Water, water, everywhere (or Geography for Preschoolers)

You may have noticed that my posts have been quite sporadic over the last month, and the reason for this is because I have been working with Little E on her latest school holiday project on “Water”.

Little E really wanted to do an educational video series like J did, but she drew inspiration from BBC science and nature documentaries like Planet Earth.

This project was particularly difficult because the topic was just SO broad! I struggled to find an angle to approach this subject that was not already covered by Little E’s preschool teachers.

If I were to help Little E explore the various properties of water or find out about the water cycle or learn how to conserve water, that would be pretty straightforward for me – but it would also mean that Little E would not have anything new or different to share with her classmates when she presented her project…and she wouldn’t be learning anything new herself, so she would get bored.

So I decided to help Little E explore a field of study that is completely foreign to me, namely, geography.

GEOGRAPHY!!!!!

We do study some basic geography in Singapore at the primary and secondary school level, but physical geography – specifically, geomorphology and hydrology – is only studied in depth at the upper secondary school level as an elective subject, not as part of the core curriculum.

This meant that I had to actually do some reading, instead of relying on my own store of knowledge. After all, if I’m going to help Little E learn about water in the world, I have to learn about it myself first! So, the reason why I wasn’t writing in this blog is because I was reading about water and trying to translate the language of geography into kid-speak so that Little E could make her documentary.

In this video, Little E learns about bodies of water and their differing aspects! Enjoy!

If you are interested in some of the resources that I used for this video or if you are looking for resources to introduce your kid to the subject of Geography, here’s a list!


Water, Water Everywhere, What & Why? : Third Grade Science Books Series

The Drop in my Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet


Water Dance


Water Can Be . . . (Millbrook Picture Books)


Hydrology: The Study of Water (True Books: Earth Science (Paperback))

Oh Joy, EOFY

It’s the End of Financial Year, which means that it’s tax time!

Now, I’ve always liked filing my tax return, not because I’m an accountant[1], but mostly because it means that I get some money from the government and it’s nice to have some bonus money.

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MAKE IT RAAAAAAAIIIN!

However, this is my first year filing a joint tax return with the ATO, so my experience has not been great.  Normally, my taxes take maybe about 20 minutes to complete, give or take 10 minutes or so.  This is because I have a very organised tax system and I file all my payment slips neatly in a little box, which I only open to do taxes.  However, this year, I have had to sort through The Boobook’s tax receipts, and his filing system is like this:

For example, after I had submitted his tax return, he then gave me his health insurance information, so I had to amend his tax return.  Then, when I had submitted the amendment, he came back two days later with a few deductibles.  So, I had to file yet another amendment to the amendment in order to get his tax return.

Also, consider the following conversation that I had with the bank…

ABC:  So, how do I look up my taxable interest?

Bank Lady: Just log in and it should have a page that shows this year’s interest earned.

ABC:  Okay, but it doesn’t list how much tax was withheld on the interest.

Bank Lady: Oh, to do that, you just advise us of your tax file number.  Which you can do by doing <complicated instructions>.

ABC:  I just did that, and it says that I have already given you my tax file number.

Bank Lady: Oh, yes, if you gave us your tax file number, then we didn’t withhold any tax on your interest.

ABC:  WHAT?!  WHY?  Why don’t you do that?!  I mean tax withholding is what I gave you my tax file number for!

Bank Lady:  Oh, sometimes we don’t withhold tax from joint accounts.

ABC: HOW DOES THIS MAKE ANY SENSE?!

Bank Lady:  Well, since I’ve answered your question, I’m sure you are satisfied byebye now!

So, it’s taken me 2 weeks to file the taxes this year, and I’m feeling quite a lot like this:

Sometimes, doing the taxes really sucks.


[1] Okay, so a little because I’m an accounting graduate, but not in a weird way, okay?!

Expanding a child’s worldview: Part 2 (Understanding the needs of others)

As J and Little E get older, I have been trying to find new ways for them to understand their role and place in the world, so that they can grow to be socially responsible people.

