Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Busy Mum's Cheat Sheet: Composition Writing Made Easy eCourse by Big Ideaz Education (Review + Giveaway!)

I recently had a chat with a friend who shared wisely reading and writing should not be seen as "work". How true that is. As one who is in the early childhood industry, I would love for children to have more time to acquire the love for the language naturally and by naturally, I mean to read to and read, many many times over, with them. 

Alas, things are somewhat different when children enter mainstream school. Though tests are now called holistic assessments (which are basically tests broken down into bite size assessments and last over a span of 4 – 5 weeks!), end of the day, marks are still given and the papers are still graded. I have previously blogged about my thoughts on composition here

Creative writing is a skill which needs to be wielded like a sword; to mesh different materials together using a variety of tools and techniques. With Primary 2 being an important year for her (the school will be streaming them into different classes), Dumpling has expressed an interest to learn more and hone her writing skill and we were blessed to have the opportunity to review a Composition Writing Made Easy eCourse by fellow mummy blogger - Hui Ing. 

:: The eCourse 

This eCourse spans over 8 lessons covering a range of techniques which includes:
  • Writing a good introduction
  • Describing events and problems
  • Creating suspense, etc. 
What you need:
The eCourse is pre-recorded where you will need a working laptop / PC, internet connection and printed course notes. The page / materials are easily available with a simple log in where the each lesson focus is very clearly titled. 

What it entails

Each lesson comes with 3 components

  • A pre-recorded video clip (which lasts about an average of 8 mins elaborating on each of the topic)
  • Comprehensive course notes as well as 
  • Weekly assignments

Hui Ing, in her videos, reminds the children weekly to print the course notes and have them ready before she starts. The files for the weekly course are all in PDF where it maps back to the videos and the students makes the connection with the video viewed and attempts the questions on the spot.

(The above are all discussed in the video and Dumpling would pause the video to fill in the blanks)

So basically, for each lesson, the children are to watch a video, complete the notes and then work on their weekly submissions and then submit the work. Submission can be via a scanned  PDF file / good quality jpeg file. The turnaround time for Hui Ing is 3 working days. 

:: Our assignment

Dumpling is not familiar with the new PSLE format though she is attempting 4-picture compositions in school. With the new PSLE format, the good thing is that it allows for more imagination and creativity but the concept can be a tad "abstract" for the younger children or for children who are not articulate as they may lack the vocabulary and skill set to elaborate on the essay. 

The below is a portion of Dumpling's writing assignment from Lesson 3 and Hui Ing's comments. (Lessons 1 and 2 were focused on introductions so I am not sharing here.)

:: Our thoughts and experience

A busy mum's cheat sheet!
Being a FTWM, my worst enemy is time. It is hard to schedule my time and send Dumpling for classes in addition to her already busy schedule peppered with CCA, Art, Violin, etc. So this course is like a busy mum's cheat sheet as it works like a dream. It allows us to work on things anywhere and yes, the kiddo can even watch the video on my iPhone too! How's that for mobility? 

(Print screens of the video clip from my iPhone!)

The kiddo went through the first two lessons like a tornado as she found it to be really useful. Hui Ing was able to bring the point across in a short and succinct manner for e.g. using acronyms such as "SAFE" to prompt the children to be more intentional in their attempts at writing direct speech (elaborated below).

The marked paper was also sent back within 3 working days promised where she requested for a final draft to be sent back to her. :)  

:: What I like about it:

No memorising of fabricated phrases
In my opinion, Hui Ing made some simple but sharp suggestions on Dumpling's essay. In one of the holiday workshops that Dumpling has attended (and apparently at a rather "famous" writing enrichment centre), Dumpling shared that the teacher wrote some "power phrases" on the white board and the children were told to choose from the list to use it in the composition. She hated that. 

With Hui Ing's comments, as you can see, there was none of those. Hui Ing basically worked with the children's essays and guided from there. In the weekly course notes, examples of good phrases / vocabulary are given but she also requests for children to add on to the list to build up their own phrases / vocabulary bank. 

With Dumpling's compositions, the issue is not on grammar or on the vocabulary. As her stories tend to run a bit long, she sometimes does not elaborate enough on the "climax" / problem and Hui Ing was able to pick that out and zero in from there. Thereafter she gave a suggestion to guide Dumpling in her thought flow. In her email reply to Dumpling, Hui Ing was very encouraging too and I could see that was a confidence booster for the kiddo. 

Systematic approach on framework
The eCourse outline is well thought through and well planned. The lessons are systematic and the content short yet crisp. It has a very strong focus on helping children to get the framework right. 

