Monday, March 31, 2014

Bequeathing the Spirit of Reverence

Quote of the Day:

When all has been said and done, what are you leaving behind for your children? We believe that children need to develop a spirit of reverence - for God and for others.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Art from the heART

Our older son Z attended his first art class two days ago.

And we were excited; perhaps more excited than he was.

We had secured an arrangement with heART Studio, a local art enrichment centre, for Z to attend one term of classes, and we were apprehensive about how he would respond.

When we entered heART Studio, the sign above the main door, "Teaching art from the heart", was a reassuring sight. We had previously read about the philosophy behind the centre (found on its website): 

We believe that Art allows children to explore new worlds and to view life from another perspective. Art also encourages individuals to sharpen their skills and to nurture their imagination and intellect.  Involvement in the arts is also associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.On Top of that heART Studio also impart Life’s Skills through Art and We want everyone who come through our doors to learn more than great drawing and painting technical skills but also valuable Life and Character Building Skills.  

Nestled in a quiet residential district, the studio was a lovely sight to behold.

We were hopeful that the session would be fruitful and that our 3/1/2-year-old would be in good hands!

We were surprised at the onset that there were only four students in the class - we had earlier been informed that class size would be large as this was a crowded session. But with two teachers to four students, the 1:2 ratio was very comfortable. We later realised that the arrangement would allow one teacher to conduct the main lesson, allowing the second teacher the flexibility to manage any potentially difficult issues that could arise from an active preschooler class.

A cosy ratio of 1 Teacher: 2 Students
The main teacher Syafiq started with a discussion on animals and engaged the children by relating them to animals they have seen at the zoo. He then went on to provide interesting animal facts, such as which was the fastest animal in the world, as well as which animal would look like a horse if it did not have any stripes. It was evident from the response that the children were enjoying the lesson.

Match the animal with its patterned print!
Children were then taught how to draw a zebra, breaking down the animal into its constituent shapes. The "non-artist" in me was impressed by how the kids could easily follow instructions, especially since the lesson was compartmentalised in such a manner. If only I was taught to draw in this way; perhaps I would have become a famous artist. But then again, perhaps not!

The enthusiastic students.
Despite the earnest efforts of the teachers, our son Z seemed unresponsive, preferring to instead observe from the sidelines. It was only after the second teacher JJ offered to teach him how to draw his favourite animal that the 3-year-old seemed to respond more positively. A delighted Z was all smiles when a picture of his favourite Elmer the Patchwork Elephant was printed for him. Although he was still reluctant and had to be "encouraged" to draw, Z finally allowed the teacher to hold his hand and draw together with him, tracing the dotted outlines.

Using Elmer the Patchwork Elephant to teach art.
All in all, we were very pleased at the outcome of the class. We had been apprehensive at first as our son Z tends to be wary of new situations and strangers. However, it was positive that he managed to open up and seemed to be enjoying himself, after the teachers' great patience and perseverance. We are hoping that the class will help him in his enjoyment of art and in the process, and also build up his confidence, improving his fine motor skills and ability to follow instructions.

Teacher JJ patiently coaxes Z to draw.
Our son bounced out of the class grinning, having high-fived both of the teachers on the way out; this from a boy who usually takes a long while to warm up. We were pleased, relieved and hopeful for the lessons to come. After one lesson, heART Studio already seems to embody its motto "Teaching Art from the heART" in the warm, caring and nurturing environment it creates for its students!

Part 2 of the review can be found here.
The journey continues. Click here for Part 3.

Note: This is part of a series of reviews arranged between heART Studio and Parenting on Purpose. Z attended complimentary art lessons for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Let Down Your Hair!: A Review of SRT's "Rapunzel"

A review of the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) “Rapunzel” written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based website that provides information and updates on the best of Singapore for families with young children.

The classic Grimm Brothers’ tale has been given a new lease of life in recent years. Disney’s latest version, Tangled, features a feisty heroine with a thirst for adventure and now SRT’s The Little Company has also brought this familiar tale on stage with the story centred on an inquisitive and curious girl who longs to explore the world despite being trapped in an enchanted tower.

