Friday, April 27, 2012

Kindness begins at... home

Part of my decision to homeschool Dumpling stems from the belief that good habits and values begin from home. That was what we have been focusing from home for a while but it was only from the beginning of the year that I had more of a structure around it. 

For the past month, "Kindness" has been our theme. "Kindness" not only in thoughts but (and by now, she is able to recite with me) in words and actions too. :p

What I'd do is to read some biblical stories and verses with her along with other books and in this case, a DVD which I borrowed from the library.

And like all our themes, we had a field trip! Guess where we headed off to last Sunday?





hehe... the SPCA!

We had a really good time there. Dumpling asked a lot of questions:
- what is a pet shelter and what does it do
- why and how do people become volunteers
- why were the animals abandoned
- what is a stray (and we used the opportunity to explain to her "domesticated' animals / pets)

It was also the perfect platform for us then to explain the concept of responsibility in addition to "kindness" towards not just people but animals too. 

We pointed out these bio data sheets to Dumpling...

And were captivated by this pair of soulful eyes! Seriously, can you not melt? 

Dumpling's photography skills have improved tremendously. I will update this post with a pic that she took of the place over the next day or two :)

We are also very proud that she has confidence to enter into the Kennel and is not "iffy" about fur and all and is gentle in handling them (of course we were mindful to choose the friendlier few) :)

Then we went into the small animals area and lost our hearts to this kitten: Becca. She has the sweetest temperament and is really good with young children. I carried her for a good 10 mins as Dumpling stroked and played with her

When one friendly paw is not enough. :) (from 2 different cats)

We also took the chance to have a chat with some of the volunteers who were ever so patient with Dumpling's questions about the animals and their voluntary work. The 1.5 hours zoomed by in a flash. 

Dumpling has been asking if we could visit the place again ever since. We did speak about volunteering our time at the SPCA in future too. :) That reminds me - I will have to give them a call to ask about the "starting" age for volunteers. lol

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Drive safely for the sake of your loved ones

I am always reminded of how brash and careless some drivers can be. I was heading to work and had to take a photo of this scene unfolding before me as both cars came to a stop at a traffic light. B and K both came into a merging lane. The merging lane must be about 10 - 15m in length before it narrows down to one single lane.

Both drivers refused to give way and the gap between both was getting progressively narrower and narrower (can you see the side mirrors here?) to the point that K was almost knocking into the kerb so clearly, K had no choice but to slow down and B overtook K.  

Was that the end of the story? Nope. K zoomed out right in front of me, overtook B and then immediately wrestled his way into the lane. But halfway in, he changed his mind (I think this is due to the slow moving traffic on the lane) and zoomed right back out. AND then, B decided to perhaps put his turbo charged engine to the test and tailed after K and both zoomed out of sight. Wow, all this in less than 10mins.

What has this got to do with Parenting? Loads.

1) Language
How many of us may have said something totally inappropriate while driving with our child(ren) behind, forgetting that they absorb things like a sponge?

I recalled reading a friend's status shout on my Facebook. He was turning into a lane and a car honked at him. The daughter called the driver a moron. LOL, the child was only 3 at that time.

2) Patience
Oh boy, I am not great with this as well. I did not realise I was sighing and showing signs of frustration when driving at times until Dumpling told me "Mummy, stop sighing". And then I realised that my driving style may indirectly affect how she would react to road conditions when she is older too.

3) Safety
I think in anger, many sometimes overlook the safety of their passengers. Even if we were to be alone in the car, it is good to just take a breath and let it all out because it is not worth it getting killed due to some reckless drivers on the road.

I travel on the highway daily and I still recall a fatal accident some years back. The filter lane (to another highway) was closed as the accident occurred at that spot. As our car drove past the accident scene, we could see the corpse sprawled across the road as the ambulance has yet to arrive. The victim was a middle aged motor cyclist from Malaysia. I felt extremely sad thinking about how this man may have left his home very early to ride into Singapore to work, kissed his family goodbye (who might have been sleeping then) and not having a chance to return to his family. Ever.

So let's be safe and be calm. Let us also get into the habit of strapping on our safety belts. Let's embrace life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our conversations - My Gawd!

Since Dumpling started speaking quite a while back, I would update my Facebook status with our little conversations. Many of them are downright hilarious. Here's some that I can recall to share and to document since Facebook now has timeline!

Do you have funny (and extremely exasperating moments like such? lol)

Nov 2010
- (overheard the conversation between hubs and Dumpling)

Dumpling: what's that Daddy? (pointing to a packet of chocolate hubs was holding in his hands)

Hubs: (w/o missing a beat) medicine

Dumpling: Oh Daddy, I am sick!

