Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Grow where you're planted

Lately I have been dreaming a little. About how things might have been if I had the ability to pursue my dreams. Perhaps I'd be an interior designer. Or a writer of children's books. Or maybe I'd be scrapbooking for some company. Perhaps I'd be influential in people's lives.

Many see staying home to care for kids as the cessation of those dreams, which get replaced by the hum drum of everyday life, the never-ending cycle of dirty laundry and crying kids. I have been thinking hard about that, and I've realised that all these abilities that might have helped me to pursue my dreams... perhaps they were given for another reason, because God just knew what He was equipping me for. Perhaps our dreams can sometimes come true, in a way we least expect.

So now, instead of designing interiors for strangers, I get to decorate my own home, so that it fits the needs of my family. I do not publish books, but I get to hit "publish" almost every day, when I log in here to jot down my thoughts. While I don't get any time to scrap, we are still making many memories, which are captured in our hearts and minds.

While I am no longer teaching in a school, or inspiring others in any way... I am able to encourage others to rethink homeschooling, as ordinary me writes about our path less trodden. I am teaching little ones. We are enjoying our times learning and living.

So for the past few days, I've been rethinking what it is to live my dreams. Perhaps I've already been living them, just not in the way I've pictured them. And I am thankful for all that God has provided through these times. We are certainly blessed!

Mum in the Making

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Made: Toilet paper roll rockets

We've been learning more about outer space and the solar system, and we made ourselves some rockets! These are easy to make: 

1. Cut out circles in a toilet paper roll using a scissors. These don't need to be perfect circles! Get the kids to cover the outside with washi tape (ours were from 3M Scotch, as well as from Daiso), or they can also paint them. 

2. Print out photographs of the kids, cut them out and fit them inside the toilet roll, such that their faces can peek out of the windows. Secure the pictures using more washi tape.

3. Cut strips of crepe paper and glue/tape them down to the base of the rocket.

4. For the top of the rocket, cut out circles using construction paper, and cut out a "slice" from the circle. Bend the circle such that both straight edges meet, and stick the edges together using glue or tape. Stick the tops down to the rockets using more tape. 

And there you have it, your very own rocket to explore the universe! The boys especially love them because of the crepe paper streamers. Have fun if you try this!

PS: If you'd like to have a go at crafting with tape, you could try signing up for the family workshop organized by 3M Scotch, where the family can have fun together crafting with tapes:

 Scotch Make Amazing Workshop
Date: 2nd August, Saturday
Time: 2 sessions (1000-1200 or 1300-1500)
Cost: $20 per family (you will receive a starter kit of 3M products worth $40 to craft with)
Venue: Food for Thought @ National Museum

You can sign up here. Oh, and don't forget to join our giveaway for Scotch expressions tapes (and post-its)... the giveaway is ending soon!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Homeschool: Far from perfect

When we started homeschooling, I imagined neatly-lined bookshelves brimming with living books, organized timetables covering all topics, and happy children sitting at the table enthusiastic to learn. Who was I kidding?

These days, I consider it a good day if we manage to read one good book, and finish lessons with Junior J (we have finished learning phonics, and he now reads aloud from books, and learns a little Chinese in the afternoon. In the mornings, we do a little math using some Montessori manipulatives). I give myself a pat on the back if I manage to get dinner on the table on time, and the kids actually eat the meal without having to be scolded, chased or fed. What used to be a workable routine has more or less crumbled with baby J becoming more mobile and napping less, and we spend a fair bit of time checking the floor to see that there is no Lego that the boy can pick up and eat!

Things have become a lot more free flow from sheer necessity. If baby manages to nap for a longer period, we squeeze in some reading or craft. If he doesn't, the boys just play a lot more on their own. We sit, books scattered about us, as we try to learn something new, as baby crawls around us, exploring. We grab little moments to teach, we try to squeeze in a book here and there, during meals, before naptime.

