Category Archives: chinese

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

I cringe whenever my friends (yes, starting from 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 harm more than help. Let’s not kill their interest before it can bloom!

 
 

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

I’m trying to be more intentional about faith with B this year as he’s developing his own childlike understanding from observing people and situations. At our nightly prayers before bed, he started making his own requests (e.g. “pray for dada working, tired,” “Jesus loves ama and kong kong”). So I decided to reinforce the lessons around fruits of the spirit from Sunbeam, our church’s kids programme, with simple activities and practical applications at home.

Here’s what we learnt and applied:

  1. Joyful parenting doesn’t come naturally. It’s not a product of the flesh but the spirit at work, bearing fruit in us. We need to cultivate thankfulness, remember that our child’s identity is in Christ, and look ahead with hope and faith for the fruit God promises to bring through our efforts.
  2. A joyful heart is about attitude, a contagious attitude from having a positive outlook in life. We talked about being joyful and strong even when we’re afraid and upset. I encouraged him to use words, laugh or sing instead of crying and screaming… and it’s been working! In fact, he’s been a trooper during his separation at school and this recent bout of coughing; and he’s also cheered my ailing mom who was hospitalised earlier this month with his singing, dancing and funny antics.
  3. To be joyful is to be thankful. I’m glad that B’s gotten into a habit of saying “thank you” or “谢谢” (if you’re lucky). At one point, he’d even say “thank you” when giving you things 😉 At nights, when we pray together, we also first thank God for each other and the day’s events – no matter how challenging the day has been, e.g. we’ve been sick, tired, angry. I’m still working on teaching him to say family grace before meals to reinforce gratefulness and obedience to God, although this one’s tougher as our family is of mixed beliefs and/or rarely eating together.

Since I’m on a quest to improve both our Chinese lately, I’ll end with these Chinese characters: When you’re happy (开心 kai xin), your heart is open but when you’re sad (伤心 shang xin), your heart is wounded. I’m glad that our son is learning how to turn to God and rejoice in the midst of his terrible two years; and that he is also opening the hearts of those around him.

Nehemiah 8:10 “The joy of the Lord makes me strong!”

new buttonmamawearpapashirt

To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul

Lately, B spontaneously calls out letters he recognises and sometimes sings the A-B-C Song while he pretends to “read” the print. Looks like he’s taking the next step to read WORDS on his own initiative, and not just recite from memory, vocalise or narrate what he sees. What a nice milestone for our brand new 2 year old 🙂 B’s also developed a list of places to ask for when we’re getting ready to go out. To my secret bookworm delight, we hear “go library and read book” almost every other day! Other regulars include “Bus stop and MRT?”, “play outside, playground, park”, “Botanic Gardens” (where he likes feeding the fish), “ama 公公”, “爷爷 奶奶” and his buddies’ “house”, “buy food at Fairprice” (we grocery shop together a lot), “ride toy car/train at shopping mall”, “music” and “Chinese class” (i.e. Kindermusik, Jiggle Wigs, Chengzhu). It’s encouraging to see all the time and effort in immersing him in a print and word-rich environment paying off – from getting his first library card at 7 weeks (!), daily newspaper browsing and storytimes, thematic flashcards if he wants to, and just when we relax, chat and read quietly together.

We couldn’t have done it without the network of public libraries in Singapore, notably the Bishan, Toa Payoh and Central NLB branches. The breadth and depth of parenting, baby and preschool books to toddler/family friendly activities is amazing AND free (or reasonable enough if you’re a foreigner). B’s been exposed to a wider range of authors, formats, topics – in both English and Chinese – than I ever was at his age. The books expand his vocabulary and imagination, plus save us money and reduce clutter with more informed buying (i.e. the read-everyday or hard-to-find ones) mainly online via The Book Depository and Fishpond, Read With Me Mommy and Flip For Joy (for Chinese/bilingual) or at the local Popular bookstores.

