Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: Simple is best


We've just returned from a short trip to Tioman! We went with some friends and their kids, and while it was quite a challenge getting there and back (there was the drive, then the 2 hour ferry ride, and lots of waiting), I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

There wasn't much time to do a lot, since we only reached our hotel on Friday evening, and had to leave to catch the ferry at the unearthly hour of 5.15 am on Monday morning. We ended up eating at the hotel all the time, and the kids spent most of their time playing on the beach. We did manage to squeeze in some island hopping, but Junior J didn't want to go (he gets seasick), and the trip was too long for Baby J who still needed his nap, so I stayed behind with the two of them while the rest went.


The resort we stayed in only had wifi at their lobby and restaurant, but most of the time the wifi wasn't working in the restaurant. However, having wifi at the lobby was sufficient enough for us to send out Watsapps to our family members to let them know we had reached safely. We didn't have any internet access otherwise, which was good, since it meant we could rest and relax without being distracted by our devices.  It felt liberating to be unplugged for most of the trip, and not think about replying emails and messages!

I had a chat with the kids about what they enjoyed about the trip, and they all agreed that they enjoyed playing at the beach most. Which more or less confirms this article, that kids really prefer the simple pleasures most. It was lovely sitting in the shallows, watching all seven kids get busy in the sand. There wasn't any need to entertain them, and they automatically grouped together and started on their own project of digging a hole, which they later used to "bathe" Baby J in. Simple is really best, and I am thankful for this time we could have soaking in the sun and sea, together with family and friends!

P/S: I'll blog more about the trip in time to come!



Mum in the Making

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Home: The Living Room (Before and After)


Hello! Today, I'm popping in to bring you for a tour of our living room. It's really the heart of the home, and is where the boys do most of their playing and doodling, and is often in a whole big mess! It's pretty interesting to see how the living room has changed after almost ten years of living in our home. Here's how it looked like when we first moved in:


Then, we had no kids, and were in love with the look of dark wood. Most of our furniture was deep brown, and in retrospect I think it was a little overwhelming! Since there were no little hands to mess with our stuff, our CDs and DVDs were stuffed helter-skelter in random boxes and stored in our TV bench. 


After the arrival of the kids, we slowly started making changes to the room. First, the toys appeared, so we had to add toy storage, and kid friendly furniture. The boys started ransacking the TV bench, so we felt the need for more storage where we could store our CDs and DVDs out of reach. And after a few years of changing this, and removing this and adding that, here's how our living room looks today, as you enter our home:


Now let me clarify before I bring you for a tour: the living room is not the first room you see when you enter our home. We have an access corridor (which we converted into a learning corner), and upon stepping into home you'll be greeted with our blackboard wall and the dining room. Our layout is unique, because we opted to hack a wall, and sacrifice a bedroom to open up the living-dining area. The initial layout was awkward, and made the living space dark and stuffy, so we felt giving up that bedroom was worth it. So our living room was actually carved out from a bedroom!


We are not fond of built-in furniture, but decided to get wall-mounted Besta units from Ikea as these were cheaper than getting a contractor to build cabinets from scratch. We matched those with more Besta units at the bottom. I admit I went a little nuts, and filled up the rest of the wall space with all sorts of wall art:

Artwork by artist Azisa Noor, whom we commissioned to do three paintings featuring our family in different dreamy landscapes. We printed and framed these in Ribba frames.

Home poster from IKEA (but I think they no longer stock this poster), large globe from a Belgium flea market, small globe from Typo, and wood artwork from Gracesmiths.

The Besta units are fantastic storage! The wall mounted units keep all our DVDs and CDs safe from little itchy fingers. I also store some of the kids' smaller manipulatives out of reach in Glis boxes, which fit perfectly on the narrow shelves. 


The lower Besta units are used to store the kids' toys, while the drawers are used to store their DVDs and CDs, so that they can access them easily. This cupboard is used to store all their building materials:

We hunted around for awhile before finding the perfect boxes for the unit:
Daiso shoe boxes! The boys can easily see what are inside the boxes,
and each shelf can hold exactly 3 boxes. 

We also displayed other artwork that we picked up on our travels (two of my fav buys when overseas: artwork and magnets!), as well as some of the boys' artwork (the wooden letters were decorated by the boys using washi tape). Next to the TV bench is the boys' Duktig play kitchen, which they use almost everyday:


I love how durable the kitchen is. This has withstood many years of play, and has cooked an uncountable number of strange meals. 

