Category Archives: writing

Counting down

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 …

IMG_0120… 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?

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

Advertisements

The World Cup Craze

This World Cup is B’s first introduction to the Beautiful Game.  None of us are diehard football fans, but there’s just something about these international sports competitions that just draws you in, and you can’t help but be caught up in the epic madness. In between watching the games, we’ve been kicking our football around the house, pretending to score goals! I also dug up one of my original poems to read to him – first published two decades ago, back in 1994. The love of sports spans generations 🙂 Olé, olé olé olé!

The hour hand touched four, my alarm clock rang
I stirred, then covered my ears with my hand
My eyes were shut but I struggled out of bed
415am? I’m fifteen minutes late!

I dashed out the room and stumbled down the stairs
My dad, in pyjamas, was already seated there
One hand holding a book, coffee in the other
Eyes on the TV, for one and a half hours

The Cup craze is on! The Cup craze is on!
There are goals to be shot and games (bets) to be won!
In front of the TV we sat glued to the screen
We applauded and rooted for our favourite teams

For a month, beginning June the eighteenth
Football was our food, and coffee our drink
We screamed and yelled and hollered away
And watched like addicts day after day

We laughed and cried over all the victories
We argued over fouls and criticized the referees
We witnessed the rise and fall of Maradona
We were appalled by the murder of Escobar from Columbia

Most thrilling were the spectacular goals and tries
We watched amazed at Romario, Bebeto and Rai
Enthralled by the magic of the great Hagi
Debating who would win – Brazil? Germany?

It was a time for upsets, a time for new stars
A win meant some players received Mercedes cars
Some teams had finesse, others brute strength
But in the end, only the best will be champs

645am? Uh-oh, I’ve got school!
I grab my things and start wearing my shoes
But all day long, I’m still in a daze
Why? Because I’ve got the Cup craze

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

Let’s go to Letterland!

Since B started N1 (nursery) in January, he hasn’t stopped singing about Letterland.  To find out more, we borrowed some Letterland library books. But it wasn’t till this weekend, when a few of us “lucky” parents attended a workshop by the school, that I finally understood what B’s been going on about every week … !

Let's go to Letterland!
With Letterland, children are taught the shapes and sounds of letters by assigning them to imaginary pictogram characters living in a fictional land. Letterland engages children across all learning methods (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, speech) with songs, stories, actions, hands-on activities and even online software.  The stories also creatively and thoughtfully explain the reasoning behind sounds, shapes, reading and writing direction for individual letters, blends and digraphs.  This makes it easier and more intuitive when kids progress to word building, reading and writing. Overall, Letterland is a comprehensive synthetic phonics and story-based system. When first introduced, the songs also link back to the alphabet names so that kids who already know their alphabet won’t get confused.  Thumbs up for a  fun, memorable AND informative approach.  Read here for more.

Since the workshop, I’m re-motivated to support his Letterland learning at home. We’ve done various letter-related activities, e.g. collages, playdough, flashcards, tracing with feelers (glitter glue, sandpaper, ink, any tactile item that starts with the same letter). And of course, Letterland library books. Here are the early years ones:

Letterland library books
Letterland library books (baby/jp section)

Our most recent DIY project was this large Letterland tree aka a big wall pocket poster (at B’s height) to reinforce the characters and letters in both upper and lowercase. For now, we use it for letter recognition and identification as B tries to match them correctly as he sings and says the right sounds:

Dippy Duck says 'd..., d...'
Dippy Duck says ‘d…, d…’

Here’s how we made it:  Cut out some old artwork in small rectangles for the base and use double sided tape to stick plastic pockets on (you can use card organiser / collector sheets from Popular). Print out Letterland letters and characters (official downloads from here), laminate and cut out individual letters and add blu-tak to the back so they stick easily.

Making our Letterland tree
Making our Letterland tree

Most phonics systems can be taught from ~18 months on, or earlier if your child has interest (see our first attempt with zoo-phonics). While phonics isn’t the only way to learn to read, and shouldn’t be something you “force” on any kid, it’s quite effective if you’ve got a child who’s interested in words from the books and print (s)he’s exposed to everyday.  Even if you’ve no time for lots of crafty, highly engaged projects, consider enhancing your preschooler’s learning with BOOKS and if needed, educational material from online distributors like NoQ, Elm Tree or the many free downloads and printables online. A wonderful world of words that will feed their knowledge and imagination lies ahead once they “crack the code.” Happy reading!

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

When dinosaurs ruled the earth

February ended with a roar, a dinosaur roar! Unlike space, transportation and animals which were easy hits back when we were doing monthly themes, I wasn’t sure how B would take to dinos – I mean, the names are hard to pronounce and animals are all dead and scary looking (except for Barney, but he’s not quite … real). By the end though, B was impersonating the T-Rex walk, wrapping his tongue around “triceratops,” “apatosaurus,” “stegosaurus,” and knew how to spell “D-I-N-O-S-A-U-R” with playdough. A success!

