Monday, April 30, 2012

Kiasu parents in the making?

When EV was hibernating in my tummy, my boss 'recommended' that I send her to a 'good' school with affiliations through primary, secondary and junior college, so that it's easy for her to move along in her education.

When EV was one year old, a friend asked whether I had indicated my interest with certain kindergartens.

During my first visit to Popular after EV was born, I saw titles and titles of enrichment (read: assessment) books for pre-nursery, nursery and kindergarten, including books for teaching grammer at K2. I got overwhelmed beyond my imagination.

I read articles about what a child is expected to know when they reach K2, eg writing simple sentences, knowing a certain number of English words & Chinese character. And I perspired with stress.

Is this what a parent in Singapore is expected to go through? Is a child's paper chase to start even before he starts primary school?

When I read this in yesterday's Sunday Times, I got a confused sense of dayshavoo and apprehension, all at the same time. I started phonics lessons at home with EV when she turned two, and recently some Chinese, and have plans to send her to piano and swimming lessons in future. We even lined up to ensure EV is enrolled in the kindergarten of our choice. So yes, we have displayed our kiasu-ism, just like any other parent. And our rationale? We want to give her a head start, a good foundation.

Yet at the same time, I dread the thought of going overboard. I want EV to enjoy her childhood, to have fun and just enjoy life, for she will have years to mull over assessment books and extra lessons when she gets to primary school. Simply, I want her to be a child, to be carefree and not be weighed down by unnecessary stress. And I believe this is a dilemma faced by many parents.

The challenge then is for us to create a balance for EV. To make sure that her childhood is full of fun, while doing what is necessary to prepare her for the future. This is an extremely delicate task. Will we end up sending her to preparatory enrichment classes when she's in K2? I certainly hope not. But we will definitely do what's best for her, as all parents would, in ways that best suit her.

In the meantime, I'm going to display a little bit of that kiasu-ism, and do some research on what other fun learning activities to do with EV this week. ;)

A fruitful maternity leave

I'm back at work today after three months maternity leave, and I'm missing my little darlings. It's been a fruitful maternity leave so far, with lots of precious quality time with EV and AA. Saying goodbye to them this morning was hard. EV saw me in my work clothes and said 'mummy pretty'. It warmed my heart on a cold rainy morning, and I really didn't want to go. AA seemed to know too, and whimpered a few times before I left. 

No, I did not look forward to returning to work today, but I'm glad and grateful for the wonderful few months I had with them at home. Little AA is two and a half months, and is becoming quite an easygoing baby who loves to hear mummy sing 'Edelweiss'. EV is ever the happy and cheerful little girl we love, often saying or doing things that make us smile. She's my little energizer bunny. And it's sweet to see her wanting to hug AA, and being our baby monitor every time AA cries. 

With AA, I feel more assured and relaxed as I have been through it once with EV. But to say that it's been easy peasy with two young kids, I would be totally lying to myself. It has indeed been a tiring challenge, even stressful at times, but extremely happy. I'm glad to have the support of a great helper, who has been with us before EV was born, and doting grandparents. Without them, I think I'll really be pulling my hair out.

I want to do painting with EV. I want to hold AA and look into his round adorable eyes. I can't wait to get home.

Friday, April 27, 2012

F for Frog

Ribbit, ribbit... it's F for frog this week. EV knows the general formation of F and f... yay!!! See the photo below? She's tracing the letters all by herself in her scribbly way. Absolutely no help from mummy. I'm so proud of her!

After pasting the images, we went through the letters and sounds for 'frog', and EV wanted to colour the rounded letters, one of her preferred activities. After colouring 'g' and 'o', she recited 'n, o, p', and proceeded to colour 'p'. Then, pointing to 'o', she said 'o, orange!'. My clever little girl!

Here, she's flipping through an alphabet book that I made, and said loudly 'n'.

A fun alphabet activity we did today involved these wooden alphabets. Using some coloured cups, I hid the letter F in one of the cups, moved the cups around and asked EV to guess where F was. EV enjoyed playing this game. Later, with no directions and instructions from me, she played on her own freely, pouring the letter F from the cup into another puzzle toy.

We did the frog craft work from Jann's class. EV didn't seem too interested in the craft after the pasting was done. But once I blew on the blower, she completely changed her mind and the frog became her best friend of the day, even accompanying her to bed at night.