For e.g. some of the courses which I have come across use the 5W and 1H approach. This I find, may be too generic for young children. In the children's writing, they could have all these 5W and 1H information but the story may not engage. In essence, the story does not draw the readers in. 

With Hui Ing's suggested "introduction" approaches and using acronyms to guide the children, it gives a framework where it becomes more intentional. For e.g. SAFE stands for Speech Action and FEelings and with such a technique, it helps the children to focus better when they are using direct speech, where the writing and thought process take on a more intentional and systematic approach. 

:: What Dumpling likes about it

"I like the lesson because there are lesson notes which are useful for me to refer to when I am writing. The videos are cool ~ I have never had e-lessons before. There are certain phrases and tips which I did not know and they were useful too." 

:: What the eCourse is NOT

The eCourse is great for the working mums as you can view the lesson anytime, anywhere. Having said that, there is support needed from us parents. For Dumpling, I had to support her in guiding her initially on this format and of course, we will also need to ensure that the children do their assignments and then send it back for marking.

The process of writing intertwines with other aspects of English such as grammar and vocabulary. While some of these will surface in the writing, essentially, this is a composition writing course and may not be able to deal with root problems such as poor grammar where the kid may not understand some basic grammar rules.

Lastly, like all things, practice makes perfect. The student needs to work on this consistently to be able to see an improvement over time. 

:: Extra, extras!
Keen to learn more? You can read some of Hui Ing's students' work here.

Now that you have read about this eCourse, I am pleased to share that Hui Ing will be starting a new enrollment for July! And best of all, I have a give away for 2 readers worth a total of $400!

Just take part using "Rafflecopter" below!

:: Terms and conditions:
1) The prizes are not transferable and they cannot be exchanged for cash.

2) Only entries via Rafflecopter are valid. 

3) Answers to the question via rafflecopter (What is the most challenging area in the coaching of your child's writing process?) MUST be listed in the comment box below to qualify. Please remember to leave:
- your child's age
- your name &
- your email address in the comment box too. 

4) The eCourse is for the advanced Primary 2 students to struggling Primary 5 students and lasts over 8 weeks (2 months).  The course commences in July 2016. 

5) Closing Date of Giveaway: 16 June 2016, 2359 hrs.

6) Winners must respond to my email within 48 hours otherwise, they will be given to another winner. 

7) The giveaway is not endorsed, associated with administrated by Facebook. 

Note: Hui Ing only accepts up to 10 students per eCourse intake. So if you cannot wait for the giveaway results, please add your name to the eCourse wait list here

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored giveaway. We were invited to review the eCourse so that we can give our opinions about it. We are not compensated for the post. All opinions expressed are entirely ours. 

:: About Big Ideaz Education
Big Ideaz Education is the brainchild of former MOE English Teacher Hui Ing. Big Ideaz Education provides resources for Creative Writing & Composition, Writing Workshops & Online Writing Courses for primary school children.  

The Composition Writing Made Simple eCourse is designed for Primary School students who are beginning to write compositions for examinations. It is targeted at Primary 3 and 4 students but is also suitable for more advanced Primary 2 students as well as Primary 5 students who are still struggling with the basics of composition writing. The course focuses on writing compositions based on the new (2015) PSLE format.  You can subscribe to Big Ideaz Education's mailing list here to receive the latest tips and news!

This is an ongoing series on documenting my learning and Dumpling's Primary School journey

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 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Creative Writing: The sleuthing way!

When I was still in school, English was my favorite subject. Being the bookworm that I am, I found the subject fairly easy as there is not much prep-work to be done. The secret to English, I discovered, was to read, read and read.

Perhaps because the syllabus was more forgiving then so children were not expected to write compositions until they reach the Upper Primary level where at that age, most of us would have matured and are able to voice our thoughts and pen our plots well.

Now that I am a parent, the challenge is different and the struggle, many times, is real. I am blessed that the kid loves languages and reads a lot but she was a reluctant writer. It took a few years to build up the practice before she was more intentional with her vocabulary and plot development. It is no secret that I am not a big fan of memorized phrases as I find such approach meaningless. My thoughts are if the children are inspired, there will be that innate passion and interest to pursue / delve into that area of interest.

With this belief, I recently helped organize a creative writing workshop and not just any “regular” workshop but one facilitated by the authors of Sherlock Sam, a popular children’s series! From an educator and a parental perspective, I wanted the children to have a chance to meet published authors and understand their process, their work and the “pains”! 

