Saturday, January 31, 2015

KidStartNow: The Story of Our First Few Weeks in Chinese Class

As a homeschooling mother, I am most worried about teaching my children Maths and Mother Tongue, precisely because I fared so poorly in these two subjects when I was in school. I sometimes wonder how I will help them navigate through the challenges that these two subjects bring, when I seem to have developed innate phobias myself in these subjects over the years.

Growing up in a purely English-speaking family, learning Chinese was (and still is!) a huge struggle for me. Let it be said that in our predominantly ACS/MGS family - local schools not known for having students who are proficient in Mandarin - anyone who even passed the subject got a huge pat on the back! I have stories to tell of how I called my teacher "mouse" instead of "teacher" for several months, because the Chinese words for both are similar, and how I wrote my Chinese name as "Uncle Cloud" for the whole of Primary One until someone realised I had written in wrongly! 

  Learning how to recognise words in his first ever Chinese class!

Fast forward one generation, and this non-Chinese-speaking Mummy is now laden with guilt at the fact that I was supposed to start speaking the language so much earlier to my two boys, because research shows that children's brains are like malleable sponges and the best time to immerse them in a language is before the age of 3. Had I missed the window of opportunity?

I was truly thrilled when we were offered to review a term of classes with KidStartNow. What assured me about Z attending classes with them was that they begin with the premise that kids may be reluctant to learn the language or not have had early exposure to it. 
Lots of hand gestures are used to help our non-Chinese speaker to understand the words. They work!

The KidStartNow website cites 3 main ways of helping such children. Firstly, shedding any lack of confidence they might have in the language by giving them ample opportunities to use it. This is apparent in the lessons, where each child is given a chance to interact with the teacher and practise saying what has been taught. Every few lessons, the children are given the chance to role play the characters in the previous stories, which they do so with gusto. Even the most timid children come out of their shells, under the guidance of the patient teachers.

The animated story which provides the backdrop for each lesson. It leaves the children captivated! On the left of the picture is the score chart. Children are given points for participating in class as an incentive.

Acting out the previous stories in the previous lessons for revision. Everyone gets a chance to do role play!
Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on helping the children's interest in the language to develop over the course of the lessons. Their high quality, attractive animated storybooks are engaging. The school has its very own Creative Designer on board to design each week's story. The story lines mix make believe with the real world and cover themes which children can relate to. As a mother sitting in for the class, I personally love them too!
Ms Lee puts a good dose of drama into each lesson! Here she is with an apron, 
pretending to be Red Riding Hood conjuring up some food.

However, lessons are not just about interest. As we all know, interest and confidence are the foundation of learning, and that is where the classes hope to take their kids - to a place where they will rapidly acquire the language and naturally want to use it more and learn how to read more words for themselves. There is an emphasis on word recognition in each lesson. Children are encouraged to learn and recognise four new words each lesson; to understand and name some story-related vocabulary; and to practise writing a few simple words at the end of each lesson.
Reinforcing the lesson with real-life objects. "Is it real?" Z whispers to me.
Children associate words with real life actions, e.g. opening and closing the door.

A highlight from last week's lesson was getting to paste fruit on the 
"seven coloured" tree. Much care is taken to
 create an interactive lesson which caters to the different learning styles!

The words are reinforced continually throughout each lesson through the animated storybook, hands-on activities, real-life props, and fun games. The teacher continually checks their understanding and gives each student ample opportunity to practice saying the words aloud, both in isolation and in a sentence. I am really heartened to hear my son repeating the words each week; just knowing he is confident enough to try out the language in a group context is a huge confidence booster for me!
First attempt ever with writing Chinese! He was thrilled (and so was I)

As educators ourselves, and having attended numerous trial classes with our kids as part of media collaborations for the blog, my husband Mark and I have come to the conclusion that what makes or breaks a class for us is the teacher. Z is really privileged to be taught by one of the most experienced teachers in the centre, Ms Lee. Her infinite patience towards this group of active boys who take turns spacing out or goofing off once in a while puts me to shame! I am so encouraged by the firm yet gentle boundaries she sets for the kids. Definitely sets the right tone for learning! 
With his special teacher Ms Lee. What a kind and experienced teacher. 
We are so grateful to have her as Z's first  ever Chinese teacher!

