Category Archives: 28 months

A typical school day – before and after

The first term has come and gone better than I expected! In April, B started taking his mid-day nap in school.  Before this, I’d usually rush to pick him up on time after my meetings, work or lunch. He’d be too excited to see mama and though he was tired by 1p, he’d often skip naps and end up cranky by evening. Now on weekdays, he naps daily at school (~1.5-2 hours), I pick him up after 3p and we spend the rest of the day together. I’m thankful for the wonderful teachers and friends that’s he’s made, how well they’ve helped him adjust to nursery life, enabling us to have quality time together and apart.

Singing with the ukulele in his uniform
Before school: Singing with the ukulele (in his uniform)
After school (nap): Afternoon snack with mama in his pjs

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Special Review and Offer: Bibinogs Free Trial and 50% Off Registration

I’ve always believed immersion is the best way to learn languages (ideally at home too) or else, a solid bilingual learning environment works too. We’re not quite ready to leave B alone in a new all-Chinese class, so when I found out about BibinogsMandarin Tots class, a 1.5 hour Mandarin immersion accompanied program for 18 to 30 month olds, we gave it shot, had a good trial and decided to join them for a term.  As I shared recently, my flexi work schedule enables me to join him in the afternoons and follow up at home too, and I didn’t want an overly academic, rote-learning drop off class (as Chengzhu’s N1 Language Learners and Berries turned out to be) to kill his interest in Chinese before it’s had a chance to grow  :0

At 28 months, B is quite the singing chatterbox in English but he clams up in an all-Chinese environment. The more you “tekan” the less he’ll cooperate – he’ll even refuse to speak or say jibberish though he understands you (and talks) well enough. So I’ve been quite amazed at how Bibinogs has brought my little clam out of his Chinese shell!

Here’s what we like about Bibinogs:

1. Individual yet non-threatening attention: So far, there’s been no more than 8 students per 2 teachers in a comfortably sized classroom, ensuring a high teacher to student ratio. All teachers go out of their way to patiently engage everyone, try different methods of drawing out responses from the kids, help parents manage and/or distract them as needed, make individual observations and take feedback. This personal, in-your-own time approach is bearing fruit. B would eventually volunteer answers, repeat and use correct phrases, esp. if bribed with food or stickers 🙂  He was even comfortable enough to spontaneously sing 一闪一闪 (Twinkle twinkle little star) and 我的朋友在那里 (Where’s my friend?) in class!

嘀嗒嘀嗒下雨啦!
嘀嗒嘀嗒下雨啦!

2. Interactive theme-based fun: Terms are based around themes, which in turn, are split into multiple new words per week. Each class reinforces the vocabulary with an action rhyme, song(s), art and craft, with occasional games, storybooks, drama or puppetry. Chinese number and character recognition are cleverly integrated with hands-on manipulatives, flash cards, 儿歌 (nursery rhymes),  magnetised strokes and whiteboards as visual aids. Every session has a good mix of familiar and new songs to allow everyone to learn them yet not get bored. Specific songs are adapted with individual greetings (friends names, caregivers, teachers) for intros and farewells. There’s actually so much going on that I’ve never “checked the clock” and yet, enough emphasis is placed to help retention – without excessive drilling, thankfully. I’ve heard B randomly repeating parts of the week’s songs, new rhyme and/or  vocabulary outside of class, so something must have stuck with my ants-in-his-pants boy 😉

Stars and moon mobile craft (now decorating the class)
Their stars and moon mobile craft decorating the class

3.  Phonics makes a difference: Their proprietary Baby Mandarin program deserves special mention as all the kids are remarkably attentive and responsive when it’s time for 幼儿拼音 (Hanyu Pinyin) at the end of each class. Hearing the main vocal sounds (e.g. “姐姐喝水, h h h” with corresponding actions) provides a missing verbal link for those who live in non-Chinese speaking environments. How can you expect anyone to just repeat word after word in a “new” language, if they’re not confident or comfortable pronouncing them in the first place? The Bibinogs approach recognises the value of teaching Chinese phonics at an early age to bi/multilingual kids.

4. Best of both worlds with bilingual: Besides the full Mandarin immersion classes, Bibinogs also runs a fun, high energy parent-accompanied bilingual program for 6-30 month olds (1 hour in English, 15 mins in Mandarin following a similar, but condensed version). Babies and tots receive hands-on, multi-dimensional and engaging learning experiences: physical development through music, movement and games; fine motor skills through art, craft and sensory play; language, communication skills and learn about the world around them through dramatization, story-telling, puppetry, action rhymes, poems and songs. They are also introduced to phonics and word blending through Jungle Friends.

