Category Archives: education

Traveling without kids

I’ve been travelling a lot for work this year, with a particularly intense past few months.  The person most interested in my trips is B, who peppers me with questions – besides just “When are you coming back, mama?!” So I decided to transform my work trips to mini-lessons in geography and history.  It’s become such a regular occurrence that B looks forward to these “special projects” with mom on free weekends when I’m home!

We started by reviewing the continents and oceans, and have been covering regions, e.g. North America, Southeast Asia and South Asia depending on where mummy travels to.

We’ve been working through a lovely colouring book country by country, supplementing the maps with library books and internet searches to make it more interesting and interactive.  I too learnt something new as we saw highlights of the India-Pakistan cricket matches, the tough life of elephants in Thailand, the history of junk boats in Vietnam, and so on.

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I also try to get souvenirs for folks back home and sometimes the best things are free too!  For example, B loves activity books at this age, and luckily many hotels have good fun ones they’re usually happy to pass to “your little one waiting back home.”

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B has always loved working with his hands and solving puzzles, so activities like these 3D puzzles or LEGO blocks are also a hit.  It amazes me how he’s able to sit down, and painstakingly put these together (with help as needed) – some times for 1 hour or more!  Now that B reads decently well, he also enjoys discovering information on his own, and likes to cite (sometimes random) facts about popular places and people.

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Did you know?  The Taj Mahal is a World Heritage Site in the city of Agra in north India, built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died at the age of 39. “That’s too young,” says B!

So if you’re travelling, and wish you could but can’t bring your kids along, try these.  They’ll feel involved, learn about the world, and can perhaps view your trips in a positive way by looking forward to these moments. We know it’s hard to be apart – so check out the video for a little something to cheer you up 🙂

For more, follow Finally Mama on Facebook and Instagram.

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.

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.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – into a Chinese scrapbook

We love books. We did our first DIY personalised journal in English when B was 18 months and asking more about family, interests, activities and people. I even added a section about preschool before he started. But we never got around to doing a simpler one in Chinese because the thought of ME writing originally in Chinese?  Yikes! 

Reading his first DIY book
Reading his first DIY book

Until now. Having just completed Mandarin Tots at Bibinogs, we both learnt many new words that I wanted to reinforce and keep relevant for him.  Also, while cleaning up the guest room (converted into playroom) and living room before the grandparents return, we found stacks of B’s art pieces, old spiral notebooks and magazines.  So… Time to reduce, reuse and recycle again!  And finally tackle our first Chinese scrapbook together.

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B reading through his very own DIY 读卡书 🙂

Here’s how we made it:  Browse through newspapers and magazines and cut out pictures for your chosen theme or alternately, based on vocabulary he’s learning at school. Print the characters out in large font if you don’t have enrichment class material such as flash cards. Invite him to read (or repeat) the words, match them to the right pictures, helping to cut where possible.  If you have old artwork or cardstock, resize them for your notebook before gluing both pictures and words on it first.  Finally stick them all on the (reinforced) spiral notebooks with double sided tape.  If you don’t have used notebooks, punch a hole on the sides to bind the “book.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Reduce, reuse, recycle!

In our case, we did lots of cutting and glue-ing to work on B’s fine motor skills. He’s also more keen to read Chinese when the books are interactive (flaps, pull out tabs, stickers) … and now, when he’s actually had a hand in making it!

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

Linking up with:

Xavvy-licious   new button

Music with mama: Trial classes at MYC and Seimpi

Recently, B attended trial classes at Music For Young Children (Orchard) and Seimpi School of Music (Funan).  Both programs are parent accompanied, utilise a whole brain approach and go beyond generic music appreciation to introduce basic music fundamentals and early musicianship pre-Grade 1).

1) Music For Young Children: Sunrise class (27-36 months)
This was a special trial for B and his friends. We learnt about a variety of instruments, tonal and rhythm patterns using early learning and pre-reading concepts such as counting, direction (right/left), speed (fast/slow), dynamics (loud/quiet), sorting (shapes/colours). Class time alternated rapidly between singing, dancing, body plays, simple games, crafts, stories, listening activities, percussion play-along and ensembles.  For example, here’s the keyboard section: Each student takes turns to sing while pressing a key on a large sensory floor keyboard, teacher uses tactile visual aids (flashcards, storyboard, toys, props to demo “standing still” (same note) “stepping up” (moving up a scale), students then reinforce how to recognise and relate these notes, sounds and actions through worksheets, magnets, stickers, various manipulatives and games.

What we liked: Time flies! Concepts are presented and then reinforced in an array of learning styles – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, digital, analytical, etc. to engage your little learner. The repetition – listening, responding and singing – is effective as the kids were still talking about class days after the trial.

