The Owls Well Summer 2014 Family Reading List (and giveaway!)

One of the big things that we share as a family is a love of reading. There is nothing that the Barn Owl and I like to do more than browse the bookstores and libraries and disappear into the pages of a good book. We also like to have a stack of unread books in the house that we can slowly delve into over the course of a season.

So…let me share with you our current Summer Reading book list for all the family!

Little E’s Preschoolers Reading List

This is an extended version of the classic ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ song, starring the enigmatic Pete the Cat. Little E has an affinity for black (or navy) cats and is absolutely fascinated by the adventures of the golden-eyed Pete, drawn by electrical engineer-turned-artist, James Dean. I like nursery rhyme-based books like this for preschoolers as the simple rhymes help them to memorise the text, which in turn helps them to recognise sight words.

And yes, I do like the author’s name.

There’s also this brilliant video which perfectly complements the book, which is great to sing along to:

J’s Early Readers Book List

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, by

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, by Karla Oceanak

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, the first two books of the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel series by Karla Oceanak, which follow ten-year-old Aldo as he records his endearing, everyday adventures in sketchbooks given to him by his grandmother Goosy, filling each one with hilarious illustrations, stories and fancypants vocabulary words.

These books are simple, fun and great for encouraging reluctant readers like 6 year old J, who still tends to balk at text-heavy chapter books. They would be a great launching point for independent readers who might want to explore the wonderful world of art-journalling or storywriting. I especially enjoy the way that the books try to expand a reader’s vocabulary – Artsy-Fartsy is All About Awesome ‘A’ words, whilst Bogus is Brimming with Brilliant ‘B’ words, and the back of each book sports a glossary that is both witty and easy to understand.

More about Aldo Zelnick books here.

Find out how to make an Aldo Zelnick-inspired journal cover here:

The Barn Owl’s Independent Readers Book List

The Barn Owl Says: These are books suitable for tween and teen readers who are looking for books containing subject matter that is both thought-provoking and challenging without being explicit. The language in these books is clean, there are no sexual scenes or gratuitous/horrifying descriptions of Gross.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson is a sci-fi fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic world where absolute power corrupts absolutely – although in this case, it is superpowers doing all the corrupting, turning super ‘Epics’ into super tyrants. The setting and the characters are thoughtfully and complexly constructed, drawing the reader completely into this world where entire cities can be turned into steel and shrouded in darkness. The main character, 18 year old David Charleston, is endearingly awkward as he works his way into the anti-Epic rebel group of Reckoners and then takes us on an action-packed ride filled with secret missions, motorcycle chases, awesome feats of heroism and EXPLOSIONS, on his way to revenge himself on the Epic Steelheart, self-proclaimed ruler of Newcago! Definitely a book for anyone who loves a good superhero franchise.

Here’s the Book Trailer: 

Read excerpts from Steelheart here.

For those of you who prefer something less fantastical and much more down-to-earth, try Wonder by R.J. PalacioAt its heart, this book revolves around Auggie Pullman, a 5th grader who is entering mainstream education for the first time. His particular problem is that he is born with severe craniofacial deformities which complicate his life in more ways than one. The book is written in short chapters told from various first-person perspectives which expands the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s first year in school is not only a challenge to him but to the whole community. I particularly appreciated the way that the book sensitively handles chronic illness in children, especially the impact of a chronically ill child on their siblings. A really great book for launching discussions on the impact of kindness.

Here’s the Book Trailer: 

Great discussion questions regarding Wonder and some interesting background stuff here.

Debs G’s Grownup Book List

Debs G says: These books contain mature themes and subject matter so they are only suitable for a young adult or grownup audience. I definitely think that parents of precocious readers probably ought to thumb through these books first as there are plenty of possible topics for Deep Discussion!

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld has to be the best book that I have read this year. The nameless and omniscient narrator who is on death row, preserves his sanity by turning his surroundings into a magical wonderland where golden horses with molten manes of flame run deep beneath the earth and horrifying flibber-gibbets writhe in the heat of the newly dead. Through him, we learn the stories of the inmates, the Warden, the Fallen Priest and the Lady, a death-row investigator. Rene Denfeld, the book’s author and herself an investigator for death penalty cases, reveals the cruel reality of the prison community as well as the lives of those waiting for capital punishment in crushingly beautiful prose that breaks your heart yet gives you hope at the same time.

If you only have time to read one book this year, this is the one you are looking for (*waves hand*).

Watch Rene Denfeld talking about her book: 

More about the author here.

One thing that I can definitely read more about is MORE ABOUT PERANAKAN CULTURE. It pleases me to no end that a book written by a local girl and based on our rich Southeast Asian heritage actually made it to Oprah’s Book-of-the-week! The world needs to know more about sarong kebayas and kerosang and chendol!

