Category Archives: books

How many ways can you play-doh?

Which kid doesn’t love science?  It satisfies their natural curiosity, especially at the age when they don’t stop asking “why” and also devour anything they can read (or be read to). It’s also – simply put, pretty darn cool.  Lately, B has gotten rather obsessed with space.  He’s watched the Magic School Bus Lost In Space episode at least 20 times – I caught him at it again with Netflix on my iPad early this morning when I woke up!  He creates LEGO rockets and launches them on a journey through the planets.  He loves to show the Solar Walk 2 app on our Apple TV to anyone who visits our home. He talks about being an astronaut when he grows up, staying on the ISS (after we read about the historic year in space), travelling to Pluto which he insists IS a planet, a “dwarf planet.”  He’s also been asking to go to a planetarium – but as the observatory at the Science Center isn’t terribly kid-friendly or that exciting (sorry), I told him we’ll try to visit California or Houston one day.

This weekend, we decided to use PLAY-DOH to build a model of the solar system. B was fully engaged for 1.5 hours, even pausing to check out facts on my iPhone like where’s the asteroid belt, which planets have rings, what’s the right comparative size and colour!

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PLAY-DOH has been a staple at our home – and we continue to find creative ways to use it. When B was younger, we’d set tubs out during play dates as it usually kept the toddlers occupied for a while, plus, it’s not that messy and super easy to clean up. When B struggled to write and draw well, his teachers recommended PLAY-DOH to strengthen his fine motor skills in a fun way.  These days, we take it out to support creative play at home with some fun hands-on experiments and imaginative story telling on a range of topics like natural disasters, dinosaurs, and geography.

On that note, if you’re looking for something to do with the kids over the school break, check out PLAY-DOH’s 60th Anniversary Celebration from June 6-12 (12-9p daily) at Waterway Point, Village Square Level 1 (West Wing). There’ll be a variety of birthday activities including the attempt to enter the Singapore Book of Records with the largest cupcake tower, workshops, story telling and photo ops with mascots by Da Little Arts School, among other fringe activities. On top of that, the first 1000 to contribute their cupcake creations will also receive a free Hasbro goodie bag.

For updates, reviews and more, follow Finally Mama on Facebook and Instagram.

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Special Review and Offer: Sparkanauts Leyun 乐云 Chinese program

Does your kid find it hard to sit still in class? 
Do you want to do more together, but have no idea where to start?
Do you wish your kid had better exposure to Chinese than you did?

We do.  Before B started preschool, hubby and I would take him to Sparkanauts every weekend.  We loved the energetic pace, observant teachers, stimulating environment and thoughtful curriculum designed for parent and child bonding, in and out of class.  We were also inspired to try many theme-based extension activities at home together, and I attribute B’s interest in science today to the exposure we both had in his early years.

When we found out that Sparkanauts was planning a Chinese program, we were thrilled. Finally! A place where kinesthetic learners – like B – won’t feel left out, bored or discouraged with Chinese. Having been involved in their initial pilots, we are really pleased to share that the Leyun 乐云 Chinese program officially launches this August. There are different classes for 18 months and up; each class embraces a holistic approach with a range of physical, intellectual and social activities to grow our kids’ awareness, appreciation and understanding of Chinese.

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A truly immersive experience – from craft to cooking to culture. This type of active participation that doesn’t seek a perfect “result” keeps them learning and engaged positively
Little touches, big difference. The weekly booklet contains an update to parents in English on what they did from the book of the month, with suggested reading and writing activities, and Chinese words and phrases (with hanyupinyin!) to reinforce.

I was surprised to receive this video of B sitting down to trace and write characters. Mama didn’t write Chinese characters till primary school, and had no idea what these strokes were called then.

Details on the three different class offerings plus a very special giveaway are included below.

Curious Class (乐班)
Age Group: 18 months to 30 months old
Parent/Caregiver Accompanied
Duration: 75 Minutes
Frequency: Once a week. Tues 3PM, 430PM. Wed 130PM. Thurs 245PM. Fri 230PM.

