Robots and other Favorite Things

Recently, a volunteer, Wen Kai, who built a registration site for a Chan retreat organization helped me navigate the new and somewhat “unconventional” website. I was so grateful at the end, but Wen Kai humbly said he is “only an IT” (he meditated for more than ten years). “Only an IT” is something I heard often–that represents underappreciated status of geeky people in our lives. The husband who gets unappreciative call whenever the router broke? The programmer who has always been a contract staff because his manager believes all he does is a “simple matter of programming?” The computer nerd whose parents thought he should go and make “real” friends? The Pokemon players whose friend thought they ought to sit down instead of walking about! We need to appreciate geeky people and respect technologies a lot more! And this is a value I will pass to my children.

Since I blogged about my adventure of introducing robots to my kids (, so many things happened–we got board games, Hexbugs, and table-top adventure games! I always thought Zenn, 6, would receive these interests better, but Hugh never ceased to surprise us as the emerging geek in the house!

Hexbug! Hexbugs are a joy to watch, even for adults and cats! The basic Hexbugs are non-programmable robot insects which move according to preset logic. They avoid obstacles and navigate around mazes and tracks players set up. And oh they make you watch a long time. Even though Hugh loves watching Hexbug, there is no programming options for the robots except (I think) for more complex models. Perhaps this is why while Hexbug has the “wow” factor, the factor wears off, and Hugh has been asking for Dash and Dot a little more. Hexbugs are always visible in their play area though, and Hugh asked for the re-configurable habitat which dad hasn’t quite get to.

Board games. Seriously, which geek had never played board games? I first suggested board games  to my wife Lee Peng may be a year ago. We started with “Busy, Busy Airport,” “Cat in the Hat, I can do that!,” and “Busy Town, Eye Found It.” All were hits! We played these may once a few weeks. And both boys liked “Busy Town, Eye Found It” best. And the game requires simple counting which helps their maths development. Until mom found a “platinum” hit, “Sum Swamp”! It is a board game requiring players to move by doing simple dice operation–plus or minus 1 to 12. It remains difficult for Hugh (who counts much in the same way as the gully dwarf Bupu. Well, sorry geeky me, nevermind 🙂 ), but Hugh just keeps trying!

Table top adventure game. If you know what this is, you got to be an old geek. And I, the ancient sorcerer have been introducing Dungeons and Dragons to students of my general computer game class in which many expressed dismay at its complexity. I love these table top adventures, rather than the hack and slash computer versions kids nowadays tend to play; because there is so much flexibility and skills involved in mastering these games. For example, our boys went to speech and drama classes, and we love these classes which encouraged the children to pretend play, and also explaining to others, role-playing at the same time, how they would behave in various kinds of situations. Table top adventure has this element, and in fact, role-playing is a central part of D&D. Apart from that, D&D makes use of dice mechanics to determine outcome (maths), game rules to determine permissible actions (logic), and story telling to explain situations in a vivid way (language).

The two boys are too young for full-fledged dungeoneering (their dad would love that). So I started with a simplified game world known as Hero Kids. If Zenn has not yet fancied the board games and robots, he has been asking for “adventure games” nearly everyday since! And Hugh loves it just as much. (Go my little heroes!) This rekindled my passion in D&D so much I recently picked up my dusty Dragonlance books, and picked up other nearly discarded “tomes” and figurines from my fellow hero Kah Yong. For now, when the next opportunity arise, I got two more adventures waiting for them. 🙂

Dash and Dot (update). Dash and Dot doesn’t have the initial wow factor, but its programmability may yet extend its shelf live as kids age and develop more complex thinking. First, it is probably the most expensive among the arsenal of geeky things I contemplated buying. But alas, and after the initial fun (as I have blogged before), I was afraid it was going to collect dust on my TV console. Hugh was two when I bought it on Christmas 2013, and Zenn did not explicitly ask for it but only once a long while. However, recently, Hugh, now 4, rekindled his interests and actively asked to “play robot” from mom almost weekly. What is interesting is Hugh has been focusing on making the robot do things through the Wonder app, and Path app. Wonder provides a series of gamified programming tasks, and he can simply drag and drop lines indicating the sequence of how the program will be activated (or going into loops). The robot can sing, dance, and do silly moves. Path is more direct at this–and Hugh would trace a path which the robot will move and perform. I love seeing how Hugh get exciting in “teaching robot do things.” He has difficulties solving any tasks that contain loops or more than 3 functions. But at his age, its the fun and empowerment to doing that counts.

So far, we did all these geeky things at home by ourselves. We have not yet found any commercial classes, or school activities they could participate in with other kids. But no fear, geeky parents! With these artifacts galore, I think it is wonderful time for kids to grow up with technologies.