Owls Well presents: Living Clay/Studio Asobi

So, during the June school holidays this year, I wrote about our experience at a pottery workshop with Studio Asobi. Well, our pieces have been glazed and fired by Huiwen from Studio Asobi, and they are so much prettier than we ever expected!

Here’s a little video I made of our time at the pottery wheel – and the results of our labour!

Here are some thing I learned about the glazing and firing process:

  1. Applying the glaze will add layers to your final piece, so the walls of your clay piece will appear much thicker than your original creation, and any scratches and marks made on the surface will be more shallow.
  2. The firing process dries the clay out as it hardens, and the final product will be at least one-third smaller in size. So if you want to make a dainty teacup, your original creation may have to be as big as a mug!
  3. Be brave about experimenting with glazes! As you can see from the video, different glaze combinations can have startlingly different results. I regret not taking a bigger risk with my glaze selections…but now I know that I can be braver next time around!

Studio Asobi welcomes back participants of previous workshops with a markedly reduced fee and as always, 20% of their profits are donated to The Mercy Centre’s Trolley Ministry for Singapore’s homeless population. I would love to work with them again!

 

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Living Clay: A pottery workshop with Studio Asobi

Last weekend, we joined a clay workshop with Studio Asobi, a local pottery studio run by ceramic artists, Huiwen and Kenneth.

I had been wanting to attend one of their clay workshops for a very long time, ever since some of my friends showed me some cups and bowls that their kids had made under the couple’s tutelage last year. Each piece was entirely unique to the child who made it, and with the process of glazing and firing, had been turned into beautiful and useful works of art. To me, this meant that Huiwen and Kenneth were able to engage each student individually, and guide them in bringing their imagination to life.

This is why when my own extended family expressed an interest in attending a holiday workshop together, I was very quick to volunteer to recommend and organise a session with Studio Asobi!

We were a little late arriving that home studio in Hougang, but we were just in time to hear about how Huiwen – who had no artistic training – had taken a sabbatical from her corporate job to explore Japanese ceramics at a year-long stay-in programme in the old pottery town of Taijimi. After her return, she decided to pursue pottery-making full-time, and eventually, her husband Kenneth, gave up his career in architecture to devote his time to ceramic sculpture. Together, their works are seen all over the world, from local ceramic installations to Belgian pottery expos to Australian restaurants. They also use their art to benefit social causes that work with poor and needy, as well as pledging 20% of all their profits to support the Mercy Centre’s Trolley Ministry, which works with the homeless in Singapore.

Afterwards, Kenneth and Huiwen showed us the electric kilns in the house, and demonstrated how we start off shaping and moulding the clay using our hands. We were then each given equally sized clay balls, as well as some tools and sat down to start working.

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Beginning to shape each ball of clay

As each of us slowly worked our clay, Huiwen went round and checked our work, advising us on how to smooth out cracks and even out surfaces, showing us how to use the different tools available to make patterns and create textures.

We also had a chance to have a quick tutorial on the pottery wheel. Kenneth gave us a quick demonstration and some pointers on how to use the wheel, and then he guided each of us as we tried our hand at throwing a simple ceramic cup.

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Kenneth of Studio Asobi showing us how to use the pottery wheel

Both J and Little E seemed to really enjoy using the wheel, but it was much more difficult that Kenneth made it seem.

When it was my turn, I could feel the clay moving under my hands as if it were alive. Slowly, I shaped the clay into a little saucer.

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Debs G attempts to throw a ceramic cup on the pottery wheel

It all seemed to be going very well, until a sound from inside the house broke my concentration and I looked up for a split second, losing control of the clay and turning it back into a formless lump!

Oh well!

The Barn Owl was able to manage the clay quite well and with his delicate touch, was even able to get the walls of the little cup to be thin and even. It was amazing to watch him, as I could see on the Barn Owl’s face that a serene peacefulness settled on him whilst he was shaping the clay. It is unsurprising that working with pottery is can be very therapeutic!

