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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ready, Set, Go!

A review of Ready Steady Go Kids Singapore.

Are you ready to learn five sports in one term? That's what Australia-based children's programme Ready Steady Go Kids has promised to all who take part in its classes. The company website highlights the following key areas of its programme:

Our high quality, physio-designed programme teaches children the fundamentals of 10 different sports in a fun, non-competitive, team-based environment. This programme is now available to you in Singapore!

Our classes run for 45 minutes and there are 5 sports covered each term. Classes also focus on a specific gross motor, hand-eye/foot-eye and/or balance activity to complement the sport component. Our programme has a structure that is repeated each week so that participants become familiar and comfortable with the routine. 

Ready Steady Go Kids seeks to develop a lifelong passion for physical activity and sport, decrease childhood obesity, increase confidence and prepare children for participation in school and the broader community. 
Ready Steady Go participants gather for a time of warm ups before the session.
It was with great excitement that our two sons Z, aged 4 and E, aged 2, took part in one of the trial sessions. Both boys had recently taken part in another sports class, and were eager to also try their hand at learning something new.
The boys doing some stretching exercises in preparing for the class.
2yo E does a couple of hand rotation exercises. In the background, our older son Z is also
getting ready for the games!
And the sport of the day happened to be athletics, so both boys got into the groove for a circuit of sports activities.
The high jump. Children were encouraged to jump as far as they could through the use of brightly-coloured discs.
4yo Z trying out the shot put. He was rather enthusiastic
in listening to the coach.
Daddy helping out. Classes are parent-accompanied so that the children
 can continue learning long after the class has ended.
Part of athletics training also includes an obstacle course for the children
to learn motor skills coordination and other important physical skills.
Our happy boy with Coach Chanel.
In all,the children had a great time learning about the ins and outs of athletics. There were also ample opportunities to practice the various aspects of the sport. The strength of the Ready Steady Go programme allows children to explore the ten sports taught - football, tennis, basketball, hockey, golf, Aussie Rules Football, rugby, athletics, cricket and T-ball - and subsequently make a decision as to what they enjoy best. Our opinion is that at such a young age, it is definitely a good move to allow your child an opportunity to explore what he or she likes best. We believe that as the child is gradually exposed to the different sports, it would soon be apparently which one he or she prefers. Parents can then make the educated decision of how best to pursue the child's sports education.

Note: This is a review arranged between Ready Steady Go Kids Singapore and Parenting on Purpose. Z and E attended a complimentary lesson for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Alien Adoption: A Book Review of Squirky 2: "What Happened to Planet Q?"

Adoption is a topic close to our heart. In many of the picture books on adoption we've read, most seem to focus on the adoptive parents' journey in finding their child and on how families can come in diverse shapes and sizes. Most have been written from a Western cultural viewpoint. 

Very few (or perhaps none at all) address the issue from the adoptive child's standpoint, of feeling "alien" in a family full of humans, and, an even more "taboo" topic, that of an adoptive child's search for his birthparents. And few have Asian references - adoption is still pretty much a scarcely mentioned topic in our society.

Enter an endearingly odd little blue alien named Squirky. Kids somehow just relate to this very obviously different character with a spiky hairdo and a frazzled grin, and everyone can relate to somehow feeling different from everyone else at one point in our lives. 
Squirky lives in a happy family with his sister Emma who is the same age as him; he does normal things like going to the park and celebrating birthdays. The difference is however that he finds out he is not the same as the rest of his family. He was adopted by them when a space capsule came shooting through the atmosphere and was found by his family. Squirky 1, Why Am I Blue? ends with him and Emma embarking on a search for his birth parents, who had left a note in the capsule asking whoever found him to look after him because they were unable to. 
As a counsellor of children, I have seen firsthand how crucial the roles of fantasy and make-believe are in the emotional lives of children. In their private story worlds, giants are conquered and mountains are overcome. Nasty bullies are defeated and, yes, adoptive kids may dream of one day meeting these people who gave them life, and whom they may take after in ways they may never know.