I am so relieved that Z and I have finally embarked on the road to learning Chinese, despite my many initial misgivings. Sitting in the lessons each week, I have developed a new appreciation of the language. I find myself appreciating how the words look like what they actually mean. I am encouraged that the journey ahead may be long, but not as challenging as I had thought. At least we have been given a boost by starting lessons with KidStartNow!
The Chinese word for "door" actually looks like a door!
Mark and I were extremely pleased when we settled down for a Chinese bedtime story with the kids the other day. Z said, "Where is the word that means 'door'?" (This was one of the words he had learned to recognise in his first class 3 weeks ago.) I said, "You tell us, Z!", and he scrunched up his face in great concentration, hovered his index finger over the lines on the page, and zoomed in on the word, beaming at us at the same time. 

As you can probably tell, we were both extremely pleased.

Our little boy is off to a great start in learning Chinese!

Click here for Part 2 of Z's ongoing adventures at KidStartNow!

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Australia 2014: A Wild Time in Bunbury

A Date with the Dolphins

It was a nice and sunny morning on the day of our date with the dolphins of Bunbury. Thanks to the lovely people at the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre, we had complimentary tickets to visit these majestic creatures. The Centre describes how feeding the dolphins became a local tradition:

During the mid 1960’s, Mrs Evelyn Smith, a local resident, began feeding the dolphins from a small jetty near her home on the Leschenault Inlet (directly south of the Discovery Centre). Unfortunately, she passed away in the early 70′s ceasing any regular feeding of the dolphins she befriended. Some dolphins continued to be fed by the public from areas nearby. However it wasn’t until 1989 that a dolphin specialist was hired by the newly established Bunbury Dolphin Trust to continue this tradition and begin feeding and studying the local dolphins of Koombana Bay.
From this work came the establishment of the Interaction Zone in 1990 and the Dolphin Discovery Centre in 1994 to allow tourists and members of the community to interact, understand and enjoy the group of five to six dolphins that regularly visit this Zone.
We don’t clearly understand why the dolphins continue to visit the Zone today however research does suggest that the small amount of food they receive as a reward for their visit is not the only attraction. There are many dolphins that visit the Zone regularly that do not receive any fish and many of them stay for extended periods of time for interaction with the human visitors.
Sick and injured dolphins also treat the beach as a haven, with some repeatedly visiting during periods of illness or injury.
And we thoroughly enjoyed our time at the centre (which as it turned out did not only feature dolphins); and our two boys were enthralled by all that they saw!
The Dolphin Discovery Centre has many volunteers who help to provide awareness on the
animals in the centre, telling many exciting stories about the interesting inhabitants there.

One of the interesting stories was about an octopus who loves to live in the box at the centre. She is fondly loved by all.
And there are also many crayfish who are native to the area. Our sons were unfortunately thinking of them
more as food than as "friends"!

Many children are intrigued to learn about the exciting wildlife in the area.
Our two boys were also among the number, both excited to learn about the marine life in Australia.
Having just watched "Finding Nemo", our two sons were fascinated at seeing the clown fish up close and personal.
And they were equally delighted that "Dory" was also around!
Did you know how much dolphins eat each day?
The spectacular dolphinarium features three short stories about dolphins and their behaviour in the wild.
It is a 360 degree experience; and you truly feel immersed in the world of the dolphins.
Our children were mesmerised to be able to "see" dolphins from such an
up close and personal perspective!
We had seen quite a bit of the discovery centre, so we decided to take a much-need lunch break. The children of course got to run around to work off their boundless energy.

