EpicQuestINK – a creative writing workshop by Monsters Under The Bed

When I was 11 years old, I was invited to take part in a programme which offered college-level summer courses for children in a variety of disciplines. At the time, being a math nerd, I really wanted to take a course in calculus, but my father persuaded me to take on a creative writing programme instead, reasoning that it was a subject rarely taught in formal education, at least at the pre-tertiary level. I have never regretted following his advice as that three week programme was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life.

In my opinion, creative writing is a highly underrated field of study. Creative writing not only improves literacy by strengthening grammar and vocabulary whilst encouraging a love of literature, but also encourages the writer to exercise his or her imagination and examine a narrative from different perspectives. This means learning to think critically, learning to plan carefully, learning to communicate effectively and learning to empathise with other people, all of which are skills that will be useful to any child or adult.

And…it’s fun to make up stories.

This is why, when Monsters Under The Bed invited J to attend their EpicQuestINK creative writing camp at The Arts House over the March school holidays, I was really happy and excited for him to have this wonderful opportunity!

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

Monsters Under The Bed is a writing school founded and taught by professional, published writers. During the year, they run both regular weekly in-house classes in both creative writing and expository writing for students (and adults) as well as holiday creative writing camp for 7-12 year olds known as INK (Imagination & Knowledge) workshops.

The INK workshops all have different themes which are not repeated in order to ensure a unique experience each time, and the trainers use a combination of roleplaying, group discussions and writing exercises to get the kids involved and passionate about their own stories.

The theme of EpicQuestINK was based around Greek myths and legends, a subject that J is familiar with, and the focus of the workshop was aimed at teaching the kids how to utilise the concept of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”, in order to formulate a complete and comprehensive narrative. Through the age-old stories of heroes like Heracles, Theseus and Perseus and their battles with fantastical creatures like gorgons and minotaurs, the kids would be inspired to formulate their own protagonists and antagonists as well.

Sounds complex, right?

One of the first rules of the INK workshops is that the trainers do not try to revise or over-simplify the subject matter just for young children. They feel that by doing so, they would be lowering both reading and intellectual standards. Instead, they work alongside the kids, guiding them towards understanding the topics, thereby helping to stimulate and open up their young minds.

In fact, preparation for the holiday course began long before the first day of the course. Imagine my surprise when J received an email about one week before the start of the course, addressed to “Titans and young Mubster Agents” and inviting him to “ascend Mount Olympus” with his “modern stylus and wax tablets”. Needless to say, he was immediately intrigued and asked me if he had to bring special shoes for climbing!

The email was accompanied by this video:

as well as four pages of very beautifully written preparatory reading material (to be read together with a parent, of course) consisting an overview of the Hero’s Journey as well as some questions to get J thinking deeply about his own personal experiences and how to apply this personal knowledge into his stories. By the time the first day of the workshop rolled around, J was already brimming with excitement and ready to learn!

At the start of the first day, the children were shown a Percy Jackson video clip. The chief trainer then proceeded to give a brief college-level lecture on Greek Epic Poetry complete with powerpoint slides and quotations from Homer’s Odyssey.

To my utter surprise, the main speaker was not only able to engage a large group of primary school children who were completely mesmerised by him, but he also held the attention of 4 year old Little E who was sitting in the back with me (parents are allowed and encouraged to sit in to observe the workshop at the back).

After the lecture, the class then split into small groups by age and writing ability. The trainers who managed each small group began to lead the children into avid discourse on the topic and it was clear that they were very quickly able to encourage the children to share their thoughts and ideas. By the end of the day’s session, I noticed that even the most shy child in J’s group was actively involved and freely participating in discussion. What sorcery is this?!

In fact, after the class that day, J was able to tell me all about the different stages of the hero’s journey from “the call to adventure” to “receiving a boon” to “completing trials”, as well as examples of each that he had personally dreamed up during the small group discussion. He could barely wait to return to the workshop the next day!

On the second day of the course, the kids were encouraged to come dressed as a hero or villain as Monsters Under The Bed often incorporates a little bit of roleplaying and dramatisation into their workshops, which is not only fun for everyone but also helps when considering character development in creative writing.

