We now interrupt this programme

My beloved iMac appears to be dying. It keeps showing me the spinning umbrella. I am very sad.

No wait, does this mean that I can get a brand new iMac with a screen so big that I will go blind watching the new Star Wars trailer?!

Alrighty then!

P.S. No seriously, my computer is dying and I have to get a new one – regular programming will resume as soon as my new computer is delivered.

Great Smoky Mountain Cool: Wildlife Watching at Cades Cove

It’s Travel Thursday and  we’re blogging over at Owl Fly Away today!

Owl Fly Away

It was a cold and foggy morning in the Smokies, and the weather forecast called for rain, so we decided to take a drive round Cades Cove instead of attempting to drag the children on a wet hike in the mountains.

Cades Cove is a wide valley surrounded by mountains, which was home to Cherokee and European settlers before the founding of the national park, and is currently one of the best places to go wildlife spotting. The road through Cades Cove is an 11 mile one-way loop which takes you around the most scenic parts of the valley. Driving slowly, it takes about four hours to complete the whole loop, including stopping off to explore the well-preserved historic buildings.

We were able to see herds of deer grazing peacefully in the meadow, with the occasional lonesome young buck leaping through the tall grass, turning its head proudly to display its antlers…

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Midweek Break: Chris Haughton is coming to town!

Island of Dreams Cloud Banner

As I said earlier this week, I am really stoked about the family-friendly events coming up over the next two weekends at the Singapore Writers Festival – and I am especially excited that Chris Haughton, author-illustrator of one of our favourite children’s books, A Bit Lost, will be in town and conducting workshops during the festival!

Chris Haughton is conducting a grand total of four workshops, and two of these are ticketed events aimed at families with children between 4-6 years and 7-9 years of age.

Fan girl squeeeeeeeeeee

It’s Chris Haughton! *Fan girl squeeeeeeeeeee*

The first workshop, Animation On A Phone, is for families with children ages 7-9 years old. During this workshop, Chris Haughton will go through some basic illustration steps and teach kids how to create a stop-motion animation creation with help from the Vine App and a smartphone. This event takes place on 31 Oct 2015 (Saturday) from 10am-1130am at the Learning Gallery in the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The second workshop, A Little Bit Lost, is aimed at children between 4-6 years old and is a hands-on handicraft workshop where Christ Haughton will guide kids in the art of illustration, using characters from his book, A Bit Lost. This parent-child event will be held on 1st Nov 2015 (Sunday) from 11am-12noon at the Learning Gallery in the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Tickets to both events are a trifling SGD$5 (cheap as free!) and are available through the Singapore Writers Festival website. They are selling out pretty fast, so be sure to book early!

A little special something for Owls Well Readers: Singapore Writers Festival is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of one pair of tickets to Animation on a Phone and one pair of tickets to A Little Bit Lost! Thanks guys!

To take part in this giveaway:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page
  2. Share this giveaway on your Facebook Page (set to public), tagging @Owls Well as well as at least three friends
  3. Comment below telling me which of the workshops you would like to attend . Don’t forget to tell me the name of your Facebook account that you used to share this giveaway and 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)

(Giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore address and will end at noon 29th October 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winners have been emailed – thanks for playing!

Cut, Shake, Roll with the Singapore Writers Festival 2015

This past weekend, we were invited to a sneak preview of one of the many family-friendly workshops organised by the Singapore Writers Festival!

This year, the Singapore Writers Festival, which will be taking place from 30th Oct – 8 Nov 2015 will be catering not only for serious aspiring writers but for all ages with an incredible line up of free and ticketed events with the theme ‘Island of Dreams’. SWF3 (or rather, SWF For Families) has a whopping 51 programmes spanning a wide range of topics from storytelling to illustration to music to creative writing workshops catering to the different age ranges.

Some of the workshops for children will be run by award winning international authors such as Chris Haughton (who just so happens to be the author of one of Little E’s favourite books, A Bit Lost.) and local authors such as Lianne Ong, whilst others will cater to special needs children with dyslexia and visual impairment.

We were very privileged to attend a creative storytelling workshop, ‘Cut, Shake, Roll’, run by professional storyteller-guide, Chuah Ai Lin.

Chuah-Ai-Lin-Storytelling-Writers-Festival-Singapore

Chuah Ai Lin weaving her magic

During the workshop, Ms Chuah showed us several different ways that we can encourage and work together with our children in order to tap into their imagination and create stories together. She started out by showing us how to brainstorm for story ingredients, randomly combining words to create a platform from which children can begin crafting their stories. Afterwards, she showed us how to use paper-cutting and tear-and-tell techniques in storytelling.

J and Little E were spellbound by her stories, and she was able to gently encourage all the kids present to participate in discussion and build on each other’s ideas. We also broke into our own little groups to craft stories, with J and Little E each coming up with their own simple tales with some guidance from yours truly.

