Monday, December 29, 2014

A teary goodbye

Dumpling officially ended her stay at her Chinese school on Boxing Day. She has been attending daily Chinese classes there since 18 months and as THE day drew closer, we were both feeling a tad unsure and a tad sad too.

4.5 years ago, I was on the hunt for a preschool for the kiddo. The kiddo, then, had just started attending a weekly mum and kiddo accompanied weekend class. We then came to know that the school started a pure Chinese PG daily drop off class and the owner (then) casually mentioned that option to me. At that point in time, I had actually made a registration with a different preschool. Maybe it is me being paranoid (likely) or me being neurotic (highly likely), I decided that Dumpling needed more help in the Chinese language and I could homeschool the rest on my own till K2. And I did just that.

A long journey of more than 5 years of home learning with 'formal' homeschooling of 4.5 years where every evening we would read, learn through unit studies, learn about Math and when we can, do Science experiments too. It wasn't a very usual decision and it definitely was not an easy journey. Having said that, anyone who knows me well, would know that I rarely make usual and easy decisions. LOL

After 4.5 years of being exposed to 3 hours of Chinese language on an almost daily basis, I must say that I made the right decision for Dumpling and for us. For Dumpling, it is that incidental learning and the daily exposure to the sound of the language, the vocabulary and the learning through play where the language revolves around craft work, poem recitation, songs, etc. that worked for her.

What I also like from her pure Chinese learning journey is also the exposure to vocabulary and words that I have never learnt before. She did a 10-week theme a few years ago on Countries and Culture with a focus on food. I was really impressed that she came home sharing the Chinese names for Taj Mahal, White House and even food names such as Pratas!

Mastering a language for me is more than just being able to do 听写 (Chinese Spelling) and being able to complete worksheets. It is being able to communicate and use the language in her daily life too. Hence I make it a point to let her queue and buy her own food at the food centre or even help me with grocery shopping at wet markets where she is able to use the language.

She likes the language so far and while her sentence structure is not all that great (spoken), her diction is spot on. She doesn't like writing that much but in the recent PTC, the teachers have both commended on how far she has grown in terms of her perseverance and penmanship.

And my goodness, look at how much she has grown over the past 3.5 years!

(Her first day of being in the school uniform almost 3.5 years ago.) 

(Taken on her last day of school on Boxing Day)

On the morning of her last day, she told me that she was a bit sad that she will not be attending her Chinese classes anymore. She also added that she will miss her teachers and her friends. My heart ached a little and I struggled to find the words to comfort her for once. I could only hug her and assure her that we will head back to visit her teachers. 

While there have been operational issues here and there at the centre (and friends have asked me why the decision to continue her in the Chinese classes), I would say that it is mainly due to 3 reasons. Firstly, I am still anal about the daily Chinese immersion. Secondly, her teachers have been really great and carting, and lastly, the environment is just the right fit for her. On the homefront I believe that we have been doing great and she's also developed into an avid reader. She has truly "come into her own" and grown to be a sensible and a confident young lady. 

For her graduation concert, she led a Chinese dance segment which she put up a wonderful performance. 

(She spotted me...)

(Broke into her trademark smile at the sight of me holding my camera LOL)

It was a Peacock Dance! The class has practised this dance for a few months and just a week before the concert, she was diagnosed with a mild case of HFMD. That gave us quite a fright but with God's grace, she got well enough to participate and even join in the full dress rehearsal :)

It has been a hard, tiring and yet wonderfully amazing journey of homelearning with her on Chinese (as I believe in supporting from home) and homeschooling on English, Math and even Science. It is through this homeschool journey that our bond is cemented and where I have been honored and thankful to have witnessed her growth and her little successes and milestones. 

It is definitely a road less travelled and not for the fainthearted. I have given up many years of social life and my weekends are burnt with kids' activities but I would not have wanted it any other way. If I were able to go back into time, I would still have picked the same journey and done the same thing :)

To Dumpling's Chinese teachers for the past few years, 
"Thank you very much for your support, love and for the care you have showered her so abundantly with. 