Lunch break at the centre. Our children got to run around at the lovely
playground located within the centre itself!
Here's out little 2yo acting all "grown up"!
Just as we were enjoying our lovely lunch of smoked fish and country beef pies, we heard the sound of a bell. "Dolphin alert!" yelled a volunteer. There was suddenly a buzz of activity, and a certain thrill of anticipation in the air. Would we really come nose to nose with one of these majestic creatures?
The Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre tries its best to ensure a healthy
interaction time with the dolphins.
The dolphin visitation chart. Volunteers take notes on the frequency and duration of each visit.
That's Daddy Mark waiting in line for the arrival of the dolphin. We were asked to stand still and
wait for the creature's approach patiently.
Our 2yo looking on.
It was a sad moment when we realised that the dolphin had indeed come, but that he had decided against coming into the interaction zone to be with us. One could almost feel the sadness that was in the air.... As for me, I decided that I definitely wanted to come back again; and hopefully I would get a chance to feast my eyes on the untamed beauty of a dolphin in the wild..
Our 4yo enjoying the beauty of the Bunbury coast.
Barefooted and at home!
As we left Bunbury that evening, we were filled with a sense of awe. There's something about the majesty of animals in the wild; we didn't know it then, but in the days ahead we would come barely within inches of the largest mammal in the world - the whale....

Previously: The magnificent Ngilgi Cave and the grand Cape Nationaliste Lighthouse...
Next: The untamed marshlands of the Tuart Forest National Park...

Note: This is a review arranged between the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre and Parenting on Purpose. We received complimentary tickets to the discovery centre for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Pushing the Reset Button: Parenting In The Year of Jubilee

It's the 8th of January 2015, eighth day of the new year. I find myself lying in bed with the flu, not a particularly good start after having had our boys home with us for almost a week now since Mark and I celebrated our 7th anniversary in Kunming in the last week of December. It was a good Christmas break with lots of time spent as a family. Now it's time to settle down into a new routine, new homeschool year, new projects for our company, new roads to take and new opportunities for faith to be grown and deepened. 

I wonder if anyone reading this has started the year feeling tired? Anyone worried about what lies ahead, uncertain about family health or finances, or whether that child with special needs will be able to overcome further obstacles in the year ahead? Or if the one who struggled academically will be able to make it through another difficult year? Some of the friends we know went through more losses in 2014 than some people do in a lifetime. I thought of them often as the new year dawned.
I have always been the "glass half empty" person in our marriage. My husband sees new opportunities and challenges through hope-coloured lenses. He sees the glints of light through the storm clouds and is usually the one who tries to wing it by dashing to the car in a drizzle. I am the one who rummages through my bag, fingers safely clasped tight onto my foldable umbrella in case the rain should come again. We make a good team. Neither gets too wet nor overly worried, and in the end we both reach our destination none the worse for our differences.
The "Dream Team" - Celebrating our 7th Wedding Anniversary in Kunming, China.
December marked the seventh year of our marriage. On Sunday, our Pastor preached a sermon about what seven years meant to the Israelites in biblical times. God meant for His people to work for six days and rest on the seventh; to toil the land for six years and leave it fallow for the seventh. Agriculturally, that made perfect sense. Financially, however, it was a whole thing altogether for an agricultural people who depended on the land to not work it at all and to trust that they would have enough for an entire year. 

What was even more interesting - God's promise that the harvest from the sixth year would be so bountiful that it would last them not just for the seventh year of Sabbath, but for the eighth and ninth year after! I am not sure what I would have done had I been living in those times as the seventh year approached. I'd probably have suffered from a nervous breakdown in the middle of the sixth year.
Abundance! Treasuring our holiday rest in Perth, Australia.

Then there was the biggie - seven years times seven! The Year of Jubilee. Every 49 years, God would hit the Reset Button. This was a huge thing. Not only did the land need to lie fallow that year, but everything would be restored to its original state. Land ownership would fall back along family lines. Slaves would be set free. The economy would go back to its original state. And God's people were commanded to rest. There's something so great about the year of Jubilee - it shows that there truly can never be any mistakes with God; whatever happens in those 49 years preceding, even those things meant for evil, God turns them all to good.

I'm not sure how many weary Mummies and tired Daddies who are reading this are thinking about the mistakes we have made in the past year. We long for a Reset Button. There are parenting choices and decisions we have made which we may regret, or continue to question the wisdom of in the new year. Certain traits we see in our children which we wonder if we could have done something earlier about. Financial and vocational decisions which have left us worried about how we will get through the year. All we long for is some rest to replace the worry and weariness. We long for a new year to bring a new start, but all it seems to bring are numerous unknowns. 

