At one of the year-end parties lately, I was asked if I’ve enrolled B in any math or english enrichment classes, now that he’s starting kindergarten? Honestly, I was a bit surprised and then had a little kiasu moment! I started thinking: What head start are other local school-going kids getting? How can B grow to love and excel in math and science? Will he face stiff pressure in a country where students have come out tops in the TIMSS international math and science assessment for years now?
Well, I don’t have all the answers to my questions but I do know that since he was a wee baby, math was part of our daily talk and B enjoys books, art and activities like puzzles that involve math. He’s developed decent number sense, ability to sort, compare magnitude, and sequence patterns. He’s getting better at (re)constructing, and spatial awareness in describing, acting, drawing or writing out locations and directions. He’s also building familiarity with number bonds through DIY manipulatives and games like our recent ping pong ball roll, as well as reading and writing numerals and numbers in English and Chinese.
We “talk math” all the time, be it tracking the dump trucks we pass along the highway, counting the number of kids that need high chairs, figuring out the change from the drink stall aunty, identifying patterns in modern art when we visit museums, guesstimating how many gingerbread men can be cut from the rolled dough and how many baking trays are needed. He’s also getting exposed to decimals when I time how fast he can wear his own clothes, fractions after reading the The Gingerbread Man book and eating away parts of his own cookie …
… and even subtraction by counting down the days till Christmas!
Most recently, B is also learning how to tell time (analog, not digital), nicely reinforced in Chinese by Sparkanauts too!
Perhaps Singapore math requires much more than what we’ve done so far, and maybe B might have received a more structured approach in a Montessori school, but I’m glad we’ve laid some basics in place in an organic, hands-on way. To quote Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” How have you helped your pre-schooler and primary going kid in math?
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!
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:
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.
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!
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. For updates, reviews and more, like me at Finally Mama on Facebook.
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 Bibinogs‘ Mandarin 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!
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 😉
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.
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.
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 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.
– 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!
Raising a family while releasing it all to God through each season of work and life