Teaching Go to children (particularly my son - 6yrs old)

I’m planning to start teaching my son to play Go this year (he did show some interest before), so I’m hoping that someone with experience teaching Go to children would share some experience in that aspect so he could have the best experience :smiley:

My background:
I have some years of experience with teaching Go, but only as class lecturer, and to IT students (well basically I was the president of my university’s Go club)

My son’s background:
He’s 6 yrs old now. I’m not, well, quite sure about his aptitude with go or intelligent comparing to other (not really care about any other children aside from mine).

Pretty sure he’s no Stephen Hawking though, never heard him talk about relativity or blackholes before. His dad is no Meijin and there’s no bloody Go board in grandpa’s closet afaik (will search again).

I taught him tic-tac-toe and games like memory before, mostly to teach him English. Was afraid of teaching him Go too soon due to the fear that I could do badly and make him lose interest.

Issues I’m concerned about and looking for input:

  • My son is very… um, active? It’s hard to put him down for too long. My English session with him usually last about half an hour at most and he’s constantly distracted. I think this is probably common among children his age (again, not quite sure). How do I handle that?

  • Lack of appropriate opponent. When I started playing I pulled my classmate together to play. How do children his age find opponent normally? I actually planned to send him to a Go class, but unfortunately Go is not very popular here so the class was cancelled due to lack of student.

  • How do I break the rules into small enough steps for children to understand? I already made some research on my own but of course more input is always needed.

Sigh I realize that I’m probably overly anxious about this, but can’t help feeling that any little improvement could be the important borderline between him liking Go or discard it forever T_T

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My son is also 6 years old, and also very “um, active?” as you put it :joy: and we play occasionally. I can’t pretend to be an expert but I can share what worked and didn’t for us. The key considerations for me are 1. he has a really short attention span and 2. he likes to feel successful. So I try to put more emphasis on whether he’s enjoying it, rather than how much he’s learning

  • He took interest in my games since a pretty young age, maybe when he was like 3. So I made a point to always show him what I was doing
  • At 3 we’d occasionally get out the board and just take turns putting stones on it. No capturing, he would just make a design. At 4 I think I started trying to teach him the capture rule, and maybe around age 5 we tried playing a 9x9 game
  • It took him a while to really internalize the capturing rules so I tried laying out some super simple problems on the board. I pulled them from internet go school (the most basic “how to capture a stone” lessons) and the beginning of GGPfB vol 1. That helped him fully grasp the capturing rules, and he enjoyed the satisfaction of solving them
  • Somewhere (I think it was Janice Kim’s book maybe?) I read that you should not play bad moves on purpose when teaching kids, as it makes them confused. On the other hand, he hates losing. So we play with INSANE handicaps instead. I started out giving him 13 stones on 9x9. Once he could capture all my stones, we moved up to 11 and now we play with 9 handi.
  • He loves BadukPop (ipad app with tsumego and cute animations) and he gets the level 1 puzzles right about half the time now

The biggest mistake I made was:

  • one time he insisted on playing on the “big board” and insisted on playing without “extra stones” (that’s what he calls handicap). I really should have known better but I did it anyways-- huge mistake. I just played normal moves and didn’t do anything too aggressive, but he got super frustrated just a few moves in and didn’t want to play again for a few weeks. Would not recommend!

Anyways, I try not to push it too hard, but make sure I encourage it whenever he shows interest. So far I guess it’s working, he knows the rules and even some very basic tactics and doesn’t seem to totally hate it yet. And last game, he played a legit killing move when I was trying to live in the corner, I was so proud :smile:

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Aaa a future killer! Very nice indeed

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First reason of interest for my 6yo daughter is that she often sees me playing my games on OGS using my smartphone.
I am interested, so she’s curious about it.
So my first piece of advice is: let them see that you care.

She knows how to capture and she likes it a lot, but she doesn’t like when I extend. :smile:
I can’t really talk about game objectives and strategies but we play some 9x9 games with some handicap stones not stressing about playing an actual game but just making moves and seeing what happens.
I make normal moves thinking about living and making territory. She does what she wants. Usually she tries to capture some of my stones.