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The Barn Owl reaching a meditative state and making a tiny dish

After giving the potters wheel a go, all of us went back to put the final touches on our little clay creations. Huiwen and Kenneth showed us how to add little decorations, handles or feet to the outside of our handiwork. We then etched a symbol or initial on the bottom of our pieces so that they could be easily identified.

Then it was time to decide on the glaze or glaze combination would look the best on our works – Huiwen would apply the glazes for us once the clay dried fully before firing them in the electric kilns (you can see the kilns in the picture below).

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With Huiwen of Studio Asobi

In the end, Little E made a mug, J fashioned a soup bowl, the Barn Owl moulded a bud vase and I made a dish. It is so amazing the number of different objects that we each made out of the same lumps of clay!

I can hardly wait to see how our little clay pots and cups will turn out in three week’s time!

(Update: Check out our finished ceramics here!)

For more information about Studio Asobi click here

For more information about family, group or corporate workshops with Studio Asobi click here

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:

the-little-executive-holiday-camp

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! 

INK to the Void – a creative writing holiday camp by Monsters Under The Bed

Last December, we were very privileged to have been invited to another brilliant creative writing workshop run by Monsters Under The Bed!

J had such a great time at the SurviveINK and the EpicQuestINK workshops, I just knew that he would be totally stoked to attend INK to the Void, a space-opera themed workshop!

I have to say that I was really impressed by how hard Lead Trainer Leroy Lam worked to organise a completely immersive experience for the kids, even teaming up other homegrown companies like KIT SABERS and SaberMach to provide the appropriate props for the workshop.

When we received an email inviting all initiates of the Knights of Inspiration to the Arts House to join in the fight against Emperor Banal, J really started to get fired up. Imagine how excited he was after watching the following video, designed to introduce the workshop trainers (all of whom are professional, published writers!)

We also received a little worksheet, with some basic guidelines as to what to expect as well as some exercises to help prepare them for the workshop. From the worksheet, I could see that this workshop mainly revolved around world-building, that is, creating a fictional universe that is established enough to allow a reader to suspend their disbelief and become fully engaged with the story.

As with all other Imagination and Knowledge (INK) workshops, INK to the Void took place over three days. On the first day, after a short briefing, all the kids were divided into groups according to age and ability. J was in a group of 6-7 year old kids, all boys with bloodthirsty instincts, and introduced to their two trainers. I was pleased to see that there would be at least two trainers managing each group, which allowed for more individual attention.

The kids were each given a series of activities and worksheets encouraging kids to think out of the box and invent their own science fiction worlds populated with creatures adapted to life on other planets. The trainers then guided each child into thinking critically about how their imaginary creatures would have evolved to surviving in an alien planet’s climate and atmosphere. They then awarded credits based on the degree of inventiveness and detail of each child’s work.

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An Immersive Experience

Credits earned during each activity could be exchanged for real-world equipment such as blasters, shields and health packs at the INK to the Void trading post. It was worth it just to see the looks on the boys’ faces as walked into the trading post and caught sight of the vast array of shiny new blasters!

I found out later that each of the blasters started off as fancy water guns purchased from Daiso and elaborately decorated with metallic paints. The trainers even took special care to make sure that no two blasters were exactly alike!

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J goes shopping at the INK to the Void Co-op

After the first set of writing exercises, the trainers took the various groups for an adventure walk around the Arts House as part of a reconnaissance mission (but really to get the wiggles out of the younger kids who had been sat in a room for too long).

Each group had their own little pick-your-own-adventure, heavily customised to the suggestions of the group’s participants, and at the end of it each group discovered a bizarrely decorated cube.

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J presents The Artefact

They were then asked to examine the cubes and decide what each component of the cube could do. Some of the kids were asked to present their Scientific Findings to the rest of the class.

