Building a world of fun together (ft. Miclik)

Months ago, Thumper was reaching the stage where he was starting to push himself around the house. He grabbed everything in sight and the first thing he’d do is shove it into his mouth. He was so excited to learn about the world, he just crawled everywhere with his little tongue hanging out of his mouth like a puppy.

Of course, this meant that it was time to put all the Legos away, as the tiny pieces are all potential choking hazards. I also had to put away our beloved Citiblocs away as prolonged chewing and sucking on the porous wooden pieces would probably ruin them. I brought out our trusty set of Duplo blocks, hoping that this would appease J and Little E, who complained loudly and at length as I put away their favourite construction toys.

Unfortunately, the Duplos no longer interested them (I mean, once you start on Legos and Citiblocs, it’s really hard to go back!) so I started looking out for toys that would be fun for my 8 year old, challenge my 5 year old but still be safe for my little crawler.

This is when local enrichment center, Explorer Junior (not to be confused with Junior Explorers Singapore) , introduced me to the wonderful world of Miclik – and I’m glad to say that it’s a toy that all my three kids can play with together.

miclik-creative-blocks-party

I find Miclik to be such an elegant and innovative toy. Really, I expect nothing less from a building toy that is created in Barcelona, one of the leading centres of architecture and design. Marc Castelló, the founder and designer behind the boutique toy company, Mitoi, aims to spark children’s imagination and creativity through his unique and ingenious toys, and I really think that he has succeeded in doing so!

The Miclik toy is a modular construction toy that basically consists of colourful flat hexagons of firm plastic. Each hexagon is hinged in the middle allowing the pieces to be bent back and forth like butterfly wings. It is this very flexibility that the key to opening up a vast world of creative opportunity.

The pieces snap together quickly and easily, and my kids quickly immersed themselves in creating elaborate 3-dimensional structures and wearables for role-play. Best of all, the Miclik toys have undergone rigorous lab-testing to ensure that they are safe and non-toxic – so I don’t have to worry if Thumper uses them as chew toys!

I brought these toys out during a party and they were a real hit with all the children present, who were completely engrossed in making crowns, bracelets and swords, even a pair of handcuffs!

miclik-toys-fun-creative-building

I have never had another construction toy that was so quickly used for interactive, imaginative play.

This is now our toy of choice in the living room, and I often peek in on the three kids to find them on another Miclik adventure. Sometimes they are wearing helmets and defending Thumper with swords and shields, other times they are making hiking boots or snowshoes for expeditions across the Arctic, sometimes I stumble across a herd of Miclik cows and chickens. It’s amazing where this toy has taken them!

Buyer’s Note: Explorer Junior is currently the sole distributor of Miclik toys in Singapore (click here to go to their online store). They may seem pricey at SGD$49.90 (for 48 pcs) or SGD$79.90 (for 96pcs) but they are worth it. I would be very cautious in purchasing cheap imitations as they will not be certified non-toxic or made from the same durable materials.

P.S. Explorer Junior is very kindly offering an exclusive discount code for all Owls Well readers! From now until 15th June 2016, just enter the code OWLS10 at checkout to take 10% off your order! Thanks Explorer Junior!

Don’t just take my word for it – check out these other reviews over at Mum in the Making and Mum’s Calling and see what their Miclik creations!

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Barbie’s New Look

I have a weird relationship with Barbie dolls.  When we were growing up, I used to publicly denounce them as “stupid brainless girly toys” because that was what everyone else called them.

But, I secretly really enjoyed playing with my Princess Barbie doll. I loved brushing her plastic hair and dressing her up in her Princess Dress complete with homemade paper hat.  I secretly wanted to sew new dresses her, but never did.  Heck, one of the papers I did in University was about Barbie’s influence on feminist culture!

So, it’s no surprise that I’m super-excited for the new line of Barbie Fashionistas dolls, which not only include new body types like petite, curvy and tall, but also include new heads and skin colours!  I was very pleased to note that one of the dolls sported a generic-looking Asian face, complete with dead-straight hair.  It’s just a nice step in a new direction.