We play on phone app “Go free” (Android) which can show you estimated territory. She likes those small squares and is amazed by the sudden changes after each move. Estimation on a small board is quite extreme: every move can change the situation from “black dominates everything” to “white captures some stones and makes a living group”.
I hope this in the end will teach her about territory.

My main rule while playing with her is: no teaching, no lessons, just play, enjoy and answer questions when she asks. I don’t know if she’ll eventually become a go fan. That’s on her. I just try not to be boring.

Another game she likes a lot is doing tsumego on site “Black to play”. She enjoys sounds and coloured dots. Sometimes she tries some moves, sometimes she just tap on “show solution”. She loves when she gets a green and she actually get some in the lowest level.
That’s some self learning too.

So basically I let her learn by herself. I’m just her partner in the game, not her teacher. I don’t know where this will bring us, but it’ll be fun. :smile:

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(Disclaimer: I have no experience teaching.)

Stone counting rule, or 純碁(じゅんご) as it is called in japan, seems to simplify teaching seki and life/death.

You could mix Go with a related subject such as this (Go is mentioned at 27:20):

“The great secret of education is to make the exercises of the body and the mind always serve as a recreation for each other.” Rousseau, Emile

Pages 24-25 of Mathematician’s Delight might be interesting to you.

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I’m also embarking down this path, although my older son is a bit younger. I’ve mainly done something similar to what was outlined by @macfergus

Now, we occasionally play with a magnetic set, but we started on a web app via a smartphone.

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So, first some full disclosure - I have a 10yr old daughter, and I’ve tried a bunch of different things, and she flatly refuses to learn anything about Go. She’s not into board games much at all, but she picked up the nuances of Poker and Monopoly really fast (note: poker was just chips / no actual money).

Having said that, I’ve had some luck teaching adult beginners the broad outlines of Go using a method where we ONLY PLAY THE FIRST 50 MOVES. I’ve written about this before here:

And played a demonstration game with a curious forum member here:

RATIONALE:
So, when people talk about teaching Go to kids, they often talk about introducing handicapped 9x9 and focusing on capturing stones, because that’s something that kids can relate to. However, this approach ends up focusing on individual pieces. I was trying to figure out a way to introduce those aspects of the game that emphasize elements where you build networks across the board that become more powerful the more inter-connected they are (focus on interconnected networks rather than individual pieces, etc).

Also, I’ve used this method on a complete adult beginner, who was having drinks while learning this, and he was able to grasp the basics and have fun with it. Because two people can play through 50 moves fairly quickly, it also allows the beginner to try different things over several games, and learn from their mistakes, etc.

SOME PREPARATION FIRST
Besides knowing the overall rules of Go, it’s important to give the beginning player some sense of how difficult it is to make life in a tight space. So, to prepare for the 50 stone game, maybe start by playing a small demonstration where your kid starts with a 9 stone handicap on a 19x19 board, and you try to just make one group live on the side. The goal here is to demonstrate how hard white has to work to make life in a tight space when black is already established there.

The goal here is - once you have those 50 stones on the board - to help the beginner appreciate how tricky it would be to invade their opponent’s loose framework and make life there.

WALKING THE PLAYER THROUGH THE 50 STONE GAME
Personally, I find the Opening portion of the Go game to be a nice microcosm of the whole game. You can talk about Sente and Gote - you can discuss how the priorities for Corners > Sides > Middle play out. You can talk about trading a small loss in one place for a bigger advantage, somewhere else, etc.

I wrote up another article over here about playing a balanced opening, so hitting some of those points and metaphors may help as well:

“SCORING” THE 50 STONE GAME:
This is sort of tricky, because so much of the game is unfinished by move 50. However, it is made somewhat easier by the bad habits of most beginners. When most people first play the 50 move game, they focus on securing ONE CORNER at the expense of the other three. They don’t use their stones efficiently, and at the end of 50 moves, it’s pretty easy to show that focusing on just one thing gives the opponent a big advantage over the rest. If they think they can invade that loose framework and make life - give them 20 more stones and let them try. If they (somehow) succeed - show them that while they might have gotten 2-4 points of life, they helped their opponent build multiple secure walls and create a huge amount of influence, etc.

