Giselle by Teatro di San Carlo

Last evening, Little E and I were very privileged to have been invited to the opening performance of the ballet, Giselle, performed by the oldest ballet company in the world, the Teatro di San Carlo from Naples, Italy.

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Little E is excited about the ballet!

It was a truly magical performance.

The dancers were such a joy to watch, with their expressive faces and gestures keeping all of us – Little E included – completely mesmerised. I was especially entranced the ghostly Wilis who were absolutely ethereal, drifting across the stage in their veils, each as light as a feather.

I wondered at first if the ballet would touch on themes that were too difficult for Little E to understand, but through the storytelling of the dancers, she was actually more than able to follow the complex storyline of love and betrayal.

Giselle Teatro di San Carlo

The Wilis (Photo credit: Francesco Squeglia)

In order to prepare 6 year old Little E for the performance, I borrowed Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves from our public library and read her the tragic tale of Giselle.

Giselle, a beautiful but sickly peasant girl falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman who disguises himself as a farmer in order to gain her affections. He promises to marry her, and she shares her excitement with a visiting noblewoman who is also celebrating her engagement. Unfortunately, it turns out that Albrecht is engaged to the noblewoman, and Giselle goes insane with grief, dancing until her heart gives out and she dies. Giselle becomes one of the Wilis, shades of women who died from unrequited love, but instead of exacting her revenge on Albrecht by dooming him to dance to his death, she pleads with the Wilis Queen and saves his life.

Little E and I had some very good conversations about the story of Giselle (especially in the light of this recent event), but it’s a very good cautionary tale about how important it is to choose potential suitors wisely and to listen to the counsel of friends and relatives who care for you.

Owls Well recommends: This ballet is 2 hours long with a short interval, so make sure you bring your little one to the bathroom before the start of the performance, and bring some sugar-free sweets to help them focus quietly!

P.S. Giselle is playing in Singapore until the 29 April 2017, so go watch it before it’s too late! Get tickets to Giselle here.

P.P.S. Find Ballet Stories by Margaret Hargreaves here.

Video Game Family Time: Overcooked

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

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

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

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

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Picture Source: Ghost Town Games

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Video Game Family Time: Never Alone

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

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

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

This time, I’ll be talking about a very beautifully crafted video game, Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna).

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

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

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

Never Alone – Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

Video Game Family Time: Resogun

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

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

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

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

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Picture Source: Resogun Official Webpage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Little E’s ship, the “Love Butterfly”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Game Family Time: Minecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Owls Well in Minecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Series that we love (Chapter books): Extraordinary Losers

Over here at Owls Well, we have a soft spot for homegrown Singaporean authors and I am so glad to tell you all about the Extraordinary Losers chapter book series by Jessica Alejandro! These are good entry-level chapter books for encouraging reluctant readers who are looking to graduate from Early Reader books but need some pictures to break up the wall of words.

This book series follows the adventures of four primary school kids, Darryl De, Janice, Mundi and Clandestino, each of whom are considered class misfits for various shallow physical reasons (e.g. too ugly, too messy, too fat, too Indian etc). However, they also have incredible hidden talents that are overlooked by their peers who often underestimate their abilities. Fuelled by courage and junk food, the four kids find themselves banding together to solve mysteries within their school and find their self-worth, whilst dealing with the problems of class bullies, cyber-predators and of course, the all-encompassing villain of Primary School life, the dreaded PSLE!

I really appreciate the straightforward way that the book deals with bullying and being unique, encouraging the reader to look for the extraordinary gifts that lie within themselves instead of striving for conformity.

Right now, there are four books in the series (you can check out the titles in the picture above), and they are pretty engaging to read. The book also features funny illustrations by artist Cherryn Yap, as well as the occasional hand-scrawled cheeky poem by the book’s main POV character, Darryl De.

I have been told that the book series has gotten so popular that our local kid’s channel, Okto, is now looking to cast actors and actresses for an ExLosers TV series!

Open auditions are this Sunday 3rd July 2016 from 11am -6pm (registration closes at 4pm), so if you’ve got a budding thespian on your hands (or if you know one), do bring them along to the Suntec Convention Centre Level 3 Concourse.

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A extraspecial surprise for Owls Well Readers: The fine folk over at Bubbly Books have kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of the full set of Extraordinary Losers books by Jessica Alejandro to ONE lucky Owls Well reader! Thanks Bubbly Books!

To take part in this giveaway please complete the following:

  1. Leave me a comment below telling me about an extraordinary talent that you have (or your child has) that is often overlooked or underappreciated or how you personally dealt with bullying in school – 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)
  2. For extra entries, share this post on any social media platform and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes on 15 July 2016. Winners will be picked via Random.org.)

Buyer’s note: I received a set of the Extraordinary Losers books from Bubbly Books for this review. If you’d like to get the books for an extraordinary kid in your like, you can find Extraordinary Losers and other books by local authors here.

For more news and information about the Extraordinary Losers books, check out their Facebook page here.

An SG50 Celebration of Singaporean Food

We’re very, VERY proud of our food in Singapore, so what better to celebrate SG50 than with a celebration of our local cuisine?

Here’s a playlist that I have put together all about Singaporean food!

In this playlist you will find short videos of people trying Singaporean food and snacks for the first time, watch tourists visiting a typical hawker centre, laugh to a very funny sketch of the sort of people you’d find in a hawker centre, learn how to make Hainanese chicken rice and to round it off, go on a virtual food tour around Singapore and find out more about the history of Singaporean cuisine!

Bon appétit!