Objective: The child will be exposed to the Mandarin language in a natural, fun environment. They will enjoy speaking, singing and reading in Mandarin as they are introduced to the language.

What to Expect:
– Thematic learning
– Mandarin Music and Movement
– Rhythmic Sing along
– Gross Motor Play
– Dramatic Show and Tell
– Craft
– Story Time
– Snack Time

Witty Class (飞跃班)
Age Group: 3 years – 5 years
Drop Off (Non-Accompanied Class)
Duration
: 60 Mins
Frequency: Once a week. Wed 5PM, Thurs 430PM, Fri 1PM

Objective: This program adopts a story-based learning approach to engage the sense of fun and adventure in your child, helping them to learn more about the world around them. They will be introduced to key words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) on a weekly basis that will enable them to read the book of the month. Children will be introduced to basic Mandarin strokes and successfully write commonly used Mandarin words in this program.

What to Expect:
– Book based learning
– Mandarin Music and Movement
– Gross Motor Play
– Introduction to Chinese Idioms
– Writing in Mandarin
– Craft

Bilingual Class  (双语班)
Age Group: 3 years – 5 years
Drop Off (Non-Accompanied Class)
Duration
: 1.5 hours
Frequency: Once a week. Tues 1PM, Thurs 1PM.

Objective: This program adopts a story-based learning approach to engage the sense of fun and adventure in your child, helping them to learn more about the world around them. Children will also be introduced to the story in English, and their comprehension skills are further developed during the English segment of the class. They will be introduced to Mandarin key words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) on a weekly basis that will enable them to read the book of the month. Children will be introduced to basic Mandarin strokes and successfully write commonly used Mandarin words in this program.

What to Expect:
– Book based learning (English and Mandarin)
– Mandarin Music and Movement
– Gross Motor Play
– Introduction to Chinese Idioms
– Writing in Mandarin
– Craft

Experience the difference for yourself!

We are offering TWO complimentary trial passes to any Sparkanauts Leyun Chinese class at Toa Payoh SAFRA, valued at $48 each. Please visit the Rafflecopter link here and follow the steps to stand a chance to win.  Giveaway ends Friday, 7 August 2015.

From now until 6 August 2015, Sparkanauts is also running the following promotion:
1. Special trial class price at $10 (U.P. $48)
2. Parents who sign up for the package after the trial will enjoy the pre-launch promotional 10 sessions package price of $398 (U.P. $458) for Witty and Curious Class, and $498 (U.P. $550) for the Bilingual class. The pre-launch package price will be locked in as long as the child continues with the programme
3. Waiver of registration fees (U.P. $68)

For more updates, reviews and giveaways, follow Finally Mama on Facebook and Instagram.  Views expressed here are solely my own.  We really do love Sparkanauts… and the water playground after class! 🙂 

A child who reads will be an adult who thinks

B is reading! Actually reading.

I knew this moment would come, but I was still quite surprised when it did.  His delight at putting letters and sounds together to read books (and in many cases, new words) is totally infectious.  And so addictive, he’s even neglected his “first love” – vehicles that is, not his mommy!  He still enjoys reading about them though, like this simple early readers series below.

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Books about vehicles were the ones that B started “reading” on his own

Lately, he wants to read when he wakes, on the road, while eating, after school, before sleeping so besides lugging books around, we also play mommy’s “crack the code” game. All you need is a paper and pen, get them to decipher word sequences (e.g. TO, TOP, STOP; GO, GOD, DOG; WOO (our family name), WOOD, GOOD, FOOD, COOK, etc.), and if there’s time, especially those long family dinners out, ask them to make a story or draw a picture from all of that!