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Plus, it’s in keeping with Barbie’s long and (might I add) illustrious history of being a positive role model for little girls.  I mean, she’s one of the first toys for girls that represented a career other than homemaking and she’s gone on to embody over 150 different careers, including Game Developer and three-term President of the United States of America.

Over the years, Barbie has had some (small) controversy over issues like her unrealistic figure and her temporary divorce from Ken.  Still, these issues aside, it’s clear that Mattel is moving in a more body positive direction and the dolls are clearly quality items.

So, I’m going to support Mattel in this endeavor.  It’s great to see Barbies in multiple shapes and colours and I hope that they keep up the good work!

June Holiday Excursions: Masak-Masak 2015 Children’s Season at the National Museum of Singapore

Visiting the National Museum is always a real treat for our family, and I am continually impressed with the ever-increasing focus of our local museums on coming up with ways to reach out to kids. Every time we visit the museum, there is always something new and interesting going on!

Masak Masak 2015 at the national Museum of Singapore

Masak Masak 2015 at the National Museum of Singapore

Last week, we were invited to attend a special preview of Masak Masak 2015, part of the annual Children’s Season at the National Museum of Singapore, featuring 10 new installations from local and international artists. We spent the better part of the day exploring the various interactive exhibits, following the ‘Baby Block’s Day Out’ storybook guide that is specially designed to engage the children and get them to record their thoughts and observations about each exhibit.

We were also very privileged to be able to meet two of the artists, Mademoiselle Maurice (from France) and Crystal Wagner (from the USA) whose works are part of the Masak Masak 2015 showcase.

I was particularly fascinated by Mademoiselle Maurice’s explanation of the inspiration behind her work, “Spectrum of Paper” (2015) which is currently hanging from the ceiling of the museum’s front atrium. This colourful origami suspension is inspired by the Japanese legend that promises to grant the wish of anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes, and the various colours and paper creatures represent the multicultural nature of Singaporeans all blending together to form a harmonious rainbow.

Spectrum of Paper by Mademoiselle Maurice

J and Little E peruse their activity book whilst Mademoiselle Maurice talks about “Spectrum of Paper (2015)”

Mademoiselle Maurice also collaborated with our local TV star, Jeanette Aw, to produce another “Spectrum of Paper” origami wall installation based on Jeanette Aw’s book, “Sol’s World: Somebody to Love” (available for purchase (S$19) at the Museum shop). This installation is interactive in nature and visitors are encouraged to add their own origami creation to the wall.

Following 'Sol's Journey'

Following ‘Sol’s Journey’

Jeanette Aw also created two large wall murals, both of which are meant for children to scribble or etch on! Naturally, J and Little E took to this invitation with great gusto, scribbling and colouring to their hearts delight. You can see J in the picture above drawing butterflies to add to “Life’s Best Journey is with The One You Love” (Jeannette Aw, 2015), and below, Little E is colouring in some flowers on “Simple Pleasures in Life” (Jeanette Aw, 2015).

J and Little E were also completely mesmerised by the field of “Dancing Solar Flowers” (2004 – 2015), created by Alexandre Dang from France, and they enjoyed playing hide-and-seek in the huge crepe paper playscape, “Wanderlust” (2015) by Crystal Wagner from the USA, popping in and out of the various tunnels and holes like little meerkats.

Our favourite installations at Masak Masak 2015

Our favourite installations at Masak Masak 2015

My favourite exhibit by far has to be “Luma-City” (2015) by local industrial designers, Lim Kim and Alfred Lim. This is a playspace set up in a darkened room which has a special phosphorus coated flooring. Kids push giant toy vehicles around the floor which leave luminescent trails behind them, glowing vividly in their wake for a few moments before fading away. What I found particularly exciting was that each trail had a particular shape that is related to the type of vehicle being pushed around – for example, the train left behind train tracks, whilst the boat left behind waves of water. Very cool!

There are also special workshops and performances going on every weekend throughout the month of June (dates and details at the end of this post 1). We were very fortunate to be able to bag a space in an art therapy workshop run by The Red Pencil, a charity that uses art therapy to help children and families stricken by long term illness, disability or trauma.