The frog puppet we did the other day also caught her eye. She even tried making music with it.

The song we sang was '5 Speckled Frogs', a tune that EV knew well. Here's the link to it: 

We went outdoors today to look for frogs. Of course, as it was not raining, frogs could hardly be found. Instead, I directed her attention to the long leaves of the shrubs downstairs, while describing the different shaded lines. I also described to her a tree, from the roots and trunk to the branches and leaves, and how water travels up to the leaves. We also talked about the sun set.

EV loves to lie on the slide and look up at the sky. I did the same, and this is how it looks. Sometimes, it is important to look at the world through our children's eyes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Books: 'F' books

There are two other books that we especially like, or rather, that EV especially likes. She never fails to ask for them each night. 

By Pat Hutchins
Some, like my darling hubby, may find the text a little too few and the story too simplistic. On the contrary, this is a great book for exposing the young one to prepositions such as across, around, over, past, through and under. It also works well for the young one's understanding of the story, as questions such as 'what do you think will happen to the fox next?' and 'did the fox jump over the haystack successfully?' are asked. Even emotive questions such as 'do you think the fox hurt?' can be asked. So really, this book really allows a lot of imagination and improvisation.

By John Deere
EV loves trucks, so obviously, she loves this. She loves the colourful pictures and the trucks that come to 'life', such as Allie Gator. She loves flipping the flaps to discover what lies beneath. I also get her to count the vegetables and hunt for the farm animals. So this book really is a lot of fun. Stamp of approval from mummy & EV!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Craft fun: Flower paper craft & frog felt puppet

We worked with a new material - felt! EV was extremely curious with it, and helped to paste the pieces of the two crafts together. The flower template is from 2 Teaching Mommies, and added some additional touches of my own. 

The next craft was a frog puppet from SimpleKidsCrafts. Glue didn't seem to keep the felt pieces together, so I sewed running stitches around the circumference to secure it. This took longer than expected and by the time the puppet was ready, EV wasn't keen on playing with it. But we can always come back to it another day. Here's how it looks.

And here's a video on how to put it together. Note that I used brown felt instead, as I couldn't find light green felt at Art Friend.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Books: Books on weather

The library has some great books on weather, with simple text and large pictures. Here are some that I got as bedtime reading for EV. Her favourite weather is rain. When it rains outside, she'll say, 'bong bong bong, rain, bring umbrella.' Or she'll sing her own version of 'rain rain go away'.

Since it's the month of April, I got her also a book about April. Written by Mari Kesselring and illustrated by Brian Caleb Dumm, the book uses rhymes to describe about April, as well as the different special days in the month, such as April Fools' Day, Easter and Earth Day. I've selected a few that I like below.

The word April used to mean 'open' long ago.
The month has this name because it's when flowers open and grow.

April Fools' Day is the first, and people get tricky.
Make sure you don't sit in something sticky.

Passover and Easter are holidays to celebrate.
Share a meal with your family. Time together is great!

It seems April has come to an end.
But May is waiting just around the bend!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

F for Fish

We move on to letter F/f this week, and it's all about fish! EV loves to eat fish, so it was a rather fun session for her. She was very amused with the feely card and feathers, especially when I tickled her with the feathers, and when the card was done, she 'wrote' f in the air with me. 

She loved the rhythm and pace of the 'Freddy's Five Friends' song. Too bad I couldn't get a good video of her dancing to it. She knew most of the images that we did today, except for flamingo. The rest were fish, flower, fork, four and feet. We traced the letter F/f and wrote the words for each of the images after gluing all the images.

We did a scavenger hunt of all things that start with 'f' in the room today, and I got her to put the letter 'f' next to them each time she found them.. EV found a fish wall decoration sticker, a fan, the floor and feet.

We did two crafts today. The first is a paper plate fish from Enchanted Learning. I cut out a triangle from a paper plate, and stuck it with scotch tape to the rest of the plate to make a tail. EV then painted it with her favourite colour blue. After she was done, she started painting her own hand blue, and we made some handprint fishes too.

The second craft comes from Jann's class. EV coloured the five little fishes with crayons, while I prepared the 'fishing rod' with the magnet. Then I attached paper clips to the fishes. EV had that puzzled look on her face looking at me put the fishing rod together. But once I demonstrated the fishing game to her, her face lit up with one megawatt smile! She enjoyed catching the fishes, and when the blue paper plate fish dried, she was having fun 'fishing' that too.