The Squirky series gives children permission to not just embark on a search for their biological parents (for some, that might not even matter very much). It also gives adoptive children a chance to own their amazing, miraculous and beautiful stories, of the people who love them and the role each one plays in their lives. 

The Squirky series also plays a role in, as they say in adoption language, helping adoptive parents "throw pebbles" in the often murky pond of disclosure, or the journey in dialoguing with their children about what it means to be adopted. 

And it would make a great gift for family and friends of adoptive families too, in helping children's friends understand their journeys and the correct adoption terminology, e.g. not her "own parents", but her "birth parents".
Our younger son E is fascinated with the amazing concept of outer space and
the many planets that Squirky and Emma encounter.
I can already see numerous points of discussion arising from different aspects of the book, even for children who were not adopted. Obviously Squirky feels comfortable enough to express his feelings about being different in the first book; in the second, he knows he is not alone with his sister by his side as he embarks on the search for his birth parents. 

He also learns that the truth, though hard to hear, is still what is most helpful in his journey of self discovery, and most of all, Squirky 2, What Happened to Planet Q ends on a hopeful note as he realises that he may yet find his birth parents. There is always hope.

I personally am able to appreciate the place it accords to biological parents in adoption, an issue I have been pondering about after watching a few recent films; what it means to be a mother who so decides to sacrifice her own joy in raising her child, out of love and the desire that he or she can live a good life. Perhaps I will never understand how that feels like, but I am so glad for the space that is given to the biological parents in an adoption. I believe this is crucial in the identity formation of any adoptive child.

Melanie Lee uses simple, straightforward language to bring the story across. Illustrator David "Wolfe" Liew's illustrations are likewise clean cut and expressive. The "alien" theme was at first befuddling to my young boys the first time round but upon second reading, they happily embraced the space theme (don't all kids love astronomy?) and both are looking to see what happens with the beautiful aunty Queen Stella who weeps diamond-shaped tears.
Our older son Z especially loves the picture of Queen Stella and her
diamond-shaped tears.
Melanie is an adoptive mum herself; we truly applaud her bravery in choosing to address this topic in an area where few people would venture. Her bright little boy C is friends with our boys, and of course they were thrilled to find out that the books had been written by Aunty Melanie, no less! They have since told me that I should write a book too, since C's mummy has. We are looking forward to the third instalment in the series, coming out early next year. 
Our older son Z with Melanie's son C at the launch of Squirky 2.
Best Buddies!
"That's Aunty Melanie, Mummy! Can you write a book too?"
As a Christmas giveaway, we have kindly been offered 2 copies of Squirky 2 to be given away as prizes! To enter the draw for a copy, just complete the following steps by 26 December 2014:

1. Like Parenting on Purpose's Facebook page;
2. Like Squirky the Alien's Facebook page;
3. Share this blog post on your own Facebook page. You can copy and paste this link

http://parenting-on-purpose.blogspot.sg/2014/12/alien-adoption-book-review-of-squirky-2.html

Please leave a comment on this blog post telling us you have done Steps 1-3 and include your email address so we can contact you should you win. 

For an extra chance,

4. Leave an extra comment on this blog post sharing one thing that gives you hope this Christmas. May all of us find hope this holiday season!

If you would like to purchase copies of either or both books in the series, please refer to this link.

Here are the winners for the above contest:

1. Jaime Chan
2. Carol Lim

Congratulations on winning a copy of Squirky 2! We will be in touch with you on sending you the books.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Monkeying Around": A Review of My Gym Singapore