Singapore-writers-workshop-festival-children-storytelling

J shares his story with all the participants of the workshop

Ai Lin was able to create such a safe environment, that J felt comfortable enough to do a little bit of storytelling in front of the group! I thought that was pretty awesome.

So, if you’re wondering what to do with the kids over the next few weekends (especially now during these hazy days), or you have a love for all things literary, take part in the shenanigans over at the Singapore Writers Festival! I’m planning to be there and I hope to listen in on some panel discussions and bring the kids to meet some popular kid’s authors!

For more information, click here.

Citiblocs are GREAT!

I love wooden building blocks so much that I’ve amassed a rather sizeable collection. I just love the tactile feel of the wood beneath my fingers and the scope for creativity that building blocks have (and the fact that I can build and disassemble structures without pain). However, J and Little E have moved on from wooden building blocks to Legos quite a long time ago, as the sort of creations that they could make with building blocks were limited by the fact that their creations kept breaking apart or toppling over. The blocks have been in storage for quite a while now, waiting for Thumper to get old enough to play with them.

When my friend, Pamela (from Tan Family Chronicles) asked if I would be interested in checking out the Citiblocs range from the My First Games webstore, I was not sure if my kids would even play with them, and I told her so.

Pamela immediately whipping out her mobile phone, saying “Ok Debs, I know you have a ton of blocks at home, but can your building blocks make this?”

And she played me this video:

I gaped at her.

“No. My blocks can’t build any structures remotely NEAR that scale. I mean, that is…that is just…the level of precision…the structural stability…so architectural…”, I blustered finally, struggled to find the words to describe what I had seen.

“SOLD!” I gurgled, finally.

Pamela nodded and patted me on the shoulder.

Anyhow, I was completely sold on Citiblocs. I knew that if I showed J and Little E what they could build with these blocks, they would LOVE it.

The Citiblocs are made from Radiata pine wood from a sustainable source in New Zealand and are certified safe and non-toxic. They are sold in different colour combinations – Natural (original pine with no wood stain), Cool (red and yellow tones), Hot (blue and green tones) and Camo (green and brown tones). Pamela was kind enough to give me one box of each colour combination to try out.

Each block is exactly the same size, shape and weight, and the surfaces of the blocks are straight and flat, whilst being textured just enough to increase the friction between the blocks (but not so much that it creates splinters). This precise cut and uniformity of the blocks is what makes them so special After playing with them with my kids, I understand why these blocks have won so many toy industry awards!

This is what happened when I first opened the Citiblocs at home:

A building competition ensues

A building competition ensues

The Barn Owl, who was recovering on the couch after working through the night, lazily started building a spiral staircase. J started on his own Tower of Babel, with the tower stretching far beyond what we would expect from any of our other building blocks, and Little E even discovered how to make a simple cantilever design.

There was a little booklet inside the boxes filled with pictures and ideas for some basic designs and some more complicated ones – no stepwise instructions needed.

Here’s what the kids were making together during their second session with their Citiblocs:

Building with the power of Physics

Building with the power of Physics

Impressive, right? These blocks are really much more fun than my other building blocks and they do encourage kids to be more creative, whilst instilling in them a rudimentary understanding of physics. The more precisely the blocks are placed, the more complex structures can be built – what a way to train fine motor skills! Additionally, since there are no snaps or screws involved, large creations are easily dismantled and put away at the end of the day (as you can tell from our Guide to Citiblocs video below).

And the best part of all this is that they keep my kids quietly occupied for hours. Which is the main point.

I was so excited about these blocks, I decided to buy some more block sets as gifts for my nephews and nieces, as well as a set of CitiBlocs Little Builder Rattle Blocs (for when Thumper is old enough) which won the Oppenheim Platinum Award…after all, Christmas is just round the corner, and My First Games is holding a special Citiblocs promotion!

CitiBlocs sale at My First Games

CitiBlocs sale at My First Games

Just enter the coupon code: CTBTHIRTY at checkout to enjoy 30% off the entire CitiBlocs range at My First Games! (And you get an extra 50 blocks if you spend about $200!) What a bargain!

I am seriously considering getting more Citiblocs to add to our collection so as to challenge J and Little E to build even more complicated structures!

Great Smoky Mountain Cool: Festival of Christmas Past at the Sugarlands Visitor Center

It’s Travel Thursday over at Owl Fly Away where we recount our first day at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park!

Owl Fly Away

We were very fortunate that the first day of our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just happened to coincide with the Festival of Christmas Past, an annual celebration of Smoky Mountain culture! This took place at the Sugarlands Visitor Centre, where there were activities and demonstrations for us to enjoy all day long – and admission to everything was free! What a treat!

Smoky-mountains-USA-sugarland-visitor-centre The Festival Of Christmas Past at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We started off the day by learning about traditional methods of weaving and spinning with the children trying their hand at carding wool and spinning yarn, and there was even a toy maker who taught J and Little E to make simple spinners from a wood-whittled button and string.

Then, we headed to the little auditorium to enjoy some rollicking good old-fashion folk music and dancing, clapping along to banjo, fiddle and harp…

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