Shapes & Colours
The shape of the week is circle, and using chips, I got EV to pick out circles of various colours. Here she is with a green circle.

We sang 'Once I Caught A Fish Alive'. EV not only counted with me, but also tried to do the actions.

Story Time
We read Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. Featuring beautiful paint-like illustrations, the story is about a little fish named Swimmy who is black in colour and very very different from his fellow fish. It shares that even though one may be unique and seem like an outcast, there will come a time when that uniqueness becomes a strength and help us overcome difficulties in life. One should not be afraid to be different. 

This book was given the Caldecott Honor in 1964, an award given to worthy runners-up of the Caldecott Medal (which annually recognizes the most distinguished picture books for children published in the United States). Past winners and runners-up include Cinderella, The Polar Express, and There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Adventures: Balloon exhibition at Central

'Wah.. so many balloons!', exclaimed my little balloon lover. We were at Central having family lunch, and visited the balloon exhibition at the atrium. It was a garden made completely of balloons, with balloon animals such as ladybirds, parrots and caterpillars. EV was extremely entranced by it, smelling the flower and admiring the ladybird. A great opportunity to exercise her imagination!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Adventures: Jacob Ballas Children's Garden

EV and mummy enjoyed some us-time at the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden. Getting out of the Botanic Gardens MRT station, we met a Caucasian couple - the lady was looking at the map, while the guy was looking at his camera. Dear EV said 'take photo, chik chak chik chak', much to the amusement of the couple. We followed the directions to the Garden, occasionally finding shade from the rather hot afternoon. It was a good thing that I brought the sling carrier, because EV wanted to be carried, and we were not even halfway to the Garden. With her holding me tight, I got her into the sling, and continued our way. We came upon a nut tree section, and I read the information sign there, using my finger to trace the words as I read and pointing to certain letters for her to identify. I also described the shapes (square and triangle) that the sign was made of.

We finally reached Jacob Ballas, with mummy huffing and puffing (finally can put daughter down!). Lots of kids on a Friday afternoon, I must say, and all congregated at the water feature near the entrance. Great day to cool off there. I didn't let EV go anywhere near, cos I didn't bring any change of clothes to her, so I diverted her attention to a tree with cranking stations, meant to show kids what trees need to grow. One station will cause the sun to light up, while another will cause the tree to release water vapour. EV had fun here, more with the cranking.

At the wood bridge nearby, EV was afraid to get on at first, and I had to walk across the bridge carrying her. Then EV walked across herself, with me holding on to her hands. And then, there was no stopping her. Mummy had to use her super speed ability to take this photo.

We spent a lot of time in this area, and so couldn't explore the rest of the Garden. EV was also tired by then, crossing the bridge so many times. We took a quick breather at the cafe at the Garden entrance, then started walking back to the MRT station. Along the way, we stopped to admire the swans and the ducks. EV even discovered a millipede. She also surprised me by asking me to read another information sign about the creepers garden near the main entrance.

A truly fun day for EV and mummy! Got to do this soon again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Planning the sessions

Our home learning sessions don't just focus on phonics. You'll notice by now that there are also other elements such as maths, handwriting practice and so on. I thought I'd share how I put the sessions together.

What I try to do in each session is to ensure that EV is exposed other areas of learning as well, which generally are:

- Language arts: letter recognition, letter sounds, writing, spelling, Chinese
- Maths: number recognition, number order, patterns, counting, graphing
- Science/Practical Living: learning play, observation, sensory sorting, shapes, colours
- Extras: art, crafts, music, books

I plan activities that fit into these categories, and try to get EV to do a few times each week. I have a wish list of activities that I'd put together for the week, and then tick them off as they are completed. Sometimes, we can finish whatever has been planned for a particular day. But sometimes, when EV is not feeling well, tired, or just not in the mood, I'd break the activities and do them separately, either through the day, or over several days.

Whatever is planned for the session, one 'rule' remains - keep it fun, fun, FUN! All work and no play keeps the toddler at bay.

Monday, April 09, 2012

E for Egg

We did a short session today, as EV is not feeling well. I did not plan to do anything but she was sitting at our usual spot in the home, and looking at me expectedly. We started with the greeting song. She's familiar with the 'e' feely card by now, and even before I asked what letter it is, she already said 'e'. She likes the 'Elbow Everywhere' phonics song and had her own elbows raised up even before I turned on the music. Very happy to see such positive response from her.