:: The authors
Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez are the authors of the Sherlock Sam series. Under the pen name of AJ Low, this husband and wife pen wielding team is well-matched both in interest and in the humour department, judging at some of the funny antics our hero Sherlock, gets up to. 

:: The workshop
The workshop started with an introduction on themselves as well as how they organise their ideas and co-write before they moved on to share on character development. 

The sharing was light-hearted and engaging as it was peppered with their own experiences while developing the characters - Watson and Sherlock Sam. (It helps that funny illustrations were shown too. LOL)

After every "segment", the children were then given time to work on their versions.

What I like was that tips were also shared and the authors walked around to interact with the children, asking them about their progression, prodding them to extend the storyline a bit more, etc. 

E.g. Dumpling decided on a super hero dog. Adan then "challenged" her to think deeper about the villain's background, the language her super hero spoke (LOL), what crimes her superhero would solve, etc. 

(The young participants were raring to share their characters with the authors) 

(Some of the boys' characters)

Judging from the response from the children, many were really excited about reading and parents have shared that they almost dove immediately into the series after the workshop. Some mums have also shared that the children discussed about the session / characters with them on the way home too.

:: How to book for it
The event was booked through the publisher - Epigram where a flat rate is charged for the workshop (about 90mins). Venue has to be arranged on your end. There is no minimum number of attendees to start the workshop since it is a flat rate. 

For this group, we prefer a smaller and cozier group so we had a size of 13. To support the event, Epigram also brought down some books for onsite purchase (though pre-orders can be arranged) and autographs were done by the authors after the workshop.  

:: What this workshop is not
The session is not a tuition session nor is it a diagnostic clinic. If you are looking for a workshop where you wish to expose your child to "power phrases" or to learn about certain "said formats" ~ e.g. the 5W and 1H, then this will not be for you. 

The attendees of this workshop were mainly in the Lower Primary (all except 1) and objectives that the parents had were to encourage the children to write in a meaningful and fun manner.

This is through inspiring the children through the engagement of these 2 published authors who bring with them a different set of experiences. Experiences on how they get ideas, how they work on developing the characters and story lines of Sherlock Sam, etc. 


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Friday, May 13, 2016

Giveaway + Review: Young Scientists magazines!

The kid and I love Science, no doubt about it. That's one of the things that we really benefited from homeschooling. With Science, the beauty of it is that it is evident in our daily lives where we can often find a topic to discuss and talk about even during walks.

Some of our more interest experiments include dissecting owl pellets, making water disappear as well as learning more about Mr Seahorse. With each topic that we go into (and it is often child-led), the kiddo would ask more about the topic and it would often lead to our many trips to the library to hunt for suitable resources.

Even now that we are in formal schooling, I still try to make time for her to explore Science at the home front. It was some time last year when we chanced upon some Science magazines - Young Scientists, at Popular bookstore which the kiddo stood for a long while flipping through the sample copies.

:: What is it?
The Young Scientists is a magazine for children presented in a comic format. The magazines come in 4 levels - 1 through to 4 where 1 is for Primary 1 & 2 (introduction to Science) and level 4 covers lower Secondary Science topics.

Past issues (e.g. for the year 2015) are sold as a box set of 10 issues.

:: Contents Page
Importantly, The Young Scientists magazine is based on the latest Singapore MOE syllabus. Hence the content and concepts covered map back to the Lower / Upper blocks in the local primary school's syllabus.

Organization of information
The information presented each month are in a consistent manner where it is placed in sections such as "Main Course", "YS Detective", "Do You Know", "My Body", etc.

:: What I really like
Based on my understanding, the topics in the Lower Block are Diversity & Systems, and Cycles, Energy & Interactions. A quick look shows that in each issue, these lower block topics are covered.

The information and concept are introduced via a comics format and with this style, the expressions of the characters are often exaggerated. I have often seen the kiddo, after reading the content, flipped back to the earlier pages to look at the illustration again.

Here some things which we really like:

A) The various sections
1) "Everyday Science"

The topics are very much current issues which I feel are really useful for children to be aware of. From the building up of the awareness of guide dogs

To educating the readers on dengue being a major concern in Singapore, this section (very much like the others) is presented in a very engaging manner.

The pages also come with "interesting information" and "vocabulary" blurbs at the bottom.

2) Do You Know?

Being naturally curious, this is one of the sections which I often flip to for all the issues. There are often interesting and cool facts shared about animals (e.g. marine animals, pets, etc).

