Book Series that we love (Chapter books): My Blade Quest

We’ve recently been introduced to yet another homegrown Singaporean author, Don Bosco, and his Super Cool chapter book series – My Blade Quest!

These adventure books are definitely good for readers who need to gain confidence in moving away from picture books, and are looking to slowly expand their vocabulary. Each chapter is only 3-4 pages long, and will not appear intimidating even though the illustrations are few and far between. This makes them perfect for primary schoolers who are not yet confident readers, but don’t want to be caught reading ‘kiddy books’ during the silent reading time in class!

The stories are funny and exciting, with a smattering of pop culture elements to capture the attention of our technology and media savvy kids. The main characters Jay and Shu, heirs to the Blade Quest card game empire, are intrepid and intelligent…and I really like the fact that they have a loving sibling relationship!

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A quick read before bedtime

I introduced this series to 9 year old J, and he was glad to have something fun to read to unwind during the hectic end-of-year exam period. The series has 9 year old J’s stamp of approval and he has since re-read the books several times.

J says – If you are looking for an in-between mystery and adventure book series that is more challenging than Geronimo Stilton and less silly than Captain Underpants, then these books are good for you. I enjoy imagining Jay and Shu going all over the world to find treasures and meet new friends. And I wish I had a Blade Quest Card Game!

Little E is just beginning to start reading chapter books, so I’ll be reading My Blade Quest with her during school holidays and hopefully this will help her to read more independently!

Bonus For Owls Well Readers: If you are looking for a great gift idea for a special little person in your life, the fine folk over at Armour Publishing have kindly offered an exclusive discount code for all Owls Well Readers! Hooray!  Just enter the code OWLS17 at checkout to enjoy 20% off any purchase of My Blade Quest Series (Books 1 – 4). (Discount code is valid from 17 Nov to 8 Dec 2017).

Buyer’s note: I received a set of My Blade Quest books from Armour Publishing for this review. If you would like to get the books for a little adventurer in your life, you can find My Blade Quest and other books by local authors here. Don’t forget to use the discount code!

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Video Game Family Time: Overcooked

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Here’s another game that is a lot of fun for a rainy afternoon: Overcooked!

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Picture Source: Ghost Town Games

Overcooked is a hilariously chaotic co-operative game by the two person team over at indie game studio, Ghost Town Games. It’s a real fun game that is guaranteed to have the whole family either working together like a well oiled machine or (much more likely) rolling on the floor cackling with glee as everything goes berserk.

In this game, players control cute little chefs who have to work together fulfil as many customer orders as possible (by preparing ingredients, cooking, plating and serving), whilst dodging hazards and obstacles, all within a fixed time limit. Each level is roughly 3-5 minutes long, and it usually takes about 2-3 rounds before everyone figures out how to work together to beat the level, so it’s a good game to play if you’re trying to keep game time really short.

This game has both a co-operative mode for up to four players as well as a competitive multiplayer mode where you can divide up into two teams. The controls are very straightforward so it’s good for beginners who are still working on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and the graphics are crisp and cute.

 

Whilst playing, we’d often find ourselves shouting out orders and instructions to each other, laughing our heads off whilst our little chefs crash into each other, burn the soup or accidentally fall out of the kitchen! I love the way that the game emphasises the importance of close communication between players, encouraging us to work together as a family to improve efficiency in our virtual kitchen!

We also like to take turns to designate a ‘head chef’ for each round, who will assign jobs and call out the orders as they come through!

When we are playing together in Overcooked, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We are kind to each other – no intentionally sabotaging the game or being nasty with our words
  2. We are helpful – we are partners and work together towards a common goal
  3. We remember to maintain our sense of humour – this is a game that involves some yelling and giving orders, but that doesn’t mean we get angry or upset with each other!
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

If there’s a video game that you think is great fun for families – share it with me in the comments!

Science in the kitchen: Eggs and Vinegar

So, J asked if he could perform an experiment at home that he read about in one of his Horrible Science books. I had a look at it and realised that we had all the ingredients in our kitchen and nothing seemed explosive or particularly messy…so why not?

Warning: Science! Also puns. Lots of EGG-ceptional puns. You’re going to crack up. Seriously. Omelettin’ this happen, yo. 

J’s Question: What happens when you soak eggs in vinegar?

What we used to answer J’s Question:

  1. One hard boiled egg
  2. One raw egg
  3. Vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar probably works best)
  4. Glass jars of roughly the same shape and size.

What we did to answer J’s Question:

1. Label the jars and place the respective eggs inside.

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2. Cover each egg with an equal amount of vinegar and watch the science happen.

  • J’s Observation #1: Bubbles appeared on the surface of the eggs
  • EGG-CITING SCIENCE! The acetic acid in the vinegar reacted with the calcium carbonate of the eggshell, releasing carbon dioxide gas as bubbles!

