Developing A Growth Mindset in Kids or, Astronaut Training Camp – A foundational skills workshop by The Little Executive (A Review)

Back in 1995 when I was in Smartypants Class in secondary school, I did a school research project on highly intelligent “gifted and talented” children – partly because I could and partly because it pleased me to think that I was experimenting on my classmates.

My project was an independent study on children who were identified via the use of standardised testing to have IQs within the top 0.5 percentile of their peers. I wanted to compare the emotional and social development of “gifted and talented” children to that of their peers to find out if there was any real or perceived difference.

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Case in point: Debs G going to Smartypants Class (Picture Credit: The Far Side of Gary Larson)

One of the things that I discovered whilst working on this project is that there are a great number of “gifted and talented” children who are also seen to be underachievers by their teachers and that this in fact a rather common phenomenon. I also realised that in my particular cohort of students, these underachievers were from the group of girls who entered the Smartypants Class at 10 years old during Primary School, and were known to be the “Black Sheep” of the class. These black sheep did comparatively poorly on standardised tests as compared to their peers. It was a mystery as to why this should happen, when they had so much potential so as to be identified as “gifted” at a younger age!

Through surveys of my classmates and their parents, I found out that many of my friends believed (as I also did) that success is based on personal aptitude. Amongst ourselves, we would go through great lengths to prove our God-given cleverness to each other, claiming not to have studied for tests or exams as well as making sport of classmates who did work hard in order to score well, calling them “muggertoads”. In fact, so much of our personal identity was wrapped up in being in the Smartypants Class that one of the biggest fears that we had was that of failure – especially if we had bothered to put in effort – because it would prove that we weren’t special at all.

Sad, right?

As part of my project research, I found a book called “Learning and Motivation in Children” at the Smartypants Centre library, and there was an article about how children’s perceptions of their own intelligence affected their ability to learn. In a nutshell, it showed me exactly what I already knew from observation – that kids who were told early that they were smart and talented also became perfectionists who stopped trying when they couldn’t be perfect straightaway. This was called having a ‘fixed mindset’. This article affected me profoundly, as I realised that putting too much stock in my own innate intelligence and abilities instead of valuing persistence and hard work could hold me back from achieving my personal goals.

I didn’t know this at the time, but one of the authors of that article, Carol Dweck, went on to publish many more articles and books about an individual’s implicit theory of intelligence and the importance of children developing and thinking with a growth mindset. She is currently one of the world’s leading psychologists in the field of development and motivation. In her research on learning and motivation, she found that having a growth mindset is a key feature of people who are internally motivated and who are also more likely to succeed when faced with challenges both in school, in work and in life.

Now, as a parent, I have been trying to teach J and Little E  to work hard and persevere, to be self-aware and learn from criticism or setbacks. These are important foundational skills that I feel are important for them to develop at a young age.  Now, I realise that determination, persistence and perceptiveness are considered to be traits which most people will develop on their own through personal life experience, however, it is becoming quite clear that not everybody has the opportunity to figure these things out before they enter the workforce. This is why even our National University of Singapore has set aside a special department, The Centre of Future Ready Graduates, in order to equip all their tertiary level students with these skills!

However, I’m not an expert in education and pedagogy, and all I am doing is trying to muddle through and guide my kids in the best way that I can. When Michelle, co-founder of The Little Executive, contacted me to ask if I would be interested in sending J and Little E to an Astronaut Training Camp during the December holls last year, I was more than happy to oblige!

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J and Little E having fun at Astronaut Training Camp with The Little Executive

The Little Executive actually came into being when one of the founders of Leapfrogs Children’s Therapy Centre, which supports children with learning disabilities, realised that there were more and more parents attempting to enrol their mainstream schoolchildren into her occupational or educational therapy classes.

She realised that all these children, even though they had no learning disabilities at all, seemed to struggle in school on a daily basis as they not only lacked resilience but also had certain learning gaps and a fixed mindset about their innate capabilities. The Little Executive aims to help children develop those essential executive functioning skills needed in order to develop a healthy growth mindset towards lifelong learning.

In my opinion, courses aimed teaching study skills tend to be quite dry and boring as they are often quite abstract in nature – and yes, I have attended my share of such courses as a kid attending the Smartypants Class. However I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Little Executive has found ways to help kids develop these skills in a really fun, hands-on way! I don’t think that the kids even realise that they are learning how to learn – but I have seen the results on my kids and I can tell you that it works. I wish I’d attended these classes myself as a kid, because it really would have saved me a lot of angst.

