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Bookmark Monday: You’re Mean, Lily Jean

A new neighbour moves in next door and sisters Carly and Sandy find themselves a new playmate in Lily Jean. Or do they?

Lily Jean only wants to play with Sandy and repeatedly attempts to exclude Carly, her younger sister. And when that doesn’t work, she relegates Carly to subjugate roles – the baby, the dog or the cow – leaving Sandy in a conflicted position.

Tired of the bratty and obnoxious Lily Jean, Carly figures out a way to turn the tables and the sisters present Lily Jean her options – either play nice or don’t play with them at all.

Kady MacDonald Denton’s watercolours are calm, sweet and elegant, but yet succeed in conveying effectively the obviously uncalm and unsweet actions and emotions in play.

Frieda Wishinsky has created a great book that discusses the issue of playground politics, presents solutions without coming across as preachy or heavy, and equips parents and children to identify the difference between having fun vs. being bullied vs. being a bully.

Lily Jean is suitably depicted as the typical smug, overconfident and bossy bully. Children will easily recognize in her the Lily Jeans of their own playground or playdate interactions and perhaps take away some clever, non-violent tips in dealing with a bully or overbearing character as a first level attempt to resolution without requiring adult mediation.

I think it also is a good resource to impart to siblings the value and importance of looking out and caring for each other, and that they are strong as individuals but unstoppable as a team.  Phyllis from All Things Beautiful summarizes the sibling creed values succinctly; click here for the original source article.

As a footnote, I also like the fact that Sandy and Carly are shown as not just playing girly girl games in their make-believe play. They play house, but they also play at dragons and knights, explorers and pirates and mountain climbers and astronauts. Very subtle and very cool! 😀

Bookmark Monday: 2011 releases

I love when we find new releases in the library that still have that crisp new look and feel, and the new book smell still lingers when you thumb the pages.  Below are some new ones we’ve found. 

With double the borrowing allowance for the school holiday period (19 Nov 2011 to 31 Jan 2012), it’s an even better time than ever to stop by your local branch of the National Library to check out its latest offerings.  For our family of four, that means 48 new and old favourites we can potentially cart back home and enjoy for 21 days!

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“AGAIN!” – by Emily Gravett.

About a little dragon named Cedric, who, as all little ones go, has a favourite bedtime book that he wants read again…and again…and again…and AGAIN!
A hole right through the last page and back hardcover and sleeve provides a foretaste of the very funny incendiary story that lies within. 

It appears simple at first look, but from our personal experience, turned out to be a useful tool for teaching early readers what exclamation marks are – (not uppercase “I”s or lowercase “l”s), how they are different from question marks, and the expression each lends to a word or sentence.

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“The Highway Rat” – written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. 

The Highway Rat is a ‘baddie’ and a ‘beast’ – he robs all the animals of their food – a leaf from the ants, clover from a rabbit, nuts from a squirrel, hay from his own horse – all foods that he himself hasn’t much appreciation for, but just wants it for the sake of being the rogue that must have it all.

Eventually, the animals grow thin and hungry while he grows ‘horribly fat’. One day, when he tries to rob a duck that has nothing, he states that he will eat her instead. Thankfully the clever duck outwits him and rides away with his loot to return it to all the animals. 

Scheffler always embeds humorous little references to his other book collaborations with Donaldson.  Don’t forget to spend some time treasure-hunting the last page illustration. 🙂

Inspired by the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes,  a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of this book can be gained for both parent and child if the parent first familiarizes himself or herself with the tempo and metre of the original poem.

Note to parents: Click here for more details on school holiday programmes run by NLB Singapore.

Dinosaurs Live!

Last Wednesday we decided to check out the Dinosaurs Live exhibition at the Annexe of the Singapore Science Centre.

The exhibition runs from 21 October to 26 February 2012. In line with the theme, the Omnimax theatre is showing Flying Monsters, a study of prehistoric pterosaurs and their evolution, narrated by David Attenborough.

How do you tell a styracosaurus from a triceratops from a protoceratops?