J, as usual, applied his comedic mind to the task and decided that the telescopic sight on the cube could be used on bad guys by making them appear naked so that they would be embarrassed and run away!

*facepalm*

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J presents his ideas to the class before watching a saber fight display

During the second day of the camp, the kids were encouraged to dress up and get into the role-playing spirit of the workshop! J carefully packed his blaster and shield into his backpack and I managed to cobble together an outfit for him using one of my tunic tops which I cinched together at the waist with a sash. I thought it would help him pass for a pretty good Jedi knight!

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Our little Inspiration knight going on epic adventures and battling his trainers

The day started off with a set of games, where the kids had to use the characters that they had invented from the previous day’s work and imagine how their characters would interact with each other in different settings and scenarios.

These games eventually evolved into a create-your-own-adventure style group storytelling session. At the end of it, the trainer wrote down the main events of their adventure on a whiteboard which each child used as an outline to base their story upon, adding their own details as seen from their character’s role and point of view.

On the last day of the camp, Little E (who had been attending the camp as an observer) wanted to get in on the roleplaying action, so I did up her hair into two little buns, turned a fleece-lined vest inside out, and found an old braided hairband for her to wear as a belt. Not a bad costume for a Princess Leia wannabe, if I do say so myself!

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J and Little E get into the roleplaying spirit

This last day of the workshop was mainly focussed on refining their stories and sharing their writings with each other, but the highlight of the day was when each child ‘graduated’ as Knight initiates and earned their Inspiration Blades.

Basically, this meant that they built a lightsaber from scratch using parts supplied by KIT SABERS.

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J posing with Little E and preparing the parts to his Inspiration Blade under the watchful eye of Lead Trainer Leroy

As you can imagine, the room was awash with excitement, as each child helped assemble their own working lightsaber, and then customised their lightsaber hilts with coloured duct tape. J just had the BIGGEST grin on his face the whole week after that!

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A brilliant end to the INK to the Void workshop.

Apart from holiday workshops, Monsters Under the Bed also holds regular writing classes for both primary and secondary school students! If you are looking to give Monsters Under The Bed a looksee, I hear that they are holding trial classes at the upcoming SmartKids Asia Exhibition during the March School Holiday week from 18 – 20 March 2016. They’ll be at the exhibition from 11pm to 9am. You can sign up for their trial classes here.

I’m also looking forward to hearing what they have in store next! Apparently there will be another INK holiday workshop this June 2016, which is going to appeal to both boys and girls alike!

SurviveINK – a creative writing holiday camp by Monsters Under The Bed

Now, you may remember that I wrote about the importance of creative writing and J’s experience at a 3-day workshop with Monsters Under the Bed (MUTB) earlier this year.

J enjoyed his experience at the EpicQuestINK workshop so much, that he was absolutely delighted to be invited back to attend another Imagination and Knowledge “INK” creative writing workshop with MUTB during the June School Holidays – the SurviveINK workshop!

The tagline for the SurviveINK camp was “With friends like these, who needs zombies?”, so we were prepared for him to have a zombie-themed writing workshop. J is quite familiar with the concept of zombies, having come across them during our weekly family jaunts into the world of Minecraft.

However we weren’t prepared for the scale of the SurviveINK holiday camp as presented by MUTB! It was a total immersive experience! I was so impressed by the commitment and dedication of the MUTB trainers in putting this together for the kids.

A week prior to the start of the workshop, J received an email warning him of a zombie-virus epidemic and advising him to prepare himself. This was a brilliant way of getting J to think about what items and skills he might need in order to survive without basic comforts and also how people might behave when faced with impending doom.

To get him hyped up even more, we received a link to this video on the eve of the workshop!

WOOHOOOOOO!!! What a way to get the adrenaline pumping! J could hardly get to sleep for the excitement of it all.

The next day, J, Little E and I (as well as Thumper, drowsing in his sling) headed to The Arts House.

They're heeeere....

They’re heeeere….