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J with Jim, one of the educators at The Little Executive

The Astronaut Training Camp, which was held over 4 mornings, was a real treat for J and Little E. Through games, sensory experiments and brainstorming sessions, the kids used their problem solving, communication and observational skills to learn about various aspects of preparing for space travel – even preparing their own dehydrated snacks from bananas, troubleshooting potential issues that might happen during space missions and working together to construct their own shuttle!

Parents were invited to attend a short presentation on the last day of the camp, and I got to tinker with all their craft projects and find out more about what went on during the camp. I was most impressed with the incredible rapport that the educators were able to build with the kids in such a short space of time. Additionally, they were able to engage not only the youngest preschooler (Little E), but also the oldest primary school kid (J) and cater to their different learning abilities.

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After exploring the space shuttle, Thumper is waiting for his turn!

The educators also gave me great verbal feedback on the strengths and shortcomings of both J and Little E, which showed me how experienced they were in assessing children and working on supporting their weaknesses. I would also have appreciated some written feedback on the kids that I could peruse and mull over at my own leisure!

Thumper was really excited to see all the things that his brother and sister made during the camp (especially the really cool jetpacks), and I can tell that he is waiting for his turn to attend Astronaut Training Camp with The Little Executive one day.

I think the greatest reward for me was to see how the course affected J and Little E. I’ve been observing the two of them since school reopened and I have noticed two things:

  1. J’s handwriting has improved dramatically as he has become more conscientious in class, taking more pride in his work.
  2. Little E has started revising her Chinese language readers on a daily basis, asking her brother for help with words that she doesn’t know.

Needless to say, I am more than pleased!

For more information about The Little Executive click here.

Trial classes for The Little Executive’s regular programme are held every Saturday (SGD$48 for a 1.5 hour parent-accompanied class). For more information on trial classes click here.

The Little Executive has got two very exciting camps lined up for the 2017 March school holidays:

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A Special for Owls Well Readers: Congratulations for getting to the end of the post! The Little Executive has kindly offered a very generous discount code just for Owls Well Readers! If you would like to sign your kids up for any of classes at The Little Executive, just quote  OWLSWELLBLOG15 for 15% off the total fee! 

Adventures in New Zealand: Wonderful Wanaka – Arrowtown

We’re blogging over at Owl Fly Away today!

Owl Fly Away

The Aged P was flying in to join us for our New Zealand trip, so we decided to take a drive towards the airport via the scenic Crown Range Road, which offers fabulous views over the valley, all the way to the snow tipped mountains.

Crown-Range-views-lookout-new-zealand-wanaka copy On top of Crown Range Road, all covered in fog

Crown Range Road is the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121m and is pretty steep with lots of zigzag turns. It also boasts plenty of well kept lookouts where you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

crown-range-drive-road The long and winding (Crown Range) road

We went on a dry but cloudy day, so there was a bit of fog rolling across the road at times which made some of our passengers a little nervous. The road was so steep in places that the car’s fuel gauge stopped being able to detect the tank level so it looked…

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Contemporary Art for Kids – National Gallery Singapore

Last year, when J was attending a holiday creative writing camp at the Arts House, I decided to take Little E to visit the nearby National Gallery Singapore.

The National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall, and is home to the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a special interest in showcasing local and Southeast Asian artists.

Within the National Gallery is the Keppel Centre for Art Education, which is a dedicated art facility designed to inspire children and encourage creativity. Within each room are art pieces which the children can interact with or observe in detail, as well as related activities to fuel their imagination.

In one of the Project Galleries is a massive, highly detailed cityscape created from clay and acrylic, painstakingly built in great detail by teen artist Xandyr Quek when he was 13 years old.

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Little E is inspired by City In The Works (2015), Xandyr Quek

Xandyr, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is fascinated by maps and street directories, and would ask his parents to take him to certain roads and streets so that he could spend time memorising the buildings and other public infrastructure. At home, he built many clay sculptures based on his observations. He conceptualised and created this tiny city modelled on northern Singapore which is now housed in a protective glass case (as he doesn’t like his work being handled or touched).

