survival mode (although that is not permanent- you come back in a few seconds, usually without your items and back at a home base "spawn point"). Also, you have to find and gather every block you want to build with, which gives you a reason to explore the world as you hunt down rare building materials.

The third is Adventure Mode, which is a lot like Survival Mode, except you can't break or build any blocks. This is excellent for playing through an adventure someone else has designed, where the ability to just cut your way into the Evil Castle would make solving the puzzle a little too easy.

Building Blocks - Common Minecraft Words

Building Blocks. Get it? Because Minecraft?

Common Minecraft Blocks

Block- Everything in the world of Minecraft is made from Blocks. The trees are made from Wood blocks and Leaf blocks. The top layer of the ground is usually Grass blocks. Under that, you'll commonly find some kind of Stone block. There are more than a hundred different types of blocks in Minecraft, and more are added all the time. Each one represents a 1 meter cube of material. Most Blocks can be gathered by breaking them- when a Block breaks, it can be picked up by the player and placed down somewhere else to build with it.

Different Minecraft Biomes

Biome- The world of Minecraft is full of different types of lands to explore, from hot, sandy deserts, to frigid tundra, and lush jungles. Each of those different areas is made up of different Blocks, and has different Mobs that Spawn there.

Pretty mountain arch in Minecraft

Seed- Every new world of Minecraft is procedurally generated, and exploring them is a lot of fun. No two worlds are alike... Unless, that is, they share the same Seed. A Seed is a string of random letters and/or numbers that you can enter in the settings at the setup of that world, and it is used for the basis of the world generation. If you have a world you enjoyed playing in and want to share with your friends, you can just give them that Seed code, and they can play in a copy of the same world.

Minecraft Skins

Skin- Players of Minecraft can put on a new skin whenever they want, which is not as creepy as it sounds! Skins are just how a player looks in the game, and are pretty easy to change. They allow the player to customize their faces, clothes, skin color, etc.

Mobs - Minecraft Creatures

Minecraft Zombie

Mob- Also known as Monsters or Googlies, Mob is the common term for the bad guys that try and get you as you are exploring, mining, or building in Minecraft. Technically, Mob stands for "Mobile Entity", and is anything in the game that has an AI (Artificial Intelligence) controlling it so it can pretend to be alive. Or, in the case of monsters like the Zombie (that green thing to the left), pretend to be Undead. Because of that, even friendly things like Villagers or Cows are actually Mobs.

Minecraft Creeper

Creeper- One of the most dreaded Mobs in Minecraft, the Creeper is one of the few bad guys that can destroy the things you have worked so hard to build. And unlike Zombies and Skeletons, Creepers don't burn up in the daylight, so they might still be waiting outside your door when you leave your house. Also unlike most of the other Mobs, the Creeper is silent when it is sneaking up on you, only letting out its telltale hiss when it is about to explode!

Minecraft Villager

Villager- A peaceful Mob, Villagers live in villages that are scattered around the land of Minecraft. They can be traded with for rare blocks and items, but they aren't great at conversation- most of the time they just grunt.

Minecraft Illager with crossbow

Illager- These are basically bad villagers. They rove around the world of Minecraft in little groups, and if you pick up one of their banners after defeating them, you can summon a raid on a village when you enter it. Raids are events that summon waves of illagers to try and destroy the village, and its up to the player to stop them! If successful, the player can gain some valuable items.

Always more to discover

This short list is only scratching the surface. I hope it gives you a basic understanding of some of the terms you might here your kid use, now that they are playing Minecraft. Let me know in the comments if I missed a term you think should have made the list!

Portuguese Water Dogs, A Kid's Best Friend

Mellow the Portuguese Water Dog
Mellow, our 4 month old Portuguese Water Dog

Every Kid Needs a Dog

Our family likes animals. We currently have six English Angora rabbits (I really should put up some pictures of those adorable fluff balls), three chickens (there were more, but some evil creature of the night has been raiding our flock), and two cats. Despite all of these fine furred and feathered companions, our kids have been begging us for months to get them a dog.

Conveniently, the dog that we've been waiting for since before we were married happened to come available in the middle of those begging months. So, by the time the begging got particularly pleading (there was a birthday conveniently placed that they hoped would give them leverage), we were able to tell them "Maybe....someday....we'll see", all while knowing that a surprise was on its way from Alto Mare PWD's.

Meet Mellow- our four and a half month old Portuguese Water Dog. (You can read more about this breed on their Wikipedia page here.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the breed, Portuguese Water Dogs (which I will be shortening to PWD- that is a finger-full to type!) are a highly intelligent breed that is closely related to the Standard Poodle. They are a bit stouter, more muscular, and less refined then a poodle though, and it is pretty easy to tell them apart. Like the poodle, the PWD has hair instead of fur, so they don't have nearly the shedding problem that most dog breeds have.