Hubs: -__-

Jan 2011

Me: Pls stop walking around. Come here & finish your dinner!

Dumpling: I am busy

Me: Can you pls stop?!?

C: I'm busy

Me: ok, what exactly are you busy with?

Dumpling: I am like a bird! Winter!!!! Migration so I fly away! (ran off leaving me with her bowl)

Me: (wanna bang my head)

PS: she is still a fussy eater
PPS: she still has a sassy mouth
PPPS: And to add, I had many people who questioned the effectiveness of baby signing? Well, it certainly did NOT delay her speech!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Aqua Kid!

Dumpling has been swimming since more than 1.5 years ago. This is one skill that the man and I are very insistent on. We started Dumpling when she was young so that she does not develop any fear of water. Having started her at a younger age, I do get questions if it actually makes any difference. To me "yes" but this is dependant on what you truly want as a parent. I do not habour any expectations for swimming, I just need her to be able to swim.

Here's my answers to some of the common questions. :)

- So what's the pros of starting young?
To date, Dumpling has not displayed a fear of water as compared to some older kids who started later. My rationale to start young is that some kids develop fears when they are older and the fear of water is one of them. So I wanted to start when she was still enjoying water.

She did go through a period where she was not as confident in diving into and leaping off the platform to swim to us. So I am really happy to see how she is coming into her own and how her confidence has built up slowly.

Additionally, being a FTWM, I wanted to have activities where there is more bonding between the toddler her and me so this suited us just fine.

- What are the cons?
The parent must be realistic because when they start so young, one is not able to see the "results" so soon in terms of technical skills. But you will be able to see better coordination skills and general confidence. In addition, it also trains the child to take instructions and develop listening skills.

And of course, when you start younger, you will end up paying for the swimming fees earlier too. :)

- What are the things to look out for in choosing a swim school?
There are a lot of personal reasons why I chose the current swimming place. Distance is definitely one because I did not intend for this to be over in just a term or two so venue is an important factor for me.

Additionally, I wanted somewhere with a heated pool. This is the Chinese mum in me talking because on rainy days (classes still continue unless there is lightning) the water can get cold and I did not want Dumpling to catch a cold.

- What are the things then to look out for in an instructor?
There is quite a bit of differerence in a swimming coach for older and younger children. For Dumpling, there was a change of instructor recently. We toughed it out for a while but unfortunately, his style did not really work for Dumpling and the "chemistry" is not there. The coach was very experienced with older kids but I personally felt that he did not engage that well with the younger group of children.

So chemistry, energy and genuine passion for children would be the 3 things I think are important.

- We have never brought our child for swimming before, what prep work can we do?
An early introduction to water is always good. Bring your child to a wading pool or water play area to get them comfortable with it. Get them to kick, splash, etc. in the pool.

If the swimming school specialises in teaching young children, they would have songs, "props" and tools to engage them. Dumpling's school has a "magic" mat and a slide which are 2 of her favorite things when she was loads younger. So do not be overly worried, the school knows what to do. :)

And for me, I "prepped" Dumpling a few days before the lesson by explaining to her what would happen and that there will be someone teaching us. I also assured her that I would be in the water with her. (The classes are accompanied classes since the kids are young).

Lastly, I know that neck floats are very popular with the younger children and I think that is fine. Just to share, one of the most important things for the child when they swim is to be able to float up and look downwards. The children, by instinct and also because the muscles are not developed yet, tend to "walk" instead of float. So, once the child is comfortable with water and are older, I would suggest to do away with the neck float.

- Alright, I am keen to start so what should I do?
Register for a trial and see if your child likes it. Watch how the coach engages your child and see if you are comfortable with his/her style. Dumpling takes a while to warm up to strangers so I took that into consideration too. Some children may cry and that actually is quite common but you will be in the best position to judge if it is because there is no chemistry or that the child needs more time.

Dumpling was on the wait list at her current school for months because the weekend classes are always full. So if you can do weekdays, it is always a better choice (less crowded too). But if you can't, early planning is always good.

Lastly, just enjoy the process. Swimming is a wonderful exercise: great for muscles development, coordination as well as confidence building. I love watching how much Dumpling enjoys her session and how much more confident she has become in the water too! :)

*note: please ensure that you are in the pool at all times with your child for safety reasons unless you are told otherwise by the swim coach (as your child may be older). These are my personal thoughts so if you have other questions, do check with the respective swimming schools / coaches

Friday, April 13, 2012

As good as it gets

Amongst my many challenges as a homeschooling mum is that everyone has 101 suggestions / "advice". From the "take it from me, I have been there before..." (well, it would make sense if our situations are totally alike) to "it is pronounced as Van Gorrr not Van Goe".