After spending a few moments looking at the tiny city, Little E then spent a happy half hour drawing and populating her own small city. Whilst she was doing this, I noticed that there were other activity sheets available in the room which would suit a variety of learning levels and interests, so there would be something to inspire every child.

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Home-a-Sapiens by Tan Wee Lit

In another project gallery, the ceiling and walls are covered in fantastical future dwelling spaces. A nomadic bus with laundry on bamboo poles floats alongside a series of airy blimps, while the walls have models of underground houses built beneath the roots of trees, even some of the shelves and cupboards were disguised to look like houses.

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Designing her underground living space

Little E was inspired by the underground homes and she decided to make her own cone-shaped house to add to the installation. There were also some very nice pre-fabricated craft kits available (for a suggested donation of SGD$4) which would make a great take-home souvenir.

Little E also liked the Who’s In The Woods interactive area, where she could create and customise her own forest creature using digital painting, then see it come alive on the wall and play with other animals in the forest! That was pretty cool!

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Little E’s found a new friend in the woods

By far the most exciting area was the Art Playscape, which is a labyrinth and playhouse that is literally covered from floor to ceiling in elaborate, intricate drawings, so that you really feel like you have entered a painting into a magical realm.

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The Enchanted Tree House by Sandra Lee

In this room, Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks and his forest friends wander the world in search of adventure, encountering all sorts of familiar creatures from fairy-tales and nursery rhymes. Little E had fun running all over the room trying to find Fynn, and identifying all the storybook characters (and finding familiar mystical creatures like our Merlion hiding in plain sight).

Mummy tip #1: The floor in the Art Playscape has a very smooth finish, so bring along non-slip socks if you have a wobbly toddler or a clumsy child!

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Taking a break with Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks

I liked the Keppel Centre for Art Education so much, that we returned during the mid-year holidays this year, as soon as Thumper was able to walk around on his own.

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Building together

I was very pleased to see that some of the interactive activities had changed!

There was room filled with different types of building blocks for making giant fortresses and tabletop sculptures. There was also a wall filled with magnetic shapes which Thumper enjoyed messing around with.

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Playing with the walls

Within the National Gallery itself were huge wall murals and freestanding art pieces which visitors could pose with and become part of the artwork as well.

We also had the opportunity to go on a free guided tour which took us through the gallery, giving us some insight into the design and architecture of the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings as well as some of its the history and hidden secrets!

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On the Building Highlights Tour – held at 11am and 3pm daily

The docent who took us around was very knowledgeable and was able to engage both children and adults during the tour. The docent even thoughtfully changed her route to accommodate our stroller so that we could use lifts instead of stairs and escalators – although we felt really bad slowing the whole group down!

Mummy Tip #2: If you’re planning to take your kids on the guided tour, park your stroller at the visitor’s desk and bring out your baby carrier instead.

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore 178957

Opening Hours: 
Sun–Thu and Public Holidays: 10am–7pm
Fri–Sat, Eve of Public Holidays: 10am–10pm

Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs, as well as for students, teachers, children under 6 years old, persons with disabilities and their carers.

For more information about the National Gallery Singapore click here

For more information about the free guided tours click here

For more information about Keppel Centre for Art Education click here

Deep water (or More Geography for Preschoolers)

In this portion of Little E’s school holiday project, we trace a river from the sea to its source. Along the way, we learn about how the water from a single river has been used in many different ways – in trade, industry and agriculture, in city planning, in religion.

This was a very challenging project for us, because it involved quite a bit of preparation and research, but it was a really great way for Little E to see how physical geography meets human geographyy.

Our initial plan was to follow a route that was already prepared by my sister-in-law’s teaching colleague, who took her elementary school students on a field trip to trace a large river last year. Unfortunately, this river crossed over several cities and would mean hours of driving. Additionally, the stops taken on the field trip did not have any particular meaning in terms of observing significant geographical features or landmarks – they were just the drop off points at the bus service stations!

So, we had to start from scratch and I couldn’t have done this without the help of The Outlaws, who hold quite extensive knowledge of the local terrain. We spent a few evenings discussing which river to trace with the help of Google Maps and the Outlaw’s collection of ordinance maps.

The most difficult part of creating the videos took place after piecing together all the footage from the field trips. This was when Little E recorded the narration for the video. I have to say that Little E worked REALLY very hard on this, and I recorded nearly 3 hours worth of voiceover narration for this video!