They of course understand by now that they are not the centre of the known universe, and that there are people all over the world who lead vastly different lives, people who have been born into hardship. They are aware that there are people in this world who are denied basics that we take for granted – things like clean water, food, healthcare and education. However these are all big and abstract concepts for a small child to grasp, and the challenge I face is finding concrete ways of helping them to understand that every person can do something, no matter how small, to make the world better.

After watching the movie, Tomorrowland, the kids were ready for action, so we sat down with them to talk about the various ways that they could help other people in the world.

One of the things that they decided to do was pledge a portion of their Chinese New Year angpow money to helping alleviate poverty.

The Barn Owl and I decided that the best way for them to do this is by sponsoring a child through the World Vision Child Sponsorship Programme. I like this programme because it deals with the root of poverty in a community and works towards empowering them towards self-sufficiency. That is, the goal of the programme is to eventually see that the community achieves stability and financial independence.

My dear friend, Lyn, was the first person I knew who had successfully sponsored a child via this programme. The community which she supported for 11 years had become financially stable and World Vision was able to complete their work and leave the community on its own. During this time, she was able to watch her sponsored child grow up and graduate from school.

I thought that it would be amazing for our kids to grow up alongside their sponsored child, so what I had J and Little E do was to each choose a child to sponsor who was the same age as themselves. So, J is now sponsoring an 8 year old girl from Nepal whilst Little E is sponsoring a 5 year old girl from Sri Lanka.

Once the kids chose a child to sponsor, they were each sent a picture folder of the child and a profile of the community where this child lives. I showed them where their sponsored child lives on a world map, and some videos depicting life in those communities. Then I encouraged them to write letters of introduction to their sponsored child.

I asked J and Little E if they would like to send any small gifts along with their letters and they had plenty of brilliant ideas. At first, they wanted to send things like food, baby panadol, soap, shoes and water filters. World Vision doesn’t allow any items that cannot be flat packed into a single A4-sized envelope, so we had to be more thoughtful.

We decided to send some paper dolls for the girls to play with. There are tons of printable paper dolls on the internet, but I didn’t want to send them any light-haired and light-eyed princess dolls (for obvious reasons).

I was over the moon when I stumbled across these gorgeous Princess Tiana “The Princess and the Frog” paper dolls by artist Cory Jensen which come with a large array of gorgeous dresses and accessories! Hooray!

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Yes, I painstakingly cut them out too

We also included a set of ‘plain’ paper dolls for the girls to colour in and cut out themselves, a set of colour pencils with a pencil sharpener, stickers and pretty hairclips, and wrapped all of these up inside a clear plastic A4 envelope to protect them in case the parcel gets wet during delivery!

I hope the little girls like their gifts – and I hope J and Little E will become more socially aware through interacting with their new penpals!

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A special parcel for some special little girls

If you’d like to sponsor a child or make a donation to World Vision, click here.

Download the Princess Tiana Paper dolls by Cory Jensen here

Download the “I am a Princess” Paper Doll colouring page by Cory Jensen here

Expanding a child’s worldview : Part 1 Inspire Them (or Tomorrowland 2015 – A Spoiler Free movie review)

There are so many movies around now that revolve around a dystopian future or cynical view of the ugliness that surrounds us in the world.

While I think it’s necessary to jolt people out of their comfort zone by exposing the problems in our society, most of these movies hardly ever show us a solution, and I quite often leave the cinema feeling disillusioned, thinking that all efforts to reduce worldsuck are pathetic and completely futile. All the complaining and finger-pointing about how terrible things are and who is responsible for it, well, I think that it accomplishes nothing except to add to the hate and negativity that is already out there.

If we want our society to improve, we have to act in whatever way we can, not just stand on a soapbox and scold.

It’s very rare to come across a movie that focusses on the possibility of making an effective, positive change to our world. Which is why Tomorrowland has got to be the best film that I watched last year. The movie brings a very important message: that it is possible to make a real and lasting difference to our society by finding out how things work and then persistently making efforts to improve humanity.