Last, a shout out to Fun With Tots, an ongoing series of six library workshops on print motivation, print awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, narrative skills and vocabulary.  I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up with B, but was pleasantly surprised by the dedication of each of the librarians who prepared a handout of notes/resources and facilitated their topics with songs, books, parent/caregiver tips to keep everyone from adults to the little tots engaged. Even though it was close to bedtime (8p), B enjoyed each session and would say “go library at night”!  The only disappointment was that so few folks attended. It‘s ironic that parents prefer to spend money (sometimes up to ~$50-$100 per session) on enrichment classes based on early childhood experts, but can’t make time to visit the library or attend a hands-on workshop together (which BTW, costs $2 per 30 min session). Even if our kids attend daycare or preschool, or we work full time, we should still actively participate in fostering a love of reading, a thirst for knowledge and the capacity to imagine in our kids. Seeing is doing and believing. My dad was dubious when I wanted to borrow books on space for B … who liked it so much that he could name or describe all the planets in the solar system!

SO…. Head on over to your neighbourhood library and browse/borrow some books for the holidays.  You can also find out what’s going on at Bounce, the NLB channel dedicated to kids 0 to 12.  BTW, if like B, your kid is just learning his letters and enjoys music, take a look at all these alphabet songs and see what works best!

 
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. 
The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 
– Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

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Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

This week, B turned 2 while mommy took a step closer to 40 😉  We had a terrific two party at Happy Willow – which daddy flew back from overseas to attend before flying back out again to work!  As we opened up the birthday gifts from friends and family, I reflected on the precious two years B and I have had together.  Despite the ups-and-downs with tantrums, self-feeding, potty training, language and math, the best gift we shared was simply the ability and freedom to IMAGINE together.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the entire world.”  So I controlled my tiger mom urges, withdrew him from the childcare we’d initially signed up for when I was going back to work last year, limited his exposure to commercial toys and enrichment programs (after a few eye-opening trials) – no matter how kid-friendly, educational and/or successful these claimed to be.  Instead, we focused on simple early years ABCs i.e. Art, Books, Craft with as much music, drama, library and outdoor time as possible. B learnt to observe and appreciate our environment – nature, everyday things at home and about, picking up a wider vocabulary and interests along the way, including an obsession with transportation, animals and space; and a love for music and rhythm – though he can’t sing on pitch, he recites plenty of songs in a quirky monotone… and yeah, speaks Chinese like his banana-mama 😉  

Sure, all of this involved additional time and effort and we never did as much as I’d like, but it was worth it!  Moving forward, we intentionally chose a school that builds on this approach too when he starts N1 next year and plan to maximise the remaining time on learning through play.  Let’s not “educate our kids out of their creative capacity” as was mentioned in this thought-provoking TED video on How Schools Kill Creativity:

On a lighter note, we recently dabbled in some eco-friendly cardboard craft. We added a ball ramp (works best with ping pong balls) behind the previous road ramp.


And built a multi-purpose, open-ended play house which his friends helped to paint:

Dem aching bones

A late recap post as September was a tiring month. Everyone in the household fell sick, helper was on home leave, hubby and grandparents were frequently away.  While regular laundry, home-cooked meals and toilet cleaning were somewhat neglected, holding down the fort (while sick too!) gave me a nice super-mom buzz and of course, a deeper appreciation for all dedicated caregivers and homeschooling moms out there…  Some days when a me-only holiday or even full time work seemed like a nice break (not in reality, I know), I turn to this article‘s quote: “The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.”

That said, we still worked through a theme: OUR BODY, following B’s weekly Gymnademics home material as I had little time for much else. B even got “kicked up to the 2-3 years Fellows class a tad early (hope they don’t regret it!)

ABC:  We didn’t find a “wow” body book at the library as the many kids books were either too simple or too wordy.  So we revisited a few classic books and flash cards around the body, reinforced by simple craft on Saturdays with dad.


Our best activity:  Making our B-sized skeleton.  Mommy traced out B’s body on paper, drew and cut out the bones, while B painted it.  He loves greeting “skeleton” every morning and night, sticks food stickers in his mouth because it’s hungry.  All those bones must make him look quite thin!  Bonus: The skeleton makes a perfect profor Halloween 🙂


Music: Songs worked wonderfully in this theme!  Now that B actually sings (well, he strings all the words in a run-on-sentence), music really aids his recall and encourages him to move more parts of the body.  We’d been singing Head Shoulders Knees Toes for a while now, but he’s also responding more to the Chinese versions too (the ones in class have different, fun variations of 拍拍手).  This month, B picked up on a few more:

Outings:  It’s that time of year for birthday parties again!  Besides that, we tried to go outdoors as often as possible before the rainy season hits. We joined a few friends for a beach playdate, visited The Garden House (a new nature-themed preschool), went back to Gardens By The Bay for the Mid-Autumn Festival show, fed fish and picnic-ked out at Botanic Gardens, among others.