Eventually, after a few games, the light bulb goes off and they try to grab the entire board and - usually - stretch themselves too thin. Here you can demonstrate how stones can be cut, and how they can run to other stones or create potential eye space in tight spots, etc.

Eventually, they start to understand that there’s a Goldilocks Zone where there are times to focus on connecting stones, and times to focus on tenuki / big moves to claim the most potential over the board, and that Sente and Gote are the clues to making sense of that dance. The end goal is to either help them play a balanced opening (so that no one has an obvious advantage in the first 50 moves), or to get to the point where they end up with a potential advantage at the end (just always play local extensions rather than big moves when you have Sente, and eventually they’ll figure out how to take advantage of your timorous play).

Good luck!

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I love your approach although it sounds to me to be so WAY too abstract for a beginner.
I did some teaching too, and for what i know i had to accept to see big groups of stones being kept on atari for a very long time… So i read somewhere too that before concepts you just need to see not to think too much.
But i still love your way

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As people experienced in Go, we know just how much is left unfinished in a game with only 50 moves, and so the knowledge of “how much more needs to be done” makes that result very abstract.

However, even as an absolute beginner - it’s pretty easy to look at a board like my example above (Mystwalker vs tonyb game), and intuitively see that White seems to have grabbed more than Black. I’ve found that this intuitive understanding based on visual input can be a very useful teaching tool for kids and beginners. If nothing else, it makes them realize that they must broaden their sights and try to grab stuff all over the board rather than just stake out their territory in one spot, etc.

It also helps if you teach them the metaphor of two Emperors slicing up the map of an island. It’s pretty easy to see those loose frameworks as the connect-the-dots boundaries of the budding empires, and I find kids relate to that pretty well.

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Yes absolutly.
Now from my own memory of my own discover… Let say it was a bit like being in a thick cloud.
What Did help me? Guess… Well the 1 point jump did.
At least Trying to use it. Then to play a lot too, with a beginner like me and with enjoyable freedom. Noone around to teach us.
I Bought a few books, let say a bit Too early.
My most important memory should be the fun I had to play.

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Thank you very for the sharing! Sorry I wasn’t able to reply soon.

Coincidentally I have been “making shapes” together with my son when he’s around 3-4 as well, same as @macfergus . Probably as child they just saw us placing stones and want to mimic our actions.

The Go apps mentioned looks pretty interesting, maybe I’ll guide him over after he’s got the basic.

@tonybe your input and research is really interesting! The first question that come to my mind is also how to “show” the beginner who is having an advantage. So from your experience it is enough to let the beginner “feel” who’s controlling a larger area? Did you use score estimation app or some kind of “stone influence” visualizer?

Here’s an article about 4 x 4 board (in japanese but many photos).

The article suggests drawing the board on the lid of a cookie box and use fridge magnets of two colors as stones. I think double-sided-taping a paper and drawing on it might be easier. Alternatively, you could also draw a board on a piece of paper and tape it to a thicker paper, and use regular Go stones if available.

The article warns ko is very common, such as this (sol’n of which depends on realizing the lack of ko threat):

Here’s an article by the same author on 7 x 7. It has a different visual theme from 4 x 4: horses on carrots vs apples on a tree. The author says, after getting used to the rules, the first player won most of the time despite the teacher doing their best.

In Wikipedia article on 趙治勲: 「入門者・初心者は、最初は少ない路数の碁盤で学ぼう」という考えから、「よんろの碁」が登場するかなり前の、1994年に発行された『発想をかえる 囲碁とっておき上達法』や『はじめて打つ碁―誰でも楽しく碁が打てるようになる』では、他棋士があまり扱わない3路盤・4路盤・5路盤を詳しく解説している。

Rough translation: With the idea that a novice should start with a small board, years before “よんろの碁” [the first one in this reply], he gave detailed explanations on 3 x 3, 4 x 4, and 5 x 5 boards, which were seldom touched by other pros, in his two books [the ones in『 』] published in 1994.

I wonder if alternating various approaches would make a child more interested or confused.

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I had similar concerns regarding the highly subjective nature of scoring the 50 move game. Score estimators often fail because they refuse to see loose frameworks of stones as “territory” because they’re still so invade-able, or will count groups as alive when most players see them as 90% dead.

