Owls Well presents: Seaspiration/Dottieshop

The year end school holidays are upon us, and I have got a really great holiday activity to share with you!

The kids were recently inspired by a trip to the S.E.A. Aquarium and we were able to support their creative outpouring using a watercolour kit sent to us from Dottieshop.

Here’s a little video I made of our adventure:

I have tried teaching the kids to paint with watercolours in the past, but lacked the know how and experience, so I found the guidance from Dottieshop’s instructions extremely useful! As you can see from the video, even 2 year old Thumper was able to paint with watercolours and bring to life his unique vision.

I really liked this watercolour kit for kids because it combined several different creative techniques to achieve the final product: the kit teaches drawing using image transfer as well as wet-on-wet watercolour blending, and provides all the tools and equipment you’ll need to make some pretty pictures. Additionally, the whole kit comes in a neat little pouch which not only makes it easy to store away, but you could potentially bring it with you anywhere for a pop-up watercolour experience!

Afterwards, the kids wanted to know more about the life aquatic, so we headed over to Youtube to find more information. I’ve created a kid-friendly playlist of our favourite ocean-related educational videos that we found – hopefully they will inspire you and your kids too!

Dottieshop also holds watercolour and brush calligraphy workshops at Artify Studio! Her next few workshops will be Christmas themed, so why not bring the kids along and make your own holiday gifts! Her Christmas floral watercolour workshops are on 6 Dec 2017 at 7-10pm and 17 Dec 2017 at 3-6pm, and there’s also a special parent-child Under The Sea workshop on 20th Dec 2017 at 10am-12pm. You can sign up for them at Dottieshop’s event pages here.

If you’d like to try out Dottieshop’s art kits or get one as a gift, just click on the picture below.dottieshop-illustration-watercolour-calligraphy-kit.jpg

Visit the S.E.A. Aquarium here

Visit Dottieshop here

(By the way, here’s my previous review of the Dottieshop ‘Hello Spring’ watercolour kit)

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Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

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Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

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Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

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The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Life Science in a Jar: Mealworms

J came home one day and asked for a disposable tupperware for school. His Science teacher wanted each child to bring home a mealworm to rear over the March school holidays.

I didn’t know anything about mealworms so whilst he was in school, I did a little bit of research and found out that they are quite easy to rear – all they need for food and bedding is dry oatmeal. They get enough water from their food, so it isn’t necessary to provide a water bowl, which acts more like a death trap for unsuspecting mealworms.

Of course, when J brought the mealworms home, both the mealworms were lying in a small puddle of water. It had been a hot day and J thought they might need a drink – all living things need water to survive, right?

WRONG.

Neither of the mealworms appeared to be moving, so I told J that he might have accidentally drowned both of them. Poor J was crestfallen.

“Poor innocent mealworms,” he moaned, peering at the motionless creatures, “They were so active before and now they’re just lying on their backs! They look so stiff.”

Just then, A Becky C happened to phone up for a chat. Well, I remembered all of a sudden that she used to rear mealworms in an old pencil case! Ah ha! Help has arrived!

“DEBS!!!! I have something important to tell you!” she chirped in my ear.

“NONONONO WAIT WAIT LISTEN LISTEN THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!” I shrieked back. “I THINK THE MEALWORMS HAVE DROWNED!”

A Becky C laughed at me, then said “Okay calm down. If they aren’t swimming around in water, they might still be okay. Just dry them off with a tissue. Mealworms are very stupid. Sometimes they get so stressed that they think that they’re dead, but they aren’t. The only way to tell that they are actually dead is if they start to curl up and decompose. Then you’ll know that they’re dead.”

So J dried the mealworms off with a tissue and sure enough, after a few minutes, one of the mealworms started to twitch it’s legs ever so slightly. Then it seemed to wake up and start crawling around again. The other mealworm just lay quietly but every so often it would twitch and shudder, as if remembering it’s watery ordeal.

I transferred the mealworms into a dry container with a nice layer of dried oatmeal, and both the mealworms immediately buried themselves in the meal.

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Three stages of the mealworm’s lifecycle

By the next day, one of the mealworms was fully revived and was running laps around the perimeter of the container. The other worm was very lethargic. It moved so little that we were convinced that it was dead.

