Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo!

We made a cardboard train over the weekend. Everything was made out of paper and held together by glue or masking tape.

The 'skeleton' was made of two cardboard boxes. One of them is the Huggies box you see in the picture below, and another one was a box that was used to hold reams of A4 paper. I cut the 'body' of the train out of mounting boards that I had leftover from a previous project. The boys proceeded to colour the body using crayons. 

The wheels were made out of paper plates.

Trying out the partially assembled train... The box is big enough to fit my 3 year old son.

We made the funnel out of a toilet paper roll and a party hat. I turned the party hat the wrong way around, and coloured it the way we liked.

We went on to colour in headlights and a front 'bumper', and got another good sized box for the passenger cabin behind. And there! Our cardboard train!

For another cardboard project, check out our Lightning McQueen inspired cardboard car!

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Mama to 5 Blessings

Monday, April 21, 2014

Teaching Simple Addition

I hold engineering degrees and am able to solve complex mathematical equations. But when it came to teaching my almost 4 year old son to do simple addition, I was stumped. It is something that I knew how to do, and could do it in an instant, but how do I teach my child the concept of addition and impart the skill of doing simple mental sums to him? After some trial and error, I've figured it out. If teaching 1+2 has stumped you, the following might be useful.

1. Rote counting
Most children are able to rote count when they are about 2 years old. Singing songs like 12345 Once I caught a fish alive and Counting Bananas helps them to learn rote counting.

Rote counting backwards (i.e. from 10 to 1) will come in useful for subtraction, but not necessary at this time. 

2. Recognising numbers and using manipulatives to represent numbers.
My boys love working with manipulatives. I like how they think they are 'playing' but I am actually fulfilling my lesson objectives for the day. For counting, we use our bear counters. Lego bricks or bread tags work as well. I lay out numbers and get them to lay out the correct number of bears. Then I introduce 'more than' and 'less than' as well. 

This things about boys... they like lining the bears up in neat rows and pretending that the bears are soldiers in an army parade.

3. Use fingers to represent numbers.
Other than using manipulatives, children should be comfortable holding out the correct number of fingers to represent any number within 10. I find Nathan struggling with this initially, but as he 'practises' more, he was able to hold out the correct number of fingers in an instant.

4. Which is bigger?
Being able to identify the bigger number will help them to add quickly, especially when they are first starting out. There is a dizzying array of pre-school math books available in the bookshops, but they might not contain enough of certain type of exercises that I'd like my kids to work on. As such, I just buy one or two math assessment books and plug the gaps by writing out the ones that I would like more work on.

These are two pre-school math books that we have / are using. They are not necessarily the best around (since I haven't tried all of them), but I chose these two based on layout and breath of topics covered.

Having covered the "basics" above, one should have the skills required to do simple addition.

Method 1: Counting on
When faced with a sum like 8 + 3, we first identify the larger number. In this case, Nathan will determine that 8 is the larger number, and actually say out loud, "8 in my head", then he'd hold out 3 fingers, and count up from 8 as he folds down each finger one at a time... "9, 10, 11". 11 is the correct answer. When he first started out, he tended to start counting from 1 all the time... so he'd go... "8 in my head... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8..." and then proceed to count up. With more practise, he's now able to start counting from any number without starting from 1 all the time.

Method 2: Number line
The number line method is more visual. Kids start from 8 and draw arcs jumping from 8 to 9 to 10 to 11. Nathan is not quite able to visualise the arcs without actually drawing them out. So this means that he actually has to redraw the line each time he has a new sum, which is rather time consuming. Anyhow, the number line is useful for more complex sums, so it is good to know how to use it.

I had a look thru Singapore's Primary 1 Math syllabus, and also flipped thru two popular Primary 1 math assessment books. Much of what is done in the first six months (in Primary 1) requires a child to be able to add well. So it is important to get the basics right at pre-school.