Learning
Learning “M” while making and mixing baby dough

5. Something just for you: Bibinogs offers a variety of programs from 6 months to 6 years.  English, Mandarin immersion or bilingual, accompanied or drop-off, enrichment or preschool, and even short term/holiday classes. There’s no fixed number of days in a week to commit to, e.g. you can enroll for 1, 2 or 3 days per week for enrichment classes, depending on your situation. Many parents would also appreciate the flexibility of having a certain number of make up classes which are allowed with advance notice, no MC required. Lastly, with multiple locations: Kings Arcade (preschool only), Serene Center, UE Square and Siglap (enrichment classes), Bibinogs makes it real easy to find a class, time and location that suits you.

A typical classroom
A typical classroom

And now, a special offer for all Finally Mama fans – offer expires March 31, 2015
1) Use the code: FINALLYMAMA when you contact Bibinogs
2) FREE trial for ANY enrichment program
3) 50% off the registration fee if you decide to sign up for subsequent classes after the trial

This is a sponsored review. 

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Green living in our Garden City

Back when I was still working full time, there was a LOT of green development near my office on Alexandra Road due to the Southern Ridges trail with its iconic Henderson Wave Bridge and Alexandra Arch linking Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve.  See this DIY Guide to The Southern Ridges for more info 🙂

B was in my belly as I hiked, strolled and eventually, waddled along the pathways. But since I had B and left corporate life, we hadn’t  gone back there until recently when we drove by the area and ended up visiting playground after playground at the new Alexandra Canal Linear Park which is being extended from Tanglin Road to Zion Road (River Valley) via the Alexandra Park Connector!

Alexandra

B enjoyed scooting down the 1km+ path, stopping occasionally to climb, slide, jump on the trampoline, play with the exercise equipment and even share his scooter with new friends.  I chitchated with the locals, answering “he’s almost 2.5 years” and “no, daddy is not angmoh” at least 20 times, overall enjoying the friendly and neighbourly vibe.  It was nice to NOT be the only local at a private estate playground or crowded out at the bigger, more popular parks.

Hand-cranked gondola off Block 61C Strathmore Ave
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Trampoline near Block 61C Strathmore Avenue Playground
MyFirstSkool playground
Block 81 Strathmore Avenue Playground with a rock climbing wall

So today, I’m thankful for the foresight and commitment in Singapore to ensure that ALL benefit from this truly Garden City.  I also value the effort and care in enriching the local community with free yet well-maintained public parks and playgrounds.  Keep up the good work, Nparks!

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Music with mama: Structured home time

“Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.” – Plato
B and I have always enjoyed making music together. Once he could sit up, we attended music and movement meetups and eventually, Kindermusik Village and Our Time classes till he started nursery this year. If like us, (1) your tot already gets some music exposure in preschool, (2) you think he has potential and interest to go further, but (3) you’re uncertain about the differences, cost and logistics of “extra” music classes, why not try some fun yet structured music making at home instead.  Given my thoughts on enrichment, I’m currently not sending B for additional music class until he’s ready for specific instrument, dance or vocal lessons. We recently completed a 10-day free trial of BrillKids’ Little Musician and plan to adapt it for the year as long as I’ve got a flexi WAHM schedule. B LOVED it. He asks for “Music at home? Solfège? Clap along?” and sings random chords throughout the day. Check out the video to see (or rather, hear) what I mean!
Wait a minute. Solfège? Music training? Sounds so hardcore! Also, isn’t music best learnt in a group? Well, B gets plenty of social music with his school and playmates. What I’m doing here is more structured music that’ll lead into formal lessons in the future. This was easy to try given my music background but after the trial and seeing all the resources available, I’m sure anyone can do it too. No need any “formal” experience or pitch perfection. The key is the right attitude, interest and time 🙂
Let me explain a bit more….
Why “music training” and why now?
– Music is a whole brain activity, using 90% of the brain, more than any other activity
-Music lessons in childhood do enlarge the brain, with studies showing better grades due to improved concentration, confidence and learning
– Music trains the higher cognitive functions, spatial-temporal reasoning, puzzle-solving, aesthetic literacy, overall perceptual, imaginative, visual and mathematical abilities
– Singing and pitch discrimination are increasingly accepted as tools to learn to read
– Rhythm and tempo control helps kids perform routine activities with more ease and efficiency
– Instrumental practice enhances coordination, concentration, memory, improves eyesight and hearing
What can you do at home? LOTS if you’re willing to be involved and do it regularly. Short periods frequently in a relaxed environment work best at the early ages. What I liked about Little Musician is each session lasts only 5 mins every day – with options for more. Build on what your kid knows or enjoys, use activities that develop a good ear like listening, singing and imitation, and have fun performing, composing and improvising together.
Singing and Listening begins while the wee one is in your belly. Once he starts to make vocal sounds, he’ll soon imitate you (and others) in singing, so sing often and enthusiastically, together or alone – no need for fancy instruments or to wait until their motor skills improve or you join a class. While background music has its time and place, active listening involves interaction. Engage your kid on what they hear and respond when the songs, tempo or dynamics change. Draw, dance, show pictures or videos of instruments and performers, attend live concerts as often as you can. Concert prices in Singapore are quite pricy but there ARE many free or community events that work just as well. Don’t just stick to nursery rhymes and lullabies, introduce classical, jazz, rock, pop, rock, folk, world music too. The younger the child, the wider their taste although they also love repetition 🙂