When I took out the A4 image sheet, she wanted to trace the letters Ee first. We had five images today - egg, eight, ear, eagle and elf; she's familiar with the first three. Then we wrote down the words for each image together. We also went through the phonics sounds for each letter of 'egg', with me demonstrating the prompting.

Today's craft is a egg paper collage from Jann's class. Glue, check. Egg cut-out, check. Brown pieces of paper for pasting, check. And my darling EV said she wanted to colour. She helped paste a few of the brown paper, and coloured the rest of the egg, transforming it into a multicolored easter egg craft. As usual, she wanted me to colour with her, and when I seemed distracted halfway, she said 'mummy, colour properly'.

Using coloured pegs and numbers from a wooden toy, I did counting and colour sorting with her. She counted the number of similarly coloured pegs and put the corresponding number to it.

One of EV's favourite nursery rhyme, and one that I've been singing to her for the longest time. We sang it together, with me singing the first part of each line, and she completing it by saying the ending words. 

Saturday, April 07, 2012

EV's tiny step towards spelling

I'm so proud of EV. Today, we were out for lunch, and I brought some colouring materials to keep her occupied. She was colouring an aeroplane, with the text '1 aeroplane' at the bottom. Then she pointed to letter 'a', said 'a' then coloured it. Then moved on to 'e', which she wasn't sure of. She looked up at me, I mouthed 'e', and then she said 'e' and coloured it. She went letter by letter, shading rounded letters like 'a', 'e', 'o' and 'p'. She was perfect with 'o', and she shouted it out happily. For letters that she's not sure of, she would ask 'what's this', and repeat after I've told her what it is. At the end of it, we asked her what word it was and she said 'aeroplane'.

Our happy little darling then showed her masterpiece to everyone at the table. She knows the letters that we've covered in Tot Club so far, and she's following letters in a word, as though she's spelling it. Granted, she may just be reading the letters as they are, rather than seeing them as a whole word, but it's definitely a tiny step forward in that direction.

Books: D & E books

Our book buggy is constantly filled with books that EV can just pull and read, including a regular rotation of library books. As I was stuck at home, darling hubby was so sweet to go to the library to borrow books for EV, for the letters of the week D & E.

By Allyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Henry Cole
This was perfect for D for Duck Tot Club session, especially after EV returned from a happy trip to the Botanic Gardens, where she discovered how ducks bent their neck into the water to drink. This is a delightful take of a duck with dreams of taking centre stage, and how she overcomes stage fright. Practice makes perfect, and with her dance routine perfectly mastered, all Katy Duck had to do was to soldier on with determination to dance with confidence and flair.

By Laura Numeroff & Felicia Bond
Featuring Mouse from the popular If You GIve a Mouse a Cookie, it is Easter time and someone's been leaving Easter eggs all over Mouse's house! Mouse has to figure out who has been doing that, as he looks for his eggs he painted in various colours, like those red eggs on the kitchen counter. This tale is great for discovering colours. It is also fun to count to count the different coloured eggs in each new location, like under the rocking chair or on the sofa.

Darling hubby also got some other books that EV has come to love, asking for it every night.

Illustrated by Victoria Ball
A book of discovery about penguins - where they live, what they eat, how they move, how they look after their young, with touchy feely materials in every page. EV loves touching the different materials, and the last two pages where mummy and daddy penguins huddle with their young. She would point to the little chick and say 'baby'. When EV asked for it the other night, she said something that sounded like 'bang bang', instead of 'penguins'. I repeated the word 'penguins' a few times, while laughing at her cute 'mistake', and she still repeated 'bang bang'. Then she giggled, with her palm to her mouth, realizing the humour of it all. After a few tries, she got it. 

Illustrated by Andrew Grey
A book about Winnie the Pooh, of course EV loves it. EV learns about subtraction, as the story follows Winnie's chase of ten bees. The bees fly through Hundred Acre Wood, passing friends like Kanga, Roo, Tigger and Eeyore and along the way, some of the bees fly away, leaving Winnie to follow the last bee left. What does Winnie discover? Beautiful illustrations, with pop up plastics featuring bees for little hands to feel as they try to grasp the subtraction concept.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Craft fun: Elephant letter & handprint craft

We did two crafts today for 'E for elephant', and both involved much painting.The first is a letter E craft from No Time For Flashcards. EV painted the letter, ear and trunk black, before we pasted all the pieces together.