Best of all, this happened naturally.  No pressure, no expectations. It’s been a fun journey to get to this point, yet I feel like we’re just at the end of the beginning. What we did was to start young (B had his first library card at 7 weeks!), surround him with books (we borrow more than we buy), highlight print in our daily environment, talk and read regularly together.  I then followed his lead, introducing things at his own pace with help from our “village” of hands-on caregivers, a must-have for working moms. The grandparents who are avid library goers, and nursery teachers who reinforced phonics via  Letterland, were open to suggestions beyond the “curriculum” – which lists reading as a 5 year old target. I also remember this book about language development that influenced my views with its easy yet systematic approach in the early years: From awareness, to recognition, from sight reading by memory, to pretend reading while tracking words, and finally, actual reading.

His breakthrough in English reading has also motivated us in Chinese.  I want B to grow up effectively multilingual – but that hasn’t been as easy because we can’t replicate the basics at home: I’m not as comfortable reading and improvising in Chinese, no one else at home uses it regularly, and frankly, recognising Chinese characters relies heavily on memorisation. But since deciphering words gets B motivated lately, we’ve revived his interest using level-appropriate bilingual or hanyupinyin material.  His Chinese is in the 0-3 year toddler range, unlike his English proficiency – a great reminder how important immersion is, and also how we need to customise and be flexible with our kids!

We repurpose Chinese flash cards as a game:

We look for interactive story and activity books that come with stickers, puzzles, tracing and number games.  Some good ones can be found at Popular or through Flip For Joy:

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Unfortunately with Chinese, there’s no easy “code to crack” so I’ve turned to enrichment for further immersion beyond his exposure in school and our limited time at home.  There’s been slow though steady improvement, and we’re exploring new options this year.  I’ll probably write more on this once we’ve experienced what works best. Meanwhile, as Chinese self-discovery doesn’t come so naturally for us, we try to build on words he’s learnt already or books he’s reading, like this early readers book series which has a page with hanyupinyin at the back for banana-mamas like me :/

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And so our language journey continues. Along the way, we relish how reading unlocks his imagination and gets him thinking in new ways. For example: One of the first books we lap-read together when he was a baby was Herve Tullet’s “Press Here.”  It’s since been a springboard to introduce colours, actions, Chinese, board games and even inspired his recent Art Jam at school.

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Books are made of endless possibilities. Read on!

For updates, reviews and more, like Finally Mama on Facebook and follow me on Instagram 

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Xavvy-licious    Growing with the Tans

Advent-uring together

Where has the time gone?

As a full time working mom again, I find that I have more focus as my daytime schedule, work and family priorities are very straightforward (sick days and school closure days aside). I also relish the me-time, especially when I’m travelling and am grateful that all the transition and support planning has worked out. When I was away for 10 days on an overseas trip, I was completely reassured that B is in good hands even though we both missed each other. What can’t ever be replaced though is TIME together. Our weekday mornings and evenings now just feel so rushed!

Speaking of time (or the lack of), I’m keen to carve out some quality mom-and-B time as we count down to the Christmas and New Year holidays.  Last year we learnt about the gift of Christmas, that the season is not just about gifting but also the act of giving, and God’s ultimate gift of life.  As B had just turned 2, he learnt Christmas carols, art and craft, how to pray for others and joined us in his first community service visit. Now that he’s 3, we’re trying to be more intentional to cultivate his faith. We started by including him in our weekly cell group fellowship this past Friday night. B was so excited before and after – though I’m not sure if it was due to extended time playing, hanging out with mommy and friends, or the extra special late bedtime 🙂

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Meanwhile, I’ve also been compiling ideas to try this Advent season, though as usual, my wish list is far longer than in reality:

1) Devotional: Reading the bible is now a regular bedtime routine. B actually takes his beginners bible out and asks (insists!) on a story or two every night.  As we’ve read through the Old Testament and most of the New Testament stories, this December, we’ll move to the One Year Devotions for Preschoolers book that we got from a friend.

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B’s beginners bible and a sample page from the preschooler’s devotional

2) Truth In The Tinsel: Designed for 3+ years, we’re trying it now as B has been introduced to the kids bible (see above) and can stay engaged on a home project over several days (see what we did for Teachers’ Day).  Also, the Christmas tree is quite bare as I did a bit of spring cleaning and I’m sure B will happily oblige to add more stuff to it. The idea is to read a passage of Scripture, make a Christmas ornament and talk through the related narrative every day. The story or activity can be adapted as needed – to match B’s level, attention span, and our time together. We did a “trial” to replace the star for our tree, loosely based on a sample page from the e-book:

Our new Christmas star using foam and paper stickers
Making a star using foam and paper stickers
Sample page - Star
Sample page – Star

3) Advent Calendar:  Last year, I recycled B’s artwork to make a wall calendar with clear plastic pockets to mark the 24 days till Christmas. Each day, we prayed for specific family, friends, those in need, our country and world, ending with the fruits of the spirit in our own lives. Although this calendar has since been used as a fun Letterland upper and lowercase matching game, we could always just repurpose this once more if I run out of time…

2013 advent prayer calendar
2013 advent prayer calendar

HOWEVER, I’d love to make a new advent calendar which could double as a festive decoration too.  Here are two DIY ideas that I like and find age-appropriate for toddlers: Toilet Paper Roll House and Scrapbook Gift Wrap Paper calendars. These could contain simple clues (for Truth In The Tinsel), scripture verses (from daily devotion), or just a list of fun yet meaningful activities or items each day.

4) Christmas books:  This year, I hope to check out the titles in this reading list as we’ve found quite a few (still) available at the public libraries in Singapore.  B also received a beginners Christmas piano song book from his aunt in California – and we look forward to incorporate that into our regular home music sessions 🙂

Unwrapping the gifts from  California :)
Unwrapping the gifts from California 🙂

Even if you don’t celebrate Advent but are keen to get some crafty time with the kid during the holidays, feel free to try these out, visit my pinterest board for more ideas, and of course share what you’re doing with us too. Happy Advent-uring!

For updates, reviews and more, like me at Finally Mama on Facebook.

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Hole in the bottom of the sea

B and his classmates have been busy preparing for their Term 3 musical showcase – based on Jessica Law’s adaptation of “Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” with a bit of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” thrown in for the sea effects. Hubby saw B perform live for the first time, and was quite proud of our little “crab!” This renewed B’s interest in sea life which was a nice break from weeks of vehicles and space talk at home. As we had previously done a diorama together, this time we tried a simple book-based craft using Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish series.

Here’s how we did it:

Borrow the book(s) from the library and read them!

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There are many books in the series, but we chose “Rainbow Fish To The Rescue” as it had a meaningful storyline (about sharing, caring and inclusion) AND it had a shark – which coincided with his school play

Print/draw fish templates for the lil one to colour. We used the fish colouring handouts from a play we attended. I let B choose his own colours and material. I guess he wanted to recreate the book’s actual look and feel as this is what he came up with – colourful crayons, blue/green watercolour paint, and glitter for the shiny scales:

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B’s more self aware now, and is still TRYING to paint inside the lines cleanly. He told me “mama, so messy!” but I said “No worries. We’re cutting the fish out and it’ll look great!”

I got him to broadly cut out the fish, then let him work on his sea animals puzzles while I trimmed the little fishies and prepared the box – drawing inspiration from a craft I found here.

Ha, I think you can tell which one mama did
Ha, I think you can tell which one mama did
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Puzzles help to reinforce and break the monotony of waiting (or painting too long!). While I finished the cutting, B “revised” his 1-10 numbers and Chinese names like 沙鱼 (shark)

Unlike our previous “fixed” diorama, I wanted this to be moveable so I cut horizontal lines (<1 cm width) to slide water bottle caps with the fishes tied and taped at the bottom to give the effect of “swimming.”  Any medium size box will do.  I just flipped our DIY bus/train on the side for this – recycling rocks!

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Top view of the box (jagged lines ‘coz I was doing this super quick!)

Finally, B punched holes, cut pieces of scotch tape and string, and threaded them through each fish.  I helped to tie and fix them to the  top of the box. WP_20140921_006For updates, reviews and more, like me at Finally Mama on Facebook.

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Outstanding books for outstanding teachers

I’ve been helping B’s school plan a “surprise” Teachers’ Day celebration with the rest of the Parent Support Group. While researching various gift options, I came across some inspiring, some tongue-in-cheek books that would be perfect for teachers.  After all, “a book is a gift you can open again and again” (Garrison Keillor), right?  So if you’re looking for an idea for your kid’s teachers, check out the titles below by clicking on the links for more info.  Don’t forget to use our blog readers discount of 15% off with the code “FINALLYMAMA” when you purchase from the NoQ store.

My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not) by Peter Brown.
My teacher is a monster

Because You Are My Teacher by Sherry North.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! by Dr Seuss

To Sir, with Love by Rick Braithwaite

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith

What If There Were No Teachers?

Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul

For updates, reviews and more, like me at Finally Mama on Facebook.

Fun For Free SG: Jurong Early Literacy Library

As a child, I spent countless hours in libraries flipping through books which in turn, fed the writing of my own short stories. It’s no surprise that I now have raised a kid who loves books and the thrill of knowledge and discovery that they bring! So for my turn at this Fun For Free SG series, I’m delighted to share the Jurong East Early Literacy Library with you all.  IMO, this is (or close to being), the perfect library for tots and preschoolers.

Jurong Early Literacy Library - the first of its kind in Singapore
Jurong Early Literacy Library – the first of its kind in Singapore

Most of us have heard the benefits of exposing our kids to books and by extension, the library at an early age.  In fact, I signed B up for his library card at 7 weeks! It would even have been earlier if I wasn’t so sleep deprived and self-conscious about nursing him in public 🙂 Library visits were easy when he was a baby. I’d wear him or push him in his stroller while I walked (or rather crouched) down the Baby aisles selecting sensory or picture board books. This changed when he started crawling, cruising, walking and beyond!  Library trips would be cut short, with me planning ahead which titles and authors to get, then rushing to find books from either the Baby or JP section, while keeping one eye on B’s moving target.  Eventually I’d just go to the library on my own to flip through and vet the ones to borrow, find good English and Chinese ones (the inconsistent categorisation of Chinese books is another library post/rant)… and maybe even something for myself!

In reality, here’s what B does at his library visits as a toddler:

B “driving” the chairs around at the Bishan library kids section
B running off to hug Singa (our courtesy lion mascot) at the Ang Mo Kio library

Thankfully, our restless tot dilemma was finally solved by the Jurong Regional Library, the largest public library in Singapore with four storeys and a basement which houses the first early literacy library for under 6 year olds. This is the only library I can comfortably bring B along and have him quietly and contentedly stay in one area browsing through books, puzzles, toys, et al while I chill and browse, observing him from a distance.  At our last visit, we were there for 1.5 hours! I leisurely found enough books to satisfy even the double-your-loan-quota season AND B didn’t get any warnings from librarians for being loud, hyper-active or squabble with other kids!

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Space to dress up, role play and tell stories
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Baby section thoughtfully organised by sensory books
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We don’t just have books, we’ve got puzzles too!
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B clambered up to this cozy nook and sat there flipping through books, working on puzzles and “reading” to toy Spot
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There are a few kiosks with e-readers for preschoolers and older kids who can sit, listen and read to word-ier books
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The Chinese selection is excellent, organised by age and author/series (not just the hanyupinyin of titles). You need to go to the far right Chinese section to find it as only a handful of books are selected for display in the main kids play area
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Typical library book drop off, with a thoughtful step box for the little ones

Important Info:

Open Mon – Sun : 10a – 9p.  Closed on Public Holidays, and at 5p on eves of Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year

Parking: At J-CUBE right opposite the library, <2 mins walk via a covered pathway
Nearest MRT Station: Jurong East
Nearest Bus Interchange: Jurong East
Buses : SBS Transit 51, 52, 66, 78, 79, 97, 98, 105, 143, 160, 183, 197, 333, 334, 335, 506 (via Jurong East Bus Interchange)
SMRT 176, 178 (via Jurong Town Hall Road)
and SBS 198 (via Jurong Town Hall Road)

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Main Jurong East MRT and bus interchange is just a short walk away

Basic membership and registration is FREE for all Singaporeans.  PRs will need to pay a one-time registration fee of S$10.50.  Foreigners have no registration fee but are subject to an annual fee of S$42.80.  IMO, the fee is well worth the value as you can borrow up to 8 items (books/AV) for 3 weeks (renewable for another 3 weeks). Consider this: You pay <$1 per book even if you only visit every two months and borrow your quota of 8 books each time.  More details here. Happy Reading!

Books, books and more – books galore! Our recent haul from the library visit

We’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the increase in NLB family-friendly activities esp. involving parents and very young kids.  We’ve enjoyed attending the interactive library workshops for tots – and encourage you to bring your lil one along to the library nearest you! Some are free, some involve a token fee. Grab the latest Go Kids monthly newsletter or visit here for more info.

Monthly issue of Go Kids!
Monthly issue of Go Kids!

BTW, I chose this topic before the furor around the withdrawal of certain children’s books. So just to share my views as a Christian book-loving parent: I felt the National Library Board over-reacted and departed from its role i.e. to serve the community as a place to gain awareness, knowledge and info/entertainment. While I see the different points of view in this debate, I support having revised review policies with those books in question now available on (adult) shelves – with necessary disclaimers.

This is part of a blog train on Singapore’s Fun For Free places dedicated to anyone who’s ever needed to think about “where to bring the kids today?” Next up is Waiwai who blogs at PeiPei.HaoHao where she shares her parenting journey with her two children, DIY crafts, simple cooking and fun activities. Look out for her post for more interesting places!

waiwaiVisit all 31 Fun for Free train stops here:
1 Aug: Tiong Bahru Park by Gingerbreadmum
2 Aug: Queenstown Heritage Trail by Princess Dana Diaries
3 Aug: Jurong Regional Library by Finally Mama
4 Aug: Singapore Maritime Gallery by Peipei Haohao
5 Aug: Singapore Philatelic Museum by Kids R Simple
6 Aug: Sculptures of Singapore by Gingerbreadmum
7 Aug: Fire Station by The Js Arena
8 Aug: Esplanade + Merlion by Prayerfull Mum
9 Aug: Bukit Batok Nature Park by Meeningfully
10 Aug: Lower Pierce Reservoir Park by The Kam Family
11 Aug: I12 Katong – water playground by Universal Scribbles
12 Aug: IMM by Mad Psych Mum
13 Aug: Tampines 1 Water Playground by Amazingly Still
14 Aug: Sengkang Riverside Park by Itchy Finger Snap
15 Aug: East Coast Park by Toddly Mummy
16 Aug: Sembawang Shopping Centre Playground by Joey Craftworkz
17 Aug: Animal resort by Raising Faith
18 Aug: Botanic Gardens by Mum’s The Word
19 Aug: Police Heritage Centre by Mummy Ed
20 Aug: Venus Loop, MacRitchie by Scrap Mum Loft
21 Aug: Road Safety Park by Miracule
22 Aug: Marina Barrage by J Babies
23 Aug: Gardens By The Bay, Children’s Garden by Finally Mama
24 Aug: Changi Airport T3 by Mother Kao
25 Aug: Pockets of Nature by Mum in the Making
26 Aug: Changi Airport T1 by Growing with the Tans
27 Aug: Pasir Ris Park by Ingspirations
28 Aug: Gardens by the Bay Supertree Grove by My Lil Bookworm
29 Aug: Vivocity Play Area by Amazingly Still
30 Aug: Punggol Promenade by Chubby Anecdotes
31 Aug: Westgate Wonderland by Xavvylicious

For updates, reviews and more, like me at Finally Mama on Facebook.