I got them mixed up but DS was totally in his element, as he called out the names of the dinosaurs from afar even before we got to the exhibit itself.  He was so pleased with himself when we confirmed with the signages that he was absolutely right! Totally precious.

What’s a dinosaurs exhibition without the all familiar, typical tyrannosaurus rex skeleton? 😉

Be forewarned though, the admission charges are on the pricey side.  Especially if you’re questioning the accuracy of the representations…I mean, after all, which one of us could really say for sure that that was truly the colour of an ankylosaurus, or how the parasaurolophus really sounded like?  Ha.  But if you take it with a pinch of salt, the sandpit, colouring station, clay dino-fossil craft table and dino rides are pretty fun to the young, wide-eyed and un-jaded amongst us. 🙂

DD and DS brought home their own clay triceratops and stegosaurus respectively, coloured up some funky velociraptor pictures, and spent a considerable time just digging and raking sand.  Which gave DH and I the opportunity to check out the explanatory notes at the exhibits, and also catch up with some church friends we met who’d brought their grandchildren to the exhibition.

Oh…

A tip from DH: Go to the website link above and download the 3D app if you have an iPhone. You’ll get some really cool interactive images. 😀  ** REALLY. COOL! **

And just one more additional little tip for parents: Stay far, FAR away from the “dino store”, a.k.a. souvenir store.

For one, it’s a gaping toy retail trap.

For another, it stocks the “exclusively designed exhibition trail booklet” priced at $3, but the booklet is not comprehensive enough on its own so you’d feel obliged to complete the pack by purchasing the accompanying stickers, by which time, you would have paid a princely sum of $8 in total for each trail booklet pack.

The booklet is meant to be filled up as you stop at each of the dino-kiosks  in the exhibition to collect picture stamps of various species of dinosaurs. Which is a useful resource, except…

A cleverer zero cost option? Pick up a couple of A4 sized plain sheets of paper from the colouring station, fold them into a mini-book and let the kids stamp those. Kickstart your memory into gear, remember what each of your stamps represent and go home and look up the internet or encyclopedias together as a family for information on the dinosaur species in question.  Save the $8 to buy three packs of chicken rice for lunch…or two McDonald’s value meals with a $1 top up. 😀

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(Post update: We’ve just discovered, after downloading the app, that the sticker pack also has the capability to display in 3D with the iPhone app.  So buy the stickers if you would like to have the full 3D collection.  But only if you have an iPhone, otherwise they would just be expensive regular two-dimensional stickers.)

Bookmark Monday: Board Empowerment

Heh, no, not the musings of a working mother still functioning in corporate mode at 10pm! 😉

To finish up our three-parter focus around the power of rhyme and repetition, I wanted to share about what’s worked for us lately in encouraging our little early reader…

Board books!

Hmm…aren’t board books for babies and targeted at the below 3 age group?  Well, yes they are.

But I’ve learnt that what they have going for them are that they are easy to handle, durable, don’t have a lot of pages, and don’t have so much text that it presents a daunting picture to the preschooler just starting out and familiarising themselves with the fact that relying on phonics alone don’t guarantee a firm grasp of English literacy.

Once, I suggested to DD that we attempt Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss together. Although in essence the words are simple and always rhyme, the text font size is small, there are a lot of words in a single page, and many pages to get through.

I might as well have suggested Capital Investments and Financial Decisions by Levy and Sarnat.  (Not that it isn’t an excellent book, but it is seriously a challenge to read cover-to-cover, and definitely not something I’ve accomplished myself!)

Board books helped give DD the empowerment and confidence that she needed to know that she could complete reading a book in one sitting.  Almost on her own. And it was a lesson to me not to overlook those “baby” books that had been pushed to the back of the bookshelf.

Where DH and I used to read to the kids, now we read to-gether in unison.  🙂

Some fun board books we’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy as a family:-


7 stories – short and sweet. Once you start, you can’t stop till you get to the end.  And after all, isn’t that the mark of a good book? 🙂

Go berserk with the hippos in this incredibly funny and engaging reading and counting book – one hippo all alone, calls two hippos on the phone…more and more hippos join, and all through the hippo night, hippos play with great delight.  How many in all?