Our 2/1/2-year old son E has always been an active child. When he was an infant, E would crawl around and get into all sorts of mischief, until one day when he discovered that he could climb on his poor Daddy, in an inspired moment of pretend play - Daddy was his mountain and he was Sir Edmund Hilary - the first person to scale Mt Everest!
It was therefore with great excitement that we we heard that Parenting on Purpose had been invited by My Gym Singapore to participate in a series of four classes. We agreed at once; knowing that our little boy would thoroughly enjoy gym class - this was also a chance for our exuberant toddler to work off his energy and hopefully fall fast asleep after getting home.
Our little son having a swing of a time at gym class. 
My Gym has an interesting educational philosophy that emphasises building self esteem in children. This is an excerpt from the company's website:
The philosophy that guides My Gym’s programming and breakdown for classes has been developed through intensive physiological, psychological and sociological research, along with decades of hands-on experience by hundreds of My Gym child and fitness experts.
Our carefully constructed programs are constantly analyzed and adjusted according to up-to-the-minute advances in medical and psychological research. My Gym's main objectives are to ensure that program ingredients are safe, age-appropriate and optimal for building self-esteem.
E's first day at gym class. He was slightly apprehensive and took a while to
warm up.
My Gym has an interesting programme. During the four weeks that we were there, there was hardly a repeat of any activity. The class is generally split into a number of components: free play, circle time, gym elements, swings, and group time. While the broad structure of the programme remains the same, the individual elements change from week to week, and even the gym elements were different each time we came to class.
Explorations through free play. At the start of each class, children are encouraged
to explore the various types of gym equipment available. While most children usually
slide down on their bottoms, our little one chose to climb down instead.
The mini rock wall. You can see that at such a young age, our little boy is already
getting some ideas...
Circle time. Parents are taught how to conduct simple warm up activities for their children. 
This was one of the most challenging activities! Parents are supposed to hold the child
comfortably and guide him or her to do a forward roll. 
My Gym has a wide range of gym apparatus. This circular wheel is
meant to help children learn how to be comfortable with rolling motions.
There is a constant stream of activity, and children are taught how to manoeuvre past the various
obstacles. These are important life skills and concepts such as problem solving and
resilience building are taught through the various activities.
Children are also taught important concepts such as how to balance.
In the process they gain better self aware of their bodies.
We can see aspects of adult gymnastics taught to children at an early age and in an age-appropriate manner - for instance the balance beam apparatus here. 
Week after week children are taught similar concepts but in different ways. They are always kept on their toes!
Our son of course loves anything that gives him a "thrill".
He particularly enjoyed this activity of swinging from a "high bar" then letting go
when he was ready.
Another favourite activity - the hand stand.
Basically anything that gets him upside down is a thrill for him!
Swing time. E's favourite swing is the dolphin one.
Children get to try our different swings every week and the activity helps them to develop a
strong sense of proprioception, understanding the relative position of each body part
when in motion or equilibrium. Making friends is great too!
Swings come in larger forms as well!
The closing group time at My Gym where different activities are carried out. There is story time and also the use of a prop imaginatively to inspire creativity. A popular favourite!
E particularly enjoyed the bubbles which ended the class for him on a high note. 
My Gym has a high teacher-student ratio. There were usually at least 3 teachers for each class. Our classes were held at the Marine Parade branch, and our favourite was Teacher Lee, always warm and friendly!
We know our son thoroughly enjoyed his time at gym class. From the first week when he was hesitant and slightly tentative, to the fourth week when he was exploring all the various gym elements at will, we could already tell that his confidence in body exploration was growing day by day. Perhaps the clearest indication yet is how he attempts to come down the stairs these days, not walking down the steps like a regular kid, but instead inching his way down the railings; almost like a monkey and clearly in his element. 

And our little explorer still enjoys climbing his Daddy like a mountain!

Note: This is part of a series of reviews arranged between My Gym Singapore and Parenting on Purpose. E attended four weeks of complimentary gym class for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to partner My Gym Singapore. Ever thought of enrolling your child for gym class? Login to http://onlinestore.mygym.com.sg/mygym-trial-class by 31 Dec 2014 and enter the code MARK168 to get $5 off the trial class. My Gym is also running a CHRISTMAS PROMOTION from 13 Dec 2014 to 28 Dec 2014.  Book TWO* Trial Classes for the price of ONE! (*same child). 