That’s where the similarities between the two versions end. In The Little Company’s version, Rapunzel’s captor is a chef-wannabe witch who brushes the poor girl’s hair frequently in an effort to extract her tears, believed to be the secret ingredient that has won her a host of international cooking accolades. Rapunzel’s only friends are a roadrunner and an armadillo who is in charge of guarding the witch’s enchanted garden.

Enter Montague, a goofy Prince in Pyjamas who is exploring the land on his camel. The two meet and Montague promises to help Rapunzel find three magical items that could free her from her prison. Will the duo succeed? Or will the witch cook up a nefarious plan that would put an end to it all?

Rapunzel is a visual delight for all with its stunning set of an enchanted tower and garden. The garden, for instance, looks gloriously delicious, and it is not unimaginable that someone would want to steal food from it. Likewise, the colourful animal puppets were a delight to the audience, and many among them fell in love almost instantly with them.

As in other SRT shows, the strength of the performance lay in its casting. Cheryl Tan stole the show as the independent-minded Rapunzel, and she was evenly matched by Trev Neo, who was convincingly cast as the clueless Prince. The songs were also catchy and engaging, and the cast did a good job in getting the audience to remember what magical items were needed to break the enchantment.

Conversely, we felt that more could have done more to bring together all the theatrical elements in a cohesive manner. For instance, the theme of friendship was discussed too briefly and could have been developed further. On the whole, we felt a stronger ending would have served to complement the work of the actors and help the young audience better appreciate what a true friendship entails.

Rapunzel is running from now to 30 April.

Photos of the production can be found on the Little Day Out website here.

These are some follow-up activities that can be carried out with your children after watching the show:

Take Time With Them

Quote of the Day:

What does it mean to take time with your children? For us it means to spend so much time with them that they will know we are there for them no matter what. It is truly an honour and a privilege to have children; yet it is the greatest responsibility a person can ever have. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

To Educate a Man

Quote of the Day:

As parents and educator, it is our firm belief that education should include the teaching of moral values. Unfortunately much of education today is focused on the practical and not the ethical.

Education & Life

Quote of the Day:

How can our education become an atmosphere, a discipline and a life? It has to be so ingrained into our psyche that education becomes second nature to us. We educate not because we have to; we educate because that's who we are.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Children are the Future!

Quote of the Day:

We need to prepare our children for the future. That's what we continually remind ourselves when we start each homeschooling day. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rainy Day Fun: Pom Pom Play

I know I have posted several times about pom poms,  but I can't get over how versatile they are! I have really enjoyed seeing the different ways my kids play with them. It's also the first time I have seen our 19-month-old so engaged in purposeful play. It's a sign that my baby's growing up *sniff sniff* but also very encouragingly a sign that he's becoming more independent in his play. 

E and I are both down with a bad flu, leaving us both tired and listless,  so today was the perfect time to get out the toilet rolls I've been saving and let him entertain himself for a bit! Here's a list of other simple household items we got from around the house.

Items Needed:

Toilet rolls
Pom poms (Art Friend is a good source, we got ours from Amazon)
Assorted containers
Straws/ sticks

I just showed him how to stuff the first pom pom into the toilet roll, arranged all the other items in front of him, and the invitation to play began! 

E was intrigued by how the pom poms "vanished" into the roll. Then, he was amazed at how he could get them to pop out once there were too many inside. He also used a stick to try to push them out. This was great for his fine motor skills! He experimented with volume and capacity and discovered that the smaller ones popped out right away but the bigger ones got stuck. When he finally got bored, he put the container on Daddy's head and decided to use the stick as an elephant's trunk, trumpeting loudly. 

This occupied him for more than half an hour! I also really enjoyed seeing him figure his way around the simple everyday materials. One of the things I love most about parenting is that it helps me look anew at the ordinary things around me; through the eyes of a child there is always interest and discovery. 