We feel like Peter staring out into the murky waters, suddenly realizing that our feet are not on solid ground. Thankfully though, there is no way but forward, into the safest Arms of Love there can be. We have no Anchor but God to hold onto. Thankfully, that is more than enough.

This year marks Singapore's fiftieth birthday. Our busy little nation is having its Year of Jubilee. I am not sure if as a nation we will be able to learn what it means to hit the Reset Button and rest. But that's what the Jubilee was meant to be - a year of rest and restoration. A year of trusting in Him.
What future do we have as a nation?

The fiftieth year is all about Faith - because we cannot rest without trusting God to take care of things while we are seemingly inactive. But true faith is active, and not an easy state to achieve. It is what we as a family hope to strive for in this year of Jubilee. To trust that He will provide such an abundant harvest of faith and fruitfulness that it will last us threefold years; that He will continue to watch over our children and let them grow in wisdom and favour; that He will give Mark and I wisdom and favour in our work and as we parent and homeschool our children.

Praying that you and your families will also experience the rest and restoration that have been intended for you in this year of Jubilee.
Looking into the future.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Seven Years & Counting

"You travel more than I do," remarked a friend who works in the airline industry. "Yes, that's true." I replied with a smile. "The difference is that you get paid and I don't!"

Sue and I love to travel. We travelled rather frequently before the kids came; and continue to do so even after their arrival. Our philosophy is that Daddy and Mummy love to travel; and by bringing our kids wherever we go, that they will be able to imbibe from the myriad of experiences that comes with travelling. 

Once a year, however, we make the conscious decision to leave the children with our parents, and to make a special trip on our own overseas. This holiday trip during our anniversary has been precious to us, and we decided that we would do this way before we even had children. 
Honeymoon @ Fraser's Hill, Malaysia. December 2007. So much in love!
Dalat, Vietnam. December 2008. First Year Anniversary Photoshoot. Away in the hills.
Bali, Indonesia. December 2009. Second Year Anniversary. A time to grieve.
Why the need to spend a "romantic" time away without the kids? Because it allows us space away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Because it gives us time to re-connect with each other and rekindle our love for each other. Because it provides a time for us to reflect on the state of the marriage and to take stock of our life for the year ahead. 
Batam, Indonesia. December 2010. Third Year Anniversary. A much-needed break after the arrival of Z.
Batam, Indonesia. December 2011. Fourth Year Anniversary. A time to eat & rest!
Malacca, Malaysia. December 2012. Fifth Year Anniversary. Food fest! Our first trip after the arrival of E.
Malacca, Malaysia. December 2013. Sixth Year Anniversary. Taking stock.
Kunming, China. December 2014. Seventh Year Anniversary. Seeking rest.
Each time when we finally return from our trip, we look at the faces of our excited children who dash past the immigration doors to hug us. And we know that the time apart has done us good.

Z and E, it's because Daddy and Mummy love you so much. That's why we go away each year; so that we can come back all refreshed, and find the energy and strength to deal with life's stresses once again!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Giveaway: A Pair of Tickets to I Theatre's "Aesop's Fables"

One of our favourite local theatre production companies, I Theatre, is gearing up for another year of quality children's theatre! We are looking forward to their unique take on Aesop's Fables from 26 February to 21 March 2015, as well as The Gingerbread Man from 20 May to 7 June 2015.

We have loved their combination of silly yet endearing characters and enchanting songs in their past productions, always with a plot and script which serve to entertain not just the littlies, but the parents as well, and are looking forward to what they have to offer in Aesop's Fables, previously produced in 2009 to a sell-out audience.

I Theatre has also been experimenting with some black light theatre and puppetry in their 2014 productions, and this production promises more of these new techniques as it showcases the more popular fables like The Lion and the Mouse, as well as the lesser known stories like The Jay and the Peacock.