Just check out the cool Thaumoctopus Mimicus below!

It can impersonate up to 15 animals including a sea snake and a lion fish! That's a major talent! *gasp*

3) YS Detective Agency

Science is good for making inferences and the YS Detective Agency section does just that. In each issue, YS Detective Agency is presented with a case to solve. From food poisoning to murder to "mysterious" accident, Froggie and his team solved them all.

What I like about the stories / cases are the questions Froggie and his team asks where they can then draw hypothesis and conclusions. I feel that through the stories shared, it helps to hone the reader's critical thinking and problem solving skills.

I feel that the series is really informative and engaging and is a perfect way to introduce your children to Science concepts.

B) Practice Papers
To test understanding of concepts, 10 sets of practice papers are included in each box set. These are useful checkpoints on the child's understanding if parents wish to extend the activities / discussions as it also maps back to the same Science topics:  Diversity & Systems, and Cycles, Energy & Interactions.

For older children, I feel that they can also be left to do the papers on their own and then check against the answer key. My kid tried it out on her own interest too. 

All in all, the kiddo and I highly recommended this series as it is truly engaging and informative!  

Excited much? I am pleased to share that I have 3 box sets of 2015's The Young Scientists magazines to give away! 

1 x 2015 Level 1 Collection Set (For Pri 1&2)
1 x 2015 Level 2 Collection Set (For Pri 3&4)
1 x 2015 Level 3 Collection Set (For Pri 5&6)!

Just participate in the rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

:: Terms and conditions:
1) As the sponsor is based in SG, this contest is open to Singaporeans with a local address only. 
2) The prizes are not transferable and they cannot be exchanged for cash.
3) Only entries via Rafflecopter are valid. 
4) Answers to the question via rafflecopter MUST be listed in the comment box below to qualify. Please remember to leave your name and your email address. 
Please also indicate which level (1, 2 or 3) you wish to win! 
5) Closing Date of Giveaway: 22 May 2016, 2359 hrs.
6) Winners must respond to my email within 48 hours otherwise, they will be given to another winner. 
7) The giveaway is not endorsed, associated with administrated by Facebook. 

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored giveaway. We are not compensated for the post. All opinions expressed are entirely ours. 

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 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Primary School: Chinese Oracy Preparation

With the last post on the a new series where I share on Primary school resources, here's the second post on a guide that I found useful.

The book comes in a set of 4 from the same good people that brings us the Chinese magazines 新朋友。

:: Contents Page / Format
The book essentially is divided into 3 main sections - "read aloud", "picture talk" as well as some "show and tell" sample topics / presentation.

:: Read aloud
What I like about the "read aloud" is that it does not come with HYPY so for children who are already starting to recognise words, this would be a good guide for them to use. The read aloud passages are kept quite short (the kiddo told me that school is about the same) and the stories are on simple plots that the children can identify with. 

:: Picture Talk
The book is of quite good quality where the pages are thick and the illustration bright and colourful. The picture is also of A4 size which I personally prefer. (Some titles I have flipped through are in black and white and A5 in size which I feel totally unappealing).

Importantly, in the following page, a helping word list is provided. What I really like is that with each of the "item/term", there is HYPY, English term as well as a picture of the item and this will be really useful for parents as a reference.

But the part that is useful for most parents would be the suggested answer for the picture description which is "broken down" into 4 sections: introduction, an "overview", the flow proper and the conclusion. By providing a sample flow, I feel that this would aid the parent and child in planning out the stories. 

:: Show and Tell
For Dumpling, part of her oral assessment includes Show and Tell and I have previously shared on some show and tell tips for P1 hereAmong all the guide books which I purchased, this is the only one that comes with a sample on "Show and Tell". I find this section a good reference in the provision of ideas / flow.

Importantly for me, as the publisher also publishes Chinese magazines 新朋友 which Dumpling's school uses to supplement her Chinese lessons, I do find the topics covered in this book in line with what school is testing them on, at this point in time. These books are also compatible with a reading pen which the publisher sells. This will be useful for children who requires additional assistance where they can use the pen to read out the passages, anytime and anywhere.  

I have previously written a post on nurturing a love for the Chinese language before and you can read more about it here:
Part 4: Play It! 
This is an ongoing series on documenting my learning and Dumpling's Primary School journey

Edit: Here's a sharing by Susan from A Juggling Mom on resources for Chinese Oral too! 