 We like this book specially because of the font.

Notice the letter “a’ in Sandra Boynton’s name – this is the more commonly used form in writing as well as in baby flashcards.  And this is the form used throughout the book.

Which makes it more easily recognizable to an early reader/emergent writer, where some may have to grapple with the confusion of the letter a being represented sometimes in the “writing form”, and sometimes in the typeface style, but meaning the same in both cases.

Wordcraft: Copywork short and sweet

Still riding on the coloured marker bandwagon…
Every letter of copywork goes easier for the child incentivised by freedom to use coloured markers. 🙂

I found a short article that provided me a number of useful tips around designing copywork for preschoolers and the benefits to be gained from this activity.

The full article can be found here, but below were my personal takeaways and thoughts (as a mom of a preschooler) after reading it:-

  1. Keep it interesting. Decide the theme and focus based on what’s the latest topic or in our case, art media, of interest for that week. This helps add fun and depth to the activity.
  2. Keep it short. Setting small and achievable goals at the start and measurable timeframes help maintain focus on the task.
  3. Provide information to copy from a variety of sources. For ourselves, Sunday School take-home activity sheets with the Bible memory verse for the week are a great source and help with the memorisation as well.
  4. Assigning copywork should be at the parent’s discretion. Only a parent knows their child’s likes and dislikes; what works for someone else may not necessarily work for us and I shouldn’t beat myself up over it (as with most things related to parenting, but hey, I need to be constantly reminded!).

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Do you assign copywork to your kids at home?  What are your common sources of copywork material?

What do you find are your biggest challenges in encouraging meaningful and effective work output?  What are some of the successes that you’ve celebrated or the benefits that you’ve personally experienced together with your child? 

Preschool Counting with the Eight Treasure Box

It’s a bit of a break from routine this week, so I don’t have a Wordcraft post…but I do have a suggestion on simple math and counting activity for preschoolers with the Chinese New Year eight treasure box.

(Okay for starters, let’s ignore the fact that the one in our home has technically got seven compartments, not eight…analysis paralysis is so not a convenient state to get embedded into…) 😉

Again, as with our counting activities, it didn’t start out purposefully as one.  But since the children had curiously opened the Eight Treasure Box to explore its contents, the idea just quite literally popped into my head when I popped a  milk chocolate bar into my mouth.

1. Simple visual addition and subtraction – for example: if I have four chocolate bars and I gave one away to you, how many would I have left? What if I gave one more away to your little brother?  How many more would I need if I wanted to give one to Grandpa, Grandma, Daddy and have one for myself?

2. Melon seeds planting – for example: if one seed can be used to plant a new tree, how many trees can I plant with these eight seeds?

Make it as simple or as complicated as you like. And bring your dinosaur to play along too! The possibilities are endless as many more different variations of questions can be thought up, and when you’re tired of it all, why, the subjects can just be eaten up!  😛

Some cultural history trivia for those who might be interested:

The Eight Treasure Box originated in the sixteenth to early nineteenth centuries during the Qing Dynasty, and was used by royalty to store small precious items.  Today, during Chinese New Year, it is typically filled with an assortment of sweetmeats, like candy, chocolate, dried fruits, nuts and melon seeds. The content in ours is pretty untraditional already, as historically the following items would be found in a traditional box:-

  • Peanuts – to symbolize longevity.
  • Melon seeds – dyed red in colour to signify joy, these also symbolize a long line of descendants since a melon has lots of seeds.
  • Pistachio – the direct translation of its name in Mandarin is kaixinguo, which means “a happy fruit” because its half cracked shell resembles a smile, and symbolizes a joyous new year.
  • Candied kumquats – to symbolize a sweet, prosperous and lucky year ahead as the translation in Mandarin is jingua, which means “gold melon”.
  • Dried red dates – to symbolize early realization of goals.
  • Chocolates shaped like gold ingots – to symbolize great wealth.
  • Candied lotus root – to symbolize family unity and harmony.
  • Milk candy – to symbolize a sweet and abundant year ahead. 