Aesop's Fables promises to entertain with a bunch of scruffy creatures and the simple tales which will tell of the greater wisdoms in life.

Parenting on Purpose is proud to be partnering with I Theatre for this giveaway of a pair of tickets to Aesop's Fables on 28 February, 2015 at 2.30 pm. 

Enter by clicking on the Rafflecopter entry links below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Australia 2014: Geographe Bay - Above & Below

The Ngilgi Cave

Early the next morning, we headed west from our lovely resort, to the spectacular Ngilgi Cave, which is located just next to the charming town of Yallingup. We had previously communicated via email with the Geographe Bay Tourism Association, and they had kindly offered us free entry to this spectacular site. 
The gorgeous rock formations of the Ngilgi Cave.
Our little 4yo Z all excited to explore the cave.
The Margaret River Caves Guide presents this remarkable account of the place:
Underneath the limestone ridge that forms Cape Naturaliste lies Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough (formerly called Yallingup Cave) offering a fascinating combination of nature and Aboriginal legend.  Situated off the famous Caves Road, the cave is a short drive north of the town of Yallingup. Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough was given this name due to its connection to an impressive Aboriginal legend illustrating the clash between Wolgine (an evil spirit) and Ngilgi (a good spirit) who eventually triumphed and took control of the cave.
Murals on the outside of the cave tell the story of that epic battle between Wolgine and Ngilgi.
Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough was discovered in the year 1899 by Edward Dawson while trying to find stray horses. He served as a guide to the cave from 1900 to 1937. Today, Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
It boasts an impressive display of shawl, helicitite, stalagmite and stalactite formations in addition to an interpretive center detailing the rich history of the cave. Dating back around 50,000 years, Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough is a stream cave that has developed gradually through the movement of the water.
In the year 1903, Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough became Western Australia’s first cave to have electric lighting installed. The cave has served as the site of two international cave sitting records and countless wedding receptions. It is also thought that Dame Nellie Melba delivered a concert here before she became an internationally renowned opera singer. Ngilgi Cave Dunsborough appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. The best time to visit the cave is when it is pitch dark. The pathways are easy to navigate and boarded, and most people are surprised over how deep this cave is. Nowadays, visitors to the cave can take semi guided tours and enjoy a variety of other experiences which include awesome torchlight tours and adventure cafĂ©.
Looking back, our visit to the Ngilgi Cave was one of our most remarkable one-and-a-half-hour experiences ever! Imagine being immersed in a world that was created more than 50,000 years ago! 
Enter Ngilgi Cave, a world of stalactites and stalagmites.
The enormity of the cave is a bewilderment to the senses. One can only imagine what the first explorers must have felt!
Our brave little boy walked the entire 1/1/2 hours on his own, climbing up and down
the numerous flights of stairs.
There was a special area where you're supposed to lie down and look up at the cave ceiling...
And this is the spectacular sight that greets you!
The caverns are aglow with lovely coloured lights which add magic to the experience.
Many of the rock formations were simply dazzling to the eye.
It is mind-blowing to think that these formations were created over hundreds of thousands of years ago.
It was a wonderful experience for both boys, who are real cave explorers.
Sue's parents had a great time too!
We were simply in awe at the spectacular colours.
Well, our younger son E gave his approval of the place. Here he is at the end;
beaming away and waiting for Daddy and Kor Kor to complete their explorations.
He walked most of the way on his own too!

Clancy's Fish Pub - Not Just Another Fish & Chip Place

After a tiring walk, it was time to head for lunch. We chose one of the eateries on the main Dunsborough Road, Clancy's Fish Pub, and were more than pleasantly surprised by what we encountered! For starters, we were instantly rewarded by the cosy ambience of the place. What's more - there was a lovely play area for the kids - parents' saving grace during a long road trip.
Clancy's is a welcome sight for any traveller with its cosy ambience and friendly service.
The on-site brewery provides much respite to the thirsty traveller, with many of the region's famous beers available on tap.
Many families choose Clancy's as their location of preference for a leisurely Sunday lunch.
The lovely play area which warmly welcomes children from all around the world.
We loved the simplicity of the play materials.
The seafood platter was an excellent choice, oozing with the fresh flavours of the sea. Most enjoyable! 
One of the best seafood paella dishes I have ever had! The seafood flavour permeated the dish. 
For the kids. Grilled fish and chips. Quite a sizeable portion for the little ones.
And we couldn't resist an artistic shot of our favourite food!
The family was extremely satisfied with our food choices and the relaxed ambience of the place.