As you can see from the picture below, J is dressed as The Dreadful Pirate Dread, whose scarred face is the scourge of the icy seas, especially after he successfully burgled Captain America and now carries the iconic shield as a trophy. (Little E is wearing her ladybird bug hat – she just wanted to show solidarity for her big brother.)

The 2nd and 3rd day of EpicQuestINK

J participating in the group discussion and dressing up on the 2nd of EpicQuestINK

When J returned home at the end of the last day of the course, he had completed a three page short story (involving the first day at school, a fire-breathing school principal and a tiny Pegasus that you can keep in a backpack) on which which his trainer had written some useful comments and tips for further improvement. He was so excited about his work, that once he got home, he insisted on revising the story one more time in order to take into consideration the advice given by his trainer. He even woke up extra early in the morning and when I got up at 6am, I found him labouriously copying his final version of the short story into a blank book.

Since then, J has even started writing another short story entirely of his own accord during his free time, using the methods taught during the EpicQuestINK Workshop. I was surprised when he sat down and wrote out character sketches, a plot outline and then afterwards, drafted out a complete story, all of his own accord. Not bad for a 7 year old kid, I think!

By the way, Monsters Under the Bed has already released their line up of INK workshops for the rest of the year:

SurviveINK

Date: 3 – 5 June 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

Spell CraftINK

Date: 7 – 9 September 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

The HowlINK

Date: 23 – 25 November 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

INK to the Void

Date: 14 – 16 December 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

You can register for the workshops online or contact Monsters Under The Bed at +65 6100 4363 or via email to riza@mutb.com.sg. Also, do check out their Facebook page for more information on their previous INK workshops as well as their blog which is chock-a-block full of great writing tips!

As you can tell from J’s response to the workshop as well as the comment he wrote on the EpicQuestINK poster (which you can see at the top of this post), he thoroughly enjoyed himself and has since been asking me if he will be able to attend another INK workshop in the future!

Big, BIG thanks you to Monsters Under the Bed for inviting J to EpicQuestINK – J thanks you for the EPIC experience and hopes he will be able to be back for SurviveINK in June 2015 for more inspirational creative writing fun!

P.S. Check out these reviews by Life’s Tiny Miracles and Tan Family Chronicles on previous INK workshops!

Enrichment classes for kids – 6 tips for making a good selection

We like to keep busy - but not too busy!

We like to keep busy – but not too busy!

There’s a plethora of enrichment classes available for children in Singapore and a temptation in Singapore to cram as many activities into a child’s weekly schedule as possible. I think it is very easy to get carried away when choosing enrichment classes because of our innate desire as parents to provide as many opportunities as possible for our children to learn, grow and become well-rounded individuals.

However, I believe that it is important for my children to have some free time because not only can they relax during this time but it also gives them a chance to develop their imagination and creativity. Children who have free time will learn to keep themselves gainfully and meaningfully occupied. They will rarely complain of boredom as they are not dependant on someone or something else to entertain them every second of the day.

This is why the Barn Owl and I are very selective when it comes to deciding what sort of classes and activities that J and Little E attend regularly outside of school. So here’s our decision-making process:

1. The activity has to fulfil more than one possible function

At the moment, the kind of enrichment classes that are available to J and Little E fall under the following disciplines:

  1. Sports and physical development (e.g. swimming, gymnastics, football)
  2. Aesthetic (e.g. art, music, dance, drama)
  3. Academic (e.g. phonics, abacus, language immersion)
  4. Life skills (e.g. first aid, cooking, computer literacy)

We like to choose activities that tend to fall into more than one of the above categories.

As soon as both J and Little E have been consistently able to follow instructions, we have taken them for swimming lessons. This is because we consider swimming and water safety as an important life skill, especially in Singapore where there are open swimming pools, reservoirs, fountains and canals everywhere. It is also a sporty activity from which they can get plenty of exercise and there is opportunity for them to swim competitively if they have the inclination.