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3. Leave the eggs in the vinegar for three days. Check on the eggs and see if there is more science happening

  • J’s Observation #2:There is a yucky white scum floating on the surface of the vinegar
  • EGG-CELLENT SCIENCE! Calcium acetate is a the other byproduct of the chemical reaction between the vinegar and the eggshell, and is a white solid at room temperature.

4. Remove the eggs from the jars and rinse away the vinegar (and any residual eggshell) under running water. Remember to EGGS-ercise caution whilst doing this.egg-vinegar-experiment-science-membrane-diffusion

5. Place the eggs on a plate and allow them to dry. Compare the two eggs.

  • J’s Observation #3: Both eggs have a smooth and waxy surface. The raw egg is much bigger than the boiled egg (Debs G: It is EGG-ceptionally large) after it has been soaked in vinegar
  • EGG-STREME SCIENCE! The eggshell completely dissolved in the vinegar. Underneath the eggshell is the egg membrane. Some of the water from the vinegar has moved across the membranes to the inside of the raw egg, but the contents of the egg did not leak out. This is because the egg membrane is semi-permeable and allowed only certain sized molecules through. The egg membrane is stretchy, so the egg swelled as the water moved inside it. Water moved inside the egg because the contents of the egg contained less water than the vinegar outside the egg. The process where a solvent (such as water) moves from a lower concentration solution (such as vinegar) to a higher concentration solution (such as egg white) is called osmosis.

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6. Drop both eggs from increasing heights and see what happens.

  • J’s Observation #4: I can see the yolk wobbling about inside the raw egg but not in the boiled egg. When I dropped them, both eggs bounced but when I dropped them from very high up, the raw egg burst like a water balloon (Debs G: It was EGGsplosive). The raw egg is liquid, but the boiled egg is solid.
  • EGG-TRAORDINARY SCIENCE! Eggs are full of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids. When the egg is boiled, the heat messes up the amino acid bonds that hold the proteins together and give them a particular shape and form. The egg protein changes in form and appearance, becoming hard and solid. When proteins change from their original form into a new form, this is called denaturation.

So, don’t be a chicken. Get cracking and hatch a plan to make Science happen in your own kitchen!

These are the yolks, kid. These are the yolks.

 

How to Toddler (A Day in A Life Blog Train)

It has been over a year since I wrote about a typical Wednesday in the Owls Well household here in Singapore as part of the “A Day in A Life” Blog train hosted by Mum in the Making.

My schedule has, of course, changed greatly since the introduction of the littlest owlet #3, Thumper. Most of what I do right now involves supervising Thumper during his wake time, and then making sure that when Thumper is taking his naps, I divide my time between J and Little E so that they each get one-on-one time with me.

It’s very difficult to describe how I organise my day now, so I’m going to let Thumper tell you what we do on a typical Wednesday in this video:

I basically rinse and repeat the above twice more for lunch/afternoon nap and dinner/bedtime.

Getting Thumper into a flexible routine was key to my sanity this past year. As a result, Thumper is a predictable baby, and will take 2 hour nap times without fail. This frees me up to spend time with J and Little E, supervising their homework and free time, as well as complete whatever housework needs to be done, including meal preparation and laundry.

Efficiency is a key feature of my life right now!


14658357_120300000553820036_1005302683_nUp next on the ‘A Day in a Life’ Blog Train is our stationmaster, Jus from Mum in the Making.

She is a stay home mum to four, who relies on crafting and chocolate to keep her sane.

I myself am very curious to see how she manages a typical daily schedule where she has to care for her tiniest infant girl and three rambunctious boys, whilst homeschooling and running a most efficient household!

Get a glimpse into her day over at Mum in the Making!

Video Game Family Time: Resogun

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

This time, I’ll be talking about one of the first games we played together, Resogun.

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Picture Source: Resogun Official Webpage

Resogun is a really fun shoot ’em up game from the Finnish indie game developer, Housemarque, which brings me back to the days when I used to play Choplifter on PC.

This is a side-scrolling video game, that is, the action is viewed from a side angle and onscreen characters move left-to-right and back again to achieve their objectives. Players control little spaceships and have to shoot invading alien ships whilst rescuing humans trapped in glass cages. The game is pretty fast paced, so it’s a good one to play if you want to keep the game time really short and yet satisfying (like 15-20 minutes).

We like this game for playing in pairs (the multiplayer function only goes up to two players), and the fact that in-game resources like special weapons, extra lives and bonuses, are shared between both players. This means that the game encourages cooperative play (not competitive play), and J and Little E have to work together to defeat the game, collect bonuses and upgrades, and protect each other when carrying a people to safety.

The game is also very simple to learn as it has a straightforward control system and really smooth graphics that are sensitive and responsive to the player. The challenge in the game lies in being able to react quickly and use special weapons more strategically as the levels progress in difficulty. This means that our 5 year old Little E can still play with our 8 year old J, and both of them are engaged in the game.

The little ships and people are very cute, and the alien spaceships are not visually frightening or ugly. The game does involve shooting down evil alien spaceships, with a great deal of cartoon violence (the ships explode into colourful pixels).