Personal
  • B truly started conversing in Chinese! 好棒 兴烨!
  • Started singing with words, not just sounds/tones (mainly in English): Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Row Row Row Your Boat, Hokey Pokey, Wheels On The Bus, Rain Rain Go Away, Happy Birthday, and snippets of everything else he hears around him. 
  • Tantrums remain infrequent and can be pre-empted as it’s usually related to (1) Too tired and don’t want to bathe before nap (2) Too hungry yet don’t want to give up his cars
  • Growing independence – he’s increasingly saying “Mama, B do” whether it’s drawing, stamping, reading, eating, choosing what to wear, etc.  Feels like my little boy wants to be a man too fast!  
  • Growth spurt!  One day he suddenly outgrew his 2 year sized shoes and pajamas. When we were at IKEA this week, we also discovered that he’s 90 cm – the “magic” height for entry into some playgrounds, and also, bus and MRT payments 😉  When did that happen?  He’d been seemingly stuck at 86 cm and just around 12 kg for the past few months

No time for flashcards?

This month, we covered TIME.  Thankfully, I managed to save time (hah!) searching for, making and adapting material for B as the theme coincided with the Gymnademics weekly home material.  It allowed us to reinforce numbers as B’s been sporadically saying 0 to 20 (in English) and 1-10 (in Chinese). We also dived into the concept of day and night, seasons and weather patterns as B loves pointing to the moon, sun, stars, rain, clouds, etc. 😉

Books. There are soooo many good books about time, numbers and weather. Reading books is even more fun now that he repeats most words and memorises familiar phrases that he likes. Here’s what worked well for us among the titles we could find in the library and had at home.

 
BTW, we really enjoyed “Only My Mom and Me” by Alyssa Satin Capucili which covers the days/seasons that a mom and child spend together.  But I had to return it to the library and haven’t bought it online yet 😦  Also, there’s many book-based activities from Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon,” a classic bedtime fave that shows how time passes before bed. Maybe we’ll try that in Sept….
Craft. We made a weather/week/time wheel to complement the theme.  B loves spinning it while saying the words and numbers. He’s also slowly learning how to manipulate the wooden clothespegs.
Music and Movement. When we reviewed the days and months, B would get stuck on Wednesday and had a tough time associating the months with “concrete” things.  These music videos helped! (Note: There are many out there online, these were the ones we liked more)  
 
Chinese?! One day, B re-discovered our stash of bilingual flashcards, gleefully exclaimed “WOW!” and brought them over to read together.  Whenever there’s time at home, he would open box after box to flip through. I try not to repeat the cards and end leaving him wanting more.  He tends to say the English word when he sees/hears me read out Chinese characters, but he does vocalise some Chinese, esp. those he hears frequently from songs, conversations and his first set of Chinese storybooks.
 
Art:  Since this was mommy’s first year as a Singaporean, we hosted a casual National Day BBQ, jet flypast and fireworks watching at our place. B excitedly says “boom boom fire” and “zoom zoom airplane when he sees his artist impression proudly displayed on the art wall 🙂
 
Outings and Special Projects: This month, B visited Megabugs Return! and the Science Center (rather underwhelming, seriously in need of upgrading), the Art Garden @ SAM (again!) and theIstana Open House for Hari Raya and National Day. We also returned to the Esplanade for Hello Ling, the second in the PLAYtime! series, which dramatised the effects of light or in B’s words “sunlight, starlight, moonlight … and rainbows!” To cap it all, B made his first (?) science discovery, i.e. a simplified “taugeh” project to grow green bean plants over time (i.e. the 7 days in a week) with the help of water, air and sunlight.
Personal:
– When asked “What’s your name?”  He’ll say it all in one run-on word “bwxy!”
– Mr Manners. B calls “Hi, Thank You, Please, Good Morning, Bye, Day, Night (and Sleep Tight)” if prompted though once in while we’ll get a spontaneous “Morning/Bye uncle/aunty!” while in the lift, charming our neighbours (and some strangers). The family tree will come in handy for those Chinese titles and names!