Little E was oftentimes very upset when listening to the playback of her recording, and would insist on re-recording parts of the narration that sounded too robotic or too garbled.    She’s only 5 years old, so her preschooler diction was not in her favour and she had to repeat herself many times in order to be clearly heard and understood. At times, she would get discouraged and would need a little push, but in the end she managed to do a really great job and I was really proud of her!

Great job, Little E!

Check out Part 1 of this project here 

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!

(Check out Part 2 of this project here)

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))

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!

Art & Design for Kids – Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art and Science of Gems

Last week, we were invited to attend Family Friday at the ArtScience Museum‘s latest exhibition, Van Cleef & Arpels : The Art and Science of Gems. This was our first visit to the ArtScience Museum, and I am happy to report that the we had a wonderful time there!

This unique exhibition combines over 450 gorgeous pieces of jewellery from the Van Cleef & Arpels collection alongside over 250 rare gems and minerals from the Collection of the French National Museum of Natural History. The exhibition aims to showcase the natural processes involved in the geological formation of minerals and gemstones as well as the fine craftsmanship that changes these precious materials into wearable works of art.

I was really surprised at how family-friendly this exhibition was! We spent the better part of the afternoon there, and I had to peel the children away at the end.

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The children were awed by the exquisite jewellery on display, oohing and ahhing at the sparkling, intricately designed pieces. The Bird Clip and Pendant pictured above was a particular favourite.  A custom order for an opera singer who wanted to commemorate the birth of her son, this single piece magically transforms so that it can be worn not only as a large brooch or hair clip, but also as a bird brooch with matching winged emerald earrings and a dangling yellow diamond pendant!

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Throughout the exhibit, one can trace the journey of a mineral from its formation to its inclusion in a piece of jewellery, as well as go behind the scenes to take a look at the various technical and conceptual processes behind jewellery innovation and design.

There were also several interactive exhibits where the kids could play with light boxes or touchscreen panels to see how abstract shapes and patterns can be used to create distinctive couture creations, or learn about the different materials making up each glittering accessory.

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The highlight of the visit for us was the Family Friday workshop, ‘A Day in the Life of a Mineralogist’, where the kids were treated to a hands-on demonstration that opened up the world of geology and mineralogy. As you can tell by J and Little E’s rapt expressions, they were thoroughly engaged and interested the whole time.

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The best part of the workshop was when the kids had a change to test the physical properties of a variety of minerals using special tools. It was a joy to see them work alongside the ArtScience Museum educators, who patiently guided them in making their own observations and discoveries.

When I spoke to the ArtScience Museum educators, I was surprised to find out that the museum workshops and activities are woefully under-subscribed and most of the attendees were adults! This is surprising to me since kids under 12 years old enter the museum for free on Family Fridays!

Furthermore, the workshops and activities held at the ArtScience Museum are all free for ticket holders and the educators are very good at engaging attendees of all ages.  I will definitely be planning my future visits around Family Fridays!

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After the workshop, J and Little E lingered around the various exhibits, filling up their activity books and fiddling with the interactive stations. I really liked the activity books, which were beautifully designed and printed and made a wonderful souvenir of our visit! Did I mention that they are also free?! Unbelievable!

The Art & Science of Gems exhibition is at the ArtScience Museum (6 Bayfront Avenue S018974) from now until 14 August 2016. Opening Hours are 10am – 7pm daily.

Family Fridays at the ArtScience Museum will continue throughout June and July 2016. Do check out the special guided tours from 3-4pm as well as the ‘Day in the Life of a Mineralogist’ workshops in June at 4:30-5:40pm and the ‘Make your own Soap Gems’ workshops in July at 4:30-5:30pm.

There’s a nominal entry fee with a reduced price for Singapore citizens and PRs, but if you go on Family Friday, it’s a really great deal because of ALL THE FREE STUFF – free entry for kids, free activity books, free workshops! So if you haven’t visited the ArtScience Museum yet, the June school holidays would be a good time to give it a whirl!

Update 2 June 2016: I just found out that Family Friday’s free entry for kids isn’t available during Singapore school holidays and public holidays. 

For more information about tickets click here

By the way, if you haven’t guessed yet, this exhibition is a great springboard for introducing your kids to earth sciences! Here are our recommendations for books that we found useful as an accompaniment to this excursion – just click on the pictures for more information: