YouTube is extending my 8 year old’s vocabulary

A faggot of wood
I’m as guilty as the next parent for letting electronic devices do a little free babysitting for me while I knuckle down and catch up on the housework or sleep. And over the last few years I have noticed a gradual shift in what my son likes to do with screen-based entertainment. Currently, it seems it’s less about playing games and more about using YouTube to watch other people play games.

And for the most part it been an okay deal. My son was into watching The Diamond Minecart, who is aware a lot of his audience comprises people under the age of ten, as opposed to SkyDoesMinecraft, who has saltier language than a sailor at the annual “Get Ya Salt Out” salty language competition.

But then two things happened. Because of the general disruption of loud YouTubing at 7am on a Saturday morning when I do some intense catching up on checking the inside of my eyelids for leaks, my son started watching YouTube on the iPad with headphones. Combined with this was the feature of YouTube videos ending with a list of recommendations, not really knowing who the viewing audience actually is.

So I was a little taken aback last night when, in tucking him off to bed having brushed teeth and done stories, he asked me “Dad, what’s a faggot?”

Admittedly, I wasn’t too surprised, as the previous week he asked what “teabagging” was.

My mind went in two different ways. Of course there was the obligatory “What an incredibly irresponsible father I am and need to immediately turn myself in to child protection services” mantra, which, after years of chewing at the back of my mind is getting easier to subdue. The second direction was “What do I tell him?”

Although my private life tends to be a thin tissue of lies that seem alright at the time but later becomes a raging awkward social monster that I have to deal with while cursing myself for not telling the truth in the first place, when it comes to my son I have always tried to be honest. This began when he was quite young when I refused to baby my language for him. That isn’t a “birdie”; it’s a “peacock”. We’re not in a “brum brum”; I’m driving a “car”. Don’t call that a “monster”; it’s “The great and terrible Cthulhu who waits dreaming in his house at R’lyeh”. It’s gratifying years later when he sometimes pulls out words that are three syllables or longer in general conversation, and I can barely contain my pride.

So I began by asking where he had heard it. And, yes, it was a Let’s Play of a computer game on YouTube. “You’re a faggot, Harry,” was the context. I took a deep breath, and plunged in.

“A faggot…” I began. I outlined that for a long time in our society, people who identify as gay have been seen with fear and/or loathing. As such, there are bad names for gay, and faggot is one of them. And people sometimes call each other faggot as an insult. And that faggot was once a word meaning “bundle of sticks”.

Actually, it was less like a lecture and more like a conversation. He was initially frightened that he had done something wrong, but was engaged with listening to me. When I told him faggot used to have a different meaning, he chimed in to say that he knew gay once meant happy. Ultimately, I want him to understand that the world of words is a large and powerful place. To use a word like faggot as an insult is also demeaning to a whole group of people. I told him I didn’t want him using that word, and he agreed. We also agreed to have a longer conversation about some of the things he’s watching on the Tube of Yous.

My instinct is to not shy away from difficult moments with “Uh, I’ll tell you when you’re older,” and instead engage them head on now with the intention to build a social responsible young man who might be able to one day engage with his peers in telling them that faggot is not an appropriate word to use unless they are collecting firewood. My son is going to engage with media in places where I don’t have direct control over it, and being open to his questions about what he has seen and heard is the first step in helping provide a framework for understanding the greater world out there. I want him to be polite and socially responsibly, and most importantly, know who Cthulhu is.

Cornflour Slime + Music

I had seen this particular demo going about on YouTube for a while, but it wasn’t until we tried it for a holiday program that I wanted to investigate it further.

The idea is that the cornflour is a non-Newtonian fluid; that is, it does not behave like a classical fluid, ie, water. It instead changes its consistency depending on the forces acting on it. At times it can flow and ooze. Other times it can feel and act like a solid.

Pour the mixture into a sound speaker, and find the right percussive action, and you get all kinds of spectacular behaviour.

Cornflour Slime in a Speaker!