Joint Picture Joins Hearts

Joint Picture Joins Hearts: An Art Therapy Workshop by The Red Pencil

During the workshop, we were encouraged to talk to each other about our playtime experiences and paint a picture together as a family whilst using positive feedback to show how we value and respect each other as individuals.

Afterwards, the kids and I headed outside to play on the inflatable bouncy playgrounds on the front lawn of the museum, but these were unfortunately closed for the afternoon (the playgrounds are only open from 10am-12pm and 4-6pm on weekends), so we contented ourselves with gelato from Momolato (10-6pm every weekend until 28th June) in a special blue vanilla flavour topped with honeyed popcorn! Delicious!

Sitting on MÙTÓU (Little Ong, fFurious) with the inflatable playground based on the iconic Dragon Playground of Toa Payoh in the background

Enjoying gelato whilst sitting on MÙTÓU (by Little Ong, fFurious) with the inflatable playground based on the iconic Dragon Playground of Toa Payoh in the background

By the way, I’ve put together a little video guide on how to maximise your visit to the museum featuring some of our favourite exhibits and activities! Enjoy!

Masak Masak 2015 runs from 30 May 2015 to 10 August 2015 from 10am – 6pm at the National Museum of Singapore. Admission is free!


1. Wayang Kulit Puppetry Performance by Jeremy Hiah: 13 & 14 June, 20 & 21 June, 8 & 9 August at 2:30pm (Admission is free)

Shadow Puppetry Workshop: 13, 20, 27th June from 1030 – 1200h (Tickets are $20 for one parent-child pair and are available from SISTIC)

Preparing for Baby: Resources from the public library

It has been a while since we’ve had a tiny baby in the house, and I not only need to refresh my own memory but also make sure that both J and Little E know what to expect.

Little E is getting tired of the books that we already have in the house pertaining to babies, so this gives us an excuse to take a trip to the local library, which has tons of very good titles about introducing a new baby to the family as well as several useful reference books to help prepare expectant parents.

Here are some of the library books that I have found the most useful both for myself and for the children:

From the Junior Lending Section

From the Junior Lending Section

1. There’s a House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae & Vanessa Cabban (Call number: English AND)

This is a lovely rhyming story about a little boy waiting for his brother or sister to arrive, and he imagines that his mother’s growing belly is a house where the baby is staying! This book is really great for helping kids to understand why their mummy is changing in both appearance and behaviour, especially focussing on symptoms of pregnancy such as feeling tired and sickly (or having bizarre food cravings!).

2. What Baby Needs by William Sears & Martha Sears (Call number: English 649 SEA)

This picture book looks at how life changes for an older sibling once a tiny baby is introduced into the family. It shows what sort of care a newborn baby will receive, as well as the different roles that family members play in the baby’s life. At the beginning of each section there are notes aimed at grownups with useful advice on what sort of information and stories that can be shared with a child to help them to understand what is to come, as well as how to deal with specific issues and worries that children might face when preparing for a new sibling. The detailed illustrations show all sorts of scenes that are associated with attachment parenting, such as baby-wearing in a sling or a carrier (by both parents!), co-sleeping and breastfeeding, to help kids become familiar with these actions taking place in their own home. A very practical book!

3. New Baby by Nicola Barber (Call number: English 306.875 BAR)

I like this particular book because it uses photographs instead of illustrations and thoroughly explores how an older brother and sister might feel when a new baby comes into their life. A very useful book to use as a springboard for discussion with the big brother/sister-to-be about any uncertainty or anxiety that they might be feeling as they anticipate a big life change.

In the Adult Lending Section

In the Adult Lending Section

1. On becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo (Call number: English 649.122 EZZ -[FAM])

This is a great book for troubleshooting babies. Of course, I realise that the methods used in ‘Babywise’ are controversial, but I actually found the concept of parent-led schedules very useful. The book itself is a good guide on how to manage the early days of infancy, from breastfeeding to sleeping, and it helped me gain confidence in myself as a parent. I found that the book helped me develop my own framework on how to organise my day and how to fit a new baby’s routine into an already existent, fixed schedule. The very practical advice in the book helped me greatly, especially during those early sleep-deprived days when common sense and logical thinking goes out the window!