Everyday is the opportunity for a better tomorrow – Tomorrowland (2015)

Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie yet, you really should, because it is awesome. After watching it, you should show it to your kids, because if there is any movie that galvanises a child to action, this is it. After watching this movie, J and Little E were ready to go out and change the world.

During this beautiful movie, a teenaged optimist and a mysterious young girl work together to drag a jaded, world-weary grownup out of his rut in order to save the world. The movie is chock-a-block full of thrilling action sequences, some of which involve instant disintegration so if you have a particularly sensitive child, it can be a little scary.

I felt a personal emotional connection to the characters in the film and their journey, and I am not ashamed to say that our entire family (the Barn Owl included) were in tears before the end!

The kids loved this movie so much that they even insisted on making it into the theme for their birthday party this year! More about this in another post, I promise.

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The front of their birthday invitation card

For now, just enjoy the trailer – and watch the movie! You won’t regret it, honest.

P.S. Buyer’s note: We bought our copy of Tomorrowland from Amazon here.

Is there a movie, book or TV show that inspired you or your children to act positively to change society? Share it with me in the comments!

Soundscapes and school projects

One of the things that I like best about J and Little E’s kindergarten is that the school encourages the kids to do some independent project work during the school holidays. The topic for the project is usually something very broad and very simple, which allows a lot of scope for learning and discovery.

I usually like to ask the kids what they would like to do for their school project and see what sort of ideas they will come up with. Sometimes, I get the Outlaws to help out because both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are involved in early childhood education, so they have loads of ideas for helping preschoolers to learn through play and hands on activities.

You may remember J’s school holiday projects that I have shared on this blog before. He did one on climbing plants and one on movie-making.

Last year, Little E’s school holiday project was on the topic of ‘Sound’.

There are a ton of really cool crafts where one can make musical instruments using recycled materials found around the house, as well as simple science experiments to demonstrate the properties of sound and I was sure that we’d be bringing a rubber band ukulele to her classroom at the end of the holiday.

As always, I underestimate my kids.

Little E wanted to do something a little different, and was inspired by a short film that we had watched together during a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Japan. That film was called ‘House Hunting’ and it was a cartoon where all the sound effects were voiced by two actors using Japanese onomatopoeic sounds. She also took inspiration from the popular American Public Radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, during which there is a popular ‘SFX’ segment which has to be heard to be believed!

In a nutshell, Little E wanted to produce her own little show where she was the foley artist and sound designer!

We decided to do something simple and take our audience on a sound journey to the park.

To start off, we took what Little E called a ‘sound walk’ which is basically a walk where everybody is silent, the better to hear the world around them.

As you may imagine, this was quite a challenge for my normally talkative little 4 year old! Surprisingly, she was very attentive, and at the end she sat down with the Outlaws and together, they wrote down a list various noises that they heard on their walk.

Little E then tried her best to reproduce each of those noises for the video and I have to say that the result is pretty good!

I was very impressed with the layers of sounds that she insisted on making for each frame of the video, from the soft padding of footsteps to the whirring of the cicadas in the trees. It just goes to show how much a small child notices about the world around her, given the chance!

P.S. Little E did an even more ambitious holiday project this year, so watch this space!

Debs G Baking Challenge: Mr Fox’s Foolproof Blueberry Cobbler

HA HA! I have successfully completed one of the Challenges that A Becky C gave me earlier this year! And it is delicious. And everybody loved it!

Blueberry Cobbler is what I would consider an idiot proof dessert.

Why do I consider this idiot proof?

Because it was the dessert that my good friend Mr Fox1 made when he visited me during his Tour of Europe.

At the time, I was a medical student living in a rented ramshackle hut. The kitchen had a linoleum floor from the 1950s that was only partially in our plane of existence. We had no baking equipment except a malfunctioning oven which you had to light by turning on the gas and then sticking your head into the oven with a burning taper.

Dangerous? Yes!

Did that deter Mr Fox? No!

Mr Fox coolly bought some blueberries from the market, and then magically produced this amazing dessert which my starving housemates and I demolished in a matter of seconds. That guy is Fantastic.