We were greeted by a dude in SWAT gear and gas mask (“Sgt Leroy”), patrolling the hallway with a huge gun, whilst a nearby radio played a broadcast in the background, warning us that infected persons will be shot on sight. You can tell by the big grin on J’s face that he was ready for a real adventure!

At 10am, the doors burst open with a clang, and out stalked a lanky, long-haired titaness towering over everyone and wearing the most frightening stilettos I had ever seen. This was “Goth Leader” Xiangxiang, who seemed to be in charge of running the SurviveINK workshop this time.

“CHECK THEM ALL FOR BITES!” she shrieked, waving her gun in the air, “AND GET THE CLEAN ONES IN THE SAFEHOUSE!!”

The children immediately crowded around her with a million questions. “What’s going on?” “Can we go in yet?” “I have a plaster, can I still come in?”

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP”, she yelled, glaring around her, “JUST SHADDUP AND GET IN THE SAFEHOUSE!”

Some of the more mild-tempered children were clearly very intimidated by her brusque manner and hid behind their mums. Not so much J and Little E who were getting more bloodthirsty by the second and asking me if they were going to shoot zombies now or later.

House rules and a creative brainstorm

Safehouse rules and a creative brainstorm

Inside the hall, the children were divided into groups by age, and the various trainers introduced themselves and went through the SafeHouse rules before leading the kids through their first exercise of the day – a creative brainstorm called the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. Each child had to come up with as many uses as possible for a bucket of ice should the zombies start to attack the safe house.

J immediately came up with a whole bunch of different ways to deal with zombies using a bucket of ice and he scribbled all of these down on his worksheet, ignoring grammar, punctuation and spelling in his haste to get as many ideas down in a short period of time. I was very surprised that he came up with more than ten ways to dispatch zombies using an ice bucket!

This was the first of several creative challenges given to the kids during the duration of the workshop.

At the end of each challenge, the kids were given points based on the quantity and complexity of their ideas, and they could use these points throughout the workshop to exchange for skill sets and equipment. This helped them to be more focussed when thinking of characters for their stories and what strengths and weaknesses their characters would have. It also ensured that they did not create superhuman characters with infinite resources which would make for less tension and conflict in their stories.

Points for weapons!

Points for weapons and skills!

At the end of the first day, the children were informed that Safehouse had managed to get into contact with the university laboratory which was responsible for ‘Project Icarus’, the source of the zombie virus. The trainers spoke over the speakerphone to the scientist who had barricaded herself in the lab as zombies hammered on her doors. She had developed a potential cure but hadn’t had time to test it yet! We listened in horror as we heard the zombies smash the laboratory doors down and attack the scientist whose conversation was cut off with a bloodcurdling scream. There was a hideous moan, followed by the wet sounds of chewing.

GROSS.

One of the trainers, who was playing the role of Lab Assistant, broke down in tears as the children looked on in concern. We were told to go and find a safe place to rest and reconvene in the morning.

Well, how’s that for a cliffhanger ending to the first day at the SurviveINK workshop?

J could not wait to return to find out what would happen next, and spent the afternoon discussing with Little E various methods of faking one’s death for a speakerphone conversation.

The next morning, when we arrived at the Arts House, we were congratulated by the gun and pistol wielding MUTB trainers for reaching the ‘Project Icarus Lab’. The MUTB trainers had smeared dirt on their faces and were bespattered with what looked like blood. Dishevelled and panting from exhaustion, they told all the wide-eyed children that they had cleared the whole area of all the zombies overnight but had realised their zombie-detection alarm was still going off. Was it malfunctioning?

The children were each assigned a face mask and latex gloves, and told to enter the Project Icarus lab to look for clues to the location of the zombie cure. They went into the room in batches according to their assigned groups.

When it was finally J’s turn, we entered the room to find that it had been transformed into the Project Icarus laboratory, with glass beakers, petri dishes and even a toy microscope! Chairs and tables were overturned and there were signs of a scuffle. Impressive!