Rhythm and Pitch is B’s first indication (to me) that he liked music. As a baby, he loved rhythm – bouncing on my lap or knee, swaying, spinning, dancing, clapping, and was fascinated by my guitar, electronic keys, buttons and drum pads at home. We are now working more on pitch, i.e. the ability to distinguish how high or low a note is and whether something is out of tune or not. This is where solfège comes in, i.e. do-re-mi, the easiest and most common system of learning pitch and scales. It links listening, singing and playing (aural skills) as we learn to hear sounds in our head before singing. Do-re-mi is easy to vocalise with open vowel endings ideal for singing as opposed to ABC letters for key names. Somewhat inspired by the Eguchi Method, we listen to and match notes with letters and solfège names using hand signals and a colour coded keyboard (or other pitch instruments such as xylophone, handbells, chime, resonator bars if you have them).


Instruments
(toy, home-made or real) expose them to different types of sounds: everyday ones, pitched and unpitched. Start with percussion such as drums, shakers and castanets and expose them to “real” instruments like violins, guitars, pianos, other strings, woodwinds and brass, if possible. You don’t have to buy – DIY with household items, borrow or exchange with friends, “play” whenever you can on real instruments. Else, brands with good quality, child-sized instruments are Melissa & Doug, Music4Tots, Music Factory products though IMO, these are lower priced overseas 🙂

Violin seesaw
 
Composing and Improvisation comes naturally to kids. Has your lil one ever changed the lyrics or tune slightly with a cheeky grin? B does that all the time (even in Chinese)! We should encourage this. Talk about it when they’re doing it, what sounds, dynamics and words are used, introduce vocabulary as you accompany a favourite story or match different moods and situations. Be silly together and your kid will see music as something they can use to express themselves and play with on their own. How many times have I asked B “What shall we sing?” and he goes “Wheels On The Bus” with a funky new variation each time!

Of course, Little Musician isn’t the only home resource out there. I’ve listed a few more for music appreciation and some (paid and free) learning programs as well:
Plank Road Publishing Music Concept Videos – fun, animated, FREE videos
Trebellina, an animated treble clef that teaches babies, toddlers, and preschoolers how to read music, pitch, and instrument names and sounds
Beethoven’s Wig – classical music with lyrics and bits of knowledge added
– Golden Records child’s introduction series digitised vinyl records available for free
Classics For Kids for resources on classical music and composers
Tuneables music education cartoons for preschoolers
Moosicology songs, stories and colourful pictures for 0-7 years

Source: Little Musician, Moosicology, Wikipedia and other sites from Google!

For updates, reviews and more, like Finally Mama on Facebook and follow me on Instagram.  For music ideas, come visit by Pinterest tot music ideas board.  Have a music program for under 3s? I’m always open to trial and discuss 🙂

What’s playing at Watten

Watten Estate lies between home and B’s school, so we’ve driven past countless times but hadn’t explored till recently. If you venture beyond Bougainvillea Park which is a tad overgrown, the larger shady Watten Estate Park (off Hillcrest Road, near Greenwood Avenue) is lovely BUT there’s no washroom for the wee ones 😦
A mom friend also told me about Shelford Road Playground, a hidden gem nearby (junction of Shelford and Watten State Road) that’s perfect for tots:

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Enrichment: Can’t live without it, can’t live with it

I cringe whenever my friends with primary (and yes, even preschool) age kids talk about their packed evening and weekend enrichment schedules. I cringe because I can identify, and I see how easy it is for us – well-meaning parents – to get caught up in a race that’s become more about academic excellence rather than academic help for those who truly need it.