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Splendid Journey - How to Travel With Young Children

We remember with fondness our first trip to Penang with our older son Z. He was 4 months old. We went with his Ye Ye and Nai Nai, and it was a carefully chosen destination - a not too long plane ride, and accessible tourist spots. Even then, I was still a little anxious about how it would turn out - whether he would experience pressure on the flight, and if he would sleep well in a new environment. I remember how he decided to soil his diaper immediately upon take off, and me wrestling with a dirty nappy and a squirming infant on the tray table in front of me instead of my dinner.
Z's first trip overseas at the age of 4-months - Penang, Malaysia.
Looking back, I think the trip opened Mark's and my eyes to how enjoyable it was to travel with our children. I remember walking through the local spice gardens and seeing how he reached wide-eyed for every plant and explored the texture of dried leaves on a bench, and the look of total trust as he appealed to Daddy for help upon meeting his first wave on a sandy beach, tiny toes curling upon contact with hot sand. We realized how much we enjoyed exploring the world with our child, and seeing the beauty through his eyes.

Fast forward two years, and our older son had travelled with us to almost ten destinations, ranging from Brisbane to visit his Grand Aunt Lil, to the Malaysian East Coast with good friends; also Hanoi, Vietnam, and Phuket, Thailand. 
One of our all-time favourite trips - a 3-week vacation to Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia when Z was 8-months-old. It was pure delight to see how much Grand Aunty Lil loved him!
Not only will he be able to say in future that he was a well-travelled little boy, but we will have some fun tales of excitement to tell of his first motorbike ride at 17 months up a 45-degree incline on a bumpy Vietnamese mountain road, swerving side to side in his Daddy's backpack. And there was Z's 10-hour train ride to Sapa on sleeper bunks, with a cabin shared by a strange American man and his Vietnamese girlfriend on the upper bunks (yes, we were crazy, trying to save some money). There was of course his first cruise in Halong Bay on the Emeraude, a majestic cruise ship, where his Daddy and Mummy were dragged up to waltz to a live orchestra playing oldies, while the little boy was passed around among the fellow passengers who had been waiting for an opportunity to babysit. 

His little brother arrived soon after, and we had to figure out all the logistics again. By then, we had truly caught the travel bug, so as soon as we had the baby's passport made, off we went again to Taiwan when the baby was about 5 months. Our early traveling memories of E were of him asleep in his carrier with the top of his head peeking out, and not much else. I recall the amusing story of my mother trying to mix a bottle of formula in the middle of the night, shaking it too vigorously only to have the milk spray onto my poor younger sister, who had a rude awakening in a baptism of milk. We decided after that to have both our families sleep in separate rooms (as far as possible of course)!
Taiwan trip 2012, when E was only 5-months. Thankful for the help of family on our travels.
With the two kids, we have since travelled to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan, Busan and Jeju, South Korea, and our latest trip was to Western Australia. We have had to adapt to the stage they are at. When they were infants, our Ergo carrier (ERGO Baby Carrier Bundle of Joy - Original Galaxy Grey with Galaxy Grey Insert
) came in very handy. As they grew older, we had to figure out how to manouver two suitcases, a stroller, two backpacks, a preschooler and a toddler, specifically from the airport conveyer belt to the train or taxi, and into our hotel room. And back again in the reverse order on our way home. 
The Ergo has been useful for both children. Here is E during one of our
treks in Tottori, Japan.
I like to joke that it's kind of like a military operation. Mark carries one of them on his back in our trusty Kelty, which we also use on the treks we do on our trips, while manouvering one stroller and a suitcase; I manage the other, while carrying another backpack and rolling a suitcase along as well. I recall our journey back to the airport on one of Japan's high speed trains; there were no more seats in the cabins, so our family hunkered down on the floor in between the carriages, and enjoyed a snack and some colouring time on the way to the airport!
Our trusty Kelty has been with us since Z took his trip to Australia when he was 8-months. The child
sits comfortably in the backpack.
People often ask how we do it. The truth is, we just leap in and improvise along the way. Mark and I loved traveling before the kids came along, and so once they arrived, we didn't feel a need to travel any less - they are part of our family, and so they do not have much of a choice in coming along as well! But of course, we all love to travel together. There are however some things we do to make our traveling easier:

1. Take it easy and slow.

After feeling the strain of our Vietnam trip, we decided that we are no longer as young as we used to be! Gone were the days when we could rough it out in a SGD20 a night hotel; and what on earth were we thinking, taking our baby on a 10-hour train ride in a cabin shared with total strangers? Try pushing two kids in a stroller against the flow of the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City! 