Investigating the lab for clues

Investigating the lab for clues

After searching around the room, J and his group mates found a bloodstained note as well as several bottles of suspicious looking liquids in various colours.

In their groups, they spent some time figuring out the code and decoding the note in order to find out which bottle contained the potential zombie cure. In the meantime, the kids began drafting their first ideas for their zombie-themed story.

J’s idea was to bake the antiviral medication into pies and launch them at the zombies who will inadvertently consume the medicine after receiving a pie-to-the-face. “Then they will be cured!” said J in triumph.

Decoding a puzzle!

Decoding a puzzle!

During the core of the day, the trainers revealed to us that the experimental drug only had a 50% chance of working to cure an infected person and inoculate a non-infected person. If it didn’t work it would either speed up the zombification process, else turn a non-infected person into zombie straightaway.

Xiangxiang pointed out that the zombie-detection alarm was still going off so somebody in the room was infected with the zombie virus. At this, all the children in the room started getting very excited, each pointing at the various trainers, yelling at the top of their lungs and accusing them of being zombies.

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP!”, hollered Xiangxiang, for what seemed to be the millionth time that day, “SHADDUP I NEED TO THINK!”

At this point, J turned to me and whispered, “Do you know who the zombie-in-hiding is? I think it is that shouty lady. Because she’s so angry and zombies are always angry.”

At the end of the second day of the workshop, Xiangxiang accused the Lab Assistant (who had been coughing and shuffling her feet and generally acting suspicious all day long) of being infected, forcing her to drink the experimental drug. Unfortunately, she turned into a zombie and had to be dispatched!

“WHOA!” gasped the room in unison.

Sgt Leroy, falling to his knees, pointed out that that zombie-detection alarm was still going off. So not only did the experimental cure turn out to be a complete dud, but Xiangxiang had wrongly accused the innocent Lab Assistant!

Ooooh, the plot thickens!

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP ALL OF YOU GET OUT, JUST GET OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE! I didn’t mean to kill her!” wailed Xiangxiang in despair, refusing to break character as all of us shuffled past her to leave the room.

Talk about Dramatic Endings!

Oopsie!

Sorry no cure! (literally)

The last day of the workshop was much less exciting at the start. The children were encouraged to improve and fine tune their stories,  writing out a complete final story draft under the tutelage of the trainers. The group leaders and trainers went from child to child, encouraging them and helping to iron out kinks in their plot lines whilst correcting their drafts for grammar and punctuation.

Each child was given a booklet for which to use to illustrate and copy out their completed story. This took up most of the time of the last day.

Finally, all the worksheets and booklets were collected by the trainers (so that the work could be organised neatly), and it was time for all of us to leave the room for a short break which the kids welcomed. The excuse given was that Sgt Leroy was working with another of the MUTB trainers to find a new cure, one which actually works!

When we returned, Sgt Leroy had built himself a barricade and was pacing around inside of it like a caged lion. It turned out that he’d discovered some hidden CCTV footage of Leader Xiangxiang revealing herself to have been bitten in the leg by a zombie, and conspiring with one of the other MUTB trainers to frame the Lab Assistant. So Sgt Leroy completely lost his marbles, destroying the zombie cure and executing everyone in the room one by one, to Dramatic Music!!

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Everybody’s dead, Dave.

As the music stopped, all the MUTB trainers who had been playing dead on the ground got up for a curtain call, and we clapped and cheered for all of their hard work!

J was very excited to receive his mini book from his group leader, who posed with him for a photo. When I asked him how he found the workshop, he replied without hesitation, “IT WAS FUN! Much more fun than the EpicQuestINK!”

J with his group leader looking fierce

J with his group leader looking fierce

Thank you to Monsters Under the Bed for this super-exciting experience with SurviveINK! We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and we are looking forward to attending more creative writing workshops with MUTB!