Our own enrichment woes are about Chinese. Although I’ve tried to keep B’s time free for play and bonding, this is one area where we need help in. I harbour no illusions that B will be a top scorer in advanced Chinese, but I do want him to be confident academically when he enters local primary, and not let poor Chinese be his Achilles heel in school, and later on in life. Currently, I haven’t found the right program since B graduated from the parent accompanied playgroups at Chengzhu as the timing and method are not suited for my kinesthetic and auditory learning boy. We’ve tried 1-to-1 tutors at home but B’s too young and lacks the focus to engage 100% with them – and besides, playing and interacting in Chinese with him is something I can do myself. I’m not ready to leave him alone in a brand new (fully Chinese!) environment as he just started half day nursery. So in the interim, we signed up for weekly mom-and-tots flexi sessions at Bibinogs till B turns 2.5 years, hopefully enabling us to enjoy our last few months in class together. Going forward, I’m still searching for a more structured yet interactive class that mixes outside and at home learning. Maybe we’ll trial Berries or Hua nearer us in a few months when he’s ready for another drop off. I’m also in the midst of sourcing more Chinese toddler books and DVDs, but the caveat is this banana-mama needs hanyupinyin to make any sense of the characters 😦 At the moment, the only time he willingly speaks Chinese is when he sings. A start, I guess?

All that said, before you go tiger mom enrichment-crazy on your kid, watch this video – a reminder that too much of a good thing can be more harm than help. Let’s not kill their interest before it has a chance to bloom!

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World peace begins at home

What does it mean to live a peaceful life? IMHO, the key is to work towards peaceful relationships in your home – with your spouse, kid(s) and if you have any, your domestic helper. But how to do this when we’re struggling with being at peace in our own lives? As parents, we’re often busy, stressed, sleep-deprived, sick whenever the kids get sick, and lacking any personal time or space. Here are some thoughts:

With your spouse: Sometimes, a little time out gives much needed perspective when emotions are frayed. There are days when I still struggle with giving up a traditional corporate career and the (seemingly lack of) ROI on all my years of education – resulting in a rather bitter attitude towards my constantly away hardworking hubby. I’ve been trying to reflect and approach situations with a more peaceful and rested heart. Also, as parents, we should TRY not to let our issues (anger, disappointment, concern, etc.) with each other surface too frequently in front of the kids. The very young ones can pick up on the emotion but may not understand the context or even think it is about them, i.e. something they did wrong. For me – someone who often wears her heart on her sleeve – this is hard. Just as we teach our kids to use their “indoor voice”, I too need to remember that being peaceful means to talk and not shout, to smile and not frown.

With kids: Give our kids the foundation to develop and learn to be a child of God – peaceful, cheerful and contented. As B adjusts to nursery drop off and soon, taking his mid-day nap there as well, we’re trying to re-establish a routine that provides comfort yet fosters independent growth. Kids thrive in a secure environment with familiar surroundings, playmates and caregivers, regular healthy meals, designated quiet times with spaces to play/read on their own, unique yet diverse experiences AND perhaps most importantly, adequate sleep – ideally by 9p. I’ve ALWAYS been asked about B’s early bedtime, as in “why can’t he come out, stay later, wake up later instead” To me, sleep is sacred. When kids sleep well, we all sleep well, so why change what ain’t broke?

With the helper: Let’s face it. We are lucky, spoilt even, in Asia to have foreign domestic workers who assist us in chores and if you need, babysitters and nannies at a reasonable rate, be it part time or live in. Yet too often I find employers who do not treat their helper in a way that leads to a peaceful living and working relationship, while they maintain high expectations on their deliverables and attitude. B asked me once: “mama, daddy, ama, kong kong is family. What about aunty (our helper’s name)?” I told him “We live together in this house, we should treat her like family too.” I wonder if he understood that, but he does now include her in his prayer requests at night and asks where she is when we go out on our own or on her days off.

The more centered we are on Christ and not self, the more we’ll be at peace with others and ourselves.

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