I've learnt that going slow gets you there quicker than going nowhere. So we juggle, we adapt, while hoping that things will get a little more settled once baby is older. Meanwhile, I am learning to put aside my perfectionist nature, and close one eye to our jumbled routines. I'd love to have my bookshelves all sorted, my study packed, my learning corners set up, my activities all planned and prepared, my home all polished into a wonderful environment for learning. But I am only human, and we can only live in the present. So we do what we can, in the time we are given, while making tiny steps towards making homeschool a little better, a little more organized, a little more engaging and fun. And I believe we will get there, with God's help, in time to come.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chalk: The Solar System

Our blackboard wall used to feature a drawing of the two older boys by our artist friends (A side note, our friends recently illustrated some prints and I am loving them! You can see them here, and they are available for purchase). I loved the picture very much, but because it was drawn in chalk, it was getting smudged out by the boys. So recently, I sadly took a wet rag and gave the wall a clean, and decided to use the wall for our learning efforts. 

Since Junior J wanted to learn more about the solar system this week, I drew up the solar system on the wall one night. The boys were delighted, and spent some time examining the planets. 

Then as we continued with our readings, Junior J started adding things to the wall. He asked for chalk to draw in the red spot for Jupiter. I was busy one day with baby, and I asked him to add in the asteroid belt. He couldn't remember the location of the belt, so he went off to flip his books, and I came back to see a beautiful belt extending across the entire wall!

He added various moons, he wrote in the diameter of the planets. He added rings to Uranus. He learnt what "km" meant. Watching him work was wonderful: the focus and concentration, his attempts to write even though he still mixes up his small letters and capitals.

Junior J is a visual learner, just like me, so I think having a huge "canvas" to draw on works for him, and it helps him to "see" facts. Lil J is different though, and tends towards the auditory and kinesthetic side. So I'll have to find other ways to engage him (just today we pretended he was the sun and we orbited a globe around him to learn about night and day!).

I'm hoping we'll be able to continue using this board for our lessons, so stay tuned for more blackboard drawings in the future!


I've gotten quite a few questions about our blackboard wall, so I thought I'd just post answers to some FAQ here:

1. How did you do this wall?
We got our contractor to paint the wall using blackboard paint when we were renovating our home a year ago. The paint was from Art Friend (by Martha Stewart, which I think comes in other colours like grey and pink), and I think there is also a spray version. I've also seen adhesive sheets that can be stuck onto the wall, if you are not keen on paint. 

2. What about the mess? Is it easy to keep clean?
So far, the kids only get chalk when we head to the playground. I've tried letting them use chalk previously at home, but right now Lil J's idea of drawing with chalk is vigorously rubbing the chalk until everything crumbles, then sweeping the chalk dust everywhere! 

So only Junior J gets chalk to work on this wall, and sometimes Lil J gets to draw bits and bobs, but he's always under supervision. The dust generated is minimal, and Junior J has to wipe up the chalkdust on the floor after he's done with the wall. Cleaning the wall is easy: A wet rag does the trick pretty quickly. 

3. Why a blackboard? Why not a whiteboard, or just mahjong paper?
I like the fact that the wall gives us a whole lot more working surface compared to mahjong paper, so you can add more details. At the end of each week, we plan to photograph the finished work, and start on a new topic. This way we don't use up paper, and don't have to decide what to do with the finished work.

I prefer the look of chalk on blackboards compared to whiteboards, and I'm not too keen on using markers which tend to have fumes. Chalk is also easier to wash off clothing and furniture compared to markers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Today

Today, the baby is grumpy because he woke up at night and refused to go back to sleep for two hours.

Today, Lil J didn't want to eat his breakfast and kept leaving the table, and I nearly lost it.

Today, I am really tired, especially from all that lack of sleep. I am reminded about how it is possible to work and get our chores done, but it is being joyful and cheerful in our ministry of mundane that is difficult.

Today, my dad took the kids out, which gave me a breather to rest. I am so thankful for his help.

Today, this little baby smiled at me, flashing all four of his little teeth. 

Today, Lil J told me he loved me. Thrice.

Today, we did more math, and we made more progress. I am thankful we didn't push numbers to Junior J when he was younger and had difficulty understanding the concepts. Now he is interested and keen to learn, and is picking up things very quickly.

Today, the boys played and laughed, and baby joined in the noisy chorus with his shrieking. Today, we read books, both in English and Chinese.