Monsters Under the Bed are running more INK workshops during the September, November and December holidays this year, so if you’re interested, definitely sign up as spaces get snapped up really fast!

Spell CraftINK

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

The HowlINK

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

INK to the Void

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

Monsters Under the Bed have also recently opened their first brick-and-mortar branch! You can now find their creative writing school at:

MUTB@Frankel
492 Changi Road, Singapore 419900

 

June Holiday Excursions: Muse Arts Holiday Camp (and some grownup me-time)

A fortnight ago, J and Little E were invited to attend a holiday camp called ‘My Amazing Body’ run by Muse Arts Singapore at Natasha Studio in City Square Mall.

When Jacintha (the director of Muse Arts Singapore) contacted me to invite us to join the camp, I was a little bit skeptical about what it was all about. The camp would be 2 hours long, during which the kids would take part in an adventure story about the human body through music, dancing, drama and arts-and-craft. What an impressive range of activities crammed into a short space of time! I thought to myself. How is this possible?

I asked the kids if they would be interested in attending a holiday camp where they would learn about the human body and they seemed pretty keen, so I signed them up.

I figured that it would give me 2 hours to wander around City Square Mall, maybe even take advantage of the Great Singapore Sale! Heehee!

J and Little E at the Muse Arts Holiday Camp

J and Little E at the Muse Arts Holiday Camp

The camp focussed mainly on the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene through the use of soap, proper hand washing and dental care (Little E and J are already very familiar with this as they are raised by two medical doctors). During the camp, the children were taught a little song and dance, which they repeated several times after each activity and performed for the mums at the end.

Although the camp is aimed at children from 4-7 years old, I felt that the activities were more appropriate for a younger age group, perhaps just preschoolers. J, being 7 years old and already in Primary 1, definitely did not take away anything new from the camp, but he did enjoy clowning around with the instructors and grooving along to the music with the other kids. Little E, however, became a little bit tired of the repetitive nature of the dancing and decided to rest at the side of the room, just watching the other kids who seemed very engaged, laughing and prancing about. She revived a little by the end of the camp, just long enough to take part in the end of class showcase!

As for myself, I thoughtfully spent my two hours sitting in a plush sofa, observing the camp whilst discreetly breastfeeding Thumper, checking out the shops in City Square Mall (specifically Uniqlo, Daiso and a surprisingly well-stocked, reasonably priced bookshop in the basement called ‘My Greatest Child’), before settling down for a foot reflexology massage.

My foot being kneaded into putty by a nice young man.

My foot being kneaded into putty by a nice young man.

I’ve never had a foot reflexology massage before, but it is both excruciatingly painful and incredibly relaxing at the same time. You can’t see it from the picture, but I was so relaxed that I was falling asleep.  I nearly dropped my camera on Thumper’s head (he was asleep on my chest in his little baby sling).  At the end, my feet were pink and happy, and everything was just roses and sunshine.

So, if you are feeling like you desperately need a break away from your preschooler for some grown-up me-time (or so that you can browse Daiso without having to say to the phrase “please stop touching EVERYTHING”), then the Muse Arts camp is a good way to keep the kids gainfully occupied for a few hours.

If you’re interested, here’s a copy of the flyer for the next holiday camp which is on the 22nd of June!

Muse Arts has also agreed to give 10% off registration fees for Owls Well readers who quote “owlswell” when registering their child/children for Jungle Rumble by this coming Friday, 19th June 2015. 1525735_329503693840698_2796245716670959919_n

EpicQuestINK – a creative writing workshop by Monsters Under The Bed

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

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

And…it’s fun to make up stories.

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

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

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

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

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

Sounds complex, right?

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

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

The email was accompanied by this video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2nd and 3rd day of EpicQuestINK

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

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

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

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

SurviveINK

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

Spell CraftINK

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

The HowlINK

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

INK to the Void

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

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

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

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

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