Lucky for us, there were TWO great dinosaur showcases in Singapore this past month, both different yet good.

We first visited Titans of the Past – Dinosaurs and Ice Age Mammals at the Science Center. To be honest, we’d trekked out west before for the Megabugs Return exhibit butweren’t too impressed. I felt the center overall could do with some upgrading. However, this time, we were pleasantly surprised by the toddler friendly activities and animations that managed to keep 2+ year boys entertained throughout! It’s a shame the exhibit is over so soon (25 October 2013 – 23 February 2014) and not that well publicized. When we went on a Thursday afternoon, there were less than 10 visitors there. Besides pressing all the buttons to make them roar and eat, B also enjoyed the mini paleontologists sandpit dig where they brushed for fossils.

We also went to Dinosaurs: Dawn To Extinction at the ArtScience Museum (25 January – 25 May 2014), getting there just before 5p in time for the free English tour. IMO, the exhibits here were of better quality and clearer presentation, with bone fossils AND life size models, info boards and occasional activity stations. The caveat was we had to pay admission for B whereas he got in free (under 3 years) at the Science Center. That said, even distracted mommy retained a few bits of knowledge in between making sure my lil live dino didn’t break anything!

B attempted to fit all the puzzles, but most were set too high for toddlers – and he’s quite tall at 95cm+ (for 27 months). He also enjoyed the model of the walking T-Rex and the footprint section, where you could make your own track, identify and compare various footprint tracks.

Go here to see the other kid-friendly events and activities coming in March (booking required) if you have older kids, 6 years and up.

Some of our dino themed art, crafts and books:

Wayang kulit (shadow puppets) dino-age birds and lizards
The care and feeding of a 3D apatosaurus

 

 

 

 

Dino-awesome library books!
Making a dino foam penholder
Stamping with paint on styrofoam

Tracing and colouring pre-writing worksheets from here. His fine motor skills aren’t great, but he’s slowly improving, i.e. changing colours for different objects, following straight and curvy lines, etc.

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

new button

Zoophonics makes ABCs fun

I’d been meaning to try both phonics as well as whole words with B, regardless of the ongoing debate. Besides daily reading, we started regular flash cards (real images, Doman style) with words spoken in English and Chinese after he turned one.  This has improved B’s focus and vocabulary – or at least his comprehension since he’s no talking encyclopedia. Yet, at 15 months.  However after initial alphabet attempts, the latest being Dr Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book, I realised B needed something more “whole brain” to connect the abstract letters with concrete words.  By chance, we stumbled upon Zoophonics when a friend passed us her son’s used cards. I decided to give it a try after researching online and seeing this method adopted in Singapore (e.g. Growing Up Gifted, Zoo-phonics and Safari Preschools). If B remains interested after we run through all 26 lower case merged animal letters (what a mouthful!), I might get the full essential pack.

What's mama going on about zoophonics?
What’s mama going on about zoophonics?

For now, here’s what we’re doing and why:

Zoo-phonics was developed in the mid 1980s by Charlene Wrighton and Gigi Bradshaw, two teachers in Northern California, who developed a strong phonics and physical component to enhance the existing whole language methods. Zoo-phonics introduces alphabet as one thing with 26 parts via a multi-sensory approach involving the whole child, eyes, ears, mouth, mind and body.

  • Endearing animals as letter shapes (visual learning) – Shows animals in the shapes of lowercase letters before teaching the actual letters for easy remembering. Lowercase letters are taught before capital/upper letters as it’s easier for a young child to form a lowercase letter and 95% of reading materials are in lowercase anyways.  In addition, when you flip the Animal Letter Cards around, a “bear” is always a bear but a “b” can easily be a “d” “p” or “q.”
  • Sounds and songs (auditory learning) – Teaches sounds of the letters through the animal names (“a” as in Allie Alligator, etc.), and letter sounds are taught before letter names. The sound of each letter comes through the initial sound of the animal name.
  • Hand and body motions, games and activities (kinesthetic learning) – Introduces a body signal to represents each animal letter, which in turn helps them lock in the learning. Children decode letters (read) and encode letters (spell and write) all at once to songs and what looks like dancing, sucking the stress out of building phonemic awareness.

For 1-2 year olds like B, Zoo-phonics is taught via music and movement, animals and nature, all which he enjoys.  According to them, parents can start as soon as your child is ready to sit for a few minutes and listen to a story.  Teach the individual letter shapes and sounds of the lowercase alphabet with the Animal Letter Cards and Body Movements, which will lay the foundation for all future reading, spelling and writing. Show one Animal Letter Card at a time then reinforce all the letters you have taught previously with the fun games and activities.  Leave the Animal Cards where your child can find them easily and play with them daily!

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