Archives for posts with tag: kids

One of the great benefits of being the dad of teenagers is my ability to use The Force at each and every opportunity. I am like a Jedi Knight, inhabiting a world of constant adventure, using The Force at every opportunity to fight evil and set the galaxy to rights.

Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. When I say “Jedi Knight”, I really mean “Arsehole” and when I say “The Force”, I really mean “Arsehole Factor”.

I have this fantastic capacity to turn the once blissful world of my teens into a dystopia of pain and suffering in seconds. No light sabre needed. All that’s needed are magic words such as “have you started your homework?” or “put away your phone”. These are powerful enough to suck the air out of the room, leaving a mass of blistering resentment in its wake.

I have superpowers. At a single command, I can force my kids faces into their open palms. I can get them to roll their eyes upward into their skulls. My reverse magnetism ensures that when I enter the room, they leave immediately. I can get them to mutter swear words under their breath, and when I follow it by “what did you say?” I can predict exactly the answer I will get.

I have been practicing. Dropping them off to their friends fifteen minutes late. Serving them broccoli and carrots at dinner. Bopping to CHVRCHES at inappropriate moments. Do not underestimate the Power of my Uncoolness.

One day soon, I will lose my powers, so I’m going to revel in picking my teeth in their presence, asking them questions about Napoleon that I know they can’t answer, and starting each sentence with “when I was your age”. The Dark Side must be balanced eventually, but not just yet.

I’m introducing my kids to coding at the moment. I’ve just discovered Scratch and Tynker and, having fallen in love with the UI (a combination of code and coloured lego blocks), I’m encouraging them to write simple programs.

Programming is great; not just because it’s a hugely important skill in itself; but because it teaches kids some valuable lessons about life itself. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

It’s all about making mistakes.

There are few things as frustrating as coding. To get something to work right requires hours of getting stuff wrong. You can be stymied for ages over a misplaced variable name or a minus sign in the wrong place. But if you stick with it, you’ll produce something rather beautiful: something that does just what you want it to do.

That’s how it works if you want to do anything well. You have to be willing to try different things; to accept that your first drafts will be imperfect – particularly when you are trying it for the first time.There’s an awful lot of trial and error in life. Coding gives you a deep insight into this.

There is no such thing as perfection.

Programs are never finished. Even if they do their job well, there’s always something that needs improvement. Perhaps the environment changes, or you need to make it work faster. When you are responsible for a piece of code, you are often in it for the long haul.

This is true to life. We never get to the stage where everything is sorted. In jobs, relationships, goals and personal needs: it’s a constant effort of jumping from one challenge to another. There is no perfect time, just the imperfect now. All we can do is adapt as best as possible.

There are no miracles.

When a piece of code doesn’t work right, the last thing you can do is to reach to a prayer book to answer the problem. Coding doesn’t respond to miracles, only to hard work. There’s always a logical answer embedded there somewhere, and an “aw shucks” moment when you finally figure it out.

In life, there’s a huge amount of fuzzy, magical thinking around which purports to have mystical answers to life’s deepest questions. But in the end, nature trumps such wishful thinking. Many things work in very complex ways, but deep down, it’s just natural laws at work. No matter how much we wish otherwise, there are no short-cuts to figuring out the great problems of life.

You get to practice some important life skills

Coding can involve a lot of playing around and trying things out just for the sake of it. If you are doing it against any kind of deadline, however, or if you need to write code for someone else, you have to learn to organise yourself. Coding generally involves a lot of thinking, writing, testing and improving. If other people are involved you will need to carefully consider how long these different phases are going to take, and give people updates if things don’t go according to plan. This, in essence, is basic project management.

Of all the competencies required by companies nowadays, managing projects is one of the most important skills you can learn. Over time, coding helps you to understand how long a task should take and how to regularly check your progress. You also gain experience in learning how to work with people and what’s involved in giving them just what they want. It’s hard work sometimes. Through it, you learn persistence, tenacity and negotiation – skills that are important throughout your adult career.

Coding is all around us.

The more we learn about this wonderful universe, the more we learn that very similar processes are everywhere around us. Our DNA is a type of elaborate computer program that shows how basic chemicals can be turned into the stuff of life. The way our brains behave and operate is akin to the working of a complex computer system. Evolution itself is an enormous, long term natural coding project where mistakes are punished by extinction, while adaptability is generously rewarded – it’s the biggest experiment in trial and error the world has ever seen.

Coding has helped to open the world up to us; enabling us to understand the universe in ways that our ancestors could never have imagined. Looking at the complexity of nature in terms of different algorithms has allowed us to make sense of it all. From coding you get an insight into how things hang together. It’s through coding we will solve the great challenges of this century.


1) I had The Talk with my 11 year old son last night. I think I did well and I got some great questions from him. We talked about lots of stuff: DNA, puberty, the menstrual cycle, conception, contraception, XY chromasomes, how twins come about and teenage pregnancy. It was wide ranging and after a few brief factoids, I let him direct the conversation, to ask any question he wished. The only confusion that happened was when he couldn’t understand how eating a condom each month would help prevent conception. I had to go over that one with him one more time.

2) I have been suffering from a large mouth ulcer that has been lodged in the back of my throat over the past week. It is near the opening to my inner ear, so I have had an earache as well as a bad sore throat. I went to the doctor and I was prescribed antibiotics, which in hindsight was a fairly poor diagnosis. What I had was viral, not bacterial. It’s as useful as throwing a life-belt onto a road to help in a car accident.

3) I went for a medical test yesterday. The results indicate that I need to make some big lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise. This is no surprise to me, but given my current daily and weekly routines, not to mention my love-affair with high cholesterol food and lack of exercise opportunities during the week, I am not sure where I start. It’s a huge challenge for me. Huge. No, really.