Find opportunities for the child to use his skills in a meaningful way... When making lunch, I'd get Nathan to find out many slices of pizza each person in the family wants, then work his sums and tell me the total so have enough for everyone. Some restaurants have ordering chits at the table, so we write our orders down instead of having a waiter take down our orders. Most of the time, it involves writing the item code and quantity. I'll let Nathan take the orders. He's delighted that he's able to help, and it motivates him to improve. 

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pizzas that your kids can make!

I am a stay home mom, and my 'duties' include chauffeuring the kids around, preparing lunch, washing the dishes, putting the dirty laundry in the washing machine, preparing material for home-learning, supervising homework, arbitrating fights, keeping the house (relatively) clean... 

I have a little over two hours of 'me time' every weekday morning when they are in school. Besides trying to complete some of the things listed above, I fit in a BSF meeting (once a week) and gym sessions (once/twice a week).

As such, the lunches I prepare are usually one pot wonders. Meals must be fast to cook with minimal washing thereafter. Recently, I found something even better than one pot wonders... I outsourced the job of preparing lunch to my kids!

Ingredients for simple pizza base

For pizza base
A loaf of bread
Tomato paste
Mozzarella cheese

For pizza toppings
Minced meat
* Pick as many of the above as you like or replace with something that your kids like to eat

Before beginning, pre-heat oven to 190 degree Celsius.
1) Lay pieces of bread on a baking tray and spread a thin layer of tomato paste
2) Sprinkle a generous amount of Mozerella cheese on each slice of bread.
3) Top with your favorite ingredients.
4) Pop in the oven for 5 minutes.
5) Fill your tummies :)

Chefs hard at work

Other than cutting up the sausages into thin slices, the boys did everything else. They loved making their own lunch and eating it!


Do you have any simple recipes to share?

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Eat Your Vegetables!

I never really liked vegetables. As a child, my dad gave me extra portions of fruits to make up for the vegetables that I didn't eat. I'm not sure if the extra fruits actually gave me the vitamins that the vegetables would've given me, but I suppose eating more fruits didn't do me any harm, though I can't say the same for not eating vegetables. :P

Yakult Heath Foods has recently hit the shores of Singapore. I had the opportunity to try one of the products - the Maroyaka Kale. Maroyaka Kale is a rich and tasty green juice made of premium kale. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which is considered an original species of cabbage and broccoli. It contains beta-carotene and is high in calcium, and is recommended to those who are concerned about their low vegetable consumption.

It is grown in Japan, harvested and transferred to Yakult Health Foods factory to be processed. The kale is cultivated without the use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and the final product contains no artificial colouring, flavouring or preservatives.

A box of Maroyaka Kale contains 30 sachets of Maroyaka Kale powder. Each serving individually packed for convenience. The powder is water-soluble and dissolves easily in cold water or cold milk.

Each sachet contains a single serving

I dissolved a packet in 100ml of cold milk, as recommended. The resulting drink is rather bitter, and it tastes a bit like green tea. And honestly, I much prefer drinking this than eating vegetables. I'm glad that there's now an alternative way of taking my vegetables.

Dissolve sachet in cold beverage

Dissolves easily in cold milk

In addition to Maroyaka Kale, Yakult Health Foods also carries other health supplements like glucosamine, collage, royal jelly and multi vitamins. The complete range of Yakult Health Foods are available at Guardian Pharmacy outlets with prices starting from $43.90 to $119.90. 

If you don't like eating vegetables, try drinking them instead!

