Advent 2017: Day 22

It’s the first family Christmas party! I always look forward to the family Christmas parties because of all the singing. That’s my favourite Christmas activity.

Unfortunately, poor J is suffering from an upset tummy today, so although he’d been looking forward to the Aged P’s roast turkey, he wasn’t able to eat more than a small slice of it. He was very sad, but the music seemed to cheer him up.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 9

Thumper is still recuperating and the Barn Owl is now ill, so the both of them had to stay home today whilst the rest of us attended the first Christmas party of the season.


The electronics kit that the kids are playing with is called Snap Circuits‘, and was a gift to us a few Christmases ago. It’s really cool toy which gives the kids safe boundaries within which to design and build electrical circuits, and keeps the kids occupied for hours! Even 2 year old Thumper is now able to build a simple circuit to power a spinning toy. (Buyer’s note: I think this was probably from a local toy store called Growing Fun, but you can get it off Amazon.)

We also did an origami Joseph doll as part of our ‘Truth in the Tinsel’ advent craft of the day. It’s the same one from the origami nativity that I made on Day 6.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 6

Wednesday is always one of our busiest days in the week!

I got the instructions for the paper origami Nativity scene from a Christmas greeting card post on Zsuzsi Origami.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Enrichment classes for kids – 6 tips for making a good selection

We like to keep busy - but not too busy!

We like to keep busy – but not too busy!

There’s a plethora of enrichment classes available for children in Singapore and a temptation in Singapore to cram as many activities into a child’s weekly schedule as possible. I think it is very easy to get carried away when choosing enrichment classes because of our innate desire as parents to provide as many opportunities as possible for our children to learn, grow and become well-rounded individuals.

However, I believe that it is important for my children to have some free time because not only can they relax during this time but it also gives them a chance to develop their imagination and creativity. Children who have free time will learn to keep themselves gainfully and meaningfully occupied. They will rarely complain of boredom as they are not dependant on someone or something else to entertain them every second of the day.

This is why the Barn Owl and I are very selective when it comes to deciding what sort of classes and activities that J and Little E attend regularly outside of school. So here’s our decision-making process:

1. The activity has to fulfil more than one possible function

At the moment, the kind of enrichment classes that are available to J and Little E fall under the following disciplines:

  1. Sports and physical development (e.g. swimming, gymnastics, football)
  2. Aesthetic (e.g. art, music, dance, drama)
  3. Academic (e.g. phonics, abacus, language immersion)
  4. Life skills (e.g. first aid, cooking, computer literacy)

We like to choose activities that tend to fall into more than one of the above categories.

As soon as both J and Little E have been consistently able to follow instructions, we have taken them for swimming lessons. This is because we consider swimming and water safety as an important life skill, especially in Singapore where there are open swimming pools, reservoirs, fountains and canals everywhere. It is also a sporty activity from which they can get plenty of exercise and there is opportunity for them to swim competitively if they have the inclination.

2. Enrichment classes should help develop character weaknesses or encourage personal strengths and interests.

When I was in primary school, I tended to skulk about in corners and mumble when spoken to. My parents wanted me to be more certain of myself, so I was packed off to speech and drama lessons for a few years. This helped me to develop stage presence which is a very handy thing to have, not just for giving presentations or managing the occasional job interview, but on a daily basis. It was especially useful when I was still active in the field of medicine where one has to communicate well and command respect and attention from patients and families.

We want J and Little E to be confident individuals who carry themselves well and are not afraid to express themselves in public. However, we also want them to be self-controlled and disciplined. With this in mind, we allowed J to learn martial arts and enrolled Little E in ballet lessons as both of them have expressed an interest in these specific fields.

For J, learning wushu is less about self-defence and more about wushu as a performing art or competitive sport. Additionally, he gets a chance to practice his mandarin with other children during the class, and stimulate his interest in Chinese culture. He is a very active little boy so wushu is a great physical outlet that enhances his natural hand-eye coordination skills, and helps him to build confidence whilst developing much-needed self-discipline and emotional control. This is pretty much same for Little E, who is really enjoying her ballet classes. Dance is both a performing art and a sport, a gateway to other forms of dance and self-expression. We have been told that ballet gives a good foundation in self-discipline, musicality and personal poise!

3. The lessons do not repeat what is taught as part of the school curriculum.

Now, there are plenty of programmes out there intent on hothousing young minds and pushing their academic standards beyond that of the regular school curriculum. The Barn Owl and I do not see the point of sending our children for these programmes for the following reasons:

  • We believe that in order to cultivate a lifelong desire to learn, children need to be encouraged to seek out information independently and not have it constantly forced into them from outside sources. If we find that our children are particularly interested in an academic subject or they want to understand more about a topic that is not covered in the school curriculum, then we would prefer that they do their own study and research. We support their search for knowledge by providing access to reference texts and DVDs, finding appropriate online learning resources, and bringing them to the public library.
  • We think that the current school curriculum is more than adequate and there is no need for our children to attend hothouse classes in order to be ahead of the school’s set lesson plan. It would be a foolish waste of our children’s precious time to sit through the same lesson twice. If we personally felt that the school curriculum is lacking and that our children would receive a better education via hothouse programmes, then we would not bother wasting time sending them to school.