Check it out: If you’re looking for a fast paced, multi-sensory, early music class that emphasises verbal confidence and eventually composition. Regular students will receive a package that includes instruments and a comprehensive manual with singing, warm-ups, keyboard, listening, rhythm, and assignment sections. Give the code “FINALLYMAMA” for a special trial class and waiver of registration fee if you sign up. They also have an upcoming June music holiday camp – look for the FB promo in May.

2) Seimpi School of Music: MIM® Playtime class (2-3 years)
We joined an existing class which felt like a typical music and movement session with elements of their hallmark Music for the Intelligent Mind (MIM) programs like exposure to early note reading and key recognition, eye, ear, concentration and memory training.  For example, here’s the keyboard section: Each student takes turn to place stuffed animals on the black keys, then set and ring pitched desk bells on the white keys on a large floor mat, teacher reviews notes with a notation cloth, demos a few nursery songs, introduces a finger exercise song, and then guides each student individually to play simple pieces on a keyboard (there’s enough for each student).

What we liked: Exposure to note reading and proper playing techniques (i.e. using all fingers, not just your pointer) at an early age in a relaxed environment. Instead of solfège, students were introduced directly to notes (positioning) and keys (e.g. C-D-E).

Check it out: If you’re keen to start your child early on piano playing and theory, can commit to consistent follow up at home and have some music knowledge to do so. Regular students will receive two workbooks – activity (fundamentals) and piano playing book (beginner), with an audio CD.  Ask for a free trial – it’s an ongoing promo.

As for us, we enjoyed them and will revisit these schools when B turns 3 or so.  Meanwhile, they are an inspiration to continue with our home music learning 🙂

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

Motherhood across generations: Compare less, celebrate more

A friend recently asked why we seemingly struggle to raise our kids while our moms raised larger families without help from hubbies or domestic helpers. I was typing out my reply along the lines of “Different times, different approaches, different expectations” when I came across this DDB Life Style Study. This got me thinking why today’s moms often feel they “have to” and “need to” be different from their own moms, and hence, our greater perceived struggle.

We have to as families living in a highly materialistic society in the post women’s movement era.  Modern women are wired to aspire for equality with men at work AND excel at home. In a way, this has led to the imagery of today’s woman as both domestic goddess and corporate high flyer.  This is an impossible task without a corresponding social and institutional change, leaving many moms frustrated with their identity and choice of career – whether you are a stay at home mom (this label is really quite a misnomer), work full time, or somewhere in between like me. It’s also the curse of our 21st century that “the more we have, the more we want” and the technology that boosts productivity has also broken down the walls between work and home. For better or worse, we grew up wanting to do more and better than our own moms (those born pre-1960s). The breadwinner(s) today feel a constant pressure to improve their social standing, to rise above. The irony is our moms had less pressure to achieve this “feminist” ideal and lived in an economy with a simpler, less dispersed, standard of living. As a result, they derived more joy from parenting and spending time with their kids.

Although motherhood brings joy, it is not without its challenges. Millennial moms are significantly more likely than Boomer moms (22% v. 11%) and Gen X moms (22% v. 15%) to view parenthood as a real burden. The toll motherhood exacts on Millennial moms is even more apparent when considering how they view time spent with their children. 34% of Millennial moms say that if they had to stay home with their kids day after day they would lose their minds, while only 21% of Gen X and 18% of Boomer moms feel this way.*

We need to so that our kids will not just survive but thrive with smaller families and a “bigger” world. Women today tend to have children later, resulting in fewer siblings to help out at home (and also to take care of their own parents one day). Add to that the lack of grandparents due to death, divorce, separation, etc. or aging grandparents who also need caretaking during your children’s early years. The tighter family unit and close-knit communities in the past have also expanded to a wide diaspora due to the search for a better “life” – overseas study, work opportunities, cross-cultural marriages, etc. With less support from traditional sources, moms today look for help from their spouses, or outsource to nannies and child care centers. While this is happening at the home front, our world is also gaining complexity and losing boundaries, leading to higher expectations and greater possibilities, higher cost of living and greater pressure to succeed at school and work. To paraphrase Voltaire: With greater knowledge, comes greater responsibility. Today’s moms are more educated and/or aware, and feel this responsibility towards their children keenly.

Millennial moms, more so than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts, want to make certain their parenting efforts aren’t for naught. 61% of Millennial moms say they do whatever they can to make sure their children get preferential treatment, whereas only 46% of Gen X and 44% of Boomer moms do the same.*

There’s a saying: “Mothers and daughters become closer when daughters become mothers.” For all the differences we face, the reality is that every mom is doing the best they can given their situation and understanding. So let’s NOT compare one generation with the next, or even one mom with another. Let’s NOT say “You have it easy!” or “You don’t understand!” But rather, celebrate and affirm the unique bond that is motherhood. Happy Mothers’ Day!

Image*Generational guide: Millenial (1980s through 2000s), Gen X (1960s to the early 1980s), Boomers (mid 1940s to early 1960s)

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