There were also some instances when I'd end up debating with some over "spelling" and "grammar", etc. "Leaped" versus "Leapt" ("leaped is so totally wrong!" - well it isn't, just that British favours "leapt" more), the role o f silent "e", etc.

It does get very tiring at times at best and at the worst, it is downright infuriating because some of these people would totally not be receptive to ideas and opinions and think that only their views are right and they do not need to learn anything new.

This essentially is one of the many values I try to teach Dumpling - to be teachable i.e. humble. For Dumpling, she sometimes gets very bossy and argumentative. She'd argue that she is right and everyone else is wrong. I am still trying to to unteach that.

For we can only be as good as we can get if we were to be locked within our own world. If one is unteachable and thinks that his / her view is the best, then to me, the person is and will forever remain stagnant. This applies not only to Dumpling but also to myself. Though trying, I always take a step back and try to be receptive to new ideas / thoughts as I'd remind myself that I do not have all the answers. It is good to always have a healthy dose of information from someone else as well as to have a robust exchange of ideas so that we can better ourselves.

With this belief, I ended up creating a group on Facebook which is one of the best things that I have ever done for myself and I hope, for many members. The wealth of information in the exchanges is just tremendous. Being in Kiasu Singapore, some have asked me why I am so open to exchanges of resources, etc. My answer to that is there is only 1 of me and 24 hours daily. If we have an open exchange of ideas, thoughts and sharing of resources, it saves so much time for everyone. And of course, I choose to trust the better side of humans where the information/sharing is not being abused.

Because of this belief and group, I learnt a lot too; from ex teachers to early childhood educators to professional storyteller to facebook webstore books sellers, the expertise and opinions shared is mind boggling. So to all of you, thank you. :) (Edit: gonna claim bragging rights here by staking claim to say that we form this Facebook homeschool/homelearning community first! lol)

Wherein humility, I learn. Wherein sharing, I receive. Wherein giving, I am blessed. Many many times over. :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My story - what's blues gotta do with it?

I am one who believes things happen for a reason and in this case, they did.

I had Post Natal Depression (PND) shortly after the birth of Dumpling. Triggered by breastfeeding stress, chronic insomnia, hot flushes from the hormonal imbalance, side effects (automatism) from some prescribed sleeping pills and to a baby who did not (and still does not) sleep much, I had it bad.

I first did a guest post in my brother's blog "A Husband's Voice" (now dormant sadly 'cos the bro is tied up with his job and of course 3 kids - the last being a pair of twins) more than 2 years back. Incidentally, Evelyn was the first to post a reply to my sharing.

Two plus years on, I linked up with Evelyn over Facebook through a Facebook group called Singapore Mom Bloggers and she was looking for guest bloggers and here we are. In one full circle.

It seems very unlikely that someone who suffers from PND is able to bounce back fast. But with God's grace I did. Not through my own efforts of course but I pulled through those meaningless empty weeks with the help of my family.

I ended up learning Baby Signing to learn how to communicate with Dumpling so that I can enjoy her more (where I am the first certified Baby Signing Time Instructor in Singapore) and this took off on a journey of its own where I am now a homeschooling mum and am part of a Facebook Group which shares resources and tips on homelearning.

This coming from a mum who decided to give up the "gold standard" by making the decision to stop breastfeeding due to possible side effects from drugs and also because I needed the time to rest and get better so I can tend to my baby. This coming from a mum who was so worried about the "lack of bond" and having to settle my child with the much dreaded words "formula milk". :)

I want to end off to say that anyone can suffer from PND and it is more rampant than one can imagine (half of the thank you cards in the pyschiatrist's office were from PND sufferers I believe, from the quick glances I had). If I can get better and I can even take the path less travelled of being a homeschooling mum, then anyone can too.

From the post in my brother's blog, I had some people reach out to me via email on their experiences with PND / PND sufferers and one was also suffering from it (after the birth of her second child) and has since recovered too.

If you know of someone who suffers from it or you are suffering from it, you are definitely not alone (hey, even the gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow apparently had it). In this post, I shared with Evelyn some thoughts and tips on how to help PND sufferers. Take care and God Bless.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kindernomics Workshop!

