Judaism Kids

Why We Love Camp Ramah

You walk into the field and see a group of children huddled around a fire pit. They’re having fun, performing strange rituals, singing odd songs, and building a community. What do you call this? Summer camp. If the songs are in Hebrew and the rituals are thousands of years old, then you’d call it Camp Ramah.


Kids Do the Most Incredible Things

Summary: Kids do incredible things. Instead of trying to teach them as little adults, give them some tools and flexibility and see what they create. They may not do what you expect, but it’s fascinating (and funny) to see how they think.


Falling Back and Springing Forward

When we switch to and from Daylight Savings Time, I start to question reality. I realize that things that we take for granted, like what it means to be “5 o’clock” can be changed by fiat. It reminds me that things that I see as solid and unchangeable are just human constructions.

Fun Stuff Kids

Nontransitive Dice

I’d always thought of dice as being fair. Like flipping a coin, I’d assumed that a throw of the dice was random. Then I learned about nontransitive dice and it blew my mind.

Nontransistive dice are a set of dice that don’t behave in the normal way. Even though each die has an expected value of 3, some dice are better than others in 1:1 matchups. Just to make things even stranger, there’s no set of best dice, just like in the way that the game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” has no best move.

Kids Technology

Growing Up Alexa

A few months ago, I wrote about how Alexa and Google Home are used in our house. In my experience, these devices are a better way for kids to use the internet than a mobile phone. A phone becomes an extension of a person, isolating her from the group. Interacting with Alexa is more of a family activity with Alexa acting like another person in the room.

Some people think it’s odd to treat Alexa humanely. As a machine, she doesn’t have any feelings. But think about the way we refer to Alexa. It feels more natural to refer to Alexa as a “her” than an “it” because that’s the way we interface with her. And if we interface with her as a person, we should be polite and say please and thank you.

Fun Stuff Kids

As You Wish — Watching the Princess Bride With Kids

I keep trying to find great movies to watch with my 8 and 5-year-old sons that are fun for all of us. The Princess Bride is one of the best. It’s a great movie for adults and it even has Peter Falk as the narrator grandfather to keep the kids engaged.


The Liars Paradox OR Today Is Not Opposite Day

Today my son Blake started telling me that “Today is Opposite Day!” and then said things like “I love doing my homework. Just kidding. It’s opposite day!”

I told him that he couldn’t possibly be telling me that today is opposite day. If it were opposite day and he was telling me it was opposite day, then it wouldn’t be opposite day. And if it’s not opposite day and he told me that it was opposite day, it would be opposite day. It’s a cycle that never ends. Formally the sentence, “This is opposite day” is neither true nor false and therefore is undefined.

The Infinite Circle of Opposite Day

This, of course, prompted his friend Gabe to try to explain it all to me. “It’s complicated,” he said, “you see, if we say it’s opposite day then we would say that it’s not opposite day to mean that it really is opposite day.” But I didn’t find this line of argument compelling.

Blake tried a different tack, “We can say that Wednesday is opposite day.”

“Yes,” I said, “but you can’t say that on Wednesday.”

This is an ancient logical paradox called the Liar’s Paradox which often takes the form of “I am a liar” or “This sentence is false.” Because the sentence is self-referential and negative.

I figure it’s never to early to teach the kids about logic and paradox. It also makes Blake be more specific about opposite day. The inherent problem with opposite day is that kids randomly choose which items are opposite and which are not (e.g., the sentence “It’s opposite day” is not negated). Now he needs to say “If it were opposite day, I’d say that I love doing my homework.”

Kids Product Management

Alexa and Google in Our Home

In our home, we have a rule that there are no phones at the dinner table. We do this so everyone is paying attention to each other — not their phones. When a person has a phone at the table, it lets them be alone, even if they are sitting in a group. It gives that person a superpower to transport their mind to a completely different place. People are alone together (per Sherry Turkle):

Teenagers Alone Together

When you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home, that is another entity in the room. Some people are worried about how kids are being rude to Alexa and how they will bring this rudeness to their interactions with people. I think this is a red herring. It’s much easier for kids to deal with a free standing AI like Alexa than trying to teach children how to deal with a human being combined with a smartphone.

When the iPad came out, many of the reviews highlighted how useful it was for children. It’s the same way with voice assistants. The kids will do a lot of exploring. You’ll want to lock the machines down these down to prevent purchasing everything on Amazon. We’ve learned a lot from our kids’ explorations, most interestedly that there are songs called I Pooped and Diaper Baby.

For reference, our setup is two Google Home Mini’s that are each next to a Chromecast. We also have an Amazon Echo in the dining room table.

Some other things that we use the voice assistant for:

  • To check the weather
  • To play music
  • For the kids to watch their TV show on Netflix
  • To turn on and off the TV (Chromecast + Google Home)
  • As an intercom (between the Google Homes)

Update (2/10/2018): There’s a great video about politeness and Alexa called Southern Alexa.


On Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day is more than just another day off from work. His widow Coretta Scott King goes through the meaning of the day and what it means. She says that:

Every King Holiday has been a national “teach-in” on the values of nonviolence, including unconditional love, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, which are so desperately-needed to unify America…. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, but above all a day of service.

So on this Martin Luther King day, my family and I participated in the Time of Good Day of Service. We visited an elderly homebound woman as part of the Dorot program. Dorot is a great organization that partners professionals and volunteers to enhance the lives of the elderly. They do a number of programs but the ones that are most relevant to us are the visits to the elderly around holidays. This is a great way for the kids to learn about charity — and there are relatively few charitable events that kids can participate in.

In this year where people are becoming more divided, it’s great to go and meet a stranger, learn from them and take part in our shared humanity.

BTW, this is an incredible video of two a capella groups, one Jewish and one African American, singing Shed a Little Light in honor of MLK day.



Winter Exercise — Stair War and Stair Chemistry Fluxx

We live in a 30 story building. In the summer the kids can run and play outside but in the winter they need to get their exercise inside the building.

So we started to climb the stairs inside our building. The building is 30 floors high so getting to the top is a nice workout. When Blake was about 3, he would climb to the top of the building with excitement. We even started learning numbers. We learned that there is no number 13 in our building — or is there? But as the boys got older they want to do something more exciting so we created a game called “stair war.”

The rules for stair war are the same as the card game of war but every time there’s a war you go up that number of flights of stairs. This makes climbing the stairs a bit more interesting. The game has a number of interesting properties:

  1. Each time there’s a war you go up on average 7 flights assuming you go up ten flights for J, Q, K, A
  2. One out of every 13 plays, on overage, is a war. There are 169 ways that cards can lay between hands 13 x 13. But only 13 of them are wars.
  3. On average that’s about half a flight on average for each card flipped you go up 7 flights every 13 plays.
  4. But there’s a lot of uncertainty which adds to the excitement. You don’t know when the war is going to happen!

Blake is 8 now so we can play more interesting games. Our new favorite is now Chemistry Fluxx (sample game) on the stairs. We play a game of Chemistry Fluxx and then go up 10 flights of stairs — repeat until exhausted. Chemistry Fluxx is part of the Fluxx series, a card game where the rules and goals of the game are always in “Fluxx.” Watch the sample game and you’ll get a good idea of how it works. We speed up the game by changing the initial rules to something to draw 2 / play 2 to speed things up. Also, Chemistry Fluxx teaches them a few chemistry facts while you play!