The thing is, all the stuff that goes into endgame scoring is the HARD stuff to teach kids (i.e. seki, living/dead groups, capturing races, counting eyes and liberties, et al) - I’m trying to break it down to the EASY stuff to teach kids - they want a bigger slice of the cake, and they’re quite good at seeing if it’s divided unevenly - surprisingly good! By wiping all of that complex stuff off the table, I’m trying to turn this subjective weakness into a strength.

The way a kid will approach this problem definitely helps the situation - like I said, when kids/beginners encounter this challenge, their first instinct is to over-focus on building a secure base that’s ALL THEIRS and no one can take it away from them:

This exercise doesn’t even use all 50 stones - this is move 14. The kid looks up, all satisfied that they’ve achieved their base, and suddenly realizes they’ve given white a huge advantage. Sure - some knowledge of how difficult it is to invade/make life in an 8 stone handicap game will fill in the blanks - but you don’t need that experience to get an immediate / intuitive sense that you’re already outnumbered. Playing the rest of their stones will just reinforce that suspicion.

In using this tool, I’m trying to get the beginner over that barrier of target/destroy game behavior. I want them to see opportunities ALL over the whole board, and learn that there’s a back-and-forth to the ways in which each opponent carves that up (sente/gote). Once they get better, you may end up with results like this (this is the tonybe vs mystwalker game as above)

Even here, it’s pretty easy to eyeball this and guess that white might end up with a bigger share of that cake. IMHO - if you’re dealing with a 6 yr old - that bit of subjective wiggle room - the ability to argue that your piece wasn’t THAT much bigger than their piece - actually gives them encouragement, because it allows them to feel like they COULD do it - overcoming discouragement when playing against an experienced player is another factor you have to account for with kids (or beginners that are easily bored/discouraged).

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Spend a lot of time playing with Hane Naoki. Teaching children’s classes since 1990 (qualification)
Have a headache (excuse for abrupt style and plummeting rank )

Don’t “teach” your own children, light introduction only, don’t worry about explaining rules too much. Less talk, more play. Don’t go rambling on when game is finished (however worthwhile it may seem).
Try to get your kid to come to you asking to play a game. Create the opportunity by, for example, going through a game (on a small board) where your kid can see you. Again, don’t explain too much. When asked keep your answers light and interesting, e.g. “Well, I think black is doing better because they sure captured a lot of stones.” or some such.

Be open for the possibility that he does not take to go at all. Don’t keep going on about what a fantastic game go is.

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Right it’s the essence of inviting :laughing:

When you talk too much about how great Go is you simply looks like a cultist, and that make people stay away from Go.

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My son is very… um, active? It’s hard to put him down for too long. My English session with him usually last about half an hour at most and he’s constantly distracted. I think this is probably common among children his age (again, not quite sure). How do I handle that?

Yes, young children can not be forced to focus on one subject for a prolonged time. The average attention span for a child between 5-7 is somewhere between 15-30 minutes. I wouldn’t try to extend this, but if you wanted you could probably think of trying out fun breaks/doing other activities before coming back to the subject you want to teach.

I’ve not really experience teaching children GO, but I’ve experience with children in general and I would say the most important thing is consistency and having a calm space.

I do not know your situation, but I would suggest having a set time where you teach your son each week or day if that works (you’ll find out soon, but at least once a week should be possible), and explain to him what your goal is and have a order of the “day”, maybe with fun pictograms i.e. first step: set up the game, second step going through the rules (again), third step the goal of the game / playing. fourth step review/talking about the moves whatever. Next teaching lesson the order of the day might show something new, maybe introduction to 4x4 problems and so on.

I don’t think that needs spelling out, but just in case the first time you explain to him what an agenda is, and what it shows.

But from my experience with children, they will be much calmer when they know what is going to happen and why. For young children I use pictograms a lot.

The second thing is the space, for GO it should be a comfy and calm space, were there are no distractions, i.e. siblings/other parent barging in, no TV running in the background and so on, if you have no such place at home the library is always a great space to teach kids games.