Another aspect of the game that I like is that you can build and customise your own ships. J and Little E get a kick out of designing their own spaceships and seeing them rendered in 3D!

Here’s an example of a ship that Little E designed for Valentine’s Day this year.

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Little E’s ship, the “Love Butterfly”

J also drew and coloured his own spaceship, the “Rainbow Tornado”.

Then, The Barn Owl and I helped them turn their drawings into playable ships that they could use in the game!

Each of them had to choose what sort of characteristics their ships would have based on how they like to play the game. Little E’s ship was made faster but with less firepower so that she could concentrate on saving more people and collecting bonuses (you can see the “Love Butterfly” carrying a little green man who is dangling from the belly of the ship in the picture below), whilst J’s ship is less agile but has stronger shields and firepower, as well as a bigger boost engine.

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J and Little E piloting the “Love Butterfly” and “Rainbow Tornado”

When we are playing together in Resogun, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We remember to be patient – we don’t get cross with each other if the game doesn’t go the way that we want, and we are kind with our words
  2. We listen to each other – we discuss and work together to form a common game strategy
  3. We take turns to be the team leader
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

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

Video Game Family Time: Minecraft

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

Growing up, ABC and I were fortunate enough to own a PC, where we played adventure games together going from text-based games like Zork, to graphic adventure games like King’s Quest and RPGs (Role Playing Games) like Quest for Glory! The Barn Owl didn’t have a computer but he owned a video game console and would play strategy or racing games together with his sister and his parents. So it only makes sense that we would join our children as they make their first few forays into the virtual world.

There are tons of multiplayer video games that are cooperative in nature with split-screen or couch modes which mean that families can sit together and play together.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Let’s start with one of our favourite games, the very popular Minecraft.

Minecraft is what is considered a ‘sandbox’ video game, which means that it allows the player complete freedom to make open-ended choices as to how, when and what they want to do in the game world.

The biggest feature of Minecraft is the creative building aspect of the game which allows players to build complete 3D structures out of cubes that have various properties and textures. The game also includes resource gathering and crafting, exploration and combat.

There are several gameplay modes to choose from, but we only use two of these modes at the moment:

  1. Survival Mode: Players have to acquire resources to progress in the game, fight hostile night creatures and maintain their health and hunger status.
  2. Creative Mode: Players have infinite resources to build with and can create their own world or map, or even make their own mini-game.

There are also interactive online modes where players can share maps, worlds and even mini-game adventures they have built themselves in creative mode, or be spectators in another player’s game. They can even play multiplayer games with other online gamers. As our children are still young, we don’t feel that these online multiplayer features are for them right now, so we do not log into the internet whilst playing the game.

When we are playing together as a family, we usually choose to play in Survival Mode and we turn off the ‘Player vs Player’ option to encourage cooperative play instead of competitive play. This makes the game much fun because we have to work together as a family to get through the game.

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Owls Well in Minecraft

How do we work together in the game? Well, let’s take this picture as an example.

One of the first things you have to do when you start the game is to build a shelter to hide in so that you can avoid having to fight off monsters at night or have a place to recuperate after going on a night hunt! In the picture, you can see a simple house that we built together during one of our gameplay sessions.

The wood for the house was from trees that I cut down using an axe made by the Barn Owl. The glass windows were made by J from sand blocks that he heated in a furnace. The Barn Owl lured animals like sheep, pigs and cows into a wooden pen so that we could have a steady supply of food. Little E cleared the land and planted wheat which can be used to feed our livestock or used to bake bread, then she tamed dogs to help to protect the land. So you see, we created a base from which we can explore the rest of the game map at our own leisure.

The multiplayer mode can be played using a ‘split-screen view‘, which means that we can all be in the same room at the same time sharing the same screen. This also means that every player in the game does not have to do the exact same thing at the same time (although we try to stay around the same location) – for example, J happened reading books about pyramids and monuments, so he spent time building the ziggurats that you can see in the background of the picture, whilst Little E and I went fishing in the nearby lake.

One of the aspects of Minecraft that I like is how items are constructed as part of gameplay. For example, if I want to craft an iron pickaxe, I have to mine iron ore out of the ground, smelt it in a furnace to make iron ingots, then use several ingots in combination with a wooden stick in order to make a pickaxe. This gives kids an idea of some the real world processes involved the creation of manmade objects, and is one of the reasons why J and Little E were excited about visiting an exhibition on rocks and gemstones!

When we are playing together in Minecraft, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We play nice – that means no destroying each other’s buildings or killing each other’s pets, it also means that we are kind with our words
  2. We share – all resources must be shared and no one will be excluded from any in-game activity
  3. We are respectful towards each other – we ask before taking or using resources that have been stored away, especially if those resources are difficult to obtain
  4. We look out for each other – that means nobody gets left behind, we help defend each other against hostile creatures
  5. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!