Today, we give thanks for what each day brings. There are no perfect days, but we can give thanks for each day anyway!

"What day is it?" asked Pooh.
"It's today", squeaked Piglet.
"My favorite day", said Pooh. 
-A.A. Milne

May our todays be our favourite days. :)

Mum in the Making

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Made: This little lamp of mine

We've been doing up a little reading corner for the boys in our room. The area needed a little lamp to brighten up the corner, so we made this:

Making this was pretty simple, and you probably have the materials in your home. We made this out of a plastic milk carton (which a friend donated to us), LED fairy lights (that you might have in the storeroom with your christmas decorations), and some pretty tapes. 

Here's how to make your own lamp:

1. Decide on the shapes you would like to decorate your lamp. We chose stars, but anything goes, so long it is relatively easy to cut out. Larger shapes are easier to work with. Trace these shapes out on a piece of transparency. 

2. Taking a clean 2 litre plastic milk carton, cut the carton into half. You might need to trim the edges to ensure that the four sides are relatively even, so that the lamp can sit properly later.

3. Start sticking down pieces of tape to decorate the shapes you have drawn.
Key instructions to tell the kids:
- The pieces should overlap and there should not be any gaps.
- They can mix and match patterns, but to avoid very crazy patterns you could restrict them to two to three tapes per shape. We used two types of tapes per shape. 
- They need to tape over the outlines of the shapes drawn. 

4. It would start looking like a colourful crazy mess. Once the kids are done, cut out the shapes following the outline, while cutting inside the lines so that the lines would not show up in the final product.

5. Stick these shapes down onto the plastic carton, using white craft glue (PVA), which dries clear. 

6. After the glue has dried, invert your carton and stuff your fairy lights in. Flip the carton over, and you have your very own little lamp!

Junior J helped me with sticking the bits of tape onto the stars. We used Scotch Expressions Tapes by 3M, which includes various types of decorative tapes such as magic, washi and masking tape. We used their magic tapes, which are made of plastic, and can be torn by hand. Do note that if you are doing this craft with kids, they might need help to cut/tear the magic tapes, as the thinner plastic means that the tapes sometimes might split when you are peeling them. Also, it might be a better option to use washi tape, which is made of paper, since it is easier to tear these tapes. Washi tape is unlikely to split during the peeling process, and is residue-free (it does not leave a sticky residue when you peel it off a sheet of paper) and repositionable. 

I left the hubby to supervise the boys while I went to settle baby J, and came back to see this:

I laughed so hard to see these two boys with all the tape labels all over themselves! It was Lil J's idea, since he was bored while his brother was helping me, and conveniently helped himself to the tapes and peeled off all the labels! 

Labelled boys aside, we are loving our new lamp that cost virtually nothing!

I love the stained glass-like effect of the light shining through the tapes, and how the stars brighten up an otherwise plain little lamp. So if you happen to have some fairy lights collecting dust until Christmas, why not dig them out and try this project?

For more ideas for working with these decorative tapes, try popping by My Activity Room to get some inspiration from the projects posted there. In addition, 3M is organizing a workshop where you get to play with these tapes, and get more ideas on what you could do with them. If you're interested, here are the workshop details:

Scotch Make Amazing Workshop
Date: 2nd August, Saturday
Time: 2 sessions (1000-1200 or 1300-1500)
Cost: $20 per family (you will receive a starter kit of 3M products worth $40 to craft with)
Venue: Food for Thought @ National Museum

You can register for the workshop at this site, and here's a peek at what you'll get to do at the workshop:

A peek at the starter kit that you'll be receiving at the workshop!


Oh, and good news! 3M is sponsoring a gift pack of their products (inclusive of some of these Scotch Expressions tapes) worth over $60 to THREE readers of this blog! Just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below to enter in the giveaway (please remember to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you win!):

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We received some Scotch Expressions tapes from 3M to craft our project. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Confessions of a Daiso addict

We don't really like going to the malls in general: hubby hates shopping, and I am not fond of jostling with crowds. So in general, I tend to do most of my shopping online, especially since it is almost impossible to shop with three kids in tow. However, there is still one shop that I still visit quite frequently, and that is Daiso. 