2. Enrichment classes should help develop character weaknesses or encourage personal strengths and interests.

When I was in primary school, I tended to skulk about in corners and mumble when spoken to. My parents wanted me to be more certain of myself, so I was packed off to speech and drama lessons for a few years. This helped me to develop stage presence which is a very handy thing to have, not just for giving presentations or managing the occasional job interview, but on a daily basis. It was especially useful when I was still active in the field of medicine where one has to communicate well and command respect and attention from patients and families.

We want J and Little E to be confident individuals who carry themselves well and are not afraid to express themselves in public. However, we also want them to be self-controlled and disciplined. With this in mind, we allowed J to learn martial arts and enrolled Little E in ballet lessons as both of them have expressed an interest in these specific fields.

For J, learning wushu is less about self-defence and more about wushu as a performing art or competitive sport. Additionally, he gets a chance to practice his mandarin with other children during the class, and stimulate his interest in Chinese culture. He is a very active little boy so wushu is a great physical outlet that enhances his natural hand-eye coordination skills, and helps him to build confidence whilst developing much-needed self-discipline and emotional control. This is pretty much same for Little E, who is really enjoying her ballet classes. Dance is both a performing art and a sport, a gateway to other forms of dance and self-expression. We have been told that ballet gives a good foundation in self-discipline, musicality and personal poise!

3. The lessons do not repeat what is taught as part of the school curriculum.

Now, there are plenty of programmes out there intent on hothousing young minds and pushing their academic standards beyond that of the regular school curriculum. The Barn Owl and I do not see the point of sending our children for these programmes for the following reasons:

  • We believe that in order to cultivate a lifelong desire to learn, children need to be encouraged to seek out information independently and not have it constantly forced into them from outside sources. If we find that our children are particularly interested in an academic subject or they want to understand more about a topic that is not covered in the school curriculum, then we would prefer that they do their own study and research. We support their search for knowledge by providing access to reference texts and DVDs, finding appropriate online learning resources, and bringing them to the public library.
  • We think that the current school curriculum is more than adequate and there is no need for our children to attend hothouse classes in order to be ahead of the school’s set lesson plan. It would be a foolish waste of our children’s precious time to sit through the same lesson twice. If we personally felt that the school curriculum is lacking and that our children would receive a better education via hothouse programmes, then we would not bother wasting time sending them to school.

4. The lessons cannot be taught by ourselves at home.

We would only consider sending our children for academic-related classes if they were struggling to keep up with the school curriculum and need extra help which neither the Barn Owl nor myself can provide.

Both J and Little E attend after-school mandarin classes regularly as our ability to encourage them in this area is extremely limited [1]. However, we tried our best to find a mandarin class that encourages and maintains their interest in learning and using mandarin, without too much emphasis on scholastic achievement. In the end, it is more important to us that they develop a love and appreciation of the language than achieve top marks in class.

There are other classes in the realm of aesthetics and sports, such as art and craft or badminton, which the Barn Owl and I can teach them as part of our family recreational time, so we do not feel the need to send them for formal lessons on a regular basis. However, if our kids happen to show an aptitude in one of these areas that is beyond our ability to nurture, then I suppose we would consider hiring a coach or a tutor who is formally trained to guide and mentor such budding genius!

5. The activities do not infringe on family time.

Family time is precious and we guard it very jealously. Evenings and weekends when the Barn Owl is likely to be home from work and we are together as a family are very strictly out-of-bounds so the children are not allowed to attend classes during these times.

The only exception we have made to this rule is for swimming lessons, which are on Sunday afternoons. All of us will head to the swimming pool together for an afternoon of splashing and playing before and after the actual lesson, so the lesson itself doesn’t affect our family time in the slightest.

6. The ultimate goal of the activity is to instil lifelong hobby or interest.

I know that there are many parents in Singapore who have already sent their preschoolers for coaching in sports and activities like football, badminton and chess, in the hope that they will eventually be selected to join school teams and gain entry into elite schools! This is NOT our goal for J and Little E.

We like to choose activities that will have longevity, and it is even better if the hobby can not only be enjoyed on an individual basis but also as part of a group or team.