– Potty training steps.  B regularly voices when he needs to pee and poop, does it in the toilet more often and has fewer accidents. Even though we’ve not yet gone all-in (i.e. he wears diapers/trainers when sleeping and when outside for extended periods), this has been so encouraging for us all. Yes!
– Hello, tantrums. Our gentle, observant 21 month old B has finally succumbed to his undeveloped cortex 🙂 Thankfully the tantrums are not frequent and rather predictable (i.e. he’ll say “No like! No want!” or throw a fuss when he’s upset, tired at end of day or had a poor nap, or wants to be independent).  I guess a happy, stimulating and secure environment with a balance of love and discipline is no longer enough at this age! B needs his autonomy, and we should “never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”  Maria Montessori said this best
– Gimme freedom! That’s perhaps why B likes music and movement so much.  I flip through the newspaper with him in the mornings, let him choose how many and which books to read, have regular messy, art and music playdates.  As his vocabulary expands, he’s forming more and more 2-3 word phrases to better express himself and is gradually overcoming his shyness to say words in Chinese and Malay too
“Today is Monday” everyday according to B, and it’s a delightful day!

I did what I knew, and when I knew better, I did better

June was an exercise in child-led learning. Forget about class or mommy’s “lesson plans,” our theme was on B’s all time favourite things…

Theme:
(1) Things that go:  It started out with us reading Brian Biggs’ excellently illustrated vehicle series, esp.  Everything Goes: In The Air for days up till (and after) B’s first flight to Phuket.  Shortly after, his Chengzhu holiday program took the Playclub tots on the Duck Tour bus AND boat.  Then we ended up flying again (aka the unplanned haze-cation) to Penang. For a boy already crazy about wheels and diggers, it only seemed natural that this ended up as our special monthly theme

(2) Shapes: Learning shapes is fun and easier as B recognises his rainbow colours (he calls indigo “dark bool” 😉 Besides the hand-me-down shape sorters, blocks and a timely Gymnademics home package set, we reinforced shapes through bean bag games, geometric foam pictures and playdough

Routine:
We used lots of puzzles this month given B’s growing interest (and affinity) for this. Besides the wooden peg puzzles, we took out slightly harder board and magnetised ones.  It takes him some time to get the alignment right even if he knows where it should go. But he takes them out from the boxes himself to work at it almost every day.  For a boy that can’t stay at a task too long, this is quite a feat! We also used more representative learning to support what B would see in real life, i.e. block building a “duck bus/boat”, drawing the jet pilots and helicopters flying by for National Day rehearsal, browsing through books, transportation art and flashcards with photos and/or illustrated print, role playing with toys and sound effects, etc. We even tried threading with his Good Night construction site set. Speaking of which, B can thread in and occasionally flips it over to thread out but doesn’t quite know? have patience? to keep threading the next sequence.

Art and Craft:  So many this month given the special occasions, but no time to complete a big special project (that one’s already WIP for next month). Our faves were:

(1) Fathers’ Day card (done at one of our home playdates)

B made 3 this year, 1 for dad, 1 for each grandpa!

(2) Garden montage to reinforce shapes and colours

Using ziplocked paint, bubble wrap prints and cut-out shapes

(3) B’s first personalised photobook. To make reading (pages, prints, photos) more personal and fun, and also as an alternative to flicking through photos and videos on my smartphone. He seems to enjoy flipping through it and it grounds him esp. when we are away from home and as we have more periods of separation. Worth continuing and building on…

Includes pictures and a few sentences about our home, family, friends, places we frequent like parks, library and outings.

Outings:  June was children’s season and school holidays.  So… You guessed it!  We went back to the Singapore Art Museum (awesome Enchanted Garden kids exhibit) and Gardens By The Bay (Flight of Fancy’s hot air balloons). We also visited the Philatelic Museum to see geek!mom’s Star Wars exhibit.  With the Singapore Duck Tour, Phuket and Penang trips, B is slowly touring his way through Southeast Asia 😉

Personal:
– Mealtimes are back to normal, even better in fact since our Penang trip.  B feeds himself, has a robust appetite, is keen to try new things, and most importantly, happily eats fruits and veggies again! At his 18.5 month check in/jab, B weighed 12.5 kg.  He couldn’t stand still to measure the height, but based on his ex-pants shorts and pajamas, he’s definitely over 86 cm!