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is a charmingly written account about the beautiful Li Lan’s unfortunate betrothal to a dead man (a tradition which is believed to pacify a restless spirit). The book starts off as a historical account with detailed descriptions of colonial Malacca and the various aspects of nyonya food and dress, then takes a psychedelic turn into a fantastical netherworld with demons and dragons.

It’s a wild ride.

Watch Yangsze Choo talking about her book: 

More about the author here. 

Bonus: Debs G’s Tired Brain Refresher

Sometimes, after a long day, all a RAWKmum really wants is a something to relax the mind and the best thing for a tired brain is a book that is just pure, unadulterated entertainment and full of good, clean jollification. Operation Mom by Reenita Malhotra Hora is one such book – an absolutely ridiculous farce involving the antics of two Indian teenagers, Ila and Deepali, as they try to find the perfect date for Ila’s mom, whilst dealing with the normal teenage girls angst ridden troubles of ‘which-boy-likes-me’ and ‘do-I-look-fat-in-this-punjabi-suit’. It’s great fun to read, and you don’t have to think very hard.

Watch the Book trailer: 

More about the author here.

A Special for Owls Well Readers: MPH Bookstores Singapore is generously sponsoring a massive book giveaway to FOUR lucky Owls Well Readers! Winners will get to select their choice of TWO books from the above Owls Well Summer 2014 Book List! Woohoohoo! Thank you MPH Bookstores!

To take part in this fantabulous giveaway just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Leave a comment below and tell me all about your Favourite Book Of All Time (of all time!!!) and why you think everyone should read it. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 8 August 2014. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 2 required steps!)

P.S. If you want to see all the book trailers and author interviews in one neat package, check out the Owls Well 2014 Summer Reading Playlist here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Thoughts from the Couch (Potato)

Well, this movie is good for only one thing: ROBOTS!
 
Why? Do you ask? Well, because…
 
ROBOTS ARE AWESOME!
 
If you want to see ROBOTS then definitely rent this film!
 
ROBOTS ARE AWESOME!
 
There’s some trifling love story and some blonde chick with long legs that provides some minimal eye candy but who cares about that? BRING ON THE ROBOTS, I SAY!
 
ROBOTS ARE AWESOME!
 
There aren’t any extras on the DVD (would have liked to see some behind the scenes action of the voice actors or even a blooper reel).
 
However, in lieu of more DVD extras, here’s a fun game you can play whilst watching the film:
 
How many Star Trek references can you find in this movie?
 
(I counted 6, but I’m sure there are more.)
 
So get your Trekkie/Trekker friends together with some popcorn for some home entertainment and remember…
 
ROBOTS ARE AWESOME!
Debs G recommends: Watch this with Pacific Rim for more Gundam Funtimes and the shrieking sound of metal scraping metal!

Escher Would be Proud

The one thing, and almost the only thing, that I hate about vacations is the packing. Here I am, ready to take a much needed stress relief break from work and I am never sure exactly what I want to bring with me.  That, and I can never figure out how to fold things to maximise the use of space in my suitcase.

Packing Pro.  Plug in the numbers and hope.

Packing Pro. Plug in the numbers and hope.

There are alot of online lists on stuff to bring on travel trips, but they’re never well catered for more than a week stay or assume far too many things about my lifestyle.  Currently, I’m using a little program called Packing Pro to help me with packing my suitcase.  While I find the expert help wizard somewhat useful, it really assumes far too much about my lifestyle and often suggests inappropriate things to bring[1].  Also, it doesn’t often take into account the reasons behind my trip and sometimes suggests inappropriately bulky and silly things to bring, like umbrellas and binoculars.

Thankfully, I now have one of those massively oversized American Tourister DC Superlites, which means that packing for me now consists of just lobbing clothes into the case and then sitting on it to zip it shut[2].  So, while I can stuff the suitcase with as much clothing as I’d like despite not knowing what clothing I might need.  The result is always the same:  I end up on the other side of the world from my home with something completely useless, like a Playstation 2, and missing some vital object needed to continue life, like my toothbrush.

Just fling everything in there and strap it down.  It'll be all right.

Just fling everything in there and strap it down. It’ll be all right.

Meanwhile, the Southern Boobook has figured out a way to distort the laws of space and time with his packing method by fitting more things in his tiny tiny tiny suitcase.

Seriously, I have no idea how he manages it because after reaching the destination, he unpacks the stuff he’s brought and then can’t fit it back in the suitcase again.  It’s insane.

After reaching Singapore, he unzipped it and all the clothes just burst out like that creature in Alien.

After reaching Singapore, he unzipped it and all the clothes just burst out like that creature in Alien.

I wish I could do that.


[1] Like suggesting that I bring 14 condoms on a 14-day trip to Singapore.