The second is a handprint elephant from Crafty Crafted Studio. EV was extremely amused when I painted her whole hand black, and then printed it on paper. She giggled with glee when I painted the side of her palm white, and printed it as the elephant's ear.

She definitely loves getting her hands dirty, so looks like there will be more hand printing for her in future.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Chinese at home - EV @ 2 years

I started exposing EV to Chinese from when she was only a month old (you can read more about it here), and if you read 'EV's milestones' in the sidebar, you'll see that the efforts have paid off. Lately, EV is recognising even more Chinese characters, and understanding their meanings too. Here's a video of EV pointing out characters from a wall chart when she was two years one month old.

I wanted to share my Chinese journey with EV. Having made it a point to read to her Chinese books since she was young, I always made sure that the books I chose were fun and relaxing. I read her tongue twisters, rhymes and poems, even Tang poems, and tried to make it lighthearted during our nightly reading sessions. And, I always read the Chinese books before English ones. Then when she was one and a half years old, I started pointing out simple characters to her like 一, 三, 山,  and so on, which are relatively easy to remember. I focused on reading to her and simply sharing the beauty of the language with her. Here are some of the books we used.

Around the same time, we bought sing-along DVDs of nursery rhymes and poems. These DVDs also showed the lyrics in karaoke style, which help somewhat in her character recognition. What was important though, is again exposing EV to the language in a fun way, since EV is such a music lover. 

Concurrently, we also often bring her to the wall chart of Chinese characters and show her certain characters repeatedly. The video earlier is the result of this.

Our efforts have been paying off. These DVDs are EV's favourite and she asks for them everyday. She's often in the mood for Chinese and indicates her desire by saying 'Chinese, Chinese'. Not only is she recognizing more Chinese characters, she is also picking up on her verbal Chinese. No matter that she usually responds in English. She totally understands when we speak to her in chinese, as I've been speaking to her since she was a baby. Lately, she has been vocalizing more Chinese too, even some Cantonese! (My mom speaks to her in Cantonese). 

Just this week, EV has started to sing two Chinese songs in full, thanks to the DVDs. They are 小星星 (Chinese version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and 小老鼠上灯台 (a little mouse climbing up a lamp). I have here the lyrics of 小星星.

Here are the lyrics of 小老鼠上灯台.
小老鼠, 上灯台。
偷吃油, 下不来。
喵喵喵, 猫来啦,

Granted, her pronunciation may not be clear all the time, but the tune and overall gist of the song is there.

Clearly, EV is very receptive to Chinese and I needed to take advantage of this to introduce more of the language to her, essentially character recognition and speaking, and maybe show her some writing of simple characters like 一, 三, 人, 大 and so on. All the while keeping it fun and playful. So I needed to turn to resources with a little more structure to help me along the way.

As I had shared here, I recently bought the 我会读 Level 1 series, and have started book 1 with her. I go through the characters about two times a day, every two days (the book recommends thrice daily). She recognized 爸爸, 弟弟 and 阿姨 very quickly after going through a few times. Her receptiveness to the language is extremely encouraging and I believe I can move to book 2 soon. 

Rather than follow a formal lesson plan at the moment, I will use this series in a more relaxed environment and take EV's cues. Like during the E for Elephant session when she requested for it herself. 

EV is also requesting to be read Chinese books, even choose some from her little library herself. I got more story-based books to read to EV. I particularly chose those with story lines that reflect her life and experiences, like learning to use the potty or a story about balls, with simple story lines and sentences. I try to point out each character to her while reading, so she can follow the characters too. I also picture read and ask her to point out items I name, all in Chinese, much like what I do when reading English books.

These are the two sets of Chinese books I got for EV recently. 小猫当当 is based on a popular Japanese story character, while 乐悠悠小宝贝 hails from the Netherlands. Both feature stories that young ones can identify with, like falling sick, taking a shower or chasing after a ball. 

I was reading the 小猫当当: 小红球,等一等 story to EV and when we turned to the page about the red ball being lost in a tree full of balloons, I asked EV to imagine reaching high and trying to touch the tree. EV very adoringly said 'Cannot reach!', so we climbed up the tree, got the ball and climbed down very carefully. EV was totally immersed in this pretend play, and had fun with mummy.

Hopefully, this will set her up for her next stage of learning Chinese.