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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.

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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.

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Boys like to cook too!

We went down to the National Museum in the opening week of the annual Children’s Season. There were many toddler-friendly play areas and activities – all free – for this year’s exhibit on Masak Masak: My Childhood. If you are planning a visit, note that the outdoor lawn dragon and watermelon bouncy castles and some workshops are ONLY on weekends. A bit odd as school holidays are starting and families would rather come on weekdays to avoid the crowds.

Anyways, in line with the theme, B enjoyed masak masak the most. Who said pretend cooking was only for girls?  Watch chef B  whip up his specialty dish of fish and prawns with veggies, even adding sauce and tasting it before serving!

Here’s other sections we enjoyed:

Favourite childhood games like Pick-up Sticks and Five Stones are brought larger than life by SOTA students. This one - Marbles - was a big hit with kids of all ages.
Favourite childhood games like Pick-up Sticks and Five Stones are brought larger than life by SOTA students. This one – Marbles – was a big hit with kids of all ages.
Rouleaux depicts scenes inspired by daily lives and culture, made out of reused toilet rolls and intricate cut-outs. There’s a craft corner  nearby where you can make your own DIY version
Sculpture Scribble recreates works by famous Dadist artists  using old and scrap materials to creatively demonstrate the laws of physics
Sculpture Scribble recreates works by famous Dadist artists using old and scrap materials to creatively demonstrate the laws of physics
Play: Activity stations built around a “home” – kitchen, living, TV and bedroom, garden. B loved the kitchen area with its pretend play, picture and word matching, and local food embossing
Explore: At the top floor, try your hand at chalk drawing at the sundeck, or try audio and light drawing in the studio nearby

At a time when Singaporeans are questioning if they are cultural orphans, it’s good that museums are stepping up to showcase our rich Southeast Asian heritage, and (re)imagine it in a creative, sustainable and relevant way for the next generation.

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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, enhance 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 to 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.

Traveling with Tots: Puteri Harbour and LEGOLAND (part 2)

We went to Puteri Harbour and LEGOLAND over the weekend but had quite a different experience with each place. We found Puteri Harbour a nice getaway for families with toddlers but we probably won’t return to LEGOLAND until B is older, say kindergarten age and some issues mentioned below are fixed (or the trees grow!)

My review is split in two parts:
Part 1 is on the Puteri Harbour indoor parks: Hello Kitty Sanrio Town and the Little Big Club featuring Barney, Bob The Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Pingu, Thomas & Friends
Part 2 is about LEGOLAND for families with tots under 3 years

GO OR NO GO?
At the moment, there’s little shade from the elements (sun or rain) in all the main parks. In the few covered areas, there’s no proper ventilation (fans/AC) besides those in the restaurant, cafes and theatres. There’s also no shuttle bus, train or buggy system that enables you to hop on-and-off at the various parks within LEGOLAND, so quite a challenge for the very young (or very old). We visited because we were already going to Puteri Harbour the day before, and our friends with older kids wanted to check LEGOLAND out. Unfortunately for us, it was an extremely hot and humid day when we were there. My 2+ year old was wiped out despite a 2.5 hour nap after lunch, refused to go out again in the hot sun so we had a free and easy afternoon, before entering again later. Bottom line: When deciding, the weather and your tot’s the boss!
LEGOLAND Malaysia park map

If you don’t mind the heat and have LEGO fans in the family:
GO if your toddler is gung-ho and has older siblings. Spend at least 2 days so you’re in no hurry, and can enjoy the cooler evenings
WAIT until your preschooler is older.  Admission is free for kids under 3 but most rides have a strict height or age minimum
– Ticket combos are cheaper online so research and buy in advance

If you cannot tahan outdoors or crowds, DON’T GO!

HOW TO GET THERE?
– BUS: Book a return trip via coach bus (~SGD$20) or opt for the Causeway Link buses. More info here
– CAR: See step-by-step driving directions here

WHERE TO STAY?
As the Iskandar area is still under development, the nearest hotel options are LEGOLAND or Traders Hotel (Puteri Harbour). We stayed at LEGOLAND hotel for the unique experience with its distinct play areas and thematic rooms.  Basic rooms accommodate 2 adults + 3 kids with a king bed (master room), a bunk bed and trundle bed (attached suite).  The hotel is also right next to LEGOLAND and the Medini strip mall which has slightly better food. All hotel guests get free parking and early 930a entrance to LEGOLAND (vs 10a public admission). While overall family friendly, I felt a few things could be improved: Earlier than 4p check-in, later than 11a check-out, lower shower heads (or longer hose) as it was hard to clean shorter/young kids.

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Kingdom theme kids room = bunk bed + trundle

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LEGO play areas (top: park entrance, bottom: main entrance)

WHAT TO DO: 10 ideas for families with tots under 3 years

1) Eat a big breakfast. The hotel buffet is good and opens 7a-11a
2) Get in as soon as the door opens to avoid the queues!  Dress for the heat, bring a hat/umbrella and not just shades
3) Enjoy the LEGO CITY park to yourself. Ride on the express train, airport planes and boats. Compete in the Rescue Academy in your choice of fire engine or police car.  Catch a show at City Stage and let the tot freeplay at the Shipyard while you catch a break. The junior driving school is quite fun but minimum age is 3 years
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4) Proceed next to IMAGINATION, the park for toddlers and preschoolers. There’s a Musical Fountain at the entrance, and an Observation Tower which rotates around so you can view all of LEGOLAND without breaking a sweat. Tots will like the brief DUPLO Express train ride, delightful DUPLO Playground (which is also the only covered play area), and the LEGO 4D Studio which alternates shows every 45 minutes or so. There’s only one thing they can’t do here – the Power Tower (minimum age: 5 years or 100 cm)
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5) Exit to the Medini strip mall for lunch where the food is better (not fantastic) than in-park fare
6) Stroll through MINILAND to view the amazingly detailed LEGO models or take the LEGO CITY train till your kid dozes off
7) The hotel is the best place away from the heat and crowds to take a nap, so ask for late checkout if you need to.  Even the covered areas in the park and Medini mall are quite stuffy with lots of flies 😦
8) Catch indoor LEGO movies, meet-and-greets and live shows
9) Chill out at the hotel LEGO play areas and nearby LEGO shops
10) Visit some local eateries near LEGOLAND for dinner

Note: Majority of activities and rides at the Water Park, LEGO TECHNIC, KINGDOMS and LAND OF ADVENTURE parks are unfortunately not suitable for young kids below 3 years.  If the weather’s good and you have time, feel free to “window shop.”

We made it!
We made it, pheew!

 

A typical school day – before and after

The first term has come and gone better than I expected! In April, B started taking his mid-day nap in school.  Before this, I’d usually rush to pick him up on time after my meetings, work or lunch. He’d be too excited to see mama and though he was tired by 1p, he’d often skip naps and end up cranky by evening. Now on weekdays, he naps daily at school (~1.5-2 hours), I pick him up after 3p and we spend the rest of the day together. I’m thankful for the wonderful teachers and friends that’s he’s made, how well they’ve helped him adjust to nursery life, enabling us to have quality time together and apart.

Singing with the ukulele in his uniform
Before school: Singing with the ukulele (in his uniform)
After school (nap): Afternoon snack with mama in his pjs

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