We have been very blessed to have you in her life and early formative years. I am often amazed at how much she loves the language and I thank you for partnering with me and 'supporting' us on our Chinese homelearning journey too. As she starts a new chapter in her life, I am sure that you have given her the foundation to bloom and succeed.”


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Unit Study: Ancient China

“So, will you still be teaching her from home when she goes into Primary School?” I have been asked the question quite a few times over the past few weeks. I have also been toying with the thought quite a bit because friends with kids who are already in Primary school have said that once formal school starts, there wouldn’t be time to do any other activities / learning. Well, that certainly is a bummer for me as I strongly believe that there is more to life than being textbook smart and we have always had fun reading, learning and discussing through unit studies and activities which are Science or GK based.

But just when I thought to slow down in December, Dumpling told me one day that she wanted to learn more about China. Ancient China that is. That started a flurry of prep activities on my end as I had to research and read up on information that has long been passed back to the teachers! LOL

My style has never been the worksheet driven kind of approach and in true Mama Sue style, I decided to make it a travel adventure for the kiddo with these:

An activity book in the form of a passport AND a boarding pass!

When she was younger, I used to set up theme tables with thematic books, craft materials, relevant displays / sensory bin on a daily basis for our thematic study. It was fun for her to suddenly enter the room and see the set up and know that we have new activities to have fun and learn from. But as she got older and is able to be left to read independently, she would often be a few steps ahead and finish the books before I can even "work" with her on the topics!

(Taken in 2010 when Dumpling was 2 and we were learning about senses; taste was of course one of the senses we explored in greater details)

This was the display that greeted her when we started a new theme on that day :) And yup, Dumpling was indeed excited.

You might ask what's with the meat and the capsicum? That's part of our cookery activity that evening! Do you know that some authors have said that Sweet and Sour sauce / style of cooking originated from Hunan, China?

And so, she helped me prepare the ingredients for Sweet and Sour Chicken. Spring rolls (in the background) are of course a popular Chinese dish and we had that too. 

We learnt about the various dynasties and it is apparent that Dumpling's early intro to the Chinese language as she spotted the dynasty that the famous Poet, Li Bai was from. :)

We also learnt about inventions that came from China! Do you know that ice cream was said to have hailed from China too?!?

And so we made our own ice cream - without the use of a freezer! If you search online, most of the recommended ways are to use fresh milk and add on sugar along with vanilla essence. To save time, I used strawberry milk instead where I did not have to concoct anything.

:: What you need and the steps
You will need 2 ziplock bags (1 larger and 1 smaller), salt, ice cubes and milk!
1) In the larger bag, add in the ice cubes and sprinkle salt into it (maybe a tablespoonful of it)
2)  Shake so that the salt mixes well with the ice
3) Pour half a cup of milk into the smaller ziplock bag, seal tightly and place it in the larger bag.
4) Ensure that the ice covered the smaller bag and shake the bag
5) In less than 5 minutes, you will see that the milk starts to solidify and changes into "ice cream"!

:: The discussion
We also did one round without the salt. "So what made the milk changed to ice cream," I asked. That prompted a series of discussions about the  freezing point and the role of salt. :) How cold was cold? Below zero Degrees Celsius apparently.

I reserved more books from the library and will be picking them up and exploring this topic further and (hopefully), be able to finish it by next week before she officially starts a new journey in Primary School!

So to answer the question - are we gonna still continue with our homelearning journey? I would think (hopefully) so since homework is minimal in Primary 1 and 2. I hope to still continue on our little journey as long as she still enjoys learning and exploring. :) Leave a comment below if you would like to give us some suggestions on the next country of focus in our unit study! :)

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Thoughts #5 - 华语,原来可以这样学!

I had a rocky start to introducing Dumpling to the Chinese language as she was about 15-16 odd months old. It was the first time I did a Chinese read-aloud for her. I still recall her look of shock as she mumbled to ask me what I was saying. It has never occurred to me that it would be hard introducing another language to Dumpling but at that moment,  I realised my folly. That also started my home support on Chinese learning.