[2] My previous suitcase was a navy blue Samsonite lovingly nicknamed Gimpy for its broken wheel.  Gimpy was a very loyal suitcase and put up with my over-stuffing him all the time and my poor handling for many years until all his locks and handles gave way.  RIP Gimpy, you were too good for this sinful Earth.

The Identity Crisis: A My Safety ID Review (and giveaway!)

Not long ago, I made a Stupid Mistake.

The Barn Owl and I took the kids to Sentosa for an afternoon of playing in the soft sands of Palawan Beach. A few hours later, we were all covered in a fine layer of sand and sea salt, and it was time to towel off and change into dry clothes for the journey home. Whilst walking to the public changing rooms (which were some distance away), our family got separated when we encountered a large crowd of Japanese tourists and I quickly lost sight of the Barn Owl and Little E.

Here comes the part where I made the Stupid Mistake.

J and I got to the public changing rooms and I realised that the Barn Owl had J’s dry clothes in his haversack. I called the Barn Owl’s mobile phone and found that it was turned off, so I sent J into the Men’s Changing Rooms to look for him. After waiting outside the changing rooms for a while and getting no response from J, I figured that he must have found the Barn Owl and was busy getting changed…so I quickly hopped into the ladies bathroom to remove the elephant that was tap-dancing on my bladder.

I heard the Barn Owl hooting outside the bathroom, so I went out and had the following conversation with him consisting of the following phrases:

  1. Where’s J?
  2. Isn’t he with you?
  3. ARGH!

I cannot describe to you the feeling of absolute blind panic that completely descended upon us in that moment.

Fortunately, we were able to alert one of the Sentosa security staff members very quickly, and J was found within a few minutes.

Here’s the kicker – in the short time that J was missing, he’d retraced our steps from the public bathroom all the way back to the Sentosa Beach Bus Station, crying all the way. When the security staff picked him up, he was wandering up and down the Station, looking to see if we were queuing up for one of the buses.

Poor little guy!

After this harrowing experience, I have learned to give clearer instructions to J and Little E, and also designate a clear meeting place for us to wait for each other if we get separated for any reason. J and Little E also know to look for a responsible adult (such as a staff member in uniform and wearing an official name tag) if they ever get lost. Additionally, they are now in the habit of carrying our contact information with them wherever they go, in the form of safety ID wristbands given to us by Carrie-Ann of My Safety ID. Thanks, Carrie Ann!

Feeling secure with My Safety ID

Happily secure with My Safety ID wristbands and cuffs

Carrie-Ann, the mompreneur behind the online store My Safety ID, founded the company when she was looking for identity wristbands for her 4 year old son who had started going on excursions with his preschool. Like many parents, she was concerned that her child may get separated from his group by accident and not be able to convey their contact details accurately. The wristbands, cuffs and sports tags for helmets and shoes come in a variety of cool designs and colours, and there is not only room for emergency contact information, but also for pertinent medical alert information.

Child and Adult ID wristbands

Child and Adult ID wristbands

We took the wristbands and cuffs with us to our recent trip to Pembrokeshire, Wales. The wristbands are comfortable and latex-free, and the velcro allows for a customised fit that is very secure, allowing the bands to stay on during the high levels of activity associated with preschoolers. They are also 100% waterproof, keeping the hidden ID cards safe and dry, even when completely immersed in seawater.

Looking cool

Looking cool

The adult Sport ID version has a highly reflective 3M Scotchlight surface which is great for people who exercise outdoors in low-light conditions, and the band can also double up as a watch or heart rate monitor strap. And it looks pretty cool too! Imagine if you got matching wristbands for all the family – that would be so cute!

J really likes wearing his Child ID wristband in the Green Camo print, which makes him feel important ‘like a Real Soldier’. He was also excited about the idea that there was a special safety message hidden inside the wristband – it made him feel like a pirate, or a spy! It’s also big enough to be worn around the ankle!

For Little E, who still has that soft baby skin, I decided to choose the ‘Keep Me Safe Cuff in a Hello Kitty Print. This Child ID Cuff is slightly cheaper than the Child ID wristband, and is handmade from a nice soft, washable fabric which is very gentle on the skin. The cuff fastens securely with a simple and pretty pearly snap button, which Little E really liked.

The Keep Me Safe Cuff

Oooh, it’s the Keep Me Safe Cuff.

I’ll definitely be bringing these wristbands along with me when I take the kids to out to busy places! I can imagine that they will come in useful if we ever decide to make a trip back to Tokyo Disneyland, busy London or even on another day out at Sentosa.

Fortunately, J and Little E have not got any life-threatening allergies and do not suffer from any underlying medical conditions, but I imagine that these wristbands would make a great and much more fashionable alternative to medical alert bracelets, especially for children and adults who have difficulties communicating their needs.

