Jonathan Helis

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Jonathan Helis (b. 2002 February 24) is my girlfriend's son. I am starting to teach him Go, and he's doing much better than I expected, given his age. I will be logging the progress of this experiment here. Comments are welcome. --- Migeru


2004 October 17 --- Months ago I put Johathan in front of my goban for the first time, and all he would do was dump the stones on the board. About 10 days ago I tried again on the 13x13 side of the goban, and he understood that he was meant to use the black stones only, and that we were meant to take turns placing a stone on the board. Since then we have "played a game" each day (sometimes twice, in the morning and evening). He gets very excited when I bring out the goban, and he even asks me to bring it out sometimes. I set it up, and we play until he gets distracted or the board gets too cluttered, and then we pick up. Sometimes he declares the game to be over "early" by saying "S'acabo".

The first day Jonathan would place the stones in the squares, not on the intersections, and I corrected him. But the second day he already played on the intersections on his own. Since then, he has learnt to play the first few moves on the star points and not to play on the edge of the board. When our groups meet near the edge, he will sometimes descend to the edge. I did not insist that he play that way: Jonathan is learning entirely by imitation, and he seems to be developing a rudimentary understanding of what a healthy group looks like by imitating the shapes I make in my fuseki.

I usually play on the hoshi, and then play kakari, shoulder hits or san-san to envelop his group of stones. I consciously avoid captures, because I am not sure I could explain to him what a capture is. Jonathan understands a lot, but he does not talk much (apparently boys are slower to speak than girls, and he's confused by my Spanish, his mother's Czech and the fact that we live in an English-speaking environment). Maybe I should just try to capture to see if he gets the idea, but he might get upset and spoil the entire experiment, and I am a bit wary of his reaction if I introduce the possibility of removing stones from the board. I wouldn't mind waiting for a few months to introduce captures into the game, especially until I am able to have some sort of conversation with him.

  • This is very interesting, I hope you'll keep it updating it. Best of luck!
Zarlan: Confused by encountering Spanish, Czech och english? Nah, that doesn't realy have any relevance. Maybe a little bit now that he is less then three years old, but kids learn to speak at different speeds anyway. If he doesn't talk that much, it doesn't necesarily mean that it is because he isn't all that good at it.
Kids can handle more than one language. They are exellent language learners.
My parents and siblings speak Kurdish and we live in Sweden (and a lot of my TV-watching when I was younger, was english).
I didn't have any problems worth noting.
I have some cousin though, who only learnt english, so as not to be confused. They don't know the language of their father. They are my relatives, yet I can't talk to them with my mothers tounge.

2004 October 24 --- As far as the language issue goes, my point really was that go captures would, by far, be the most abstract concept that Jonathan would have ever encountered. He uses simple verb-noun pairs, but everything he can communicate about is very concrete, almost physiological (although he recently discovered "astronomy": sky, sun, moon and "ztarz").

Johathan's enthusiasm for the game is still high: he threw a tantrum on Wednesday because I had to go to work early and didn't have time to play with him after breakfast. I, on the other hand, have had to moderate the enthusiasm that motivated me to create this page, as Jonathan seems to have less patience with the game now than he used to. He'll usually declare the game over after move 6! Today I managed to extract 14-moves from him by not allowing him to pick up the stones. Here is the game as I remember it (we play on the 13x13 side of my goban, which has only 5 star points):

[Diagram]
Jonathan v. Migeru (moves 1-10)  
[Diagram]
Jonathan v. Migeru (moves 11-14)  
  • Coconuts: That's pretty impressive! Hope to see more ;)

2005 February 5 --- I have been on the move (literally: from California to England) for the last two months, so I have not been able to visit Sensei's Library, as well as having my goban packed away for most of this time. Anyway, on Wednesday I finally unpacked the board, and yesterday (Friday) Jonathan saw it and immediately demanded (in his own happy way) to have a game. He carried the bowls from the bedroom to the living room, and I carried the board.

The most amazing thing about the two games we played is that Jonathan graduated to the 19x19 board. I had no part in this: he complained when I lay the board with the 13x13 side facing up, and was happy only when I turned it over. His attention span had improved, too, and we managed to play a 30-move game without me having to insist on playing on. Unfortunately, I didn't record the game. I'll try to do that in the coming days.

We played two games in the morning and one in the evening. He also played a game with a beginner friend whom I am teaching, but my friend is obviously not used to playing a 3-year old, so the game looked very random.


Migeru, I thought maybe you had forgotton your page. This is truly interesting, please keep at it!

P7A77: I agree, please do not neglet this page! I hope everything's okay with your girlfriend.

Tas: Please give us an update! It's been almost half a year now. Is he still playing go? It's so exciting, dont't stop.


