A kid has to start somewhere (before going full 3D printing)

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A few weeks before my son turned five, we were sitting at home, I enjoying some technical stuff on my laptop, he playing with his toys. You know when your kid is very silent, either something bad is happening, or, in rare cases, he’s up to something not so bad at all.

The cause of silence turned out to be the following representation of his favorite topic nowadays: dinosaurs.

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It reminded me of the days I had so much playing with similar material (though of definitely lower quality): Observing the physical universe around you, making generalizations, creating abstractions, forming concepts in your mind, then using those to create something physical, using your hands, guided by your brain. The joy, the pleasure, the satisfaction that follows it. Shaping a piece of elastic material, with not many constraints other than imposed by the molecular structure of it coupled with the one of your brain. More

A kid has to know his musical clocks and automata: Museum Speelklok in Utrecht

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A few years ago, I was in Utrecht for a project meeting, and I’ve seen signs of a “Museum Speelklok” (see its official web site in English). Even though I was curious about it, I didn’t have much time and had to head back to Belgium. Fast forward a few years: few weeks ago, April, 2016, we planned a short trip to the Netherlands, and Utrecht was part of the plan. So I said to my 4-year-old: Time to explore kiddo! More

Multilingual children: when worlds and words collide

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It is one thing reading academic papers and books about multilingual children, and a very different thing experiencing it yourself when having a conversation with your 4-year-old son.

For example, after a few years of exposure to Turkish and Dutch, he comes up with a sentence such as

Dinozor is nog büyüker dan kamyon.

Thinking about how he combines Dutch and Turkish grammar, it is not difficult at all to see how he arrives at such a funny-sounding but constrained-by-both-languages-therefore-predictable result:

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How to describe the concept of zero to a 4-year-old?

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Two days ago, I and my 4-year-old son were having a great time together when he suddenly asked: “Daddy, what is zero?” Right in the middle of heavy physical play activity, I took a deep breath, and started to think about how I can describe the number zero to my son. The conversation went like the following: More

Playing the ancient game of Go with my son

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It was probably 1-1.5 years ago when my then-3-year-old son pointed at the Go board standing vertically at the topmost shelf of our library, and said something like “Dad, I want to play.” This was a curious moment for me because my son never saw me play Go before, and I doubt that he came across children playing Go in the cartoons he watched on TV or iPad; after all he was barely 3 years old! Therefore, I had no idea how he made a connection with an empty Go board standing very high up, almost touching the ceiling and the concept of ‘playing a game’. He also did not see me or his mother playing chess, or any other board game for that matter. (Interestingly enough, I think it was a few months before we lost the legendary player Go Seigen, and the year I watched the movie about his life, The Go Master.)

Our first try at a game of Go went as expected: His concentration did not last for more than 5-6 minutes, did not care for my warnings that he should only place one stone at a time, wait for me, wait for his turn, do not disturb the stones, etc. In other words, it was a very short experience, but a memorable one nevertheless. After that day, I have decided to never mention the game of Go again, just to see whether he’d be interested in the game again. A few months passed without his ever looking at the Go board, and he also never saw me playing Go. But one day, he pointed at that Go board again, and insisted that we ‘play’. Yet another brief experience with some frustration for both of us, together with some funny moments, ending with my saying “No! Slowly! Put the stones back in their bowls… according to their colors… please!” Then a few weeks without Go at all, and another brief, similar experience. I thought this was all there is to it, for at least few more years.

go

Fast forward to today: About 2 weeks ago, my son, now about 4.5 years old, pointed his finger at… Yes you guessed it. This time, I’ve decided to see if he was ready for the real thing; I wanted to stretch his limits, so I went for the full board, 19×19 game, a pseudo-game actually, where we placed the stones on the board, each of us waiting for his turn, and trying to make it as realistic as possible with my guidance. During some moves, I saw how excited he was, literally thrilled, shaking with enthusiasm as I was making comments such as “Aha! I see what you are planning there!”, “Hmm, I have to think for a while how to counter that!”. When my son looked at the almost full board, and asked “who won?”, I have realized that almost 45 minutes passed without any of us having realized! I still have no idea how he managed to stay concentrated for almost an hour (including putting stones back into their bowls, carrying the board back, etc.). The real surprise came the day after that, next evening he wanted to play Go again, but he said he wanted it to last shorter because it was almost dinner time. So we played on a 9×9 board, with the same enthusiasm. It lasted about 15 minutes. Next evening, another match. This continued without interruption every evening since then, up until we left home for some winter holidays. When we came back home, it was almost his bedtime but he did not want to go to sleep, because… “first, let’s play Go!”. More

A kid has to know his trains

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Trains have been humming and connecting the cities of Belgium since 1835, and today, we had the opportunity to witness this 180 years old history of trains in the wonderful museum of Train World in Schaarbeek.  The recently opened museum, right next to the beautiful Schaarbeek train station, turned out to be a delight to the eyes and minds of the visitors. Belgium, being the first country to run trains in continental Europe, had a lot of engineering and transportation treasures to show us.  Our 4-year-old son could not hide his excitement; running from one locomotive to another, exploring various types of train cars, jumping on some of them, observing many old clocks and gadgets, as well as being dazzled by one of the most beautiful and alive model train scenery,  he wanted to see more and more and until his little legs started to feel really tired.

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There are a lot of surprises, for children as well as for adults, nerds, and geeks alike, and I don’t want to spoil the fun by talking about all the details. Careful observers will need to be prepared for a time travel, and a lot of energy: even if you want to take a tour quickly, it’ll take you 1.5 to 2 hours to explore this big museum. Train enthusiasts will spend at least 3 to 4 hours, and will probably cherish every minute of it. You can even get your hands (and shirts, if you’re not very careful, but who can accuse you, after all that excitement anyway?) dirty, if you touch some parts of the trains. You might, just like I and my son did, carry that oily dirt as a badge of honor, and postpone washing your hands until you exit the museum, only to have a delicious break at the cafeteria of the train station, which, by the way, will continue to mesmerize you with its aesthetics, and keep the feeling of time travel to a great extent.

This was our first visit to this great museum, but I don’t think it will be our last.

A kid has to pick his apples

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Last week, we shared a first with our son: our first and biggest apple picking day in a huge apple farm. In other words, we participated in Appelplukdag 2015. The event had been organized in Mierhoopweg, Wijer-Nieuwerkerken region, and it took us about 1 hour of relaxed driving on a late Sunday morning. During the final moments of our drive, the scenery made us think we were figures in a painting depicting a pastoral scene. When we arrived at the apple (and pear) farm, we saw a huge crowd; hundreds, if not thousands, of cars, slowly being guided by young people to an available parking spot. After you left your car, you had a few choices: take a slow walk on a narrow lane to reach the main event, wait for a big tractor and its attached cart and jump on it, or, leave the nostalgia and get on the horse cart drawn by strong Belgian horses.

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