You and Me versus Zombies 015

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

My son’s brain is a sponge. From the time he was a bunch of multiplying cells somewhere deep inside his mother, there was a feedback circuit developing. Stimuli coming from taps, prods, even singing from his mother and I through developing nerve endings into his crysalis. Nothing develops in a vaccuum. Every prod is turned into information somewhere in his growing nervous system, and tucked away in the fanning matrix of neurons which would be later wrapped in flesh and bone that we kiss and gaze adoringly at.

As such, I am careful what I feed into that matrix.

For instance: Sam doesn’t need to see the postman.

I cuddle him and give him back the lollypop. He sucks at it while coming down off his energetic bawl, now and then gasping for air.

“Home time,” I whisper.

Cut yourself open!

Tonight after school, I sliced open Gabe.

Actually, we made fake wounds. We made fake flesh by mixing flour and water into a dough, and mixing it with coffee for skin tone. I attached it to his arm using Vaseline, smearing the edges down with more Vaseline so that it was a swollen lump on his arm.

I then ran a bread knife through the middle, gashing it open like a large wound.

We made blood using chocolate sauce (the Paris Hilton of chocolate sauces: thick and rich) mixed with red food dye.

I dribbled it down through his fake wound, letting gravity drag droplets naturally down his arm.

All the while we talked about types of blood (venous and arterial) and other things that lie beneath the skin.

And the results:

Oh, the agony!
Oh! The agony!

It really hurts dada!It really hurts, dada!

Actually, it tastes like chocolate…

I give this after-school activity two thumbs up!
Two thumbs up!

Gabe unleashes his inner Lucas.

It started on Tuesday morning when Gabe wondered how you got a LEGO man to move by itself.

After devouring YouTube videos of other people’s LEGO Star Wars movies, my five year old son has been bursting to make his own.

Together we made a ground of random flat LEGO boards. (We did have moon-scape LEGO boards, but as Gabe pointed out, “They don’t go to the moon in Star Wars, dad!”) Then we made a background wall with random blocks so that the dining room was blotted out.

With the scenery made, I set up my netbook (running Ubuntu) in front so that frames of the movie could be captured by the computer’s built-in camera.

Now the tricky line that every dad has to walk when helping their child when a project: at what point does “helping” step over into “doing it for them.”

I realised I was on dangerous ground when the following discussion/argument broke out:

“No dadda. He has to have his gun down.”
“But if his has his gun down, he won’t stick properly to the board. How about here, at a slight angle.”
“NO dadda. He has to have his gun DOWN.”
“Look Gabe. Which is bigger, his gun or his leg?”
“His gun.”
“Exactly! So if his gun is straight down, then he won’t stick properly on the board!”
“No dadda. He has to have his gun DOWN!”

Luckily for both of us, I gave up. I showed him how to take photos using the computer, then retired to my room with a coffee and a book.

Some time later, he showed me his efforts. I know he is my son, and I’ll be impressed at anything he does. But, hell, I was IMPRESSED. There was a certain amount of figures appearing out of nowhere, but then there were the moments where one frame contained the cause and the next had the effect. Anakin’s lightsabre moved, and then the droid was on his back. The speederbike (unfortunately a bit out of frame) moved off around the back of the wall. He moved the camera for the scene of the trooper on the speederbike.

All little pieces of evidence that he is beginning to understand the process of narrative and story telling.

I collected these images, uploaded them onto my MacBook Pro, dumped them into iMovie, removed the (goddamned) Ken Burn effect, and had a rough movie. We played it a couple of times while Gabe worked out what he wanted to say, then I hit the voice-over button and let him riff. One minute (and one take) later, he had laid his voice and sound effects track.

The finished product is magical.

And most importantly, proof that the doing hasn’t driven out the desire, he is keen to make another one!


In related news, his video has been blogged on Wired’s Geek Dad.

With all this fame, I hope it doesn’t go to Gabe’s head and he ends up going over his old classic movie, rotoscoping out the dining room table, and digitally making the droids shoot first. Maybe the emotion of the scene is lost and one of the troopers should go “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO…” Hmmm.