J is currently learning the violin, which is an instrument that can be played solo as well as as part of an ensemble. Violin is also a small portable instrument that he can take anywhere in the world with him. Although learning an instrument is difficult (and occasionally stressful), we hope he will grow to love it and see the violin as an extension of himself and a vehicle for creative expression.

We have also decided not to send our kids for classes in sports that are only team-based (such as football) or require more than one person in order to play (such as  badminton or tennis). Although it’s good for children to learn teamwork and good sportsmanship, we do not think it is necessary for them to receive formal coaching in a team sport – we will probably encourage them to join their school clubs or recreation clubs instead.

Update: Oh, and I nearly forgot! Here’s one more additional piece of advice:

Know when to stop.

For some enrichment classes, there may come a point where it is clear that your child is no longer making any progress. This may be for any of the following reasons:

1. The limiting factor for advancement in the class is dependant on the developmental stage of the child.

When J was 6 months old, we started baby swim lessons, which he really enjoyed. However, after a year, we realised that for a whole term, he did not make any progress because he was limited by his ability to follow verbal instructions. So we decided to cease swim lessons and restart them when he was older.

2. The class no longer appears to achieve its purpose/has completely achieved its purpose.

We used to send J for mandarin speech and drama lessons, in the hope that it would encourage him to be more confident in speaking mandarin. At first, we saw a dramatic improvement in his willingness to speak mandarin and engage with his Chinese teacher in school, and at the end of year class performance, we were proud to see J happily singing chinese songs and reciting chinese poetry together with his classmates.

However, at the end of his second year in the class, we observed that at the end of year class performance, even though the overall standard of the performance was higher than that of the previous year, only a small handful of children was given a speaking role, whilst the rest of the class repeated the same four word phrase over and over again. We knew then that the class has exhausted its ability to nurture J further, so we decided to enrol him in a different Chinese school.

3. The class makes the child miserable.

I used to enjoy ballet lessons as a child, until my ballet teacher told me that my legs were ‘too crooked’. This comment was not meant to encourage me to improve my posture or leg position, but was a criticism of my actual bone structure, which is something that I knew I could not change. The criticism from my beloved teacher hurt me so badly that I began to drag my feet to class. Fortunately, my parents were perceptive enough to understand that my reluctance to attend ballet lessons did not stem from laziness or lack of tenacity. They stopped the lessons and did not force me to continue learning dance, even under a different teacher as they recognised the negative impact that the classes were having on my psyche.

There is no point in continuing a class that has an overall negative effect on a child. Even though a child may appear to excel in that discipline, if he or she despises the subject and derives no joy from it, not even the satisfaction of achievement, then being forced to continue will bring no long-lasting benefit. It is pretty clear when a child is only doing something to please his or her parents and for no other reason.


[1] Barn Owl is British and his mandarin vocabulary is one (he can say “pain” in mandarin), and I only speak Windmill Chinese.

Crazy Hat Day: Paper Pirate Hat

Although J isn’t having a Crazy Hat Day at his school, he really wanted to make his own paper hat as well, after seeing Little E’s ladybird bug hat. Since he’s been reading some pirate-related literature (namely, How to Train Your Dragon: How to be a Pirate and Pirates from the Horrible Histories series), he decided that he wanted to make a pirate hat!

Here’s how we did it –

Materials:

  1. Black construction paper (we used 2 sheets of A3 art block, painted black)
  2. White paper
  3. Glue or sticky tape (we used PVC glue)
  4. Scissors
  5. Pencil
  6. (Optional) Clothes pegs
  7. (Optional) Black marker
  8. (Optional) Feathers, cloth strips, sequins

Instructions:

pirate-hat-paper

1. From each sheet of black paper, cut out a 1.5-2 inch strip of paper from the longest edge of the paper and tape this together to make a circular hatband. Adjust this to fit your child’s head.

2. Cut out the shape of the pirate hat from the two sheets of black paper.

3. Using glue or tape, fix the front and back of the pirate hat to the hatband. We used a dab of PVC glue and clothes pegs to hold the hat band in position.

