Category Archives: enrichment

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.

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.

WP_20140630_003
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

All children are artists

“Every child is an artist.
The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. – Pablo Picasso

When B was about 4 months, I attended my first early years parenting talk which shaped the environment that he grew up in. In his first 2 years, we did lots of art and craft together involving  colourful, sensory, tactile, messy play with repurposed household items, nature and art materials. In fact, we’d often encourage other friends to join us, and hosted quite a few messy artsy-crafty playdates at our outdoor balcony area.  B loved it!

B's first art playdate @ 6 months
First art playdate at 6 months

After B turned 1.5 years, we trialed a few art classes that introduced different techniques, styles, materials, et al. He liked the more freestyle, mixed media sessions and not when someone had to help or told him how to “do art” (i.e. proper use of watercolours, brushes, etc). He’s just your normal stubborn independent tot, I guess.

First (trial) art class at 18 months

So we joined a local parent accompanied toddler art meetup group instead, where we had messy fun indoors and outdoors, learnt a few artsy things, and collected enough pieces to start our own “art wall” at home by the time he turned 2.

Our art wall!
Our art wall after 2 years

Continuing this arts exposure was one of my requirements when selecting his preschool.  Soon after he started nursery, B had a chance to showcase his work at his first art exhibit this weekend!

First art exhibit at 2.5 years
First art exhibit at 2.5 years, entitled “Building A City of Dreams”. The structures are “homes for my family” and “roads for cars.” His sold for S$88!

I hope B’s interest in art will continue to grow, and that he’ll have the dexterity and patience to learn and improve along the way. Of course, I don’t expect him to be a professional artist when he grows up but I’m glad art has given him a universal language to express himself and interpret the world around him; and also given us a fun, creative way to reinforce what he learns from a very early age.

Linking up with

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

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.

Special Review and Giveaway: Flip For Joy Books (Bilingual)

What has made us dance for joy lately? Flip For Joy! This online bookstore is run by a fellow mompreneur and former Chinese language JC teacher who believes in helping “parents choose the best for their children.”

What we like:
– A strong bilingual and hanyupinyin selection, including many bestsellers and award-winning translations. We were helpfully sent personalised recommendations for my 2.5 year old boy with an offer to type out/write hanyupinyin if needed. What a lifesaver for book loving, banana mamas like me!
– Flip Flip Hooray Starter Packs for different age groups (0-3 years, 3-5 years and 5-9 years) with at least one book from each of the three categories: Flip for FUN (highly interactive, engaging fun), KNOWLEDGE (insightful, rich stories), and LOVE (values)
– SGD$20 and SGD$50 Flip for Joy e-Gift cards available for purchase to share the love (or rather, joy)
– Free local standard mail for all orders and free courier delivery for orders above SGD$50

Here are some of the books that we bought and/or were given complimentary for review, all suitable for 0-5 years. As a bonus, there’s a special giveaway for Finally Mama readers, details at end 🙂

不行,危险!
With its cute car shape, real wheels and likeable animals, this was an instant hit with B who kept asking me to read it over and over again. We’d never read this before and without hanyupinyin, mama had to make up some words (shhh). As we got into the car later, B said “must wear seatbelt like animals” so clearly the road safety pointers are coming across! This book is miles better than constantly nagging our lil monkeys to NOT open the car window or door, kick and throw things, wriggle out of their seat and safety belt. A perfect toy-in-a-book-with-a-message!

不行,危险!
不行,危险!

鳄鱼不刷牙 Crocodiles Don’t Brush Their Teeth (bilingual)
Translated from Colin Fancy’s original, this tongue-in-cheek book uses animal illustrations and catchy text to reinforce behaviors like brushing your teeth, blowing your nose, brushing your hair, washing your face, saying please and thank you, and going to bed at night. The examples are quite funny and sticky. B insists on brushing his (very little) hair now as “lions don’t brush their hair, 可是我梳!”

Crocodiles Don't Brush Their Teeth
Crocodiles Don’t Brush Their Teeth

点点点 Dot Dot Dot
The original English version by Hervé Tullet has been a bedtime favourite since we bought it sometime in B’s first year. This highly interactive, imaginative and addictive book never gets old. A great classic first book that teaches colours, actions, sequencing, counting and language along the way. Just 按一下, press here!

点点点 Dot Dot Dot
点点点 Dot Dot Dot

翻翻翻变变变(4册) *注音 (hanyupinyin)
This series of four books is full of surprising illustrations that transform into animals, fruits, vegetables, vehicles and household items. B was thrilled to find what’s next as he flipped the flaps, and that in turn made it easier and more enjoyable to say the words in Chinese. Some objects are repeated often to support the overall design and retention of new vocabulary. Note: This is not a board book, so pages may tear easily if manhandled (or rather, tot-handled)

翻翻翻 : 动物,果蔬,交通工具,日常用品
翻翻翻 : 动物,果蔬,交通工具,日常用品

幼儿双语绘本(7册) (bilingual)
This series of seven books is based on a Korean best-seller. I found the illustrations and stories similar in style to Oliver Jeffers aka the artist behind How To Catch A Star. We were given two for review: 我想回家 (a boy who tries various modes of transportation to take him home) and 凯文在大海中旅行 (a boy who learns about sea creatures and body parts in his underwater search for a lost toy).  Each book includes stickers with English sentences and words as a reading or learning aid, and a teaching guide at the end (all in Chinese though).

幼儿双语绘本
幼儿双语绘本

奇妙洞洞书第一辑(6册) and 第二辑(8册)
Originally in Italian, this highly acclaimed series features innovative die-cut books with holes, written in both English and Chinese (with hanyupinyin). There are two sets in the series so far, six books in the first set and eight books in the second set. The board books are sturdy, wonderfully designed, and will grow along with your child. Each page spread includes pictures and key text (words, characters, numbers) on the right side, with a unique rhyme and/or story on the left side to further illustrate the concept. We first borrowed these at the local public library, but it was hard to find the whole series given their popularity. A must have for your budding Chinese reader and language learner! Here’s a sneak preview from B himself 🙂

And now … a special giveaway (Giveaway has ended, thanks for participating!)

Finally Mama readers stand a chance to win TWO books, one from each set in the series (each worth SGD$13.90) to get you started. Click on each book cover image below to find out more:

我家在哪里?
我会数一数
我会数一数

Just CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway and follow these steps:
1) Like Finally Mama on Facebook
2) Like Flip For Joy on Facebook
3) Tell us below what you like about Flip For Joy

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. Some books were  given complimentary for the purposes of review. I reserve the right to review the validity and authenticity of all participants, and to disqualify any entries from users with dubious, duplicate or illegitimate data.

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. 

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

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 🙂