(Note: If your toddler is still at the mouthing stage,  do supervise the use of pom poms. Please leave out the sticks if you are leaving him to play unsupervised - I was closely watching him today and made sure he was using the stick safely. )

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Excitable Elephants and Groovy Giraffes: Great Book Bargains!

An adorable, excitable patchwork elephant has recently taken over our house. He is responsible for my 3-year-old's first sight word: "BOO!" I have a strange feeling that he may eventually learn how to read with Elmer - Z is now pointing out the letter sounds he has learnt on each page, signs that he is showing interest in deciphering the letters and words.

I must admit that I do have a soft spot for Elmer, an elephant who celebrates being different and has a knack for making the other animals laugh. Of course, his adorable patchwork colours and cute facial expressions add to his likeability, and the simple story lines usually come with a humorous twist plus a meaningful lesson to be learnt. There is the episode where he gets to spend some time with his Grandpa Eldo and recall the fun times they have had together, and also the time he meets a herd of pink elephants and his friend Rose turns her fear of loud noises into courage and saves the day.

Although it does get a little repetitive having read the few books that we've gotten hold of from the library, I am so thankful every night when he asks to read his Elmer books together, as just a few months ago he did not always want to sit still and read a book together.

I have the original book Elmer by David McKee, but have been borrowing the rest from the library. I was thus quite pleased to find out that Parenting on Purpose's first-ever affiliate, The Groovy Giraffe, was carrying some of the Elmer books at a heavily discounted price!

The Groovy Giraffe is a local online remainder bookstore. They are able to obtain brand new overstock and overprint books and sell them at great discounts,  which is a much welcomed piece of news when children's books in Singapore can cost a hefty sum. Shipping is a flat fee of SGD5 for any amount,  and this fee is waived if you spend SGD60 and above.

I can never resist a good book, and if you take the time to browse you will find some good titles. I have ordered a few of the Elmer titles which come with accompanying CDs, like Elmer and Wilbur and Elmer on Stilts.  There are also some highly recommended picture books like The Pout-Pout Fish and Library Lion,  which I hope to check out. We will be doing a unit on Elmer as part of our "Letter E" study, so the books will come in handy!

We are pleased to offer a media collaboration with this lovely online bookstore. Simply key in our special code "PoP5" upon checkout and you can enjoy 5% off your order (except for books from the bargain section). Hope you find some treasures like we did! 

***The store is currently offering a discount on books in the Children's section to celebrate 1,000 likes on Facebook.  Enter "1000likes" as a discount code to enjoy 15% off on all the books in this section. The promotion ends March 19.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Raised Salt Painting (The Lim Family Version)

One of the things I hope to do in this blog is to share some of the activities we do at home which could easily be replicated by anyone who is looking for ideas on what to do with your young children. There are a multitude of ideas on Pinterest, but the materials may not always be available locally and may sometimes need to be adjusted for our climate,  e.g. homemade dough. Here's the first installment in our series!

I was so excited about this idea when I shared it last week on our Facebook page. It can be found at the One Perfect Day blog.  I was excited to try it for our Little Hands to Heaven Unit 3 on the Letter "C". I have chosen to do "C is for Cookies and Cupcakes" this time round.

Here are the materials we used for the activity:

Drawing block
Baking tray
Watercolour paints (diluted)
Craft glue
Table salt
Medicine droppers/ Paint brushes

What you need.
  This is what we did:

1. Place the drawing block onto the baking tray. 

2. Using the craft glue,  make patterns on the drawing block. As we have been learning the Letter "C" this week, I did a "C" first to demonstrate and also to aid in his letter recognition. Z did a second picture with a rainbow.

3. Sprinkle the table salt liberally onto the glue patterns with a spoon. Ensure it is completely covered. This scoop and pour action is great for fine motor skills, but be prepared for a salty experience,  especially if you have younger siblings wanting to join in the fun! Thankfully, salt dissolves in water and cleans up well...