While the hair thing is nice, my favorite thing about PWD's is their excellent temperament. They are known for being loving, gentle, and patient, and that is something I've seen in my own experience with the breed. This is actually the third PWD I've had in my life, and they have all been fantastic.

A Working Dog

The Portuguese Water Dog breed has a fascinating history that impacts their behavior to this day. They were bred by Portuguese fishermen to help out on their boats. They would swim out to herd fish into the fishermen's nets, to retrieve lost tackle, or to send messages between ships. I've heard that they were also used to detect the presence of sharks in the water- if the dog refused to jump in, that meant there was something deadly below the boat!

Because of that history, the breed is a bit different than most. Instead of chasing cats, squirrels, or birds, PWD's love to chase fish! The dog we had growing up would jump in the pond while we were on walks and try to catch any fish she could see. They have webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers, and they love to play in the water. We had a pool, and I'd watch her take a couple laps, then race around the yard, before hopping back into the pool. It was like some kind of aquatic zoomies.

A Family Dog Breed

My grandparents, on my mother's side, were in the dog business. They started out with Cocker Spaniels, but by the time I came around they had switched over to Portuguese Water Dogs. When I started begging for a dog as a young boy, my parents got us a PWD named Maggie. Maggie was already a Grand Champion by the time we got her, so I missed out on the puppy experience, but she was the best dog a boy could ask for.

My younger sister was only a toddler at the time, and I got to witness the PWD's legendary patience first hand as my sister used her for a pillow, a horse, or a trampoline.

Because Maggie was a Grand Champion, we also got to experience two litters of puppies with Maggie. Those are some of my favorite memories from my youth, and ones I hope my kids will get to experience with Mellow. In the meantime, we're enjoying this toddler/preschooler puppy phase that I didn't get to experience growing up.

Mellow and her stick
Mellow and her best friend Stick

Mellow, a Good Dog

We've had Mellow for a week as of today, and she is already a welcome addition to the family. She's still young, and so not quite house broken, but the kids love to play with her. She sees my wife as the alpha running the pack (she isn't wrong), and has learned, though not yet mastered, "settle down" and "leave it".

An interesting trait of PWD's is that they choose one human to bond with - possibly from their history from working with one fisherman on a boat. In Mellow's case, that person is my wife. Mellow will listen to anything my wife says, but pretty much just ignores me.

We'll work on that.

So far, the puppy is getting along great with everyone... Except the cats. They are starting to learn that she just wants to play though, so we have good hopes for their future relationship.

We are enjoying having Mellow so much, that now I am thinking that maybe Wyoming Bones should have a dog. Or maybe Blurble counts as one. Or maybe Blurble should get the dog. What do you think?

Rocket Launches, an Amazing Adventure

Blue Origin successfully launches New Shepherd 22 into space

Go For Launch

On August 4th, at around 9am Central Time, my wife and kids sat in front of our TV and watched the rocket launch of the 22nd launch of the New Shepherd rocket. This was also the 6th human flight of the New Shepherd, and the first launch I've watched since coming to work at my current job. I watched from the crowded comfort of our company's Great Room, but my wife sent me lots of updates, so I got to enjoy my kids' excitement as much as I enjoyed my co-workers'.

I got to watch as Blue Origin launched 6 new astronauts into space, including Coby Cotton from the Dude Perfect Youtube channel, and know that I helped them get there.

I've been in the rocket business for a while now, and I have to say: Rocket launches are my absolute favorite part.

Not only because of the excitement of the launch, but because it's a rare time that I get to share my job with my kids. They get a real kick out of seeing rockets launch up into space, and its even more exciting for them knowing that their dad helped build it.

Why I Go to Work

My eldest daughter has been telling me, since she first started talking, "I wish home could be your work." She didn't understand why her dad had to stop playing with her and leave for most of each day. I tried to explain about money, and food, and having a place to sleep, but noooo. Those weren't good enough reasons for my little princess.

And then she watched the first rocket I helped build launch into space, and that reason she could understand. She still wants me to stay home and play, but she settles for getting to enjoy more rocket launches.

I'll count that as a win.

The Dad part of me wishes I could just stay home with my kids too. Maybe get some time to write more Wyoming Bones, or play a game with the family. But the Space Geek in me is humbled to be living a dream come true, getting to help build rockets that carry things like this into space:

Solar Orbiter attached to a Centaur III upper stage, after launching on an Atlas V.
The Solar Orbiter, attached to a Centaur III upper stage, after launching on top of an Atlas V rocket

I love my job. I almost always love my job. But Launch Days are when I really, really, really love my job.