Chinese, to me, is based on 听,说,认, 读, 写 。Before a child can speak it, the child needs to be able hear it constantly. Listening is fundamental as the child can then pick up vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.

Oracy is the next most important area as I believe that being proficient in Chinese is a life skill. To me, it is more than being able to read but to be able to have a language that is useful in our daily lives. The 'progress' for this, comes in various tiers; knowing what to say, how to say and having the confidence to use the language are 3 entirely different matters.

Dumpling has been attending Chinese Speech and Drama workshops during the holidays for the past 2 over years having done theatrical plays such as Alice in Variouslands, Little Red Riding Hood most recently, Hua Mu Lan.

I have the pleasure of knowing Daphne Low, founder of Apple Pie Language, from these workshops and I have learnt so much from her. Today, I am pleased to share a short chat that I had with Daphne on Apple Pie, her views on the language and tips to support this language at the homefront.

Me: I understand that Apple Pie started in 2003. Why made you decide to start a Chinese enrichment centre and naming it Apple Pie? Why is Chinese so close to your heart?
Daphne: Learning the Chinese language should be an enjoyable experience. I have the fondest memories of learning and communicating in this language from young with my family and friends and that's why Chinese is so close to my heart. Thinking of my early school years and personal experience reminds me of tucking and savouring one of my favorite desserts - Apple Pie. Sweet, warm and totally enjoyable. :)

With our students, I wish for them to have the same experience - where they will enjoy the learning process as much as we enjoy teaching them. And through the unique delivery of our programme, I would say that we’ve made a difference when we hear our students and their parents say ‘华语,原来可以这样学!’  Where there is a positive association with the language and that they see that Chinese can be learnt in a fun manner.

Me: It is very common these days to see young children reply and communicate mainly in English instead of Mandarin. What do you feel of such a phenomenon?
Daphne: Most Singaporeans are well educated and the common language used at home is English. Hence the first language that the child come into contact with will naturally be English and that will become his/her main language for communication. As there is a lack of providing a Mandarin speaking environment at home, the child does not have chance to practise the language hence, this becomes a vicious cycle as the child will not be able to pick up the language.

Me: Do you think Chinese is hard for children to acquire and why?
Daphne: Yes. As shared here, there are many factors that make Chinese very difficult to learn. For example the characters (Hanzi) used in the writing system seem to be archaic and obscure. Every word is a different symbol and it’s not phonetic so it gives you no clues as to how it is pronounced. The tone system also is a challenge because Mandarin has four tones. One other reason is, Mandarin has a large number of homophones. For example, the pronunciation “shì” is associated with over thirty distinct morphemes.

Me: What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for children to learn Chinese?
Daphne: A lack of fun and stress-free environment for children to practise the language.

Me: Do you have any tips to share for parents to support this development better?
Daphne: Here's are some recommendations:

1.       If you can, speak Mandarin to your child at home
This is important because learning and the usage of Mandarin should be beyond the classroom setting and where children are able to "see" it as a practical life skill. The more they use it, they better they become at it.
2.       Read Chinese story books to your child
Like the English language, reading is very important as it is through reading that children are exposed to vocabulary and good sentence structure. You can make it fun by reading with emotion and acting out various roles in the story.

3.       Enrol your child in a Speech and Drama class
Speech and Drama is one of the most fun experiences your children will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. Whether they are standing up on a stage, delivering a speech with quotes by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, or merely reading a passage from a book, they will begin to develop their language skills. Research has suggested that drama techniques provide an interesting way of motivating language learning in children.

These classes are fun and can assist in strengthening a child’s communication skills, to speak more persuasively, boost confidence in public speaking, build self esteem, learn leadership skills, increase ability to adapt and improvise, overcome shyness, become more assertive, build awareness of social skills, make friends and understand people. Adults are judged on how they express themselves and their style of speech every day. Drama classes are a perfect way for children to develop these skill

An extremely experienced teacher, Daphne Low has more than 10 years of Chinese Language teaching experience under her belt having taught pre-schoolers and primary school students.

Her forte lies in designing lively Chinese Speech and Drama lessons as well enrichment programs and she has conducted Chinese Enrichment Programmes at private schools such as Agape Student Care Centre and MOE schools such as Hwa Chong Institution and Rulang Primary School etc.