Turns out, the blessed creature was busy pupating – it eventually shed its skin and turned into greyish-white pupa. A week or so later, the pupa split open and a white beetle crawled out, which turned brown, then black.

J and Little E took turns feeding the mealworm and darkling beetle. Occasionally, if they were eating a piece of fruit, they’d drop a small piece in as a treat to the beetles.

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Keeping an eye on things

Of course, Thumper was most fascinated by the little creatures and would check on them many times an hour. I had to teach him to stop picking up the container and shaking it around, which would send both the mealworm and darkling beetle into spasms. Eventually, he learned to grip the edge of the table instead and just bring his head down to the table surface to peek at the insects. I’m so glad that he’s learned how to respect small creatures!

Both of J’s mealworms have completed their life cycles and are now darkling beetles, and J is hoping that they will start breeding soon. (Also, Little E is complaining that she doesn’t have a pet. So let’s see what we can do about that.)

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.

egg-vinegar-experiment

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.

 

Introducing your child to a New Baby

Last year, I wrote about how The Barn Owl and I prepare our kids to welcome a new baby into the family. Since then, I’ve had messages from other parents wondering how we prepare our kids to meet their new sibling for the first time.

J and Little E love their little brother Thumper to bits, and they both help me out a lot at home by looking after him and playing with him, which I am very grateful for. When they met him for the first time, they were both so excited and so happy to see him! They absolutely couldn’t get enough of him.

I was so glad that the groundwork we had laid in the months previously really paid off!

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J and Little E meeting Thumper for the first time

I think it is really important for the new baby to make a good impression on his or her older sibling as well. The Barn Owl and I always try our best to make sure that not only our older kid is mentally and emotionally prepared, but that the baby is also ready to meet them too!

So here’s:

Debs G’s Guide to Introducing your Child to a New Sibling

  1. Prepare your child for a special solo adventure. You’ve probably already made arrangements for who will be looking after your older kids when you head off to the labour ward. The kids have to know that they will be spending at least one night away from both Mummy and Daddy, so it’s worthwhile letting them have a taste of this experience at least once beforehand so that they have something to look forward to. This is a no-holds barred opportunity for grandparents or relatives to coddle and spoil the children and otherwise turn their stayover into a junk food fueled paradise of fun. I also took advantage of this opportunity to squeeze in a date night with The Barn Owl (fancy restaurant and a movie) and to have a lavishly indulgent lie-in the next day.
  2. It’s all about Daddy now. In the month or so leading up to the end of your pregnancy, it will be time to let Daddy take the reins with the kids, especially with regards to the baths as well as the evening and bedtime routine. After all, you will need to be able to devote time to the new baby without your kids feeling abandoned – and Daddy will have to practice putting the kids to sleep on his own since he may have to spend a day or two doing that anyway.
  3. Resist the urge to have the children brought to you immediately after labour. If you are anything like me, you are the sort of person who does not want their children in the labour room with you. My reason for excluding the children from the birth is because I knew from previous experience, that I am an emotional and otherwise unpleasant person during labour, and I do not want to traumatise them. After labour, when both I, my husband and the baby are exhausted and messy-looking, I think that seeing the kids immediately would not be a pleasant or reassuring experience for them (even though it would be a reassuring experience for me). I feel that it is better for them to hear my cheerful voice over the phone, then for them to look at my exhausted face and see me with all the tubes and urinary catheter in situ. Even if I reassure them verbally, they will still worry for my well-being after observing me in that condition – and I don’t want them to ever resent the new baby.
  4. Do not hog your husband – the kids need him. After labour is over, and both baby and I are nicely cleaned up and waiting to be transferred to the ward, this is when The Barn Owl leaves and goes home. He does not stay over in the hospital with me and he does not spend every waking moment in the hospital with me in the days to come. Yes, it’s lonely being in hospital on my own, but really, I do not need him with me anymore – I can get on with the breastfeeding and everything on my own or with the help of the nurses – so it would be selfish to keep him in hospital with me when the other children need him much more. Let him go home, reassure the kids, show them pictures of the new baby and sleep comfortably in his own bed.
  5. Timing is everything. First impressions count, so I always make sure that both I and the new baby are looking spiffy when the older sibling(s) arrive. The best time to do this is in the mid-morning after the doctors ward rounds and baby checks, and just after the baby has had a full feed and has had a nappy change. This will mean that the baby is in a good mood, maybe even alert for a few minutes. I always make sure that my hubby gives me a heads up before coming to the hospital with the kids, so that I have time to prepare the baby! I also make sure that the baby is lying happily in the bassinet on the far side of the room when their big brother/sister arrives, and not in my arms or being breastfed. If I’m still breastfeeding or changing the baby when they get to the hospital, I tell my husband to distract the kids until we are both ready. I want the older kids to walk in the room and see me waiting for them with open arms! This allows me to literally show them that the baby has not displaced them in my affections!
  6. Greet and cuddle the new big brother/sister first before doing anything else. The first thing that I do is cuddle the older child, making sure that he or she is happy and contented. They need that reassurance that you are still there for them.
  7. Stay by their side until they are ready to see the baby. Once we’ve finished greeting each other, I wait for my kids to ask permission to see the baby! Usually once the kids have ascertained that I am well, they will start to clamour to see the baby. I don’t get up to bring the baby to them either. I sit right next to them and ask their daddy to push the bassinet to the bed, or I hold their hand and walk with them to the bassinet.
  8. Give them space. Your child is going to be more excited about seeing you again than seeing the new baby – mostly because the baby is still just a small blob that lies there and doesn’t do anything. Do not be surprised if after a few moments frowning at the baby in the bassinet, your child wanders off to go look out the window and otherwise appears to be disinterested in the baby. Use this time to thoroughly spoil your older child with attention, and don’t keep trying to draw them back to the baby or pester them with questions about the baby (“Do you like the baby? Huh? Do you? DO you?”). Be cool. It just takes them a longer time to process this whole event, which is really quite overwhelming! They’ll eventually warm up to their new sibling and want to hold it, and take pictures (which will be your cue to make an almighty fuss of them), but if they don’t feel like doing any of that right now, don’t sweat it or it’ll become forced and unpleasant. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to see that sibling bond forming!

