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.
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!”.
In other words, we are approaching the end of 2015 by having played Go on many days in a row almost without interruption. My son will be 5 years old next year, and I don’t know if his enthusiasm will continue, but one thing for sure: I’ll start teaching him the rules of Go, so that we can have realistic play. During that, I’ll continue to observe when and how he is motivated, because it is a very valuable learning experience for me. Learning what motivates a child, understanding the context, discovering the core elements of motivation etc. is very satisfying from a psychology, pedagogy, and cognitive science perspective.
Maybe one day, he will also watch and enjoy Hikaru no Go, like I did many years ago, long before he was born. And maybe one day, he will be a better player than I am, teaching me new techniques of his invention. Regardless of how our future with respect to Go or other board games unfold, I know that I had a lot of fun playing with him so far, and this will continue to be the most important thing for me, to be remembered and cherished.