Even our in-laws felt a little romantic there with the good food and great service!

One for the road. We will be back!

When we drove into Clancy's, we would hardly have imagined how much we would love the place. The food was a far cry from the other fish and chips place we had visited - Cicerello's in Fremantle, which we were honestly disappointed with. In our opinion, Clancy's is an excellent choice if you're a fan of all things seafood. It beats Cicerello's in all aspects - food (and beverage) quality, ambience, child friendliness and service quality!

Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse

After a hearty lunch, we were all set for our final stop for the day - the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. Like the Ngilgi Cave earlier in the day, our trip to the lighthouse was also kindly sponsored by the Geographe Bay Tourism Association, which provided the following information about the site:

Breathtaking panoramic views of the Indian Ocean, Cape Naturaliste, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and the beautiful Geographe Bay coastline reward visitors to the top balcony of the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse.

Easier than most lighthouses to climb, the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is one of the most popular attractions in the Geographe Bay and Margaret River Wine region.

Built from limestone quarried from nearby Bunker Bay, at its highest point the lighthouse is 123 metres above sea level.

Friendly tour guides provide a fascinating insight into the functions of the working lighthouse, history of the area and ghost stories that will send tingles down your spine!

Numerous walking trails lead from the Lighthouse around the stunning bays and beaches of the Cape, providing amazing views over the ocean and of the local wildflowers. A platform and shelter provides magnificent whale watching during the annual migratory periods, from September to December - a special experience not to be missed!

The winds were howling when we arrived at the little lighthouse nestled at the tip of the Indian Ocean. Braving the fierce gales, we made a dash into the magnificent building that had saved many ships from the raging storms. We were fortunate to be able to catch the second last tour of the day, and were amazed by the depth of knowledge displayed by our guide.
Built in 1903, this magnificent lighthouse still sends out warning signals to ships today.
We were thrilled to be able to spot the 2 flashes every 10 seconds from the coastline
near our resort that evening!
In olden days, the main job of the lighthouse keeper was to keep the light burning
at all times of the night, no matter the weather conditions.
The original Fresnel lens was installed in 1904 and is still operational today.
Walking up the 123 metres to the top. 
Lighthouse keepers had to recognise the different flags flown by the passing ships.
This was the centre of operations in days gone by. There are no seats for resting
except a simple chair - to prevent lighthouse keepers from falling asleep while on shift.
Our brave 2yo E was dauntless as he walked by himself all the way to the top.
The gorgeous view from the top of the lighthouse.

The winds were so strong we had to cling on tight to avoid being blown away.
The view from the other end of the lighthouse. The winds were so strong that our children were not allowed up there. 
Modern day "lighthouse keepers" Leon and Tasy.
While the lighthouse may not be the tallest, it is certainly one of the grandest.
The Lim Family enjoying a moment.
Sundown at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. 
Enjoying the spectacular scenery from the cape.
Back on the road, we stop at Sugarloaf Rock, a dramatic scenic spot of rock and ocean...
The winds were so strong we almost felt we were being blown away by them!
Beauty amidst beauty....
With the glowing sun in our faces and the howling winds at our backs, we bid farewell to the lovely Cape Naturaliste. Although we were sad that the day had come to an end, we know that we had experienced the best that nature had to provide.

And we were content.

Click here to book your own tours for the Ngilgi Cave.

You can book a tour at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse here.

Hungry? Clancy's Fish Pub menu can be found here.

Previously: Fishing at the Busselton Jetty.

Next: Swimming with the dolphins at Burnbury.

Note: This is a review arranged between the Geographe Bay Tourism Association and Parenting on Purpose. We received complimentary tickets to the Ngilgi Cave and the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.