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Ask HN: How Would You Explain HN to a Two-Year-Old?
35 points by themakermark 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments
I was on HN this morning and my 2 yr. old son asked me "What's that orange thing papa's looking at?"

I answered "It's a place where people can talk to each other about things they find interesting." He didn't get it, which makes sense since it isn't really a "place" and there are no visible "people" here.

So I figured I would propose it to you all, how would you explain HN to a 2 year old?

If I had the time (and I probably would because I consider it important), I would just go down the rabbit hole and explain the internet in the simplest terms possible. You press some buttons and other people around the world see the buttons you pushed and they press some buttons and you can see them too. With every new inevitable question, just keep explaining in terms the child is able to understand, and keep going until one gets tired of it. You can then say it's enough for then and you can continue some other time.

I consider curiosity in a child to be a valuable resource to nurture. If you make it a positive experience for the child, he'll want to do it again. Careful not to appear annoyed, because then, as it resulted in a negative experience, the child will know to avoid doing such things in the future.

2YO kids do not ask that because they are curious to know how the internet works. They could not care less about the internet. They care about their parents' attention.

Right. And the parent can take advantage of that to nurture their curiosity. Asking questions and learning (however little or even just trying) == having a good time with dad.

Making them associate that behavior of curiosity with having a positive experience is what I consider to be important here.

Plus, you also get to flex those brain muscles. Even if nothing seems to stick now, I imagine it does help them learn in the long-run.

It is possible for a child to want parental attention and also be genuinely curious about the world.

I remember at 2, I asked these questions because I was genuinely curious and a simple answer wasn't enough and a complex answer was too hard for my primitive mind to comprehend so I just endlessly asked why.

not just attention, they want to be involved in doing something 'with you'. Be it looking at cars, tickling and laughing, peeling oranges, piling up books just about any random activity. They just love to be involved.

I've found that when there's something that I can SHOW him, some cause/effect, simple explanations stick. For example, how keystrokes make matching letters and numbers appear on screen, how we can find a picture of a truck and print it out, or a model of his BRIO railroad and make it on the 3D printer.

On the other hand, when the cause/effect is behind the scenes, not tangible, simple explanations end up leading him down a (funny) road of misunderstandings. I was trying to explain to him the idea of place values when reading numbers, which is surprisingly hard to explain short of memorizing numbers. He came up with some great questions, all of which indicated he was on a totally different page.

Maybe you can make the intangible tangible. A good tool for teaching place values when reading numbers could be an abacus. In those that have 10 beads per line, you can use each line as a place value. When one line reaches 10, have the rule that they must be replaced by 1 bead in the next line. When you teach addition, you can group 2 or 3 lines per place value. Write one number using the first line of each place value group, and then the other number using the second line of each place value group. For every ten beads in a place value group, replace it with 1 bead in the next group. When every group has less than 10 beads, you can write the result.

I especially like those 10x10 abacuses that have 5 beads in one color and 5 beads in another color, switching the order after 5 lines. I got this one for my cousin:


It helps in visualizing a 1 digit number in more digestible pieces to help working with it in one's head.

Another idea is to use money to emphasize the "worth" of each place value. For example, the first place value could represent pennies, the second dimes, and the third dollars, so each is worth 10 of the place/digit on the right. You can say that it's inconvenient to hold a lot of currency tokens. Why carry 100 pennies or 10 dimes when you can carry a dollar? So, making a number is like reducing the amount of coins or cash notes we carry for the same amount of money.

Yet another idea is to simply show him a giant list of numbers and explaining the patterns in the sequence.

> He didn't get it, which makes sense since it isn't really a "place" and there are no visible "people" here.

Looks to me like the two-year-old is the one explaining it to you.

This is definitely true. Every time an explanation falls flat, I realize how I don't really understand the thing I am trying to explain...

That's why you catch bugs when you document code, or explain it to others in a review process.

If he’s seen a bulletin board with fliers pinned to it or if you put things up on the refrigerator with magnets, bring him there. Then hand him, you, and anyone around a stack of post-it notes. Explain to him that HN is a place where anyone can put up something to show people. If people want to respond, they can write their name + message and attach it to the posting or another post-it note. BUT it’s on the Internet! That means that anyone from anywhere at anytime can put up postings and post-it notes!

This opens up a bridge to him asking, “what’s the internet?” To which you now have endless possibilities on introducing your son to the wonderful world of technology :)

My 2 year old is just happy to talk on the computer mouse like it's a phone.

Not sure where I would start other than "daddy reading".