Tabletop Gaming with Kids

Amazing Tales Game Book
Amazing Tales game system, by Martin Lloyd

Family Game Time

One of the nerdier hobbies my wife and I share is tabletop gaming. We played our first game together early in our marriage with other young married couples. The next campaign, we took turns passing a baby back and forth. With each added child, it became more and more challenging to coordinate schedules, kid interruptions, and find understanding players. 

But tabletop gaming is still something we feel is important recreation in our family. It brings opportunities to imagine and create adventure, even while living a less-adventurous adult life. And I’m not alone in seeing the value of escapism and team-building of this role-playing games - their popularity has risen sharply in recent years, making them much more mainstream than they were in my own childhood. 

Dungeons and Dragons (our current campaign is in 5th Edition, for any curious fellow-nerds) is excellent for us grown up gamers craving some complication and strong structure, but is pretty far out of reach for kid players.

By the same token, the un-structured pretend play of kids with its open-ended storytelling tends to bore the adults. Somehow when I end up playing pirates (or knights and dragons, or superheroes, or ninjas) with my kids, it always seems to develop into me halfheartedly trailing along behind them through the house, my eyepatch or knight helmet or superhero mask flipped up so that I can scroll aimlessly on my phone while they carry on the story without me: “And then pretend I hit the dragon, and then pretend the dragon died, and then pretend I went on my horse, and then pretend I rode all the way to the ocean, and then pretend I fought a sea monster, and then pretend the sea monster died, and then pretend I got on a pirate ship, and then pretend I was a Knight Pirate, and then pretend……

While my brain quickly loses interest in “and then pretend” adventures, I still wanted to explore imagined worlds with my kids. The opportunity to be creators instead of consumers, to create a world in our minds and explore it instead of letting a book or a screen feed us a story, was something I looked forward to sharing with them….someday. 

Which is why we were so excited to discover Amazing Tales, a tabletop role playing game system geared towards kids. You can pick up a copy here. We aren’t affiliated with them, just really big fans. 

Simple System, Limitless Adventure

Here’s how the game works. 

You as the game master talk with the players, the kids or any one else that wants to play, about what kind of adventure they want to play. Then you help them make their characters- which can be pretty much anything, from a fairy to a space alien. They name them and spend some time drawing what they look like, and then they get to choose four different things their characters are good at. Then you help them choose to assign a dice, from a four sided dice all the way up to a twelve sided dice, to each ability.

An example character from a recent game:

Nina the Unikitty with Wings
Nina the Unikitty with Wings. No, I don't know where the wings are.

Name: Nina the Unikitty with Wings

Biting / Scratching: d8
Doing Magic: d12
Cuddling: d6
Flying: d10

Once you have the characters set up, you tell them the starting scenario, like they are lost in a fairy forest and need to take a book to the library, and ask them what they want to do. When they get to a challenge, you ask them how they want to solve the problem using one of their abilities. So, say they found a Big Troll on the forest path, how can they get past it? Nina the Unitkitty with Wings could try Biting it, and roll a d8. Or she could try casting a spell on it, and roll a d12. (Knowing the actual player of Nina, I think she would actually try Cuddling the troll, and roll a d6 instead.)

Then you see how well they rolled, and you make up what happened and the story continues.

The game is simple enough to play, almost any age can join in. I’d say as soon as they’re old enough to know that the colorful dice may look like candy, but aren’t actually candy, they’re good to go. Our youngest is not yet good to go. Our gaming sessions these days seem to be about 70% playing, 25% guarding our dice piles as cautiously as a dragon guards their hoard of jewels from a warlock, and 5% fishing those jewels out of this baby warlock’s cheeks. 

D&D Dice for Tabletop Gaming with Kids
A typical set of tabletop gaming dice, with various numbers of sides, from a D4 (4 sided) to a D20 (20 sided). Don't they look delicious?

Through Amazing Tales our whole family has been able to go on many adventures right in our dining room. The book offers great frameworks and jumping off points for many different scenarios, but also establishes rules for creating the adventure yourself, which is what our family usually chooses to do. We’ve adventured in enchanted fairy forests, a sultan’s palace with an evil genie, and even to outer space on a rocket. A favorite was a Haloweeny game my spooky-inclined wife spearheaded, in which we played as a group of Trick-or-Treaters who needed to escape a haunted house, but had also been turned into the creatures they dressed up as for Halloween. 