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 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: I Theatre's The Rainbow Fish

I had forgotten how magical a Black Light Theatre is until we caught I Theatre's The Rainbow Fish over this long weekend. I brought my niece and my 2 nephews along to watch the play too (yes, I was feeling brave that afternoon!) and when the play started, my niece went "wow"!

And wow it was. :) For those who are unaware of what black light theatre is, it is where the stage is augmented to be totally "blacked out" (hence a black "box" theatre) and the actors wear black costumes which allow them to blend in with the background. With special UV light and paint, the props and the "characters" would be the ones that stand out against, thus creating black light illusion. (Note: because of the light needed for the photography, the actors are visible here. In the actual production, the actors are barely visible)

:: The story
This story written by Marcus Pfister must be one of the most widely used stories in teaching children the importance of humility and sharing. But more than that, the story also emphasizes how every individual is unique in its own way. 

The story starts with a shoal of fish ending up in Seawedy Deep and for many (especially Little Blue), one of their greatest wish is to be able to see the infamous Rainbow Fish, known for her beautiful and unique scales.

Initially dazzled by Rainbow Fish's beauty, Small Blue and Tiny Stripes (who reminded me of Dory in Finding Nemo with its bubbly personality) "hero-worshipped" Rainbow Fish and did not realise how proud and rude she truly was. As the story progresses, they were disappointed and upset to learn that the proud beauty is not what she seems on the outside, while Rainbow Fish learns what humility and friendship is about. 

The friends also learnt about teamwork when they had to work together in battling a Hammerhead shark (which parents will be relieved to know to know that it was actually more of a comic relief ~ not frightening for the younger kids). 

:: What we like it
Aesthetically, it was a visual treat. There is nothing like the effects of a Black Light theatre and how it made everything "pop up", swim and float. And kudos to the prop designers as the props were really lifelike too ~ the "brain" coral etc were really beautifully painted.

The kid asked me what my favorite part of the story was and visually, it was when the Octopus appeared. The set up of the scene was really impressive: it was simple yet grand. Simple because it was just the Octopus that took the centrestage but grand because of its sheer size. The Octopus (who is almost somewhat like an oracle) was wise (true to its nature!) and hit "home" with its points about sharing when Rainbow Fish ("sharing is stupid") sought out its counsel.

:: Precious lessons
For me, the story about Rainbow Fish is not just about sharing. The sharing was a gesture that she thought of; almost like an "aftermath" and as peace offering. Instead, it is about how vain and rude Rainbow Fish was, and how she prides herself to be better than others and looked down at the other fish. It was because of that mentality that she is "precious and unique" that slowly, she lost her friends as they began to realise that outer beauty is not everything. For Rainbow Fish, she learnt the importance humility and friendship.

Morals aside, the play also introduces adjectives to the children - "unique" and "malevolent" and shared interesting facts e.g. crabs eat starfish. (While I am at it, here's some fun facts about Starfish. Their arms are called rays and they have the ability to regenerate the rays!)

:: Extra extras!
The activity booklet is beautifully printed showcasing the silver scales on Rainbow fish on the cover! Additionally, there are activities in the booklet by Little Day Out which extends the children's learning. If I can make one suggestion, that would be for I Theatre to have a fun facts page for the older children too! :)

Now, if you are a paraphernalia person, you will be pleased to know that My Imagination Kingdom has a booth selling the Rainbow Fish series of books (many in hardbacks which I personally love for the younger kids as they are more lasting). Additionally, there's also a booth selling Rainbow Fish tee-shirt (exclusively for this play ~ you won't be able to get it anywhere else!) for only $10 (kids size). A CD cum tote (partially made with denim) set is also going only for $15! That's really good value! (Note: please bring CASH!)

Having caught the play 5 years ago and again, 5 years later, I have to say that the play did not disappoint but entertained well. I was worried that the play would be more suitable for the preschoolers but was really happy to find out that the my troop which ranges from Primary 1 - 3 enjoyed it too.

A really meaningful and entertaining production, here's some information about the show time. You can purchase the tickets here.

10:00 am
10:30 am
2:30 pm
Show 1

Show 2
Show 3

Show 4
Show 5

Show 6


Show 7
Show 8

Show 9
Show 10
Show 11

Show 12
Show 13

Show 14
Show 15

Show 16


Show 17
Show 18
Show 19

Show 20
Show 21

Show 22
Show 23

Show 24
Show 25

Show 26


Show 27
Show 28

Show 29
Show 30

Shows in RED are For School groups only.

Disclaimer: We were invited to watch the play by I Theatre so that we can give our opinions about it. We are not compensated for the post. All opinions expressed are entirely ours.

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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