This was fun for the younger brother too!
4. Shake the excess salt off onto the baking tray. 
Steps 1-2: Making a "C" with the craft glue.
Step 3: A liberal sprinkling of salt.
Step 4: After shaking off the excess salt -
the salt-crusted "C"s remain.
5.Using the medicine dropper or a paintbrush,  drip just a few drops of watercolour paint onto a section of the glue pattern. It is important not to use too much paint or you will get rivulets of paint running across your painting (as we discovered!). I would actually recommend using a paintbrush instead of a dropper as Z had difficulty controlling how much paint he squeezed out of the dropper.

6. This is the magical part! Wait and see how the paint colour travels along the glue pattern.  Have fun predicting how far it will travel. It is quite a beautiful sight to behold! 

Step 5-6: Dripping paint on a section of the glue
pattern and watching how it spreads.
7. Repeat again with another colour till the entire glue pattern is covered.

Step 7: Adding colours to the salt-crusted "C"s.
8. Let your beautiful raised salt paintings dry.

Step 8: The finished product.
Z'e Finished Rainbow
Our Experience:

This activity involved a lot of different steps which a 3-year-old finds fun, like squeezing out the glue,  exploring the texture of salt ("Is it sandy, Mummy?" he asked.) We can talk about different textures and how salt is used to flavour food. We even put a little on our tongues for a taste test. 

It's also great for fine and gross motor skills: squeezing,  scooping and pouring. It provides one of children's first experiences in prediction and estimation of volume (a smaller amount of paint will cover a smaller surface area).

Best of all,  it was fun and kept our son meaningfully occupied for a good forty minutes,  and the final product was beautifully textured! Wait till it dries to admire the vibrant colours and textures, but be mindful that the salt painting will not keep, so take lots of photos before it disintegrates.

Have a salt-licking time trying it out at home!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

There is a Time for Everything - A Review of I Theatre's "The Ant and the Grasshopper"

A review of the I Theatre production, “The Ant and the Grasshopper” written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based website that provides information and updates on the best of Singapore for families with young children.
Snapshot with the cast of The Ant and the Grasshopper
“There is a time for everything.” So sing the insects during the final song of the play. There is a time for working hard and gathering food; but there is also a time for enjoying music and the arts. Indeed this final refrain from I Theatre’s The Ant and the Grasshopper seems to capture the quintessential tension between what is “work” and what is “life”, and how to negotiate a difficult balance between the two.

Brian Seward, in his re-creation of the famous Aesop Fable of the same name, has this time outdone himself. Seward has crafted a magical masterpiece around a seemingly simple tale warning children about the ills of not working hard and taken this to a deeper level, drawing out themes not only about work-leisure balance, but also about the importance of treasuring friendships and managing change. The production conveys that while seasons may come and go, there are things that stand the test of time and transcend whatever changes that may occur.

The strongest draw of the production were its larger-than-life characters. Take for instance the busy ant Ms Antoinette and her obsessive need for work and organisation. This is in stark contrast to the ukulele-strumming Criminy-Grasshopper and his “come-what-may” approach towards life. Throw in the buzzing busybodies, Bee One and Bee Two, and the change-adverse Very Hungry Caterpillar Nessa and the stage is more than teeming with a hive of activity. There is even the ostentatious fashionista of a ladybird, Lady Coco, whose dazzling appearance more than makes up for her lack of substance.

In terms of music, the partnership between Seward and composer Julian Wong is clearly a plus point of the production. The light-hearted yet soulful songs helped the audience become better acquainted with the happy-go-lucky disposition of the grasshopper. Conversely, the more serious and upbeat pieces conveyed the hardworking mindset of the ant.

I Theatre’s production of The Ant and the Grasshopper is a delightful tale that will charm children as young as three (our son Z was in rapt attention throughout the play) and is even enjoyable for the adults accompanying the children (both of us parents enjoyed the intricate commentaries about life inserted at appropriate intervals). The production also engages children thoroughly (such as drawing on audience participation to teach the caterpillar how to exercise). Indeed, such interactive elements help to draw in the younger audiences, providing an enjoyable experience for the younger children to develop a love for the theatre.

