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.

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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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Space Expo @ Brussels

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We had a great time at Space Expo in Brussels this weekend. I wish I was a kid again and run from one space artifact and simulator to another for hours (though I’ll never understand his being scared of Space Shuttle landing simulator (I had so much fun :) )). We also considered going to German Aerospace Day at Cologne, but considering the tempo of a 4-year-old, decided to postpone it to his 6th year, that is 2017. But taking into account his enthusiasm, maybe our next stop will be Euro Space Center.

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Close Encounters of the Bookish Kind – Boekenbeurs 2014

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It’s this time of the year again: The Antwerp Book Fair, in other words Boekenbeurs, in its 2014 edition, becomes the center of Antwerp for 10 days. And who are we to complain? Now that he is 3 years old, our son is much more aware of the books and he had a great time selecting books and other things for himself. We couldn’t believe that he walked from one hall to another for about 2 hours, never saying he was tired :-)

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My impressions of 3P – Positive Parenting Program

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We participated in an interesting session at Onafhankelijk Ziekenfonds building a few days ago, together with about 25 parents: Triple P – Positive Parenting Program (see this website for material in English). I’m glad to have participated because the speaker was very well prepared, and talked about simple and very practical principles that can be applied to everyday situations with our child and his friends. She was very dynamic and lively, and she showed videos of her child to illustrate when and how some of those principles make sense. Moreover, even though the session was in Dutch, I was able to understand more than 90% of what she said and even took some notes.

What I realized was that most of the principles and examples made sense from the perspective of cognitive science and brain development. Of course, not everything can be applied to every child in every circumstance, and the speaker was well aware of that, she was not shy in answering difficult questions from the parents with kids at various ages. I definitely want to attend the next session and learn more about this. I know applying the lessons learned is easier said than done, but I know I’ll try harder as a parent.

Below is a set of photos taken during the session:

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Do we really want a data driven education system and are we ready to pay the price?

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finland-vs.-united-states-2009-pisa-results-from-ncee.orgWe are only a few months away from 2015 and even though my three-year-old son is yet to start the ‘serious’ part of his education, I cannot help but wonder what kind of a mental experience he will have during the next 15-20 years. According to the newspapers we are almost drowning in the world of abundant data, big data, so to say, but leaving aside the latest trends and buzzwords, are we really making the best use of our capabilities to enhance, deepen and widen the learning experience of our children?

For example, take this very interesting article from The Washington Post: “Homework: An unnecessary evil? … Surprising findings from new research“. The main point of the article, that there is no correlation between homework and grades, as well as test scores, flies very much agaist the traditional educational patterns, isn’t it? But then I would expect very careful, data driven analyses from people who would argue against the findings discussed in the article. Shall I get such a treatment? I doubt so, because as usual, relying on ‘common sense’ is almost always easier than the painstaking scientific approach and as we all come to expect, experimenting on humans, especially toying with the education practices of children is a very sensitive area, it is always the children that bear the real costs, good or bad. Having said that, I cannot keep myself from thinking that if so much computing power cannot help us with a scientific and data driven approach to enhancing education, then what will? More

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