4. Glue or tape the two left and right edges of the pirate hat together. Again, we used PVC glue and clothes pegs for this.

5. On a sheet of white paper, get your child to sketch out the following shapes: four hearts, two long rectangles, one large semicircle and one small semicircle. These will form the skull and cross bones on the pirate hat. On the flat sides of the semi- circles, draw four or five squares or rectangles (to represent the teeth of the skull).

skull-crossbones-pirate-hat-paper

6. Using scissors, cut out the shapes from the white paper and assemble them as shown in the picture above to form the skull and crossbones.

7. You can draw eyes in the skull using black marker or cut two holes out of the skull using scissors.

8. Glue the skull and crossbones to the front of the hat.

9. If your pirate is a bit of a dandy, you can decorate the pirate hat with feathers, sequins or strips of coloured cloth!

10. Practice your best pirate voice! ARRRRRRR!

 

 

International TableTop Day is coming!

tabletopday_logoInternational TableTop Day is this weekend on the 11th April 2015!

Woohoo!

We here at the Owls Well branch in Singapore are big fans of boardgames – it’s such a great way to get all the family together and focussed on one activity. Quality time rocks!

J and Little E love playing games with us so much that we made a series of videos last year showing how preschoolers can enjoy playing strategy games together with mum and dad. J wants every family to play games together.

So here’s some fun videos of us playing our top 3 favourite games of 2014, hosted by J!

If you would like to join in International Tabletop Day and find out more about some awesome games, you can join in these events that will be happening around Singapore this Saturday! Everyone is welcome and you can even bring your own games along (but you probably need to RSVP to the links so that they know how many chairs to put out).

1. Games @ PI, International Tabletop Day Weekend

Organiser: Kenneth@pi.com.sg

Time: April 11 and 12, 2015, at 12:00pm

Venue: PI, 220 Orchard Road, #03-01, Midpoint Orchard, Singapore, 238852, SG

2.  Tabletop Interest Group@Kampong Kembangan Community Club – International TableTop Day

Organiser: Raymond Chan

Time: April 11, 2015 12:00pm

Venue: Kampong Kembangan Community Club, 5 Lengkong Tiga, Singapore, 417408, SG

P.S. We bought Forbidden Island and Munchkin Deluxe off Amazon (but those games are not eligible for international delivery anymore) and Castle Panic from My First Games. I highly recommend checking out My First Games, which is run by my mumpreneur friend, Pamela of Tan Family Chronicles! She has a great selection of games for all ages which are also very competitively priced and you can get all the games featured in our videos from her.

Crazy Hat Day: Paper Ladybird Bug Hat

Little E’s nursery school occasionally has dress-up days where kids come to class wearing something that they have created themselves at home. This year, the school has decided to have a Crazy Hat Day, so we decided to make a Ladybird Bug Hat from paper!

Here’s how we made it:

Materials:

  1. Red construction paper (we used an A3 and an A4 sheet of paper)
  2. Black construction paper (we didn’t have any at home so Little E painted an A3 sheet of art block instead)
  3. White paper
  4. Ruler
  5. Pencil
  6. Scissors
  7. Sticky tape and/or glue (we used a combination of red washi tape and PVC glue)
  8. (Optional) Clothes pegs
  9. (Optional) Black pipe cleaners

Instructions:

paper-ladybird-hat

1. Using a ruler and pencil mark draw a line lengthwise across the bottom of the red construction paper(s) about 1.5-2 inches wide. This will form the hatband that goes around the head, so if it is not long enough, you can add more sheets of paper as necessary and just sticky tape them together.

2. Using the ruler and pencil, mark out strips breadthwise about 1.5-2 inches wide across the whole sheet of paper.

3. Using scissors, cut along the strips, stopping at the lengthwise lines at the bottom. I let Little E cut these herself as it doesn’t really matter if the strips are a little bit crooked or jagged.