2. Twice Blessed by Joan Leonard (Call number: English 649.143 LEO -[FAM])

I found this book extremely useful when preparing for a second (and third!) child. The author of the book is brutally honest about the impact that second children have on a family, and deals with many issues surrounding second children, including sibling rivalry. It really helped me to think through how I would prepare my first child for the arrival of a younger sibling.

3. Fun Start by June Oberlander (Call number:English 649.5 OBE -[FAM])

This book is a collection of weekly games which are matched to a child’s age and development from birth to 5 years old. It gives you a great idea on what kind of interaction to expect from your child at different stages in his or her development, and has plenty of fun, simple activities that you can do with your growing child every week. All the activities are really short and simple, and they mostly involve common household objects, so they are easy to carry out. I loved finding new ways to play with my kids, so this was a really enjoyable and useful read for me!

Controlled Crying: An Australian Play

If you’re in Sydney in November (or if you live in Sydney) and are looking to experience Australia’s rich theatrical culture, you might want to check out Controlled Crying at the Beecroft Community Centre from the 7th to the 9th of November.

107180_Flyer_CompressControlled Crying is the product of Australian playwright, Ron Elisha, and tells the story of Libby and Oscar as they spend 27 years raising their daughter together.  It’s a deep and realistic exploration of the roles, rules, joys and sorrows of parenting a child in the computer age.

This play is 100% Australian directed and produced by my good friend and wedding coordinator, Tracey Okebey, whose directorial style (as experienced during the many appointments I’ve had regarding the upcoming nuptials) I can only describe as authoritative, but open to suggestion.

The actors she’s picked for the project are pretty skilled too!  Elizabeth Chambers, who is playing LIbby, is a veteran of community theatre.  A childcare worker by day, astronomer and accountant student by night and performer whenever she’s free, Elizabeth is a bit of a star in the Beecroft community with roles such as The Cat in the Hat in Seussical the Musical and The Witch in Into the Woods.  Plus, she’s also a director herself, having directed and written several pantomimes to date!

David Roberts, the mysterious man playing Oscar, is a prolific Facebook poster and semi-employed teacher who moonlights as a man with a laptop and serious purpose.

Tracey herself is no slouch either.  A veteran of the acting community, she’s directs a large number of plays per year.  According to the status reports I’ve had from her, the performance is in its final stages and coming together well.  She’s working hard to get her actors to delve deep into Libby and Oscar’s unspoken lives to get the strong intensity of emotion that the play requires.  Under her direction, Controlled Crying promises to be an emotionally intense experience.

Controlled Crying will be staged at the Beecroft Community Centre on 111 Beecroft Road in Beecroft on Friday 7th November to Sunday 9th November.  Tickets cost $15 – $20 and can be purchased at here.

Don’t miss it!

Blunderbus Theatre Company presents How to Catch A Star – A review

Let's catch a star together!

Let’s catch a star together!

We were invited to the opening performance of ‘How to Catch A Star‘ yesterday, performed by the Blunderbus Theatre Company from the UK – and it was bundle of fun from start to finish!

The fun started as we were all getting seated in the theatre before the start of the show. The cast members were already mingling with the kids in the audience, charming each one and learning their names in order to give them a special starry moment by calling out to them during the performance.

Imagine J’s delight when Boy pointed towards him during the show and called him a ‘Lucky Star’! J’s big beaming smile was priceless!

Both J and Little E were absolutely captivated by the adventures of Boy (played by Ben Sbuttoni) and the Invisible Starkeepers, Ariel and Aurora, (played by Emma Hilts and Katie Burchett), as they traipsed across the sea, land, and even outer space on a quest to find a starry friend.

Ben, Emma (who plays the ukulele during the show) and Katie (with her clarinet) had us all giggling with delight with their fun antics and expressive vocal sound effects, adding life to the storytelling which was accomplished using vibrantly coloured Oliver Jeffers-inspired props and puppets. You can really tell from their physicality and energy that the cast members have a real enthusiasm for bringing the magic of theatre to children! (Read my interview with lead actor Ben Sbuttoni here).