We have since wised up, and try to stay at least two nights or more in one accommodation, we try not to have them in the car for too long a distance, and we stay in relatively decent accommodation so that all of us will have a good night's rest. We also know that our boys need to work off their energy, so wide open spaces are best for holiday choices; shopping and eating trips are reserved only for when we go without the boys. I remember feeling so sorry for our older one when he wanted to get down from my carrier and walk, but could not as the streets of Vietnam were simply too crazy. We also plan our holidays with kid-friendly destinations in mind - I love bringing them to museum exhibitions and Science centres, parks, farms and fun fairs.
Our children love nature and wide open spaces. Here is Z in Jeju, Korea, where he
climbed the iconic Seongsan Ilchulbong peak mostly on his own.
2. Pack wisely but lightly.

My poor husband had to deal with an anxious wife in our early days of traveling with kids. I think I brought along everything but the dog (whom I would have taken along as well if we did have one). Our packing list is content for another post, but here is what we have found most useful:

- A solid carrier backpack (our Kelty (Kelty Junction 2.0 Child Carrier (Evergreen)
) has lasted four years and counting), 
- A few small toys and a travel pack to keep the kids occupied, with some colouring books and pencils, books, origami paper, stickers and zip lock bags with snacks,
- A change of clothes, not just for the kiddos but for the adults too (I learnt this after our flight to Phuket when our son threw up on the ascent and I spent most of the flight covered in vomit),
- Some favourite snacks and comfort food for times when the boys may be feeling a little alienated in a foreign country,
- First aid kit with medicines, creams etc. as you wouldn't want to be in a situation where you need to hunt for medicines with a sick child in hand,
- A collection of CDs, MP3 songs and audio books for long car rides. A favourite on our receht Perth trip was Peter and the Wolf!

3. Divide and conquer. 

Mark and I naturally take on different roles in our travel plans. I am in charge of the nitty gritty stuff eg. bringing vitamins for everyone, planning the hotel choices, sights to see etc. My ex-Scout husband takes care of packing the multitude of stuff I have requested that he bring, and throwing out whatever he thinks redundant. As the sole driver, he also looks into the routes and feasibility.
Driving the Lims. Mark is pictured here making a 2/1/2 hour drive from Busselton to Pemberton, Australia.
4. Keep the end in mind - Enjoying family time together. 

We have learned that it's not all about finishing everything in our itinerary. Young children have many needs: rest, food, comfort. There are meltdowns to deal with as a result of new environments and out-of-the-norm routines. We have learned to take it slow and enjoy the time we have together. One of the best trips we had with our older son was in Phuket and Krabi, where we took things easy for two whole weeks and just focused on spending time together. 
Precious time with the family in Kurashiki, Japan.
We may not realise it, but often that's what makes a holiday special for our kids - yes, the sights they see will open their eyes to a beautiful world with different cultures and people, and they may also learn to adapt and treat others with respect, but holidays are above all for us a time away from the daily grind, a time to get to know one another as a family once more, and to just have fun together building a lifetime of memories.

Do share some of your favourite travel memories with us! We would love to hear your tips for traveling with young children as well!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Australia 2014: Busselton - Out & About

A Morning at the Market

The next day we were up bright and early, all ready to go for the nearby Sunday market in the town of Vasse, where we hoped to stock up on some homemade food products and other interesting knick knacks.
The Sunday Market at Vasse, just half an hour away from Busselton.
My mum-in-law was happy to buy some lovely homemade cakes,
which the boys happily devoured.