The only limits to your adventures are your own imagination! And if you hit a wall there, ask your kids where they want to go on their next journey. They’re a wealth of great ideas. 

Wyoming Bones the Tabletop Adventure

Our most recent Amazing Tale has taken us into the world of Wyoming Bones, a favorite place for our family to explore. I thought I was smartly creating a way to do some world-building, generate some new story ideas for book #6, and spend time with my family. Brilliant. 

To circumvent the initial challenge of all the kids wanting to play as a main character from the book (I’ll give you three guesses which one), I created a scenario where Wyoming, Leila, and Blurble had disappeared, and it was up to our new adventurers to find them. With them each needing to create a new, original character, my plan was in place to avoid any tears over who would play as who. 

Many tears later, they each had created not-quite original green slime characters. With some work I did manage to convince them not to just give them the names of Blurble or Blurble 2. By far my favorite is the character my older son is playing: 

Bloopoming Bloop the slime
Bloopoming Bloop the Slime Adventurer

Meet Bloopoming Bloop, a little green slime with a dashing fedora hat and a penchant for adventure and puzzle solving. Fully original? Perhaps not. Fully adorable? 100% 

The value of tabletop gaming in our family as an activity we can share in is hard to measure. Team building, problem solving, imagined worlds, and most importantly, fun, all come together to bring us  together. 

What are some of the activities you do as a family to find adventure? Tell me about it in the comments!

The Importance of Adventure

A little girl goes on an adventure
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova, because I'm not that good with a camera.

The other morning was a bit hectic. I'm sure you've all had mornings like it, at least if you have little kids. My wife had left early for a meeting at church, and I was running late getting out the door with the four kids. I sent the three oldest out to the garage while I swept the littlest one up to run after them...

Only to find out, with my first deep breath, that she definitely needed a diaper change. Being the good dad I am, I didn't even think a little bit about letting her sit in it until we got to church. No siree, not even for a second. Okay, maybe for half a second, but the point is that I didn't actually let her wait until church to get a clean diaper.

I get points.

It's a good thing I didn't wait, because when I went to change her, poop was everywhere. A complete wardrobe change for my littlest was required, and she's at this super fun stage where she thinks changing clothes is a great time to wrestle.

I tell you all of this to explain that this was not a quick diaper detour. I hurried as fast as I could with the mess I had to deal with, but it was still several minutes before I got out to the garage, where I was certain I would find my big kids fighting, complaining, or just plain boooooooored.

Instead, when I finally got out there, I saw my eldest examining the garage door carefully, running her fingers over its cobwebbed (probably ought to get those swept up sometime) surface. Right before I pressed the garage door button, I heard her say, "Hmm... I think I've solved the puzzle!"

And then her two younger brothers both cheered as the ancient temple's secret door rumbled open in front of them.

My kids hadn't been bored in a hot, dusty, and cluttered garage. No, they had been going on an adventure, exploring an ancient ruin, just like one of the heroes in their favorite stories. (I asked her later what they had been playing- Apparently the boys were both Tarzan, and she had been the princess.)

Kids Need Adventure

More than just a way to not get bored, adventures are an important part of the childhood experience. Through adventures, kids get to be heroes and save the day, make decisions, and take risks. Adventures send thrills through our brains, letting us feel alive and in charge.

They can also help children realize how much risk is right for them, emotionally and physically. Through adventure, kids can test their limits.

Adventures, and the risks they come with, can also help us deal with loss and pain. My oldest boy just broke his wrist from adventuring just a little too much. But, now he he gets to show off the brace the doctor put on him, so he's getting a blast out of the experience anyway.

Exploration Through Reading

It's important to experience adventures, and we are hardwired to go and seek them, especially when young. But is putting ourselves, and our breakable wrists, in harm's way the only option to experience the thrill of discovery?

While we should look for safe ways to let our kids experience and overcome challenges personally, they can get the same kind of thrill from good stories. Books, whether read by a parent or by the young reader themselves, can transport a kid on amazing adventures. Through their pages, our kids can ride on the broom stick of a witch (as long as there is Room on the Broom, of course), fight (or befriend) a dragon, or explore an ancient, lost city.

Books have always been one of my very favorite ways of adventuring, a love my mom fostered in me by reading the Trixie Belden books to me as a little kid.

Trixie Belden, The Mystery of the Velvet Gown
They were more thrilling than they look

It's a love I am trying to give my own kids, reading them books like Patricia C. Wrede's The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Or my own Wyoming Bones series.

Books are a favorite avenue to adventure in our family. We also like camping, road trips, and amusement parks, but I'm a homebody at heart. And books let me stay right here at home!

What are some of your favorite ways to go on an adventure with your kids?