Ten Tips for a Top to Toe Workout for Busy Moms

1. Bring the family to the zoo during one of the busiest times of year.  Forget to bring the appropriate identification that should accompany the corporate pass, and spend 15 minutes negotiating, then begging and pleading with the admissions counter staff, while trying to remain calm, collected and in control, in front of your children. Mental and physical warm up to get the brain actively working, and with gesticulations, allows light neck and upper arm gross motor movements.

2. Rent a wagon. Place bags and kids inside wagon and take turns with your husband pulling the wagon across bumpy boardwalks and up and down slopes. Full arm, cardiovascular and leg muscle workout.

3. Scan the map for showtimes, and make a subconscious decision that the mission for the day is to make it for all but one of the shows within the morning half. Brisk walk or run while pulling wagon for an active cardiovascular and full body workout.

4. Arrive at the third showtime, and find all seats taken and only limited standing room . Park wagon a fair distance away. Carry the children so they can get a view of the elephants. Crane your neck, tiptoe while balancing your child and trying not to tip over onto the person next to you, to achieve that little bit more viewing height. Weight training for the upper body and upper arms.

5. Lunchtime. Run past milling crowds to get to said parked wagon a fair distance away, and attempt to pull wagon nearer to designated lunch spot. Unpack lunch while trying to chase son up and down steps to get him to sit down. Works lower leg and calf muscles.

6. Agree, upon popular request from children, that as an extended afternoon workout, your program should comprise the following stations in the following designated order: manatees, Rainforest Kidzworld carousel and pony rides, and finally, giraffes. Click here for map to view the route. Brisk walk or jog in afternoon sun works up a good sweat. Second cardiovascular and full body muscle workout.

7. Join the queue for the horse carriage ride, because you know, you’ve already paid for the value ticket to all three rides (oh joy!). To distract the kids and stop them from climbing down the stairs right into the path of the horse carriage, bring them on a circuit walk around the farm animal exhibits. Repeat as many times as necessary to pass time while waiting for queue to move. Full body muscle workout, but thankfully, at a more relaxed pace.

8. After completion of afternoon workout program, begin warm down routine and trek back out to zoo entrance/exit. Stop many times along the way, carrying the kids up out of the wagon to see animals that they can’t see at wagon level. Optional supplementary upper body and upper arm weights workout.

9. Warm down (or was that cool down…) by browsing in the souvenir shop at the exit.

10. Plonk everyone and everything into the car, turn the airconditioning up, take a deep breath, drink water to replenish expended fluids and sink back into your seat. You deserve a good rest after all that hard work!

Always remember to drink sufficient water, slather on sunblock in outdoor activity…and discontinue exercise and seek medical attention if you should experience any discomfort or pain. 😉

Next week: Repeat all steps except no. 1 in Jurong Bird Park. 😛

Travel Cherating

Chatting to friends after the camp, we realised that for many of us, it was our first time driving to the eastern side of the Peninsular Malaysia.

Which is a bit of a shame. Because the east is really very pleasantly rustic and peaceful. Or maybe it’s just Cherating itself, ha!

People go about their daily activities without the rush and bustle we’re so accustomed to in the city. And life in general just slows down to the pace of a lazy stroll along the beach.

DH is already talking about a return trip. 🙂

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We split our drive to Cherating into two parts – Day 1: Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and Day 2: Kuala Lumpur to Cherating.

Day 1: Singapore – Tuas – Pagoh – Ayer Keroh – Kuala Lumpur
The North-South highway up from Singapore is an easy 4.5 hour drive. Roads are well sealed, with many conveniently situated R&R stops for food, restrooms and petrol.

If you would like to take a break from preparing breakfast and try the R&R stops along the way, Yong Peng or Pagoh make good breakfast stops for local food. I personally feel that Ayer Keroh’s bridge restaurant is overrated. But in its defense, it does have an A&W restaurant (now defunct in Singapore) to satisfy those of us with root beer and coney dog cravings.