I’ve tweaked his recipe a little bit to make it more child-friendly (and by that, I mean, it is a low sugar version), and I think it turned out pretty well! I’ve also added additional Thermomix instructions at the end of the recipe for those of you who own magic self-stirring pots.

Mr Fox’s Foolproof Blueberry Cobbler Recipe

Ingredients:

  1. 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  2. ½ cup sugar
  3. 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  4. ¾ cup whole milk
  5. ⅓ cup softened butter
  6. 2 cups blueberries
  7. 1 tsp vanilla extract

(note: You can increase the amount of blueberries if you like!)

blueberry-cobbler-recipe

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the vanilla extract and set aside.
  3. Add the rest of the sugar, floor, baking powder, milk and butter together and mix until smooth
  4. Pour batter into an ovenproof dish. I used an 8″ square casserole dish.
  5. Sprinkle the blueberries over the top
  6. Sprinkle the sugar and vanilla extract mixture over the top
  7. Bake at 170°C for 45minutes
  8. Enjoy on it’s own or with vanilla icecream (or custard!)

blueberry-cobbler-delicious-dessert

Extra Thermomix instructions for the batter:

  1. Soften butter at 50°C at Speed 2 for 3 minutes
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients as detailed in the method above and blend for 10 seconds on Speed 6

1. Mr Fox is so named because of his true name, his ruddy red locks and his ‘Auntie Killer’ personality. He is a multilingual lawyer who runs marathons, helps inner city youth on his days off and bakes delicious blueberry cobbler, so yeah, he is Fantastic. I’d introduce him to all you single ladies out there, but unfortunately, he has only recently married a very handsome veterinary doctor.

Book Series that we love (Chapter books): Extraordinary Losers

Over here at Owls Well, we have a soft spot for homegrown Singaporean authors and I am so glad to tell you all about the Extraordinary Losers chapter book series by Jessica Alejandro! These are good entry-level chapter books for encouraging reluctant readers who are looking to graduate from Early Reader books but need some pictures to break up the wall of words.

This book series follows the adventures of four primary school kids, Darryl De, Janice, Mundi and Clandestino, each of whom are considered class misfits for various shallow physical reasons (e.g. too ugly, too messy, too fat, too Indian etc). However, they also have incredible hidden talents that are overlooked by their peers who often underestimate their abilities. Fuelled by courage and junk food, the four kids find themselves banding together to solve mysteries within their school and find their self-worth, whilst dealing with the problems of class bullies, cyber-predators and of course, the all-encompassing villain of Primary School life, the dreaded PSLE!

I really appreciate the straightforward way that the book deals with bullying and being unique, encouraging the reader to look for the extraordinary gifts that lie within themselves instead of striving for conformity.

Right now, there are four books in the series (you can check out the titles in the picture above), and they are pretty engaging to read. The book also features funny illustrations by artist Cherryn Yap, as well as the occasional hand-scrawled cheeky poem by the book’s main POV character, Darryl De.

I have been told that the book series has gotten so popular that our local kid’s channel, Okto, is now looking to cast actors and actresses for an ExLosers TV series!

Open auditions are this Sunday 3rd July 2016 from 11am -6pm (registration closes at 4pm), so if you’ve got a budding thespian on your hands (or if you know one), do bring them along to the Suntec Convention Centre Level 3 Concourse.

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A extraspecial surprise for Owls Well Readers: The fine folk over at Bubbly Books have kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of the full set of Extraordinary Losers books by Jessica Alejandro to ONE lucky Owls Well reader! Thanks Bubbly Books!

To take part in this giveaway please complete the following:

  1. Leave me a comment below telling me about an extraordinary talent that you have (or your child has) that is often overlooked or underappreciated or how you personally dealt with bullying in school – don’t forget to include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)
  2. For extra entries, share this post on any social media platform and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes on 15 July 2016. Winners will be picked via Random.org.)

Buyer’s note: I received a set of the Extraordinary Losers books from Bubbly Books for this review. If you’d like to get the books for an extraordinary kid in your like, you can find Extraordinary Losers and other books by local authors here.

For more news and information about the Extraordinary Losers books, check out their Facebook page here.