Colon Health Seminar by: Dr, Haresh Kumar Kantilal (Ph.D Medical Science, M.Sc. Microbiology. 
A Medical Microbiologist and Speaker in Nutrition
Date : 19/4 Sat Time : 2pm (2 hrs)
Venue : Peninsular Shopping Centre #03-14 Ticket : $10/- (fully redeemable on 19/4 for any Yakult Health Foods pdt) 
Call 6339 5045 to reserve seats

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning to Read

Now that Nathan has started to read simple books independently, I thought I'd share how we got to where we are thus far. Much of what we did was through trial and error... finding the right resources, experimenting with different approaches, finding what works for us. The following is a list of positive contributors, and if you too, are teaching a pre-schooler how to read, you can probably consider the adapting the following for your use:

1) Read to them daily - I started reading to my boys since they were babies. By about 18 months old, they are able to sit through the entire book, clearly engaged and enjoying story time. We read at least two books before bedtime and recently, I've made it a point to include a Chinese book as well. It is a great bonding activity and something that we look forward to doing before switching off the lights. I think this is the beginning to cultivating a love for reading, and I'm glad that Nathan now tells me, "I love to read". For now, he probably prefers being read to than reading by himself, but I think it doesn't really matter. 

Some of our favourite books are:
We're Going on a Bear Hunt
The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo's Child
The Smartest Giant in Town
The Billy Goat's Gruff
The Little Engine That Could
Mr Men & Little Miss Libraries
The Going to Bed Book
Berenstein Bears
Topsy & Tim Book Set
Charlie & Lola Book Set

Many of these books are available at discounted prices from The Groovy Giraffe and NOQ store.

2) Learning the alphabet sounds (about 2.5 years old) - Julia Gabriel's Alphabet Zoo CD and book set was a good tool for this. My boys loved the catchy tunes and found the dialogue funny. Nathan listened to this CD over a thousand times in the car, and soon enough could sing along, and in the process, he learnt the sounds of the alphabet. It is available for purchase at Julia Gabriel (Forum Galleria Level 4). You do not need to be a Julia Gabriel student to purchase, although students do get a small discount.

Julia Gabriel's An Alphabet Zoo

3) Recognising the alphabets (about 2.5 years old) - I got a scrap book where I'd paste the alphabet that we are working on at the top of the page. Then we'd flip thru magazines and look for items that begin with that alphabet. I'd let Nathan cut the pictures out and glue them on the scrap book to train his motor skills. Sometimes, I'd be the one flipping thru the magazines, exaggerating the first alphabet as I point out and name the items, and then we'd choose the right ones. Other times, I'd give him a prompt and get him to look for the object... "aeroplane starts with the letter A"... see if you can find an aeroplane in this magazine"... We work on just one alphabet a day, and flip thru our own alphabet book often. This way, Nathan learnt to recognise the alphabets. Most 2 year olds have difficulty writing the alphabet, and I think it is not necessary to be able to write the letters independently at this age. Instead, a simple exercise you can do is to get your child to trace the alphabet using his index finger, just to know the sequence of the strokes.

Our very own alphabet book

Trace the alphabet

4) Reading Made Easy (about 3.5 years old) - This resource by Valerie Bendt is perfect for busy moms. It contains 108 easy lessons that I can use to teach my boys to read in a systematic way. The best part is, it requires little preparation on my part. We cover one lesson every weekday, and each one takes no more than 30 minutes to complete. I downloaded the digital version on my iPad, but if you prefer, you can also purchase a hard copy. Student activity workbooks are also available separately.

4) Simple readers with lots of repetition - Many of us grew up learning to read with Peter & Jane. Since this classic has stood the test of time, I was convinced that the author has gotten something right. Nathan learnt many of the sight words from this series. There isn't much story line to speak of, so it can get boring after a while. Include this series in your library but mix it with other readers that pique the child's interest. Only the A and B books are required. The C books are essentially writing books where children are asked to copy / write sentences from book A and B. I didn't find the C books useful.

5) Simple readers that interest the child - Children are motivated when they can read books they like. Think Disney characters, super heroes or any other character they are familiar with; think events that they can relate to like school excursions or birthdays. Our favourite readers include: Scholastic's Phonics Tales, Leapfrog Early Reading Series, Step Into Reading and I Can Read.