4) On the plus side, I had a meeting with my dermatologist and the result is terrific. Over four years, no recurrence and nothing suspicious looking on my skin. It means I’m now out of the danger zone. Long may it last.

Forget about your big rugby and soccer internationals. If you really want to see sport at its rawest and most intense, you can’t beat an under 5’s hurling match.

The ball gets hit out, and immediately 20 pairs of legs are chasing it around like a swarm of bees attacking a mischevious teddy bear. There’s always one though, idling in the centre of the pitch, completely oblivious to the game, imagining that he is a dinosaur: arms outstretched, a big T Rex lollop as he strides through his jungle. Another group in the corner are pretending they are pop stars, holding their hurleys in a way that would have made Rory Gallagher proud. It’s a goal, and suddenly a budding David Beckham travels the entire length of the pitch, completing his victory run with an authentic knee slide on the timber surface.

The game continues. Rarely does the ball come to rest, as it is harried by a score of hurleys, hitting at it from all directions. It’s a kind of social Brownian Motion, as the red team hit the ball towards the blue team and the blue team counter by scoring a masterfully planned own goal. One player rushes over to me with an important message: “Can I have an ice cream afterwards?”.

It’s getting ugly out there. A kid is knocked down, not by one opponent, but by ten of them simultaneously. Now the ball is stuck in a corner of the hall. Light itself is finding it difficult to escape from the huddle. I pity the coaches as they attempt to disentangle players from the melée.

It’s all over and my boys line up against the wall. Inexplicably, they are unbloodied and unbruised. They have only one thing on their minds: the ice creams they believed I had promised them earlier.

Make no mistake, Ireland’s future hurlers are a formidable lot.

Now here is something I definitely didn’t have when I was a kid: YouTube Mobile. 

A couple of nights ago, I was reading a book on Space to the kids. Up came a pop-up Space Shuttle (which one of the twins attempted to rip before I quickly averted his hand). We then had a discussion on the Space Shuttle and then I took out my iPhone, logged on to YouTube and showed them a space shuttle launch for real.

Their jaws dropped.

In the last few nights we have discovered the ISS, Pyroclastic Flows, the Moon landings and Tyrannosaurus Rex and sun spots all from the safety of their bunk-beds. 

Then a few nights later I was reading my eldest son a book on Mexico. We came to a page where the voladores swing around a high pole on a rope tied to their legs. Out comes the iPhone, YouTube is called up and in seconds we are seeing it happening on video. 

He yawned and muttered something like “whatever” under his breath… 

Anyway, moody 9 year olds aside, I think it’s really cool.

It’s been some time since I’ve written about particularly good books for small kids, and I must apologise (especially to Kim) for being somewhat remiss in this area during the last few months.

For me, there is something very gratifying about sharing a compelling book with my kids. It quickly brings me back to my own childhood years by helping me relate to my children on their level. This book ticks all these boxes.

There’s No Such Thing as a Ghostie (Cressida Cowell and Holly Swain)

“But when they turned round… THERE WAS NOBODY THERE”

In this book, a young queen and her best friend do battle with the arrogant Sergeant Rock-Hard of Her Majesty’s Guard as he leads them through the castle in an effort to convince them that there’s no such thing as a ghostie. Little does he know… It’s full of delightfully poetic snippets: a Prime Minister that bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain 1980’s British PM; regular alliteration – “ghostly, ghastly feet”, “creepy, creaky staircase”, very accessible colourful drawings, and (of course) plenty of ghosties hanging around in the background. Near the end of the book, the reader is enjoined to open a trunk bearing an alarming secret. It’s one of those books in which you and your kids discover something new every time you re-read it for them.

If you know of other children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.


During the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork yesterday the festive atmosphere was broken momentarily by the usual procession of dour, po faced holy-Joes and Josephines threatening us all with damnation and a bit of perdition on the side if we didn’t get back to saying our ten Hail Marys.

My six year old daughter, annoyed by the break in ceremonies, shouts up at me within earshot of everyone around us..

“Hey, this isn’t a parade for God, it’s for St Patrick”..

Ah, bless.

My twins were in great form this morning. I had to deal with the drama of not allowing one of them to bring in his blankie into the playschool. Later he broke down in tears and then tried to do a runner from me, complaining that he didn’t have a dinky toy that the other guy had. Upon arriving at the playschool, I had to wrestle one of them to the ground in order to put on his slippers, while the other lad jumped onto my back. They grabbed onto my legs when I tried to leave, and I got a lick in the face (instead of a kiss) from one of them as I tried desperately to extract myself from their grasp.

Upon leaving the playschool, I looked at their teacher and said “I didn’t bother to send them to sleep last night – I just fed them large doses of sugar all night instead”.

She understood.

This was the sight I found when I went into the twins’ room yesterday morning.

They had discovered the zip for the bean bag…

Twins Room 1


Some time ago, I wrote about five books for small children that my kids and I absolutely love. I now would like to add another book to this list.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury)

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Oh no! We forgot to shut the door!

The premise of the book is quite simple. A dad brings his three kids into the countryside with the aim of finding a bear. The group are totally unprepared for what lies ahead as they clamber past all sorts of obstacles during their quest. (I can relate very much to the dad in this book). Much to their surprise, they find a bear, and what follows is an exiting race back home with the grizzly on their tail. It’s got everything: repetition, actions, fear and humour. The drawings are superb, particularly as the kids reach the entrance to the cave. I was amazed by how quickly my toddler kids picked up the narrative and were able to recite the whole story verbatim.

Here’s an additional treat: in the following video, Michael Rosen himself plays out the tale. It’s interesting to watch as I use a very different style when reading the story to my kids.

If you know of other small children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.

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