Over the March school holidays, I let Dumpling "pontang" for a morning from her Chinese lessons (her school does not adhere to the regular school calendar) as we were kindly invited by Kindernomics for a morning workshop, extended to us by two other mummy bloggers from My Playschool.  

Started by three ex-bankers, Kindernomics' core focus is to teach life skills to children through play and extending to Math and English. When asked what was it that prompted three ex-bankers to start up such a venture, Kindernomics' reply was "we wanted to make a difference and feel that it is important for children to learn to make their own choices from early on, understand trade-offs in terms of the advantages & disadvantages of certain choices, and how to think faster and smarter. We quickly realized that an economics curriculum provided a great platform for us to equip kids with the necessary applied academic and life skills sets that we think are essential to be successful and relevant in the 21st century."

The way this is taught is through Kindernomics' EMPIRE model which aims to equip children with choices and, through participation, they learn.

I was particularly excited about the workshop because I believe in the exposure of life skills to children and letting them develop not just critical thinking skills but also the necessary emotional and social skills. 

Dumpling and I were the first to arrive that morning and we were ushered into a waiting room where books and toys were laid out. My immediate impression of the compound was that it is clean and bright.

Once the rest of the blogger mums arrived, we were led into another room where the class was conducted. The teacher started the session with a "read-a-loud" using a book entitled Honey Cookies by Meredith Hooper. From the story, the concept of "production" was introduced as the teacher discussed the various ingredients / raw resources to the production process and finally to the finished product.

After the "read-a-loud", the children viewed a proprietary video which introduced Kindernomics as well as the concept of money - how they can earn, in this case, Kinder Dollars and how they are able to "save" the money to "purchase" the items which they want.

The children  were then led to a table where labelled ingredients were placed. They were encouraged to read the labels and were introduced to "cost" and how much they would have to pay in Kinder Dollars for the ingredients. 


A worksheet was then handed out for an addition activity.

The children then took turns at prepping and mixing the ingredients for a "hands-on" baking activity: Honey Cookies. The teacher also encouraged the children to discuss which ingredient they prefer to handle and then guided them into what I feel was an early introduction to negotiation.

Towards the end of the session, while waiting for the cookies to be baked, the children were then led to "deposit" their kinder dollars into their Kindernomics bank account through a cool machine, made to operate like an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) as shown below. :)

What worked for us:
Dumpling had fun at the session so that was certainly a big plus point. The location was convenient (Forum Shopping Centre) and the classrooms were clean and spacious. I also found the curriculum unique as it deviates from the other "enrichment" schools which focus mainly on more academic stuff.

Dumpling was also given choices at different junctures as to what she wanted to do with her earnings. I was happy to note that the teacher neither encourage or discourage her choices but left it to Dumpling's decisions.

The use of short videos was also clever as it definitely engaged the children. During the briefing to the blogger mums, Kindernomics also shared that eBooks and games were developed and are loaded in tablets such as the iPads which form part of some lessons.

We also learnt that there is a parent's portal in their website which aims to update the parents on the child's activities and progress.

What I wish could have been different:
The session flew by very quickly for us as it was only 1.5 hours long. Besides the video, we did not have any chance to view the eBooks or games which I feel was a pity.

While I understand each term spans over 10 weeks and concepts do take some time for the children to grasp, I wish the group had the chance to go more in-depth into them. Baking as an activity is fun but it was something Dumpling could have done at home too. It would have been more interesting for me to see how the children can learn to negotiate / barter through role playing, etc. to understand trade and even the concept of scarcity when for e.g. one particular resource  "runs out". 

As this is a weekly lesson, I am also unsure how firmly the children can grasp the concepts. So personally, I feel that it would be great for the school to be able to have simple "extension" activities which can be reinforced throughout the week by the parents (anything from as simple as observing the store owners to discussing creative ideas to other activities to encourage "innovation", etc.). 

All in all, it was a lovely morning and I will not hesitate to attend this again if we were invited back in future. 

My Playschool has also written a review on this and they are currently giving away a free trial worth $55! Head on there to enter your details for the draw! :)

About Kindernomics:
Kindernomics School Private Limited

583 Orchard Road
#11-01 Forum (Office Tower)
Singapore 238884
Telephone: +65 6591 8748
Term fees: $550 for 10 sessions (90 mins per session)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Play learning with Math - Right Start Math!

Having a conceptual learner and an active child, I have learnt to be very creative with my teaching methods. Here's what I mean.