Leapfrog Early Reading Series

Step Into Reading Readers

I Can Read Readers

6) Learning to write (3 to 3.5 years old) - At various stages, I tried getting Nathan to start writing but I realised that he didn't quite have the motor skills required to control a pencil. I think there is no need for a child to learn to write before 4 years old. Let him try, and if he can't do it, revisit it again a few weeks/months down the road. For writing, I like the workbooks developed by Handwriting Without Tears. Some things that would help a child starting out, is to give them a 'starting dot'. This is the point at which they should start writing (see example for letter E below). Subsequently, when we moved on to using exercise books, I still provided Nathan with the 'starting dots'. It helps him write on the lines instead of all over the page. I noticed that many books like to guide children with dotted lines. I didn't find this approach helpful at all. I found Nathan fixated on the dots, and moving his pencil from one dot to the next, without seeing the 'big picture'. Instead, try printing the letters in gray and getting the children to trace it out. This works a lot better with Nathan. Be sure to choose a font that is child-friendly, especially when it comes to letters like 'a' or 'g'.

7) Sound Check - At 4 years old, I don't get Nathan to memorise spelling lists. Instead, I'll get him to write words based on the letter sounds he hears. Like, I'd say 'cat'. If he has no problems writing 'cat', I let him write it... If he isn't sure, I help him along by saying, 'ker' 'aaair' 'ttt'. Basically, just making the phonetic sounds so he can figure how to spell each word by himself. Of course not all words can be spelt phonetically, but we can work on that a little later. :)

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Monday, March 17, 2014

VPOST Sea Freight

VPOST has just launched a new option - shipping by sea instead of air. According to their ad, customers get to save 49% on shipping bulky items from our favorite merchants in USA to Singapore. I have been thinking of getting something bulky from USA... As such, their ad piqued my interest and I decided to do my math to see if I'll actually be saving any money by doing so.


The air and sea freight rates from USA to Singapore are listed as follows:-


Assuming I am shipping an item that weighs 10kg.

Shipping by air = S$104.40
Shipping by sea = S$78.90
Savings of over 30%

Note that there is a minimum chargeable weight of 10kg, and there is no bundling discount. What this means is, it'll only make sense if you are shipping large bulky items and you need to get the merchant to pack your items into one big package.
Also, the usual customs rule applies. That is, if your total CIF (cost of items + insurance + freight) is above S$ 400, a 7% customs tax will be charged and collected.

So given that shipping is now cheaper, does it make sense?

What other bulky items can I get? Hmm... Golf clubs? Furniture? Bicycles? Home decor items?

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I'll share my findings with you... :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stranger Danger

This video has been making its rounds on Facebook, and it reminded me of Noah's response when I asked him a similar question just before his third birthday...

We were reading a book about stranger danger...

Me: If a stranger comes up to you and asks you to follow him, are you going to follow him?

Nathan & Noah: No!

Me: If a stranger comes up to you and he wants to give you a lollipop, are you going to take it?

Noah: *eyes lit up* Yes!

Me: Noah, no. Don't take anything from strangers. Ok?

Noah: *nods*

Me: So if a stranger comes up to you, and he gives you a lollipop, what do you say?

Noah: Thank you!

This boy is easily bribed with food.

Some things I want to do in 2014

I wrote down a list of things to do last year, and that was helpful in helping me organise what I consider the important things to do, amidst all the urgent but not necessarily important things that scream for my attention everyday. So I decided to write another list this year.

A quarter of the year has gone by... and I've just managed to churn out this list that I've been meaning to write since the beginning of the year. But with both kids in school this year, and differing schedules that I need to juggle, the month of January whizzed by before I knew it. Then February came around, when we were busy with CNY and birthday celebrations. Before I know it, we are now on the last day of term 1. Here goes...

1) Exercise. I have pretty much gotten myself into a gym routine. Target is twice a week. Aim is to drop my body fat percentage. I.NEED.TO.EXERCISE.