4. The lessons cannot be taught by ourselves at home.

We would only consider sending our children for academic-related classes if they were struggling to keep up with the school curriculum and need extra help which neither the Barn Owl nor myself can provide.

Both J and Little E attend after-school mandarin classes regularly as our ability to encourage them in this area is extremely limited [1]. However, we tried our best to find a mandarin class that encourages and maintains their interest in learning and using mandarin, without too much emphasis on scholastic achievement. In the end, it is more important to us that they develop a love and appreciation of the language than achieve top marks in class.

There are other classes in the realm of aesthetics and sports, such as art and craft or badminton, which the Barn Owl and I can teach them as part of our family recreational time, so we do not feel the need to send them for formal lessons on a regular basis. However, if our kids happen to show an aptitude in one of these areas that is beyond our ability to nurture, then I suppose we would consider hiring a coach or a tutor who is formally trained to guide and mentor such budding genius!

5. The activities do not infringe on family time.

Family time is precious and we guard it very jealously. Evenings and weekends when the Barn Owl is likely to be home from work and we are together as a family are very strictly out-of-bounds so the children are not allowed to attend classes during these times.

The only exception we have made to this rule is for swimming lessons, which are on Sunday afternoons. All of us will head to the swimming pool together for an afternoon of splashing and playing before and after the actual lesson, so the lesson itself doesn’t affect our family time in the slightest.

6. The ultimate goal of the activity is to instil lifelong hobby or interest.

I know that there are many parents in Singapore who have already sent their preschoolers for coaching in sports and activities like football, badminton and chess, in the hope that they will eventually be selected to join school teams and gain entry into elite schools! This is NOT our goal for J and Little E.

We like to choose activities that will have longevity, and it is even better if the hobby can not only be enjoyed on an individual basis but also as part of a group or team.

J is currently learning the violin, which is an instrument that can be played solo as well as as part of an ensemble. Violin is also a small portable instrument that he can take anywhere in the world with him. Although learning an instrument is difficult (and occasionally stressful), we hope he will grow to love it and see the violin as an extension of himself and a vehicle for creative expression.

We have also decided not to send our kids for classes in sports that are only team-based (such as football) or require more than one person in order to play (such as  badminton or tennis). Although it’s good for children to learn teamwork and good sportsmanship, we do not think it is necessary for them to receive formal coaching in a team sport – we will probably encourage them to join their school clubs or recreation clubs instead.

Update: Oh, and I nearly forgot! Here’s one more additional piece of advice:

Know when to stop.

For some enrichment classes, there may come a point where it is clear that your child is no longer making any progress. This may be for any of the following reasons:

1. The limiting factor for advancement in the class is dependant on the developmental stage of the child.

When J was 6 months old, we started baby swim lessons, which he really enjoyed. However, after a year, we realised that for a whole term, he did not make any progress because he was limited by his ability to follow verbal instructions. So we decided to cease swim lessons and restart them when he was older.

2. The class no longer appears to achieve its purpose/has completely achieved its purpose.

We used to send J for mandarin speech and drama lessons, in the hope that it would encourage him to be more confident in speaking mandarin. At first, we saw a dramatic improvement in his willingness to speak mandarin and engage with his Chinese teacher in school, and at the end of year class performance, we were proud to see J happily singing chinese songs and reciting chinese poetry together with his classmates.

However, at the end of his second year in the class, we observed that at the end of year class performance, even though the overall standard of the performance was higher than that of the previous year, only a small handful of children was given a speaking role, whilst the rest of the class repeated the same four word phrase over and over again. We knew then that the class has exhausted its ability to nurture J further, so we decided to enrol him in a different Chinese school.

3. The class makes the child miserable.

I used to enjoy ballet lessons as a child, until my ballet teacher told me that my legs were ‘too crooked’. This comment was not meant to encourage me to improve my posture or leg position, but was a criticism of my actual bone structure, which is something that I knew I could not change. The criticism from my beloved teacher hurt me so badly that I began to drag my feet to class. Fortunately, my parents were perceptive enough to understand that my reluctance to attend ballet lessons did not stem from laziness or lack of tenacity. They stopped the lessons and did not force me to continue learning dance, even under a different teacher as they recognised the negative impact that the classes were having on my psyche.

There is no point in continuing a class that has an overall negative effect on a child. Even though a child may appear to excel in that discipline, if he or she despises the subject and derives no joy from it, not even the satisfaction of achievement, then being forced to continue will bring no long-lasting benefit. It is pretty clear when a child is only doing something to please his or her parents and for no other reason.

[1] Barn Owl is British and his mandarin vocabulary is one (he can say “pain” in mandarin), and I only speak Windmill Chinese.

Staying out late with kids: Singapore Night Festival 2013


Night time hide-and-seek

The owlets are still pretty young, so staying out late at night with the family is usually a big no-no for the following four reasons:

1. Tired owlets are cranky.

2. Cranky owlets are Loud.

3. I do not like Loud.

4. The general public generally frowns upon Loud. Generally.

These reasons have prevented me from taking the kids out to various nocturnal events such as Chinese ten course wedding dinners, wine tastings, classical music concerts and pub quiz nights.