As part of the Smurfs activity we did (which I created a free activity pack so head on there to download if you are keen), I extended our session to using a Geo Board to create a maze for critical thinking skills development. We also added the villians by pasting them on popsicle sticks at the wrong turns and adding Papa Smurf at the ending point. Ha ha

What prompted me to start on a curriculum with Dumpling was that she began grasping the concept of simple addition and subtraction using her fingers some time back and I was getting sick of number lines.

We first started with the series "Math Start" which uses stories to teach Math. My Playschool created some printables which were certainly very helpful but I did not have enough time to create the printables to match the rest of the books. (I did create some and I will upload in a future post to share).

I was introduced to Right Start Math by a friend who used the set with her children and wanted to sell it off and thought that it would be suitable for Dumpling and I. After reading and researching a bit, I decided to buy over the set.

Dumpling and I have been using for more than a month or so but we do not have a fixed structure of working on a said items / activities daily. We also do not use this daily as it depends on how much time we have and how her attention span was that evening. We have been working on the "later" sessions somewhat very slowly because I wanted to ensure that Dumpling has a firm grasp of the Math basics and I really wanted to lay out the foundation properly before moving onto another lesson. This is especially so as the lessons do get progressively harder.

Right Start Math is a hands-on method of counting and teaching concepts through visualising, grouping, using cards and the abacus. Because of Dumpling's learning style, this system works very well for her.

From the start, it uses a grouping method for the child to add up to 10 using a group of 5 as the "base". This is done through a song-based approach and what the curriculum calls "tally sticks".

What works for us so far are basically three things: Dumpling's learning style (visual/audio learner), that it includes some manipulatives (which I personally feel that this is important for young learners in keeping them engaged and ensuring that they understand) and lastly, that I make it into a game at every chance.

For someone as young as Dumpling, I am very mindful of making it fun and enjoyable. So even with this curriculum, I will add on my own ideas. 

Below is an illustration of one of the cards included in the series which I turn it into a game with Dumpling (we use it for memory games or she and I will take turn to flip over a card where the first person who is able to "count" how many beads there are on the card gets a point, etc.) The beads on the cards below also coincide with the beads on the abacus so with repeated "exposure", it helps the child to process and "subitize" a group of 5 for faster and easier calculation.

I also felt that the program lays the steps slowly as the book consists of daily lesson plans. Each session slowly leads up to the next. Hence, I did not feel rushed and I felt comfortable as the program was well structured. The author also advises for the parent to spend as much time as possible on each lesson till the child understands before progressing further and this was exactly what we did.

For e.g. when the child first starts on this, the approach was just using a song to teach how 5 + X = Y. Though the singer did it almost in a soprano style (lol), Dumpling caught on quickly. Even when the child was taught that with a song, the sessions did not immediately skip to that but instead, lets the child work her way up with tally sticks and fingers adding up to 5 slowly.

After being taught how to represent 1 - 5, the child then works up to 10 using "5" as the base. For e.g. in the song, the first 2 lines are "Yellow is the Sun, 6 is 5 and 1". So as the child sings this, the tally sticks / fingers are used to coincide with the lyrics. This is done all the way up to 10.

Below, you can see an extension exercise I used with Dumpling to let her explore on her own to derive at how 5 units + 1 ended up being of the same length 6 with a montessori set that I have.

The curriculum also does not shy away from introducing terms / shapes such as "quadrilaterals" / "parallel" early on. I thought that Dumpling would not understand but it turns out that she did. Here she was introduced to an Isosceles triangle which she built on her own after I have explained to her what that was. 

So far, the curriculum seems to be working out well for us as we both enjoy the game cards and approach. If for that evening she does not want to try anything new, I usually let her create maze / shapes with the Geo board too - from the free play she learnt how to make various types of triangles and shapes in various sizes on her own.  

Recently, I dug out some card games I kept from in the storeroom and Dumpling was able to tell immediately which card had 4 and which, 5. From the addition song, she was then able to tell me that the nuts added up to 9 within a few seconds.

I then upped the stakes and added a row of 10 to 5 (removed 4 away). I had Dumpling show me how that looks on the abacus and then I drew out the blocks and had her write the number equation. These were done with very minimal assistance from me. 

So on the whole, Right Start Math seems to work for Dumpling as she is a very conceptual learner. Once she understands that 5 + 4 =  9, when I swop the numbers around to 4 + 5, she gets that it is the same thing. I do feel that the manipulatives and song based approach play a big part here.

Like I shared earlier, we are still very early into the curriculum. I am not sure how the rest of the lessons pan out but if the rest were to scaffold properly and slowly and there are more games to come, I'd say "Bring it on!" :)

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