4. Tape the red construction paper together at the ends to form the hatband and adjust it to fit your child’s head.

ladybird-paper-hat-how5. Pull the strips of red construction paper across to the other side of the hatband and fix the ends to the hatband with tape or glue (we used red washi tape for this). The strips should overlap each other and it doesn’t really matter if the strips are fixed to the inside or outside edge of the hatband. Once you are done, you should end up with a dome-shaped hat.

6. From the black construction paper, cut out a large semi-circle, some small round circles (as the spots on the ladybird – we decided to make six round circles but you can have as many or as few as you want) and six thick rectangular strips about 1-1.5 inches in width and at least 5 inches long.

7. From white paper, cut out 2 small shapes – these will form the eyes of the ladybird bug so you can make them any shape you fancy. We decided to go with semi-circles.

ladybug-hat-paper-how-to

8. If you have black pipe cleaners you can use them as the feelers (and legs, if you wish) of the ladybird bug. We didn’t have any on hand, so we cut out two extra-thin strips of black paper, and I curled them using the scissors.

9. Assemble the head and legs of the ladybird bug using tape or glue. For the legs, we looped the six thick strips rectangular paper in half and fixed them with a dab of glue, but double sided sticky tape would do just as well.

10. Fix the head of the ladybird bug to the front of the hat using tape or glue. We used PVC glue for this and held it together with clothes pegs until the glue dried.

11. Glue or tape the black spots onto the top of the ladybird bug in any pattern you wish.

ladybird-bug-paper-hat-crazy12. Finally, make the legs of the ladybird bug by folding a crease about half an inch thick at the flat end of the loops.

13. Using a glue or tape, fix the legs of the ladybird bug to the inside of the hatband, three on each side. We used glue and clothes pegs to hold the legs in place until the glue dried.

Little E is ready for Crazy Hat Day

Little E is ready for Crazy Hat Day

It turned out a lot better than I expected, considering that the actual construction of the hat was done entirely by 4 year old Little E!

You can probably modify this hat to form different little bugs – for example, yellow and black paper to make a bumblebee!

You know what day it is? It’s Wednesday! (A Day In A Life Blog Train)

6 o’clock in the morning and I’m just in a middle of a dream, when my phone alarm reminds me that it’s time to get up for another school day.

The Barn Owl is already up and I can hear him clanking around making his sandwiches in the kitchen. I waddle down the corridor, stopping to open the door to the children’s room and turn on their room light.

The Morning Routine

The Morning Routine

In the kitchen, the Barn Owl has already put the kettle on the boil, so I tip some hot water out into two mugs, just enough to dissolve a packet of 3-in-1 Milo powder. I top the rest of the mugs up with cold fresh milk, give them a quick stir and deliver the drinks to the two zombies who are making moaning sounds in their bedroom.

I used to try to convince them to worry down some breakfast as well, but it seems that their little tummies aren’t awake at this ungodly hour of the morning and they would rather have a few more minutes sleeping instead of blinking uncomprehendingly at their bowls of soggy cereal.

Whilst the kids are getting themselves ready, I quickly get washed and dressed for the day, then I prepare their water bottles and school snacks before dumping a load of laundry in the washing machine.

Now, I get a few moments to have a quick breakfast and check my email. This is usually a glass of juice, taken in front of the computer.

The kids are now dressed and whilst J brushes his teeth, I do Little E’s hair. Today, Little E wants to wear a special hair bow that was given to her by one of the little boys in school to show him how much she likes it. When her hair is done, she flounces off to clean her teeth.

By now it is around 6:30am and everybody bundles into the car.

First, I drop J off at school just before 7am, and then the Barn Owl gets off at the nearby MRT station. It’s still too early for Little E to go to school, so I stop by the Aged Ps house for breakfast.

Little E takes her breakfast at school, so during this time, she sits next to me as I eat and either looks at a book or does some art-related activity. This week, she is working on a personal project – to weave a blanket for one of her stuffed animals.

I send Little E off to school at 8am, then head home to do some light housework – laundry, cleaning floors, general tidying and doing whatever washing up is leftover from the morning. I do miss the days before Little E started nursery school, but I cherish the time I have to myself. In any case with Baby #3 on the way, I have some extra tasks to complete which I can get done much quicker without the older kids around to distract me. Today, it’s time to get the infant carseats out of storage and get them cleaned up.