2) Read. To spend less time on social media and more time reading 'proper' books. Didn't make much progress with this last year. I think I'd better start by stacking the books that I want to read on my bedside table so they'll scream out at me. On another note, maybe I should move onto e-books instead. I much prefer reading things off my iPad. Or maybe I should get myself a kindle?

3) Less time on my iphone. I find myself spending lots of time fiddling with my phone even when I am with the kids... most of the time, it happens when I'm waiting for them to finish their food / milk etc. Would like to make a conscious effort not to take my phone out so much when I am with them, as it is not a habit I'd like them to pick up. Without this distraction, we can possibly spend more time in meaningful conversation.

4) Skill. Pick up a new skill or hone an old one.

5) Business. There are some ideas brewing in my head... I need to act on them.

6) Blog. Other than just documenting milestones and writing occasional reviews, I hope to look into sharing ideas/resources that has worked for me as I go about teaching my boys.

7) Travel. Plan another holiday for the family. More than just seeing a new place, the time away from our respective schedules/routines was good for us to slow down, unwind and just enjoy one another's company.

8) Nurture. To continue bringing up Nathan & Noah in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). Christian education, character building.

9) Love. To continue nurturing our marriage. With Dean's long days at work, and me just tired out after another day as a SHM, very often, we just retreat in front of our respective screens (TV, ipad, computer) to unwind. It'll be nice to spend more time talking to each other rather than staring at our respective screens. *A repeat from 2013, but definitely something that we have to work on continuously. For our love forms the bedrock of our marriage.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Terrific Three!

Noah turned three last weekend. We had a celebration with his friends in school two days before his birthday, and he was so excited to see me in his classroom. I baked a Thomas the Train chocolate cake for him, and both Nathan and Noah requested for a second helping. Made all that hard work worthwhile. :)

He has always liked staying in hotels and has no problems sleeping in unfamiliar places. We decided to go on a staycation to Shangri-la's Rasa Sentosa Resort and we are so glad we did! It was so much fun! Leading up to the staycation, Noah kept asking... "are we going to the hotel now?"... he was really looking forward to it. We spent lots of time swimming at the pool (thanks to the ongoing dry spell) and building sandcastles at the beach. A short two days one night staycation where we took time to slow down a little and fill up all our love tanks.

At the end of our staycation, Noah asked if we could stay for a few more days or come back next week. Just shows how much fun our birthday boy had.

Some random facts about our 3 year old Noah...

1) Enjoys building things out of duplo blocks and magformers and his models are actually pretty impressive!


2) Started school 'proper' this year and settled in really easily. Didn't shed a single tear. So glad that he loves going to school.

3) Falls asleep easily at night and hardly disturbs us till day break.

4) Loves his brother Nathan and it warms my heart when I see them playing together.

5) Favorite songs include:- the wise man built his house, walking with Jesus, 我要向高山举目. I love it when he starts belting out a song (c/w actions) now and then.

6) Getting more comfortable in the swimming pool but still doesn't like putting his head under water.

7) Tends to want to read the same story every single night. The record is probably The Gruffalo, 4 weeks in a row. We have read it so much, he can somewhat remember it by heart.

8) Doesn't like taking photos... We have to bribe him to smile for the camera.

9) Loves eating strawberries and drinking Chinese soups.

10) Full of wise cracks. His witty comments never fail to amuse me.

11) Wants to be Spider-Man, lord business and a policeman when he grows up.

Dear Noah,
You've been such a darling, I am so thankful for you. We pray that you'll continue grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men. Know that you are greatly loved.

That Little Boy of Mine
Two eyes that shine so bright,
Two lips that kids good nite,
Two arms that hold me tight,
That little boy of mine.

No one could ever know how much your coming has meant.
Because I love you so, you're something heaven has sent.

You're all the world to me.
You climb upon my knee.
To me you'll always be.
That little boy of mine.