I have however, made the occasional exception to this rule, for nighttime activities that fulfill the following criteria:

1. The activities do not require absolute silence lasting more than a few minutes at a time.

2. We can leave at any time without feeling guilty or disappointed.

3. The owlets have had an appropriate level of daytime rest.

4. The owlets have demonstrated an exceptional level of good behaviour throughout the day.

Bearing all these criteria in mind, I decided to take the owlets to the Singapore Night Festival.


Circus Swingapore at the Singapore Night Festival 2013

The activities at the Singapore Night Festival take place from 7pm onwards at several locations in the centre of the city, so there is plenty to see if the kids still need to get home for an early night.

We got to Fort Canning Park fairly early, so there was still (FREE) parking at the outdoor public carpark. We walked across the top of Fort Canning hill, and headed for the National Museum of Singapore, getting there just in time to watch the Circus Swingapore performance at 7:30pm.

J and Little E were absolutely mesmerised by the aerialists, and I had the pleasure of telling them that their very own Ee Ee Becky learned both the lyra and the static trapeze.

Some of the aerialists were little girls of around 10 to 12 years of age, dressed in spangly white leotards and tights. They looked like little snowflakes. That was J’s favourite part of the performance.


Why should eggs and pancakes be reserved for morning consumption?

Afterwards, we headed downstairs to Food For Thought, and had pancakes and eggs for dinner.

The children had a gula melaka soaked pancake each, topped with mixed berries and thick coconut vanilla cream. It is as delicious as it sounds.

The extra burst of energy derived from the palm sugar syrup helped the owlets to last an hour past their bedtime without turning into limp rags. (It also meant that we didn’t have to carry them back across Fort Canning on the way back to the car.)

We did attempt to head outside the National Museum in order to take part in other activities around the Bras Basah area, but it was starting to get very crowded (people were queuing up to get into the Absolut Canvas exhibit which had a pop-up bar), so after jostling with the crowd for half an hour, we gave it up and headed for the car.

All was not lost, however – we played hide-and-seek at the top of Fort Canning Hill, running zig-zag through the trees, round and round the Fort Gate and the spice garden, hooting to each other.

The best part: we still managed to get the children in bed by 9:30pm. Which left us grownups with some quiet time to ourselves! Heehee!

P.S. When J gets old enough to get one of Droo’s custom-made violin bows, maybe we can think of busking at night during the Singapore Night Festival! That would be awesome.

P.P.S. Sorry about Nimhe.

Duelling Cellos Lightsaber Bow

I’ve been given to understand that J is convinced that he’ll get a special Lightsaber bow for his violin if he becomes good at it.

I see no reason why he shouldn’t have one, so I’ve consulted my friend Droo about the construction of such a bow. Now, Droo isn’t just any engineer. Droo is the engineer. He is descended from a long line of engineers that I’m almost sure dates back to the design and construction of the Pyramids [1].

Droo’s original design for the lightsaber bow involved using some sort of lightbulb cabled to the back of the bow by means unknown to mundane folk like myself. The bulb would be bright and use up very little energy, but the weight of the bow would be far too heavy to J to lift. Plus, we soon discovered that violin bows need to be able to bend, something that such a bulb could not do. The vibrations of the music might also cause the glass to shatter, which would not be safe.

The second design was an idea I came up with. Droo had purchased a roll of lights for sticking up around his house so that he could find his room at night. The lights wouldn’t exactly give a clean, singular light like in the video, but it would have the same effect as fairy lights – besides which, they could also be programmed to blink, or change colours. However, the lights were also fairly energy intensive and needed a large battery pack. We briefly considered using a paper battery as the power source for the thing, but such things haven’t quite hit the common market yet and would blow our budget right out of the water.

Droo’s latest design, and one that I have the greatest hope for, is based on the Ben Kokes light up engagement ring. Check it out.

Since the bow needs to bend, we’re probably not going to use copper or a string of LEDs, though. Uncle T has suggested finely sanded fibre optic lights, so as not to injure J’s eyes. We’ll make a little bracelet for J to wear when playing his violin that contains the transmitter.

We’re still working on the whole weight/largeness issue. I expect we should be finished with this particular project before J turns six.

[1]Not the Sphinx, of course. The construction of that thing was taken over halfway by shoddy contractors.

Cardboard adventures with R2D2


There was some leftover cardboard from the rocket that we built earlier this month, so I used it to make a robot.

J and R2D2 have been travelling in the outer reaches of space, fighting crime and bad guys and guarding Little E during her naptime so that she doesn’t get eaten by sharks. Because we all know how pesky those space sharks can be.

P.S. I showed J and Little E this video! Since then, I’ve observed James tapping on his violin bow and trying to get it to light up. He is now convinced that only very proficient violinists own light saber bows. He has taken to practicing his violin with renewed vigour. His new ambition is to become a Jedi-level violinist!