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Books Education Events and Life

Learning to code and the argument for bribing our kids to read

My wife and I are avid readers and I suspect our daughter will also be one. She loves it when we read to her and she has started reading library books to herself. Our son, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be that keen on reading most of the books I find for me. On the other hand, he seems to be very interested in learning to code.

Our son’s introduction to coding

I’ve been teaching myself Python (2.7.x if you are curious). I picked Python because it is one of two languages that people seem to recommend for coding newbies. The other is PHP. It may not be the easiest language to learn but I thought I have to start somewhere and it seems to be a good language to know.

I don’t remember who recommended it but I bought the book, “Learn Python the Hard Way“, and I’ve been working through it. I scheduled time to learn using Google Calendar’s Goals feature and did another exercise this morning involving prompts.

Learning to code in Python

The exercise involved creating a pretty basic script and I showed what I had done to my son. He loved it and immediately wanted to know if he could also start working through the book.

The book is a bit too complex for him so I got him started with Code.org tutorials on his PC. He has already completed a few basic exercises using a visual, block-based interface for learning Javascript.

Like many kids, he is a Minecraft nut and I have a feeling the Minecraft mod classes on Tynker might be great for him.

Persuading him to read too

My challenge, though, is that he needs to spend time reading books too, particularly in Hebrew. He is in a Hebrew language school and while he is largely bilingual, his Hebrew is weaker than the kids in his class because he has only been speaking Hebrew for just over 2 years.

He enjoys reading Hebrew graphic novels and often re-reads his favourites. He just isn’t that interested in novels and gives up soon after starting a book. On the one hand, I’m happy for him to read graphic novels because he is at least reading something. On the other hand, he needs more variety in what he’s reading or he won’t learn new words and different writing styles.

Another option is to find different books. He is interested in the Second World War so I’ll look for age appropriate books about WW2 when I am next at the library.

It also doesn’t help that his Hebrew is stronger than mine because I can’t help him all that much when he encounters new words. He is also probably reluctant to ask me about words he doesn’t understand because he doesn’t think I’ll understand them either (he’s probably correct although I look up words I don’t understand).
The thing is, reading is as important as ever.

It’s all very well that kids can access much of human knowledge with whichever device they happen to have in their pockets at the time. Unfortunately, they typically use those connected, pocket computers to play Clash Royale and go hunt Pokemons (is that the correct term?) instead of expanding their knowledge of the world around them.

If kids don’t read, they won’t expand their language skills as much and be able to express themselves more effectively. Reading also stimulates their imaginations and that fuels their creativity.

Bribery and extortion as parenting skills

The things kids do on their devices is fun, sure. I certainly spent as much time as I could playing with the distant ancestors of our kids’ devices but they weren’t as pervasive back in the 1980s.

These days we have to limit the time our kids spend on their devices or we just don’t see them over the weekend. They spend their time watching superficial YouTube videos (even on YouTube Kids which our daughter uses).

Thankfully, the devices they use tend to run out of charge after a couple hours and that ends their device time for the day. After that they tend to play with each other or, as the weather improves, head out to the park to play now and then.

I have a feeling that linking his new interest in learning to code with encouraging him to read more may be the way to go. In the time-honoured tradition of parents bribing and extorting their kids to do things that are good for them, I may resort to requiring reading time in exchange for more coding time. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Speaking of which, what do you do? How do you get your kids to read more in this digital age we’re living in?

Featured image credit: Andrew Branch

Categories
Books Film Writing

The NeverEnding Story finally makes sense to me

I watched The NeverEnding Story when I was a child and I loved the movie. I remember it as being a movie that fanned my passion for reading and boy did I read as a child although, ironically, I’m not sure if I read the book too. I was one of those children who was reading a year or two ahead of the rest of the class. Mostly this was because I spent so much time in the school library.

The NeverEnding Story was one of my childhood favourites. If you don’t remember the story, it involves a terrible threat to the fantasy land of Fantasia (yes, that is the name) and a quest to save this land. At the same time, this is no ordinary quest. The whole thing is a story in a book read by our protagonist, Bastian.

It is a very “meta” story that, as I realised when I watched it with my children tonight, is the literary equivalent of “turtles all the way down”. I think I superficially understood the notion of a boy’s imagination creating whole worlds (that, in turn, were filled with beings whose imaginations created more worlds) when I first watched the movie.

That notion only really made sense to me this evening, partly with Neil Gaiman’s help. I’m currently reading his new book, “The View from the Cheap Seats”. I read something he said about the role of fiction authors and how they tell stories, on the train this afternoon. This part caught my attention, mostly because of his source code analogy:

We don’t give them the people or the places or the emotions. What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use to build the book themselves.

The combination of Gaiman’s quote and watching The NeverEnding Story from an adult’s perspective brought it all together for me. It only took me about 30 years to catch on.

At the risk of stating the obvious (bear with me, I seem to be a bit slow with this one):

  • The story Bastian reads, also called The NeverEnding Story, is, essentially, the same story we watch play out in the movie.
  • The story itself is just an arrangement of words and it requires the reader’s imagination to breathe life into this “raw code” and create the mystical world of Fantasia (or the not-so-mystical world of early 1980s America).
  • When we stop using our imaginations and reading fiction, the story’s Nothing starts erasing our fantasy constructs.
  • To rebuild these fantasy worlds, all you need is your imagination, plugged into a story of some kind.

This whole thing was a little too Inception for our son. At the same time, both kids finished off the movie on a real buzz. Our son grabbed a book on his way to bed and I found him reading it when I finally put him to sleep.

The movie is more than a little dated, for sure. But the story left our kids excited about books and stories, just as it left me excited about my next book when I watched it about 30 years ago. That is a win to me.

Image credit: The NeverEnding Story by ThiagoFragosso, licensed CC BY-ND 3.0

Categories
Books

Will these libraries appeal to our kids in a digital future?

I noticed this post on Facebook about 6 buildings that are helping to redefine libraries. I wonder: will these libraries appeal to our kids as much as the more traditional libraries in our cities appealed to us when we were young and lacked the digital devices our kids have?

In an age when Google can replace much of the information-gathering duties librarians once shouldered, libraries need to rethink how they can best serve their users.

Posted by Co.Design on Sunday, April 12, 2015

I remember spending hours in libraries in my hometown and taking piles of books out for 2 weeks at a time. At some point I just stopped visiting libraries and now, when I think about new books to read, I don’t think about visiting a library, I decide between the Amazon Kindle store and the Apple iBooks store.

Categories
Travel and places

Quiet tea and something to read

Enjoying some quiet time in our hotel room at the Tsogo Sun Silverstar Hotel with some reading material and tea.

Categories
Miscellany

What are you reading lately?

I typically have a few books on the go at a given point in time and it takes me a long time to get through any particular book. These are the books I’m working through lately. What are you reading?