We brightened up the kitchen using MT washi tape, as well as a tea towel. 

On the side near the window is our Trofast unit, which holds more toys. 

The lower shelves hold their toy vehicles, while the bins hold Duplo. 

This child-sized typewriter was a vintage one that I scored when we visited the UK.
The cash register is a Duktig one, again from IKEA.

A few years back, Junior J decided to draw on our old sofa with oil pastels, and we never really got the stains out. So two years back, we opted to buy a new Kivik sofa


We used to have framed photos taken during our New Zealand honeymoon hanging on the wall over the sofa (you can see the photos here). However, we needed space for a big world map, so we replaced those pictures with this large world map. We had our contractor build a ledge behind the sofa, which we use to hold our library books and current reads:


This set of Svalsta nesting tables is our most recent addition to the room. We used to use a kid's table, but swopped it out for this pair of tables. I love how we can push the smaller table under the larger one when it is not in use, and how it does not have any sharp edges. 


The tables are great for all sorts of activities: building lego, holding tea parties, and drawing monsters and dinosaurs. 

The boys use wooden stools, carved in the shape of different animals.
We picked these up when traveling in Malaysia. 

The smaller table is great since it's slightly lower, so it's the perfect height for baby J!


I love how this room has grown along with our family, and I think this whiter, brighter look suits our home much more. What do you think? 


Whatever the case, I think this room is going to hold plenty of good memories as the years pass! 


PS: This post is part of a series of collaborative posts with IKEA. We were given a gift card to purchase some of the aforementioned items in this post, and no monetary compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thankful Tuesdays: Three things to remember


I've been getting questions from readers. About how we manage to cope with three littles. About how to juggle chores while nurturing our kids holistically, about how we can meet the different needs of three children. I've not been able to answer those questions, because firstly I've not had much time to sit down and type answers, and secondly, I just don't think I have any miracle answers to those questions. I have blogged on how we cope without a full-time helper, I have shared how to survive as a stay-home mum. But though we can share tips, I can't say I have unlocked the secrets to living joyfully at home and as a mum. In fact, the past few weeks have felt like a struggle, and I admit I feel like we've been surviving rather than thriving. But I know that this tough phase will pass… so here are three things I want to remind myself during this period of time:

:: When things get tough, just do the next thing:
This poem has always been a source of encouragement whenever I feel overwhelmed by the towering pile of clothes to be folded, or the kids fighting for the nth time. Sometimes when it seems like its too difficult to get anything done at all… it helps to remember that we just need to move step by step, while trusting in God to provide strength and wisdom. 

Source: BuzzQuotes

:: You can't have it all. So choose wisely:
Sometime ago I read this article about the fear of missing out and about opportunity cost:

"Opportunity cost means that essentially everything you do, no matter what it is, costs something, even if indirectly. The classic example is when someone takes you out for a free, hour-long lunch. Despite gaining the value of the lunch during that hour, you are still giving up all of the other productive activities you could have potentially been doing. 

So you give up doing an extra hour of work. An extra hour of sleep. An extra hour of sales calls that could net you a new client….

The point is that doing anything truly great requires some sort of inherent sacrifice that may or may not be immediately obvious. You know, like missing a series of your daughter’s birthdays."


- Mark Manson, in  "No, You Can't Have It All"

I think parenting in our day and age has become harder because we are more well-informed. We read articles on how to raise happy children, on how to instill creativity, and get the false sense of security that if we were to follow those steps prescribed we'll be able to raise great kids. We're busier than ever, and even our kids are way more busy than we were in our childhood days. We worry about them being ready for Primary school, we send them for this or that enrichment, we spend our days coaching and nagging. We juggle many many balls, we try to run our own businesses on the side, we chase for me-time and we-time and then wonder why we are just so worn out.

I've realized, especially when things get overwhelming, that I need to simplify and get my priorities right. I need to remember that we try to make as wise decisions as we possibly can, and then be content with what we have. I admit that sometimes I still envy those who can juggle keeping the home clean, and still plan great learning activities, blog about them, and still squeeze in time for exercise and hobbies. But then if we've made the decision to go maid-less and have more than two kids, then something has to give. It might be the chores, or time with the kids, or something else at any one point in time. Whatever the case, it still comforts me that people tell me that it does get easier with regards to managing the home and kids, as the children grow older.