I try to finish all my chores by 10am, so that I have an hour to myself. I’ve been getting very tired lately and if I want to be in a good mood this afternoon, I have to make sure that I rest for a short while in the morning. I’m going to read an old book by the pool downstairs.

Little E's after-school personal project

Little E’s after-school personal project

At 11:30, I pick Little E up from school and head to the Aged P’s house. Little E changes out of her school clothes and washes her hands before sitting down for lunch.

After lunch, she does a little bit more of her weaving, then practices her penmanship – at the moment, I write out sight words for her and she copies them. I have to leave around 1pm to collect J from school, so I pick out a few books for her to read together with the Aged P.

When J and I get back to the Aged Ps house, Little E has successfully put the Aged P to sleep and is playing with Duplos on the floor. J washes his hands and sits down to lunch. He usually takes his time over lunch because he chats with Little E at the same time, so by the time he is done it is nearly 2:30pm and we need to rush home for violin lessons.

At home, Little E goes straight to her room for her afternoon nap, and J gets his violin out and runs through his music before the violin tutor comes. Whilst J is having his lesson, I start preparing the ingredients for dinner.

Once J is done with his violin lesson, he takes a short break and then sits down to complete any homework assigned by his schoolteachers. I try not to hover around him, but I’m nearby in case he needs help. When he’s done, it’s time to wake Little E up from her nap.

The two of them have a cup of milk (or Milo, depending on their mood) each, and then they play together until dinnertime. Before dinner, J has a shower and changes into PJs. I bathe Little E and whilst she is changing into her PJs, it’s my turn in the shower.

The Barn Owl usually gets home around 7pm, and we have dinner together at the dining table. If it’s a particularly hot day, we’ll eat dinner together in the study which is the smallest room in the house (and therefore is the most efficient when it comes to using the air conditioner).

If the kids have been behaving well that day, they get a special treat before bedtime – usually this is in the form of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series or My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic…or maybe even a couple of minutes playing puzzle games on the Barn Owl’s phone.

phone-games

Taking turns to solve puzzles on the Barn Owl’s phone before bed

The Barn Owl is usually in charge of the bedtime routine as I do the washing up before stretching out to rest on the study couch (although this week, he’s taken over doing the washing up as well, since my arms are now not long enough to reach across the bump into the sink – or so I claim).

He inspects the children’s teeth after brushing, makes sure they have water bottles topped up in their room, and then says prayers with them before bed. As usual, they come out of their room to give me a kiss and cuddle before going back to their beds to be tucked in.

Now it is around 8:30pm and this the time that the Barn Owl and I have together. Sometimes we play games on the Playstation 4 console, or watch shows together. I usually fall asleep on the couch after a while and then we both stagger to bed.

You know what day it is? It’s Thursday. And it’ll soon be time to get up for another day.


Tomorrow, the ‘A Day in a Life’ blog train continues with Vera! family picVera is a don’t-stay-at-home Mum of two who loves exploring new places with her kids in tow, cooking up a storm and planning theme parties. During her downtime, she writes at Life is in the Small Things sharing little adventures, parenting misadventures and everything in between. 

Book Series that we love: Our (current) favourite Chapter Book series!

J, who is now 7 years old, has become rather a prolific reader and there are a few book series for young readers that have been responsible for encouraging him on his reading journey. Currently, my aim for J to get him to progress towards chapter books that not only increase his vocabulary and reading fluency, but also widen his imagination or scope of interests. Choosing books that appeal to little boys has been quite a challenge for me! I was brought up on a steady diet of Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables, both of which are wonderful book series but do nothing to engage J’s attention. I have since discovered that in order to encourage J to stay with a book for more than a few pages, the book had to contain some or all of the following aspects:

  1. Text as well as illustrations – a great black and white wall of text was just too intimidating for a young reader.
  2. Fictional subject matter that involves intelligent young male heroes, fast-paced action and a little bit of cheeky humour.
  3. Factual subject matter of the slightly yucky kind.