Of Ice Cream & Other Delights

Although there were a few good buys at Vasse, those didn't seem to satisfy us; the boys at least were up for an ice cream - especially on such a hot day. So we headed off to the famous Simmo's Ice Creamery, which was said to be a "must go" place for the kids. We were, however, a tad disappointed as the quality of the ice cream was not nearly as good as the ones we ate at both the Swan Valley and at Harvey Cheese. The service was also wanting, and we were rather put off by the policy that customers are not allowed to sample flavours before making purchases. But what Simmo's lacked in its service, it made up for in the large playground area located within its premises.
Z enjoying his lovely chocolate ice cream.
A lovely playground area for children to burn off the sugar from the ice cream.
We loved the wooden equipment in the playground.
Simmo's even engaged a visiting entertainer to set up a camel ride. While the price
of A$8 per person was a little steep, the boys were thrilled at the experience.
E was of course happy to have a free ride on his personal "camel".
A contented 2yo at the end of the afternoon.

Fishing at the Busselton Jetty

As the day drew nearer and nearer to its close, we decided to head back nearer our resort. The Busselton Jetty, just a stone's throw away, was the perfect end to a busy day. My mum-in-law was itching to get some fishing done. But because we had not applied for a fishing permit, we could not fish in any enclosed water bodies (fishing permits can be applied online but you need at least two weeks for approval to be granted). We were, however, allowed to fish off the coast or off the jetty. So it seemed appropriate for us to take our chances with the fish there.

The Busselton Jetty is also apparently the longest timber-piled jetty in Western Australia, which makes for an interesting visit even if you're not into fishing. This is what the official Buseelton Jetty website says about the site:

Just two and a half hours drive south of Perth, the Busselton Jetty is situated at the northern gateway to the Margaret River Wine Region, in the seaside resort town of Busselton.

Extending 1.8 kilometres over the protected waters of Geographe Bay, the heritage listed Busselton Jetty is the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Western Australia, it is a must see for any visitor to the Capes Region.

Construction of the Busselton Jetty began in 1865. Beginning as a mere 161 metres, sand drift resulted in an additional 131 metres being added in 1875. Further extensions were made throughout the following 90 years creating the remarkable 1.8 kilometre length.

After more than a century of use and servicing over 5000 vessels, the Busselton Jetty officially closed as a Port in 1973. Once closed to shipping, government maintenance ceased.

Following the decline of government funding and the crippling effects of Cyclone Alby in 1978, a community group was formed to raise funds for much needed restoration and maintenance. Between 1987 and 2003, the community organisation now known as the Busselton Jetty Environment and Conservation Association (BJECA) raised sufficient funds to replace 50% of the Jetty structure, establish the train service and construct the iconic Underwater Observatory and Interpretive Centre.

In 2011 a $27 million refurbishment of the jetty structure was completed. $24 million was contributed by the Western Australian State Government with the balance contributed by the Shire of Busselton and BJECA.

The Busselton Jetty stands as a monument to the spirit and dedication of the Busselton community.

Sundown by the Busselton Jetty
The local birds waiting for their chance at an evening meal.
Our little boy was so happy to walk along the jetty.
A happy Daddy-Son moment.
The boys with their doting grandparents.
"Where are the fish?", the 2yo asks.

Our 4yo was also eagerly looking for the fish.
A warm brotherly moment.
Looking out.
All ready for the fish.
Casting the rod.
Our 2yo tries his hand at fishing.
Fisherwoman May
The first fish.
Leaving my in-laws to continue their serious task of fishing, we decide to head back to the car.
But not before taking some lovely family photos. 
This is our 2yo with bis beloved Mummy.
My lovely wife. Looking ever so sweet.
The lovely waters of Geographe Bay. Stunningly gorgeous at sundown.
Sunset view of the jetty.
A scene from the lovely park just at the edge of the jetty.
It was soon dark and we headed back to our resort, with my in-laws very pleased with the herring that they had caught - the little fish were to become a lovely meal for another day.