:: We all need a little grace:
I don't know why, but there seems to be a lot of judging and competing when it comes to parenting. There's always sides to take: breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, cry-it-out vs. co-sleeping, staying home vs. working. There's a study done to support each side's view, there's a lot of "why don't you try?" suggestions thrown around, and a lot less "how are you doing?" and "you're doing a great job!". I think some grace thrown in the mix always makes this long and winding journey much easier, and I am thankful for friends who constantly encourage me, instead of looking to share their own opinions on what I should do. And we could all show a little grace to ourselves too. After all, us mums tend to be very hard on ourselves, and I think we could all do with a little break!





Mum in the Making

Monday, July 20, 2015

Choosing a balance bike: Tips, a review and giveaway


We used to learn cycling by removing the training wheels off our bikes. I remember how tough that was, pedaling and wobbling around the roof of our multi-storey car park, with my dad holding my bike steady. But oh, when we finally got the hang of it! I recall the sweet sense of victory, of being able to balance, without needing someone behind you to hold your seat steady.

Our kids have it easier these days though, with the introduction of balance bikes, which are essentially child-sized bicycles, without pedals. If you think about it, cycling requires you to attain two skills: the ability to work the pedals, as well as the skill of balancing the bike to keep it upright while in motion. The use of a balance bike basically trains a child to balance BEFORE he transitions to learning how to pedal. This is opposite to how we learnt to cycle, i.e. learning to pedal using training wheels, then learning how to balance. However, this method seems far more effective, and most parents I know say that their kids transition over to a regular bike quickly after learning how to balance on a balance bike.

We've tried a few different balance bikes thus far, with Junior J learning how to ride using a Strider, and then progressing on to a Puky when we were overseas (which is a popular brand in Germany but not sold here). We were recently given the opportunity to review the First Bike, which Junior J is now currently riding. Here are some of our tips and thoughts for choosing a balance bike for your child:

:: Consider the weight and material:
Children using a balance bike tend to be aged two to five. This means the bike should be lightweight, so that they are able to easily control it. This also makes it easy for the child to carry the bike over bumps that they can't ride over. That aside, I found that in the initial stages of learning, Junior J would get tired of riding after a short while, and we would end up having to carry the bike. For the sake of those aching arms, lightweight is definitely the way to go! As such, we liked both the Strider and the First Bike as both were pretty light (the Strider is 3.1 kg, while the First Bike is 3.8 kg).

Weight aside, I find that the materials used to make the bike matter too. Most bikes have metal frames (like the Puky and Strider), which tend to scratch easily, and can get dinged up during falls. Durability-wise, I think bikes with wooden frames wear better, however, wooden frames tend to add to the weight of the bike, and water exposure might be an issue. As such, we preferred the composite frame of the First Bike, which was scratch resistant, and does not rust. Durability is especially important when it comes to families with more than one kid, since your child will not be using the bike for more than a couple of years, and it would need to stand the test of time (and lots of falls and bangs and scrapes!) in order for it to be passed on to the next kid.


:: Look out for safety features:

Source: First Bike Singapore

Falls are really common when your child is learning how to ride a bike, and safety features really help to minimize the extent of the injuries sustained, so always check for these when choosing a bike. While the safety features in the Strider are minimal, we really liked the safety features incorporated in the First Bike. There's the steering limiter, which limits the steering to prevent the front from turning 180 degrees and causing falls, as well as recessed bolts, which reduce the likelihood of injuries when your child falls.



If you can see in the photo of the First Bike above, there are no protruding parts, bolts or sharp edges. Considering that most children tend to fall on top of the bike if they do fall, this reduces the severity of any injury. You can compare the three bikes in the following photo (from left to right: First Bike, Puky and Strider):


You can see that while the bolts are recessed for the First Bike, they are not for the Puky and Strider. For a child riding fast and falling suddenly from the bike, recessed bolts do minimize injury. 



:: Types of tires are not just important for cars, they matter for balance bikes too:
The tires of the bike affect aspects such as cushioning during bumps, as well as what kind of terrain that the bike would do well on. For the Strider, the tires are made of foam, which while being puncture-proof, provide little traction and cushioning. This means that the rider would have to bear most of the impact while riding on bumpy paths or going down kerbs or over pebbles. Such a bike isn't very suitable for rougher terrain and is suited more for pavement riding. For the other two bikes, both have air tires, which do need to be occasionally pumped, but provide a whole lot more traction and cushioning from impact. One advantage of the First Bike is that there are various models available with different tires suitable for different needs (you can view the options here).




