A kid has to start the 1st grade

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I still remember the first days of excitement and challenges when he started preschool 3.5 years ago, just when he was about 2.5 years old. It was not easy at all, both for him and us. The time flied, he became six years old a few months ago, and he started the first grade on 1st of September, 2017.

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It is impossible to miss the behavioral changes after his experience with his new teacher and classroom (and luckily same old and good friends from his preschool days). He seems more exhausted in the evenings, talks much more about what they did during the school day, and more relaxed in a sense. He also started to speak a lot of Turkish, his weaker second language, and I appreciate all of his efforts. I can still hear the stress patterns as well as grammatical inheritance of Dutch in his Turkish, but compared to six months ago, his performance improved a lot and everyone else started to notice (check out “Multilingual children: when worlds and words collide” if you want to read about some entertaining examples). Another change, maybe more subtle started to become visible in his drawings: his focus is still on violent and very big dinosaurs and all sorts of Godzilla figures, but he started to draw other animals (still violently killing each other) but in more detail and with more complex compositions and patterns. One such pattern is, almost recursive and space-filling, if I may say so: almost the same dinosaur, repeated in smaller sizes and placed in the remaining empty spaces on the paper, filling it in intricate patterns. (I can remember what I drew when I was six: crude stick figures, the simplest house, a few clouds, and the simplest sun; he certainly didn’t get his drawing skills from me 🙂

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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

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.

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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

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

What will be the future of education in Belgium?

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grafiekenHaving a 3-year-old son makes me think about the future of education in Belgium. I try to keep an informed perspective, though it is difficult to be an optimist after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“. In this short blog entry, I wanted to take note of some recent facts, so that I might refer to them, maybe 15-20 years from now, when my son goes to university.

Fact 1: In 2014, there is an electrified debate regarding the raise in tuition fees for universities. For more information you can read “UGent valt verhoging inschrijvingsgeld aan” and “Wentel besparingen niet af op studenten“. Even though there is still visible and vocal opposition against putting students in a position where they will graduate with a lot of debt, the genie is already out of the bottle, and people who control the mainstream media continue to support discussions over this issue. More

Multilingual Families: Valuable online resources for families raising multi-lingual children

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Ton Koenraad, a former colleague of mine during PTVELL project, has recently informed me about a project whose website contains valuable resources for multilingual families. The project’s name is unsurprisingly “Multilingual Families”, and its website is located at http://www.multilingual-families.eu.

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As a father who is raising his child in a multi-lingual environment, such projects always draw my attention. For me, the most valuable and interesting parts of the project’s web site are “for parents” section, “self-access guide for parents“, and “29 activities to support multilingualism at home“.

I hope the project’s web site will also prove to be useful for other families that are trying to raise children in a multi-lingual environment.

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