I do still bring breakfast for the kids, mostly because stopping for meals with kids really does take up a significant amount of time that we feel could be better spent mowing down the miles. That’s because we usually like to get to our destination as soon as possible, where the following await:

  1. a piping hot lunch by grandma (she always prepares their favourites)
  2. the creature comforts of a home environment (oh, to stretch our legs on a couch!)

You should bring your own tissues for restrooms as the rolls provided sometimes run out. Tissue paper is usually stocked in a single dispenser located just before the toilet stalls. There are none provided in the toilet stalls.

As for babies and young toddlers… some R&R stops do have diaper changing facilities but I’ve never actually used the rooms, preferring to change DS quickly with a changing mat on the driver’s seat. 

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Day 2: Kuala Lumpur – Karak – Temerloh – Maran – Gambang – Cherating
On paper, Kuala Lumpur to Cherating, does not look like a long journey. It baffles the mind of the unitiated, how it can take almost the same amount of time north from Singapore and east from KL.

But you have to see it happen to believe it. Bleah.

The KL-Karak highway, which is a necessary part of the journey, is super prone to traffic jams. At all hours of the day (why ever, escapes me…)
That stretch alone, takes up the bulk of the journey time, after which the route through Temerloh that eventually winds north after Gambang is a very happy drive.

The two biggest R&R stops along the way from KL-Kuantan are Temerloh and Gambang. We chose to stop at Gambang for lunch. Road-wise it is only a 45 minute drive further on from Temerloh but map-wise, it gives one a greater sense of achievement – we are that much closer to our destination!  😀

The Eastern highway is not as well-sealed as the main North-South, so the ride can be a tad bumpy at times.

But jumping mini-fridges seem to make good entertainment for the kids…      *shrug and smile*

By the way, Eastern food is even more spicy than what you get on the Western coast. You have been forewarned.

I like to get our holidays off to a good start, so I pack travel lunches for the kids to mitigate the risk of upset toddler stomachs. 😉    (yeah that’s me, a signature kiasu* control freak in every sense of the word…)

* N.B. kiasu = Singaporean colloquialism that means “afraid to lose out or be left behind”

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Kiasu Tips for Road Travel with Young Children:  (even more kiasu than the average Singaporean!!)  😛

  1. Invest in a travel potty. It’s singularly the most useful item in our car for emergencies when we’re unable to make a stop for a pee or poo break.
  2. On Malaysian highways, if you use a Touch-n-Go card for the toll payments, top up as as soon as you see a “Tambah Nilai” booth because the next one could be really really really really really really far away…
  3. Bring back-up food, snacks and water. The local spicy cuisine is great tasting but can play havoc on young stomachs or even adult stomachs not accustomed to the seasoning used.
  4. Forget the Amex, what you really need are tissues and wipes, tissues and wipes, tissues and wipes. Don’t leave home without them.
  5. Bring toys, books and music to keep occupied. Traffic congestion on the highways, when it happens, is an awful bumper-to-bumper crawling affair.
  6. Time your drive around the children’s naptime and steer clear of rush hour timings. Good planning can get children napping about midway or two-thirds through the drive and awaking close to arrival time – perfect!

Click on this link to view a map of Peninsular Malaysia and track our route.  🙂

Crafting with preschoolers – five easy tips!

I really appreciate it when people tell me they have found some inspiration from the craft activities we’ve done and posted on the blog, and gone off to do some crafting of their own. I also get asked sometimes how my daughter can stay focused on an art activity for an extended period of time.

The truth is…

she doesn’t!  😛

She is like any typical 3 year old with the typical attention span that comes with that age.   Most, if not all, of our art and craft activity do get executed in the space of five to ten minutes tops, even though it may not read that way sometimes on the blog!