The third thing is rituals. Rituals help children understand that now a specific thing is happening and there are different rules / roles than normal. That might be something as small as a specific candle being lit up etc. (of course again need to explain, for example call it the “GO candle” and tell your son the rules you have while it is lit, i.e. stay calm and listen, think before playing/focus etc.) Or specific pillows you sit on, blanket, a tea you make to drink together while playing… you get the idea.

I wish you the best of luck teaching him, I’m sure he will be eager to learn

Edit: PS: it is also always nice to end and start the activity with the same things (rituals), for example end it every time with some music / meditation and start it with the candle or whatever you feel like.
|At bed time you could also start reading him Hikaru no Go :wink: |

Edit2: I googled and found this great article about teaching children chess, you can probably glean a lot of it and apply it to teaching GO https://www.chesskid.com/chess-teaching

Also you will make a lot of mistakes, don’t be discouraged by that and try to learn from them. Most importantly, stay positive and have fun! Nobody is born a teacher!

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The Go blogger BenGoZen had a great article about “teaching” (or rather, introducing) Go to beginners. Its meant for general beginners of all ages, but applies equally well to children as well.

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Thank you very much for the sharing @Noharmony.

This “ritual” concept is very new to me! I will try to apply it from the next session.

Bed time story already became his mom’s privilege I can’t compete hehe

@yebellz yeha I read that article when it came out as well :smiley:


I started showing my son how to capture today and put a stone down in various place for him to capture. He enjoyed capturing a lot and count the total number of stones he captured each time, then brag to his mom after. Haven’t talked about extension and stuff yet, but I guess it’s going well so far. At least he asked me when the next time will be, so he was enjoying it as a game.

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Bengozen is so right, Even if each teaching depends on the will and personality of the teached, we teacher tend much more to teach far Too much as Too less.

On this I think that we are Lucky, as I think from my own experience that most young players are very very focused on their own When playing go, much more as many other activities.

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Being that I am a sixteen-year-old boy with a few solid years of self-taught experience in the game and that I have attempted to teach a handful of kids from the ages of about eight to fourteen, mostly siblings, I hope that I can provide some valuable insight into this topic.

Firstly, I think that it is fantastic that you are trying to introduce your six-year-old to the game! I would say it is perfectly normal for him to be active and have a short attention span as I don’t think I know anyone else, even myself, who is not and was not the exact same way at that age. Like others have mentioned, your best bet here is probably to keep each game as brief as possible to keep him engaged. I would also encourage you to, if at all possible, temporarily pause the game if he becomes apparently bored or ready to do something else. Just remember who’s turn it was and pick back up some other time.

While I can’t possibly foresee someone his age learning deep theory and strategy, let alone retaining it for very long, I would certainly try to keep it fairly casual at his age and progressively teach him more in bite-sized chunks as he continues to grow older so that he is not overloaded with material. I could be wrong, and he could very possibly be able to handle such concepts after slowly learning the basics though. If you can get him to understand the rules of the game thoroughly as well as recognize basic groups that are alive and dead, in addition to teaching him some basic moves to defend his groups and kill yours, than I have to say that that would be extremely impressive and an excellent starting stone. Again, that could take a while and you want to constantly review with him as you teach him more so he holds onto that information better.

That being said, the most critical part of successfully teaching him is to recognize whether or not he shows an interest in the game that progressively builds. The reason I have failed time and time again with other kids is because they often did not enjoy it at all and quickly lost interest. Most kids, even those that are my age, want something they can instantly feel relatively comfortable with and feel decently good at right away. Go is often the exact opposite of that, depending on your mentality, and so that puts up a huge barrier as the initially learning curve is huge. The reason I learned this game is because I found it extremely exciting; had I not I would have undoubtedly given up almost instantly.

I love mathematics, and I feel that the author of my Saxon algebra textbooks has something very worth knowing that applies to all kinds of different things: “Algebra is not difficult; it is just different.” The same applies to Go as it is an extremely unusual game that is often outside one’s usual train of though and ways of thinking. While this quote may not be perfectly logical for everything, perhaps even Go, it really helps to fuel the push to explore uncharted waters, regardless of age. Just like learning anything deep, this will take time, possibly a long time.

Good luck, and as I said before, it is fantastic that you are making this attempt!

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