Presently as the founder of Apple Pie Language, she plays an instrumental role in the company as a Programme Designer, Teacher-trainer as well as the Marketing Director.

Daphne is passionate in achieving her greater vision of offering parents and children a nurturing and safe environment to bond, learn and develop through dramatic play.
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Parenting with Love - Money Management: Smart Money, Smart Kids

I have great role models from young on being independent and responsible with money. The 2 role models are my mum and my brother. My mum had it tough when I was younger as she had to raise the family on her own. My brother sat me down when I was about 15 or so, and basically said that since I have no plans over the holiday period, it would be wise for me to work during then and save the money as 'pocket' money for myself. That was how I started to work part time which during my adult years, led to me paying for University fees on my own.

Fast forward to some years later (ok, I fibbed - many years later :p) this is what happened recently...

"Daddy, can you give me $10? I would like to buy this keychain please?" Dumpling asked at a bookstore at the airport while we waited for our boarding time. That was not the first time the kiddo has asked for money from us and I knew then that I have to do something effective and fast.

Since a few months back, I noted that while Dumpling understands the monetary value of money, there is a true lack of understanding of the 'work value' that is pegged to money. Being the only grandchild on the hubs' side and our only child, this also means that she is very blessed as she had the chance to experience many things and was gifted with many toys and presents.

So I became increasingly worried about the careless way she handles and views money. I do not wish for her to become an 'entitlement' kid which I feel, would carry with her through to adulthood. To me, being careful with money is much more than just knowing not to bust the budget. Rather, it is about treasuring the opportunities / things that it brings, being responsible with it  and knowing to give, spend and save.

I came across the below title - Smart Money Smart Kids written by Dave Ramsey (father) and Rachel Cruze (daughter) and wow, was I blown away. To say that I was inspired is truly an understatement. I was looking for a book to teach Dumpling on money management but I learnt so much more in return.

Dave Ramsey was a bankrupt who worked, planned and learnt his way out of bankruptcy while Rachel (his second daughter) basically grew up during the days where they had nothing. In this very real recollection of their experience, memories and practical tips, I realised (to my horror!) that I, too, was also contributing to Dumpling's careless ways!

Take tithe for instance. How many of us, while attending church weekly and when it is time to tithe, we would just hand over money to the kiddos for them to place into the contribution bags / envelopes? I am guilty of that. Now, then how can I blame Dumpling for asking for money whenever we are at Daiso out at the retail shops as that's what I have been conditioning her for week after week, in church!

What about credit cards? Have you ever explained to your kids about how they work? We say that kids model our behaviour and as parents, we are ever 'oh-so-careful' with our language and choice of words in front of them. Have you ever thought of how the kids see us make purchases? All they see is us signing for them and that's it. They do not often see the physical bills being handed out and from there, learn how we manage the 'budget' or see the debited amount (if using NETs / debit card). Now, in the long run, are we not also conditioning them to purchases with credit cards?

That would be fine if they are taught how to manage the income and outflow but have we taught / shown or even explained this to them? The issue is, the kids can't see this part of the transaction so how do we aim to teach them to be responsible with money when this is a debt-based society? And I must add that, with all the credit card signing, I have overspent many times too! (That would be another post altogether.)

In the book, Rachel is the main author where she shared the various money handling tips and practical methods that she grew up with, how they were tasked with chores, given the freedom to make mistakes, worked on long term goals (each of the sibling saved for their own car!) and led debt free lives. Dave, on the other hand, would add on remarks in a commentary style on why he imposed those rules and his thoughts on them, as a parent and as a financial expert.

And with that, I have taken on the tips and suggestions and, Dumpling and I have been on a mission of a different kind for the past week plus (giving, spending and saving) which I will share in the next post. Stay tuned!

If you have enjoyed this post, please follow me on my Facebook Page where I share my parenting thoughts, food photos (be prepared for tons of them!), early shout outs for giveaways and interact with you, my readers! You can also follow me on Pinterest and Instagram.
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