2005 August 14 --- By popular demand... I have not been updating this because there has not been much to report. Jonathan's play became more chaotic after the game with my friend. When I feel optimistic I interpret this as him expressing himself more instead of just aping me. Late in April he started going to a day nursery full-time, and he was both too excited about his new activities and too exhausted after a whole day at school to play Go. He recently went on a 5-week vacation with his mother while I stayed in London, so we didn't get to play. Yesterday, however, we played again very briefly. Here's how it went.

I had taken my go stones to work to help set up a club there, and as we finally bought a set of stones I was able to bring the stones back home on Friday evening. I had put both bowls on a 13x13 board I have, and the whole set was on the living room table. In the morning, the first thing Jonathan did when he came into the living room was to point at the Go set and exclaim "play it!". So we did. He quickly got distracted again, and I had to leave early (to take part in a go tournament, as chance had it) so I didn't pursue it further.

I won 3 out of 3 games at Epsom so I brought home a little trophy decorated with a san-san joseki. This morning I showed it to Jonathan and he wanted to have it for himself. A while later I heard a commotion back in the living room, where Jonathan had spilled one of the bowls of stones while trying to bring down the 13x13 go set from the table to the floor. I helped him set up the set, and he seemed to want to reconstruct the joseki on the board (with no success, I may add, although he did lay down a large U-shaped group). Later on he saw the mug I got at the tournament, decorated with the first 14 moves of a 9x9 game. He pointed at the black stones and said to my girlfriend "this is Joni"; then he pointed at the white stones and said "this is Tata". So there you have it: his enthusiasm hasn't waned even if his "skill" is not picking up.

At the tournament I bought the short book Go as Communication, which is really interesting and made me think that it's about time I introduce Jonathan to the game of first-capture Go. We'll see about that.

P.S. You may find it alternatively amusing or cruel, but I have also (in 2004 as well) introduced Jonathan to Tangram, which he calls "triangles". I have the commercial game "Tangoes" which comes with two sets of tiles, red and blue, so that allows each of us to have a set and play side by side. Initially he would just like to watch me do the puzzles and he would play with his tiles. Nowadays Jonathan is still not able to do any puzzles, but he can complete a square and likes making his own shapes. He's also not as interested in seeing me do general puzzles, as there is one particular "bridge" shape that he likes and so he insists that I make that one.

P.P.S. Here is a game we played this evening.

[Diagram]
Jonathan vs. Migeru (moves 3-12)  

JuhoP (August 14, 2005): Nice to hear about your experiences. I have also started teaching go to my now 3-year-old son (born June 2002). He also learned, about a year ago, the basics quite easily, like playing on the intersections, taking turns, playing only black stones, not moving stones after putting them down etc. (This does not mean that he often wants to play by the rules for more than 3 minutes). He spontaneously started putting 9 handicap stones down when we start a game, because he likes playing on the hoshi points. In my [ext] Finnish wiki page I have a record of a 19x19 game I played with him some time ago (I did give him some hints there, namely how to pull a stone out of atari and how to capture one of my stones). I have started to teach him how to capture stones, hoping to play real atari-go some day. If I put some stones in atari and ask how to capture them, he usually gets it right on the first or second try. He then yells happily: 'Now they are surrounded! Now they are taken away!'


2005 September 12 --- The last few times I have tried to play with Jonathan, he has started to hold the stones "properly" between the index and middle fingers. He thinks it is a really funny thing to do, especially when his fingers slip and the stone shoots away at high speed.


2005 November 6 --- Here's the final position of a game we played today. Jonathan insisted on taking white.

[Diagram]
Migeru vs. Jonathan  

At this point he said "play again".

He has a lot of fun holding the stones "properly".


2006 August 10

[Diagram]
Migeru v. Jonathan (moves 3-12)  

Today, after a long hiatus, I played go with Jonathan again. I started by explaining to him how to capture ('eat') a stone. He liked the idea. Then we played a game.

As you can see, Jonathan plays really well for a 4-and-a-half-year-old. I don't really understand why, as I haven't really explained anything to him by way of strategy, tactics, or even rules. He does hold the stones properly, more or less. It is amazing what children can learn purely by imitation.

At move 12 (W10) he fails to see W8 is in atari, but plays a locally good move on the lower edge.

[Diagram]
Migeru v. Jonathan (moves 13-22)  

After one more move at the marked point, the game ended (time for dinner, plus Jonathan was getting distracted and preferred to play with the stones in the bowls).


Anonymous - I'm currently teaching my 4 1/2 year old brother to play go. After no more than a dozen 13x13 games he completely understands atari, corners first, how to approach, basic life and death(as in need two eyes, but no real planning for it until he's reminded that he's getting boxed in). I find it incredible how quickly they really can grasp the rules and even basic strategy. I'm really, really curious whether Jonathan is still playing and continued on as well as he started.


Jonathan Helis last edited by 24.220.96.141 on February 5, 2012 - 17:31
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