:: Seat characteristics determine if the bike is usable or not:
One key thing you must check before buying a balance bike is the minimum and maximum seat height, because the former determines if your child is able to ride the bike from the start, and the latter determines how long your child can use the bike. We were intending to let Lil J test the First Bike initially, since Junior J already had a bike, but the poor kid found that he was too small to ride the bike (he's pretty small for his age)! In the end, we ended up letting Junior J test the bike as the maximum seat height for the bike was higher than for both the Puky and Strider. When buying a bike, it would be best for you to bring your child to test the bike, so that you can determine if the seat height is suitable. In terms of smaller-sized children, the Strider would probably be one of the better options, since its minimum seat height is lower than the rest, however, First Bike also sells a lowering kit, which allows you to lower the seat further. Since the maximum height for the First Bike is higher compared to the Strider, the former would allow for a longer period of usage.

Seats from top down: Puky, First Bike and Strider.

Do also look out for the method used for adjusting the seat height. For the Strider, height adjustment requires a wrench for loosening and tightening the bolt, whereas for the First Bike, the height can be adjusted with just turning the screw below the seat, with no extra tools needed. However, we found that it was hard to tighten the screw sufficiently. The seat needed to be adjusted occasionally, or it would slip down after some time. This wasn't such an issue with the Strider, since you can tighten the bolt a lot more with the wrench.

Seats from top down: First Bike, Puky and Strider.

Finally, the shape and size of the seat makes a difference too. I loved how the saddled-shaped seat of the First Bike helped the rider to sit securely without sliding off (but do note that the shape does make getting on the bike slightly harder for much younger children), unlike the narrower seat of the Strider. 


:: Brakes, bells and baskets:
I find brakes are not essential for children below three, since they usually do not have sufficient hand strength or size to grip the brake properly. However, for older riders they might be a useful feature to have on a balance bike. While the Strider doesn't come with a brake, the First Bike does, and Junior J enjoys the control he has over the bike using the brake.


That aside, the boy loves the bike basket that you can buy separately, which is easily fastened onto the bike with zip ties (though we find the ties somewhat unsightly!). He also loved the bike bell which comes with a built in compass.