The Art and the Grasshopper is running from now to 15 March.

Photos of the play can be found in the Little Day Out article here.

These are some follow up activities that can be carried out with your children after watching the performance.

Insects Worksheet Printables & Puzzles by Super Teacher Worksheets
Learning about Ants by Education World
Unit Study on the Very Hungry Caterpillar by the Official Eric Carle Website
Unit Study on Seasons - Youtube Video: Craft Activities on the Seasons

Post-Script: What follow up activity did we do with our 3-year-old? Five days after watching the play, little Z decides to re-enact the entire performance at the playground. He enthusiastically takes on the role of the Ant (with Daddy prompting him lines). Mummy acts as the Grasshopper, while our 1-year-old son E flutters his wings excitedly as the transformed Butterfly.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why We Homeschool (Part Two)

Some time two weeks ago, we had one of 'those days'. Since we started homeschooling about a year ago,  we've had a few of these - where the whole morning seems like one huge battle and in the end no one wins, or learns anything. That day's episode ended in a particularly desperate and spiteful chastising with the older boy on my part, "Z, do you want to do school with Mummy or not? If you don't want to,  you can always go and join the other children in their school next door. " (We have a kindergarten in the next block. ) To which he woefully replied, "I want to go to school with Mummy. " My most predictable reply: "Then you must learn to follow my instructions and listen to what Mummy says!" Not that this conversation got us much further after that...

Part 2 of Why We Homeschool is honestly still in the process of being figured out (which is why I have been taking so long to write it). Homeschooling is really a complex and in-depth decision,  an ongoing process involving not just the academic side of things,  but the life of our family and the individuals it consists of as we live our lives and continue in the ongoing process of knowing, understanding and loving God and each other.

Yet I am always brought to the main reason why we homeschool,  the reason I seem to most easily forget - we homeschool because we are in the business of schooling their hearts and not just their heads.  Each of the struggles we've had so far happens when I forget our main purpose and forge ahead with my glorious academic goals,  forgetting I am dealing with little persons-in-training. When you homeschool,  it is impossible to run away from the humanity of one's household. When the kids choose to disobey me in school time, they are also disobeying the authority which God has placed over them in this home. And vice versa, of course! I am constantly reminder of my own imperfections and failures as a mother through the course of those few hours of school every day (as well as the rest of each day)!

Z's sponge painting of a rainbow
And so I choose to remember the precious moments of that day - the two of them side by side on the sofa, one on the drums and the other on the cymbals, making a joyful noise by singing all the rainbow songs they know after reading Noah and the Ark;  my 3-year-old asking for books throughout the day and sitting through picture books I never thought he'd have the patience for. (I have been reading about Elmer the Patchwork Elephant for almost 2 consecutive weeks now, his current favourite bedtime story!) 

E learning fine motor skills by transferring pom poms from one
container to another.
Tiny steps.  And of course,  the work that is going on in this Mummy's soul,  as I am being tutored everyday in patience and learning to grow in increasing dependence on Him in my most desperate moments. Remembering what matters at the end of the day... that is the much harder work and the one that in my opinion needs much more grace! The rest is easy because He is going to teach them much more than I ever can. 

My homeschooling verse reminds me, "The Lord Himself will teach our children,  and great will be their peace." Isaiah 54 : 13. 

Boy, am I thankful for that! 
"B" is for Blocks!
I suppose I will need to eventually write a Why We Homeschool (Part Three). Until then, a scene from this week's school will have to do:

Me: Z, let's play with some blocks! (I was planning to start our session with a patterned block activity.)

Z (emphatically): No, I don't want to play blocks. I want to do school with Mummy!

Not one, but both boys, settle in for some seat work, followed by our letter "B" rhyme, the story of the Tower of Babel, and finally block and sensory bin play. 

Now, this is the reason why we homeschool :)

Click here to read Part One on Why We Homeschool.