You can find more Personal Identification products at My Safety ID.

A Little Something Extra for Owls Well Readers: Carrie-Ann from My Safety IDs is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of pair of Adult and Child Safety ID wristbands (worth up to SGD$60) to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! YAY!!!!

To take part in this giveaway:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook page.

2. Head over to the My Safety ID website and leave a comment below telling me which product and design most catches your eye. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook account name and email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you are really shy, you can email 4owlswell@gmail.com with your details separately.

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 30 July 2014. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 2 required steps!)

Edit: This Giveaway is now over and the winner has been emailed! Thanks for playing!

Homeschooling in Singapore

Ok Meimei, so the short answer to your question from last Friday is:

NO. Homeschooling is not very popular in Singapore.

This is for the following reasons:

  1. In most families, both parents will return to the workforce a few months after their children are born. This is a decision that is supported by our local government, which offers childcare and domestic helper subsidies, extra paid leave days as well as tax breaks for working mothers as well as additional paid leave and tax rebates for working fathers.
  2. The Singapore mainstream education system may be both rigorous and rigid, but it is affordable and effective. Children who attend school in Singapore will receive a reasonable level of literacy regardless of which school they do attend, in a safe and secure environment. I have yet to meet a Singaporean from the mainstream school who is unable to read, write and have a basic knowledge of math, science and local history.
  3. Most parents lack the skills to teach children and have no clue where to start. This is important especially considering that parents who intend to homeschool in Singapore must have approval from the Ministry of Education to do so, and this includes submitting a curriculum that meets the national standards. Children who are homeschooled must still reach the PSLE benchmarks.

That said, there are still plenty of homeschooling families in Singapore, and I think homeschooling is gaining popularity at a steady pace for these reasons:

  1. Homeschool creates a more sheltered and controlled learning environment for children to learn at their own pace. This is especially relevant for kids who have special learning requirements or interests.
  2. The teacher-student ratio in a homeschool is practically 1:1. It’s essentially full-time private tuition.
  3. Parents can be in charge of imparting values important to their family, without the taint of outside influences. This also means being able to choose like-minded homeschooling families to socialise with.

I have noticed that most parents who choose to homeschool have some form of teacher training or experience, but there are quite a few parents who are quite happy to learn on the job. Unlike myself, these parents all tend to be very patient, highly creative and extremely well-organised individuals.

There are also some local homeschooling moms whom I really admire and whose blogs I read on a regular basis:

1. Jus from Mum in the Making. I love the way she organises her lessons. For example, she is currently teaching her kids about the solar system, so she has drawn it all out on her chalkboard wall in the kitchen, and also had them working on crafts related to stars. Her personal weak point is in the Chinese language, so for that she’s clubbed together with some other homeschooling parents to form a chinese immersion study group!

2. Ka-ren from Mum’s Calling. She has a very holistic approach to learning, often taking her kids on field trips and creating teaching aids from everyday materials. My favourite posts are where she teaches math concepts by using a song and a couple of pot lids, and then brings the kids to the beach to count sand.

Personally, I do not feel that I can handle the pressure of being the sole educator for my children nor am I adequately equipped with the skills necessary to teach or formulate a cohesive curriculum. This is why I’m happy to outsource the teaching to the well-trained educators at J and Little E’s school.

However, I do like to supplement their formal school education with some home-based learning which doesn’t have to follow any fixed curriculum. I truly believe that this encourages autodidacticism, which should be the true goal of pedagogy. For my afterschool learning, I use a combination of excursions, books, online resources, and crafts – and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll give you some examples of how I use these learning methods to supplement J and Little E’s education.

Find out about the Singapore Ministry of Education Guidelines on Homeschooling here.

Find out more about the Homeschooling in Singapore here.

Post-Learning Celebration – MORE LEARNING

Hey Debs!

I TOTALLY PASSED BOTH MY CLASSES!

80% on both classes.  Distinctions for everyone!  HOORAY!

Now that I’m finished with my exams, I can spend some time relaxing, working on my own personal projects and engaging in the delicious frivolity of the Internet!

And guess what?  Crash Course has just released the first of the new episodes that constitute Season 2 of Crash Course World History and it totally mentions Singapore!  EEEEEEEEeeeeeeEEE!

Given the high quality of the teaching in the first season of the series, I am really looking forward to seeing John Green cover the history of non-European civilisations.  After all, what better way is there to celebrate the not needing to learn than with more learning?

Incidentally, I am highly intrigued with the recent trend of available online learning.  Homeschooling is not uncommon in Australia, particularly in the far away areas of the woopwoop[1], so I think that it’s good that materials are being made available for parents to teach their kids with.

Is homeschooling popular in Singapore?


[1] A highly technical term denoting a far away place in the middle of nowhere.