All in all, the First Bike may be pricier than some other bikes in the market, but for such durability (it comes with a lifetime-warranty on the frame and fork, with a five year warranty on all other parts) and great safety features, it's a pretty good investment if you're looking for a balance bike! In the end, we sold off our Strider cheap to a friend, and opted to keep the First Bike as we felt it was a better bike. (If you would like to read up more, this post is excellent, as it discusses all the features you need to know about balance bikes, as well as compares many models available in the market.)

~~~~~~~

We hope these tips on choosing a balance bike would come in handy when you go bike shopping. If you would like to purchase a First Bike, key "makingmum" at checkout to get 15% off your purchase. You can also like their FB page for more updates on their promotions!


Finally, First Bike is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of a Street model First Bike and basket to one reader of this blog! The winner would be able to choose the colors of their bike (pink, blue, red, green or violet) and basket (pink, black, blue or red). Follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter app below to enter the giveaway, and do note you need to complete ALL 4 steps to qualify. We've had issues loading the page needed for Step 4 on our mobile, so its best to do all the steps while on a desktop. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We received a bike, basket and bell from First Bike for review purposes. No monetary compensation was received, and other bikes and opinions are our own.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Read: Exploring Art with children


I've been pondering about how to explore and talk to my boys about art. While we have our so called "Art Adventures" where we dabble in various crafty pursuits, we've yet to go into any serious exploration on artists and their works of art, save for a few co-op sessions where the kids listened to stories about the lives of various artists, and then did some art activities inspired by the artist's work.

I think part of this reluctance to start stems from my own struggle to understand and appreciate art. I enjoy visiting art museums, I love looking at beautiful works by artists, but I found I sometimes had difficulty comprehending certain art works or art forms. Certain pieces of modern art stumped me: why on earth would people actually pay 43 million for a canvas that was painted predominantly blue, something that my kid could probably easily do?

Then while browsing online, I chanced across this video of a talk by Alain de Botton, on art as therapy:


(I've embedded the video here, but if you do not have the time to watch it, you can read an excellent summary over here.)

The purpose and psychological functions of art are introduced in the talk. While I didn't agree with the premise that art can save our souls, and provide inner wholeness (since we believe only God can do that), the examples he used to illustrate the functions of art were helpful in shaping my approach to viewing a piece of art. And being clear about that helped me to think about how I would explore this area with my own kids.

I find that when it comes to exploring art with children, we have the tendency to be "human doings" rather than "human beings". We lean heavily towards the experiential: we let them play at children's exhibits at the art museum, we teach them to paint "like Monet" or do versions of Van Gogh's "The Starry Night", we do Matisse paper cut-outs of leaves. There is a lot of copying of techniques and styles  (which sometimes makes me question if we actually take creativity out of the process of art). These things are totally fine, but I think we sometimes focus too much on the how-tos, and forget to talk about the whys: about learning more about the life of each artist, and why he painted the way he did, and why he chose to paint what he did. I think these are the questions we ideally should discuss with our children, to help them to understand the art around them.

Here are some books which I found were helpful for such discussions:

:: The Art Book for Children (Book One, and Book Two): 
Most art books for children tend to introduce art by periods or styles, and tend to include mainly technical details such as when and where the artist lived, and the media he/she used. I found this book's approach quite a refreshing change, since it introduces various works of art mainly through asking questions: What do you think he was feeling? Why do the people look sad? What can you see?

While a little haphazard in its approach (since the works are introduced in no particular order), I thought it was an excellent springboard for discussing works of art with children.



:: The Anholt Artists Series
We especially love this series, because each book tells of a particular real-life incident in an artist's life that involves children. The books are great, because you get a glimpse into each artist's life, while being introduced to their passions and works of art.



:: Various children's biographies of artists: 
Reading more about each artist's life is helpful in understanding their work. Some of the biographies we particularly enjoyed include "A Splash of Red", "Edward Hopper Paints His World", "The Iridescence of Birds", and "Henri's Scissors".



:: Books introducing works of art through make-believe stories: 
While I prefer biographies that allow us to know more about the artist's life, sometimes books introducing various art works can also be a platform to spark off further research and discussion. Some books that can be helpful in this aspect include the Katie series, "BaBar's Museum of Art", and "You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum".


We hope these recommendations are helpful, and if you'd like, do check out our recommendations for books on Science and Maths.

PS: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: Worthwhile


It has been a rather difficult week. Handling the three of them and their refusal to listen has been challenging, and we've been dealing with heart issues the whole week long. As we struggle through each day, the voices of well-meaning relatives come back to haunt me: "Why do you want so many kids? Two is enough.", "I want to work, because I need my own life." and "Homeschool for what? Just send to school so that you have time to do your own things."

So in the midst of it all, I keep trying to remind myself of why we do things: Of why we chose to homeschool, of why I chose to stay home. We are constantly being fed the suggestion that children are burdens: they mess up the home, they are expensive to raise, they take up so much time and energy and effort. They make you so so angry half the time. But then that little voice in my heart whispers and reminds me that they are gifts, not burdens. Sometimes that voice gets drowned out: like when they decided that they would grind up a piece of red chalk into powder and sprinkle it all over the floor, when they decided to ignore your instructions for the nth time, and when I've had to opt out of attending something because it's at night and would clash with bedtime. Sometimes its easy to forget, because there are so many sacrifices to be made, so many meals to feed with a fussy toddler who only wants to eat watermelon, so many messes to clean up after. 

But while we forget, and while those around us sometimes suggest to us otherwise… they are not burdens. Ask any couple who has struggled with conceiving , any couple who have lost a child, or suffered a miscarriage, and they will tell you that. That children are gifts, gifts to be handled carefully, with care, lest overindulgence spoils them, or neglect ruins them. 

So today, I am thankful. Thankful for our three little gifts, gifts that take so much out of us. Thankful for these three walking lessons in learning patience, humility and trusting in God. Thankful that these littles ones teach me so much about unconditional love, and how immeasurably more God's love is for us. 

I am thankful for the little moments too, that makes this journey so much brighter and lighter: the time the older two set up a stage by draping blankets on their bunk bed and performed a symphony using a yakult bottle and frying pans, the times they showed love to their brothers, the times they make us laugh with their silly antics. I give thanks for friends who are fellow parents, who understand and listen, and come alongside with us with prayer, and without trying to shove advice at us. I am so thankful for God who gives us strength for each day. 

If you are a parent, and finding this parenting journey tough, hang in there. Hug your kids, and know that this journey is long, and winding, but worthwhile.

Mum in the Making

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