I’d take him outside and give him a stick to play with instead :-) That used to bring a smile to my 2yr old’s face who is now 22 and finishing a computing degree. It’s a special time when the kids are that age.

I remember when my son was little having him help me pull ethernet cable through our roofspace ceiling. As the cable kept coming through the hole in the ceiling as he pulled he shouted up to me, “Dad, is this magic?” :-)

When a 2YO asks you something like that it's time to close the laptop and switch to something he can relate to.

"You know how, in daycare, you read stories, talk with your friends and play?"

"HN is like daycare for me! I come here to read stories and talk to my friends, but my friends live all over the world."

"A horrible place where people go to misunderstand eachother"

“Just something daddy likes to read”

My kid is a few months shy of 3 and I don’t think there’s anything of value to tell him about the internet at this point. Once he can read I’ll probably explain more to him.

My son's 2, I just tell him I'm reading. Unless there's pictures he isn't really interested.

I'm not sure I could get into much more detail than that, perhaps a library metaphor?

I'd say it's where dad talks to other grown-ups.

If a 2 year old understands stories, HN is a place where people read stories, share stories, talk about stories and pick their favorite stories.

If a 2 year old is interested in HN, it might be because he/she is trying to see what's more interesting than them.

A digital bulletin board, show him a real one the next time you are at the coffee shop.

Under each posting, which are articles (shared information) not solicitations (asking to buy or sell services), people are having conversations.

You could give the example of people leaving post-it notes for each other.

Different case but I usually open up HN while eating in non English speaking restaurant alone and the staff wonders what I'm reading and I just say tech news site.

"It's a web site where people discuss stories. Here, let me read to you some of the things people are writing to each other. If it's not interesting, we can read something else."

You know how books have stories? This is like a lot of books, where the stories are told by people like grandma. We can just pick which story we want to read and ask them questions about it.

It's a website for boffins to talk to other boffins. You can then follow this up with explaining what a boffin is and if daddy is one!

Your son wants to engage with you in a positive way.

Children at this age ask "why" questions often in rapid succession. I am not sure it actually matters what the "best answer" is. What is likely important to him is that you are engaging with him.

The why comes a bit later, around 4. Is it still ok to link to Louie CK?


My 2.5-year-old asks why after every sentence, including the answer to the last time she asked why.

I just saw you ask this question yesterday. On your profile it says indeed that this thread is a day old. But here it says it's two hours old. And all of the old responses from yesterday have had their timing reset, "10 minutes ago" -- I definitely remember that boffin comment from yesterday because it made me look up the word.

What happened?

You're right. I didn't write my comment today (it was either yesterday or the day before). Yet, I see it says I wrote it 12 minutes ago. Weird.

After I explained what HN is to my son he hacked into the db and started messing with time stamps

But seriously that is strange

I've noticed similar things before a couple of times. (Like a comment changing from a day to 10 minutes old) Maybe they're doing site maintenance or changing stuff at the time...

People write about cool things and you can read about cool things. The cooler a thing is the more people look at it.

Keep your vocab limited when explaining to kids. Otherwise you'll go down a rabbit hole of "what does that mean". Which is fine if you want to do that, but a 2 year old isn't going to remember a lot of it.

Tell him its kind of like Lightning Mc Queen connecting to Mater and gang to ask for help when he is out racing and has trouble winning.

Three more years and the kid will be online on his smartphone. Don't worry about it.

I don't know - I was aware of BBS'es by the time I was 2; that's where I got my games from! I'd just say that you talk to other people through it, because they show you fun things to read.

My advice, as the father of a ten year old, would be to get off hacker news and enjoy every second of having an amazing two year old! It's a wonderful time and it flies by.

I would say it's a place where people who spend a lot of time on the internet try to gain status by posting comments which they expect to be upvoted.

It depends which toolset the 2 year old is currently using.

His stack is basically: Brio, Lego, Crayola, and Hotwheels.

Full stack then, he can build stuff fully from the ground up!

"It's sort of where grownups play Crayola with other grownups who are far away. Sort of like a magic portal, only it's real and based on science."

Maybe just play with him, I bet he doesn't care at all about some bullshit orange thingy, but your attention.

"A place where people can leave notes to others that can also read them on a computer like mine."

No need to overthink this. Kid just wanted your attention.

A website where people post random stuff on. People supposed to discuss on topics posted but the discussion deviates in random directions anyway.

I find it amazing that your son was able to say "What's that orange thing papa's looking at?" at only 2 years.

Tell him it’s how Daddy sucks his thumb

I won't.

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