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

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Deep water (or More Geography for Preschoolers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great job, Little E!

Check out Part 1 of this project here 

Water, water, everywhere (or Geography for Preschoolers)

You may have noticed that my posts have been quite sporadic over the last month, and the reason for this is because I have been working with Little E on her latest school holiday project on “Water”.

Little E really wanted to do an educational video series like J did, but she drew inspiration from BBC science and nature documentaries like Planet Earth.

This project was particularly difficult because the topic was just SO broad! I struggled to find an angle to approach this subject that was not already covered by Little E’s preschool teachers.

If I were to help Little E explore the various properties of water or find out about the water cycle or learn how to conserve water, that would be pretty straightforward for me – but it would also mean that Little E would not have anything new or different to share with her classmates when she presented her project…and she wouldn’t be learning anything new herself, so she would get bored.

So I decided to help Little E explore a field of study that is completely foreign to me, namely, geography.

GEOGRAPHY!!!!!

We do study some basic geography in Singapore at the primary and secondary school level, but physical geography – specifically, geomorphology and hydrology – is only studied in depth at the upper secondary school level as an elective subject, not as part of the core curriculum.

This meant that I had to actually do some reading, instead of relying on my own store of knowledge. After all, if I’m going to help Little E learn about water in the world, I have to learn about it myself first! So, the reason why I wasn’t writing in this blog is because I was reading about water and trying to translate the language of geography into kid-speak so that Little E could make her documentary.

In this video, Little E learns about bodies of water and their differing aspects! Enjoy!

(Check out Part 2 of this project here)

If you are interested in some of the resources that I used for this video or if you are looking for resources to introduce your kid to the subject of Geography, here’s a list!


Water, Water Everywhere, What & Why? : Third Grade Science Books Series

The Drop in my Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet


Water Dance


Water Can Be . . . (Millbrook Picture Books)


Hydrology: The Study of Water (True Books: Earth Science (Paperback))

Expanding a child’s worldview: Part 2 (Understanding the needs of others)

As J and Little E get older, I have been trying to find new ways for them to understand their role and place in the world, so that they can grow to be socially responsible people.

They of course understand by now that they are not the centre of the known universe, and that there are people all over the world who lead vastly different lives, people who have been born into hardship. They are aware that there are people in this world who are denied basics that we take for granted – things like clean water, food, healthcare and education. However these are all big and abstract concepts for a small child to grasp, and the challenge I face is finding concrete ways of helping them to understand that every person can do something, no matter how small, to make the world better.

After watching the movie, Tomorrowland, the kids were ready for action, so we sat down with them to talk about the various ways that they could help other people in the world.

One of the things that they decided to do was pledge a portion of their Chinese New Year angpow money to helping alleviate poverty.

The Barn Owl and I decided that the best way for them to do this is by sponsoring a child through the World Vision Child Sponsorship Programme. I like this programme because it deals with the root of poverty in a community and works towards empowering them towards self-sufficiency. That is, the goal of the programme is to eventually see that the community achieves stability and financial independence.

My dear friend, Lyn, was the first person I knew who had successfully sponsored a child via this programme. The community which she supported for 11 years had become financially stable and World Vision was able to complete their work and leave the community on its own. During this time, she was able to watch her sponsored child grow up and graduate from school.

I thought that it would be amazing for our kids to grow up alongside their sponsored child, so what I had J and Little E do was to each choose a child to sponsor who was the same age as themselves. So, J is now sponsoring an 8 year old girl from Nepal whilst Little E is sponsoring a 5 year old girl from Sri Lanka.

Once the kids chose a child to sponsor, they were each sent a picture folder of the child and a profile of the community where this child lives. I showed them where their sponsored child lives on a world map, and some videos depicting life in those communities. Then I encouraged them to write letters of introduction to their sponsored child.

I asked J and Little E if they would like to send any small gifts along with their letters and they had plenty of brilliant ideas. At first, they wanted to send things like food, baby panadol, soap, shoes and water filters. World Vision doesn’t allow any items that cannot be flat packed into a single A4-sized envelope, so we had to be more thoughtful.

We decided to send some paper dolls for the girls to play with. There are tons of printable paper dolls on the internet, but I didn’t want to send them any light-haired and light-eyed princess dolls (for obvious reasons).

I was over the moon when I stumbled across these gorgeous Princess Tiana “The Princess and the Frog” paper dolls by artist Cory Jensen which come with a large array of gorgeous dresses and accessories! Hooray!

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Yes, I painstakingly cut them out too

We also included a set of ‘plain’ paper dolls for the girls to colour in and cut out themselves, a set of colour pencils with a pencil sharpener, stickers and pretty hairclips, and wrapped all of these up inside a clear plastic A4 envelope to protect them in case the parcel gets wet during delivery!

I hope the little girls like their gifts – and I hope J and Little E will become more socially aware through interacting with their new penpals!

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A special parcel for some special little girls

If you’d like to sponsor a child or make a donation to World Vision, click here.

Download the Princess Tiana Paper dolls by Cory Jensen here

Download the “I am a Princess” Paper Doll colouring page by Cory Jensen here

Soundscapes and school projects

One of the things that I like best about J and Little E’s kindergarten is that the school encourages the kids to do some independent project work during the school holidays. The topic for the project is usually something very broad and very simple, which allows a lot of scope for learning and discovery.

I usually like to ask the kids what they would like to do for their school project and see what sort of ideas they will come up with. Sometimes, I get the Outlaws to help out because both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are involved in early childhood education, so they have loads of ideas for helping preschoolers to learn through play and hands on activities.

You may remember J’s school holiday projects that I have shared on this blog before. He did one on climbing plants and one on movie-making.

Last year, Little E’s school holiday project was on the topic of ‘Sound’.

There are a ton of really cool crafts where one can make musical instruments using recycled materials found around the house, as well as simple science experiments to demonstrate the properties of sound and I was sure that we’d be bringing a rubber band ukulele to her classroom at the end of the holiday.

As always, I underestimate my kids.

Little E wanted to do something a little different, and was inspired by a short film that we had watched together during a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Japan. That film was called ‘House Hunting’ and it was a cartoon where all the sound effects were voiced by two actors using Japanese onomatopoeic sounds. She also took inspiration from the popular American Public Radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, during which there is a popular ‘SFX’ segment which has to be heard to be believed!

In a nutshell, Little E wanted to produce her own little show where she was the foley artist and sound designer!

We decided to do something simple and take our audience on a sound journey to the park.

To start off, we took what Little E called a ‘sound walk’ which is basically a walk where everybody is silent, the better to hear the world around them.

As you may imagine, this was quite a challenge for my normally talkative little 4 year old! Surprisingly, she was very attentive, and at the end she sat down with the Outlaws and together, they wrote down a list various noises that they heard on their walk.

Little E then tried her best to reproduce each of those noises for the video and I have to say that the result is pretty good!

I was very impressed with the layers of sounds that she insisted on making for each frame of the video, from the soft padding of footsteps to the whirring of the cicadas in the trees. It just goes to show how much a small child notices about the world around her, given the chance!

P.S. Little E did an even more ambitious holiday project this year, so watch this space!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about tickets click here

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

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.

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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!

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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!