– Sleeps well overnight (~11 hours straight) but his naps have gotten shorter (~1 hour average) even on days when he’s so tired and nodding off by 1130a!  He tends to wake up crying from his nap yet will only sleep longer if we rock and hold him.  Another regression? Separation anxiety again?  Just roll with it?
– Resumed potty training which I started / stopped earlier this year.  This time, we are going the distance  i.e. no diapers while at home and playdates.  Also bought another, lighter single piece “portette”
– At times, he shows a little stubborn and willful streak so I’ve been more firm with discipline, insisting he continues with the basic home “routine” (incl. helping out, cleaning up), and not giving in to his temper tantrums. So far, nothing unmanageable (yet! yet!)
– Steady progress language and cognition wise. He’s started to fill in missing words from familiar stories and songs, repeat new words that he’s able (willing?) to vocalise and put 2 simple words together like “eat/no more”, “back door.”  Oh, and he’s asking “WHY?” 😉 It helps that I’m reading more specific books with big fonts, few words like the Dr Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown classics, in addition to our usual dialogic, fun but variable stories. Besides English, he seems to find Malay/Bahasa easier to pick up but that could be b/c I’ve been quite negligent with Chinese since our holiday break! Of course, if I were honest, for a verbal mom like me who talks, sings and reads to him constantly, I do wish at times that he could say more earlier! But he’s developing at his own pace and all is well
– We STILL haven’t committed to 2014 nursery for B next year …. yet even with my sporadic homeschooling efforts, I think we’re doing ok!

The only constant in life is change

We made plans to drop B off at half-day childcare sometime this year, thus freeing my mornings for personal and work time while pregnant. Since the start of the year though, too much has changed and the original Plan C didn’t make sense as I now work flexi time but am no longer pregnant 😦

Also, the childcare center we had registered B in – when I was still working full time – was going through many changes too. After visiting again to refresh my memory of the place and meet the new staff, I had more doubts and was feeling so uneasy 😦 I knew it wasn’t just a normal mom-thing about to leave your kid for the first time, so I read Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Solution for Separation Anxiety, spoke to others in similar situations, even checked out and trialed a few other options.

I soon realised two things after the miscarriage: I desire to treasure B’s remaining toddler-hood (18 months now) and I want to be more intentional with our days together. So I’m tweaking Plan C to do “more with less” i.e. to better integrate what he learns externally in (Chinese, music and gym) with our own homeschool plan, weekly playdates and outings.  All this should keep us engaged through year end!

Month 10 Week 2: Little man cometh!

These past few weeks, B seems to become more and more like a little man 😀  


– Got his first haircut!  Quite stylish, and actually complements his big head that’s slightly flat on the back, hehe
– Drinks his own sippy cup, self feeds cookies/biscuits/fruits, eats slightly mashed foods (no more purees) 
– Verbal diarrhea and cognitive milestones!  Responds to cues by looking, pointing, signing and occasionally doing the right actions.  He can “show me the cars/wheels/balls/etc”, turn on the light switch, aircon and fan buttons, goes to and picks up books/bottle when he wants to read/drink, shakes his head, waves his hands, raises his arms…. Also coos, gurgles, babbles all the time!
– Stands upright, letting go briefly. Cruises more confidently, holds onto and pushes objects while on the go
– Loves music and movement so I’ve started him on Monday bounce & rhyme sessions in the park, including circle time in our Wednesday playdates and signed him up for Friday Kindermusik Village classes in early October (each term lasts 8 weeks)
– Going for his first Chinese immersion class at Julia Gabriel’s Chengzhu Mandarin holiday programme.  This should be quite an experience as my Chinese is terrible, and he’s mainly been exposed to English (and Malay/Bahasa) at home.  If he takes well to it, I may consider signing up for regular classes there
– Finally met his maternal uncle on a surprise visit from San Francisco (via Seoul) — hooray!  
– Got his Singapore passport (along with mommy!) in time for his first overseas trip this weekend.  Wish us luck!  I suspect we’ll have to bring more stuff for him than all of our own combined 😉