So I thought I would list down five easy tips that I have found work for us, and hopefully will help make craft time with the kids a fun time to look forward to, when one is not busy juggling laundry, cooking and dishes, or firefighting issues in the corporate world.  😉

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1. Prepare your craft supplies beforehand.
By this I mean that, if you are intending to use only specific colours of poster paints and one artblock sheet, take out only what you need so you have it all ready and are not scrambling to start pulling out sheets when you need them, or giving your toddler or preschooler an open door to start a debate over picking colours that you did not plan on using.

2. Design your craft activity to be short and sweet.
Preschoolers and toddlers have a short attention span. And they usually want to jump straight to execution, not caring a single bit about the significance of process and starting from first principles. All that can be for later. For now, keep it simple.

If there are a number of steps that require some waiting time before moving on to the next step (like waiting for paint to dry), break up the activity into short bursts. For example, do the first part before lunch, leave it out to dry while you both eat.

After some playtime and a nap, children will usually have renewed interest if you bring out the subsequent portion to complete, and will likely treat it as if it was a whole new activity in itself all over again.

3. Build the activity around your child’s favourite craft medium.
For instance, I know that, at the moment, DD relishes any opportunity to use her markers or her scissors. Find a way to work these materials into the craft, and you will rarely need to worry about whether they will last at the effort long enough to finish the craft.

4. Enlist your child’s help at every available opportunity.
Children feel important, encouraged and appreciated when mummy or daddy ask for their help. It also keeps them busy on manageable tasks within reasonable expectations, while you focus on getting some other more complicated steps ready if the craft calls for it. It can be as simple as DD helping to bring scrap pieces of paper to the dustbin while I prepare the glue mixture or paint palette.

5. Art and craft need not be an end in itself. Make it a part of a broader plan.
What I have found is working great for us is our current series of small letter alphabet craft which are tied to people or things you can find in the Bible. The craft activity provides a basis for us to talk further about the object or subject that we just worked on, either through daily living experiences or stories from a book or the children’s Bible.

Some other ideas you could consider, if you have the time to do so, is to plan a field trip, or go to the library together and find books that can help reinforce the subject.

Obviously, this calls for some preparation on the parent’s part, but I personally find it really cool to see the whole plan unfold from one activity to the other and when my children recall the craft they did and relate it to something in real life.

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Fun and fuss-free craft time is entirely achievable.  And entirely rewarding.

Take it from someone, who is entirely unartsy-craftsy but has found a passion for it driven by the wonderful dividends reaped in memorable moments spent together drawing, doodling, colouring, pasting, cutting and painting with someone I love who loves me too. 🙂

Rainy Sunday afternoon project

Taggy Ribbon Texture Glove
Taggy Ribbon Texture Glove

I’ve been wanting to make this for DS for a long time. But I never got the time to start on it, so it has evolved somewhat from its original intent – a Glove Mobile for a three-month old. Yu-u-up it was THAT long ago…

Anyway since DS is already 8 months old, I adapted the idea into a Taggy Ribbon Texture Glove instead.
As I sewed, some of the stuff that I thought of teaching the little guy are:-
1. Identifying the fingers – little, ring, middle, pointer fingers and thumb.
2. Colour recognition
3. Texture touch – different textures of ribbons
3. Opposites – Red and Green colour on the ring finger and thumb, Big and Small buttons, Opaque and Transparent on the middle finger, Thick and Thin on the little finger.

Original idea: Glove Mobile (excerpted from Baby Fun by Anne Knecht-Boyer – Carroll & Brown Publishers Limited)“Colourful moving objects are very intriguing to babies in [the two to three-month old] age group. Rather than simply fixing a store-bought mobile to the crib, a portable one that can be moved closer to his field of vision and which he can reach out and play with, will prove much more interesting. To create a really portable and interactive mobile, tie some colourful ribbons to the fingertips of a glove. The moving ribbons encourage neck and eye movement at an age when your babh is just developing the strength needed to lift up his head but still tends to look at the world sideways. This glove mobile is also easy to slip in your pocket as you leave the house, making it a useful distraction on car journeys or trips to the store.”