Video Game Family Time: Never Alone

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 a very beautifully crafted video game, Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna).

Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna) is a puzzle-platform game born from a collaboration between E-line Media (which specialises in educational games) and Upper One Games, a game company set up by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council which serves the Alaskan Native and American Indian people living in the Cook Inlet region.

The Upper One Games development team includes over 3 dozen Alaska Native elders, storytellers and cultural advisors from the Iñupiat people, who worked very intimately with all levels of the game design, to produce a game that celebrates Inuit folklore, cultural beliefs and values.

The game story follows the adventures of the Iñupiat girl, Nuna, and her arctic fox companion as they traverse the harsh but beautiful Northern Arctic in an attempt to solve the mystery of the endless winter. The game graphics are really something to behold, and are closely based on Alaskan Native art, whilst the story itself is a traditional tale licensed directly from the family that was first recorded telling it.

Never Alone – Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.

We like to play the game in local co-op mode, taking turns to play as as Nuna as well as the arctic fox. Most of the puzzles require the arctic fox and Nuna to work in tandem in order for the game to progress, and it is truly heartwarming to see J and Little E help each other through the game. The game narration is all in the Iñupiat dialect with subtitles, so it was lovely to see J immediately reading out the subtitles to Little E so that she could understand the story.

Additionally, solving new puzzle elements and entering new game areas also unlocks game ‘insights’ which are videos documenting information about the Northern arctic region and the Inuit way of life including interviews with Alaskan Native elders, storytellers and hunters. This is the part where we all get to sit back as a family and learn about a culture that is utterly different from what we know and how the people in that region adapted to their climate. It really is a journey!

When we are playing together in Never Alone, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We listen to each other’s ideas on how to solve each puzzle and try it out, even if we think it won’t work
  2. If a puzzle is difficult, we patiently try again and encourage each other to think of solutions – there will be no belittling of another person for having an idea that didn’t work
  3. We talk to each other nicely – there will be no yelling or getting over-excited during time sensitive sequences
  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