So, here are…

J’s current Top Three Favourite Chapter Book Series

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket lemony-snicket-unfortunate-events This is a series of 13 books, each with 13 chapters, following the melancholy adventures of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. The books trace the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as they pass through various foster homes before going on the run from the police, whilst being pursued by a self-proclaimed ‘distant relative’, Count Olaf, who is bent on acquiring the Baudelaire’s considerable inheritance. Along the way, they uncover the mystery surrounding their parents’ deaths and encounter all manner of exciting things like secret organisations, venomous snakes and delicious pasta. The author, Lemony Snicket, is as much a character in the books as well as their narrator and commentator – and his satirical humour is evident throughout the novels, often warning the reader that very few positive events take place in each book and even suggesting that the books be discarded in favour of more cheerful pursuits. The stories are accompanied by beautifully detailed black and white illustrations by Brett Helquist which are Victorian in style and add to the gothic nature of the books. The pictures often hold clues as to the true nature of people and events in the story that are not fully described in the text, and this adds an extra dimension to the books as the reader has a chance to play detective (which J thoroughly enjoyed).

Mummy Guide: These books are extremely well-written but the subject matter is a little bit on the morbid side, so if you have a particularly sensitive or anxious young reader then proceed with caution. Additionally, binge-reading these books is not recommended as you will feel miserable at the unfairness of it all. However, the underlying theme of maintaining a courageous and positive outlook in the face of adversity as well as the concept that moral decision-making is not always straight-forward are both great learning points!

2. Horrible Science by Nick Arnold  Horrible-science-books-fact-kids The Horrible Science books are basically little encyclopaedias covering a variety of science-related topics from physics, chemistry and biology, often in gruesome and disgusting detail. Every page is peppered with silly jokes and hilarious cartoons by Tony De Saulles which make each book a fun and engaging read – so it’s absolutely perfect for kids who are still entertained by toilet humour (which is all kids, really). J loves these books because they help to answer all his questions about the world and provide him with plenty of subject matter for creeping out his classmates.

Mummy Guide: These books are not afraid to be yucky and gross (because science is often messy) but there are no sexual themes or gratuitously written descriptions of gore.

3. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell cressida-cowell-train-dragon-books This is definitely our current TOP favourite chapter book series not only because the books are such an entertaining read and have dragons in them, but also because the main protagonist is one of the best role-models we have ever come across. (Did I forget to mention that there are dragons in these books?) At the moment, there are 11 books in the series, with the twelfth (and final) instalment due to be released in September of this year. The books are set in a fictional Viking world and record the experiences of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and his tribe of Hairy Hooligans. The books generally deal with various aspects of the Viking Instructional Programme which also involves the capture and training of both small hunting dragons as well as larger riding dragons. This inevitably leads to Hiccup, his puny hunting dragon, Toothless, and his asthmatic best friend, Fishlegs, getting into some awful (and life-threatening) misadventure. As the books are meant to be the memoirs of an elderly Hiccup looking back over his young life, they are full of funny annotations, notes about dragons and crudely drawn sketches of various characters.

Mummy Guide: The books do involve quite a bit of violence (eg. sword fighting, hunting animals, people getting eaten by dragons etc.) but there are no graphic or gory descriptions. There’s also plenty of ridiculous potty humour of the sort that tends to appeal to little boys (eg. burping, farting, characters going through Advanced Name Calling training). However, Hiccup is a very well-written hero and his journey traces the struggles of his character as he grows into a good leader. One of the main themes of the series involves him having to make tough choices between what is right and what is easy, and through his actions, we can see the power of forgiveness, humility, compassion and loyalty.

Update: MPH Bookstores Singapore has kindly offered to sponsor a copy of How to train your Dragon: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm by Cressida Cowell to TWO lucky Owls Well readers! Hooray!!

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

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Share this Facebook post (set to public) and tag a friend

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a chapter book or book series that you or your children have enjoyed. 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

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 7 April 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)