The interactive segments during the show are really great for wiggly little preschoolers – but watch out for some light showers during the early and mid-sections of the play. Little E was squealing with laughter during these moments, whilst J took cover underneath his own seat! (The auntie sitting in front of us even got out a handkerchief, knotted at each corner to make a makeshift umbrella-hat, old school style!)

With Boy aka Mr Ben Sbuttoni

With Boy aka Mr Ben Sbuttoni

After the show, the cast members met us all outside for a very quick meet-and-greet…and all the children received stickers and balloons to bring home. What a wonderful end to a really magical afternoon!

‘How to Catch a Star’ will be showing from 24-27 April 2014 at the SOTA (School of The Arts) Drama Theatre and tickets are available at SisticThere are still plenty of tickets left, but I hear that they are selling out pretty fast – so grab yours quick before they are all gone!

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (and a SUPER giveaway!)

One of the very first books that I ever bought for J and Little E was ‘How to Catch a Star’ by Oliver Jeffers.

Oliver Jeffers is an artist, raised in Ireland, who makes picture books (amongst other things) – and these pictures books are favourites here at Owls Well. We love his books for their deceptively simple illustrations, quirky humour and underlying themes of curiosity and discovery.

Oliver Jeffers actually recently documented his trip to Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where he celebrated the 10th Anniversary of ‘How to Catch a Star’ with the release of a new edition which has some previously unpublished drawings in it! I am not surprised that the book has already become a classic.

book-kids-star-jeffers-picture

Picture Credit: Oliver Jeffers

The story itself is simple and sweet, about a boy searching for a star of his very own and finding a friend. He tries several different methods to obtain his goal, and just when he is about to give up, he finds out that special treasures can be found in unexpected places.

When J and Little E found out that their favourite book had been adapted into a stage play by Blunderbus Children’s Theatre UK, they were both really very excited! The flyer for the play, which has been brought to Singapore by ABA productions (who also organised KidsFest 2014), is still lying underneath J’s pillow, along with all his special treasures.

I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with the lead actor, Benjamin Sbuttoni, and Simon Sanchez, the Blunderbus Outreach Co-ordinator.

1. What inspired you to choose this particular book to adapt into a play?

 ‘How to Catch a Star’, jumped out at us straight away. The story is funny, beautiful, and the little boy is a wonderful character who is determined to achieve his goal…to catch his star.

The story gave us lots of ideas for what we could put on the stage. There are epic moments like travelling through space in his space rocket, and there are intimate moments like when the little boy is all alone with just his teddy bear for company.

We look for a story which will engage children (and adults) on different levels and ‘Star’ does that and so much more.

2. What were the major challenges that you faced in translating ‘How to Catch a Star’ from page to stage, and how did you work around them? 

We see challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to be more imaginative, more creative, and push ourselves to create the best story we can. For example, in our show we use puppets, and if there is any a point that an actor can’t do something, then we get the puppet to do it.

We find that by seeing every struggle as a possibility to excel, then we end up with a show that the children will love.

3. What message would you like children to take away at the end of the show?
To never stop dreaming and one day you’ll reach the stars!
blunderbus theatre stageplay

Picture Credit: Blunderbus Theatre

The play opens next week, on the 24 April 2014 at SOTA’s Drama Theatre, and my whole family is going to be there!

I cannot wait to see it!

A Special Surprise for Owl’s Well Readers: ABA Productions is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of a Family Set of 4 top tier Category 1 tickets (worth SGD$248) to the Opening Performance of How to Catch a Star on Thursday April 24th at 5pm, right here on Owls Well! Huzzah!

To take part in the Giveaway just:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook page
  2. Share this post on your Facebook page and tag a friend – make sure your post is set to public
  3. Leave a comment below telling me your favourite kid’s book and the name of your Facebook account that you used to like the page. Don’t forget to include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)

(Giveaway is open to readers in Singapore and will end at midnight on 20th April 2014. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

Good luck!

Update: Evelyn is our winner – thanks for playing!