The hubby shakes his head whenever I say I need to go there, but he acquiesces each time. Once, I caught him staring at sieves glassy-eyed, with three different ones in his basket. Since then, I use that to justify my purchases, with a "remember, you nearly bought three sieves last time? I'm actually getting stuff the kids need for craft!" Everything is $2, the store stocks almost everything under the sun, and it is almost impossible to walk out of there without buying something.

We've shared our favourite buys from the store last time in this post (along with links to other mummies who shared their top Daiso picks), and here are four more items we love:

:: Plastic pebbles and water beads: These are sold in the gardening section, and they are just perfect for sensory play! The boys love scooping and pouring the water beads, and it's relatively mess-free compared to sand or dough. I initially bought the coloured pebbles, as I wanted to make our own light table and use the pebbles with it. I handed the bottle of pebbles to Lil J today when he was playing with his construction vehicles, and he spent almost two happy hours scooping, digging and pouring them. It was easy to clean-up compared to sand, the pebbles gave a satisfying rattle as he poured them from container to container, and the boy had lots of fun. And all for two bucks!

:: Tea bags: Daiso sells these in packs of 110 pieces. These are really great for filling up with spices when you are cooking stews and soups (don't you hate how you have to fish out the bits of star anise in your soup?), or just for brewing tea. I especially love putting ikan bilis inside when I am making soup or porridge, since taking those tiny fish out after cooking can be really troublesome. 

:: Very cute cleaning mitts: These used to be sold at Daiso, and then suddenly went out of stock for a long time. Now they are back on the shelves, and the boys love them! They fight over who gets to use the mitts, so I've had to resort to getting one per kid. 

:: Tape: Daiso used to only sell plastic tapes, but now they stock washi tape in all sorts of patterns and colours, as well as lace tape (lace with a layer of adhesive) and fabric tape. Some of the nicer patterns come in rather short rolls, which means they aren't exactly very cheap, but the design are really pretty, and the quality is decent. There are also simpler patterns (like airmail stripes and polka dots), which come in fat, juicy rolls, and I love those for crafting with kids since one roll goes a long long way!

So there you have it, a few more reasons to hop down to Daiso. And no, I was not sponsored to write this post. Here's to a blessed weekend, and do pop by next week because we'll be sharing a fun project as well as a giveaway!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Homeschool: Socialization

One common concern people have with regards to homeschooling is about socialization. Most times, we tend to think of homeschooling as regular school, with tables and texts and set periods of time to do math. Except everything happens at home, and you don't have friends to play with, except maybe your rather annoying sibling who keeps taking your pencils to use, or messes up the beads on your abacus.

However, it has been the opposite: homeschooling has actually freed up our time so that we can meet up with others in various places, and our schedules have never been fuller! Homeschool is not a lonely, sad affair, and you don't need to be in a class of twenty other children to be able to find friends:

"Children need friends.  Children do not need to be surrounded by the large groups of peers who inevitably follow the strongest personality in the crowd."
- Susan Wise Bauer, "The Well Trained Mind"

We have the freedom to arrange play dates, and meet on weekdays at varying locations. We visit the zoo with friends, and do not need to jostle with the weekend crowds to feed the goats. Home-schoolers usually rely on co-ops (groups that meet together for a common purpose), which are often run by the homeschooling parents themselves. The groups meet to learn various subjects, and span various age groups.

We've been part of a Chinese co-op for a couple of weeks, and it has been most heartwarming to see how the boys have started playing together with the rest. They get to learn a little Chinese through story-telling and songs, and then get to have a fruit party:

They each get to contribute a fruit and learn its Chinese name, and they sit around a table and serve themselves the food. It's wonderful to see them gathered and heartily eating (and sometimes fighting over the popular fruits), as a lit candle casts a warm glow on the plates of fruit. They then get playground or pool time.

I am so thankful for these times where the boys can get out and learn together with friends, where the group size makes for cozier gatherings. There is more time for interaction and play, simply because the group is smaller, and not much time is wasted trying to maintain order or give instructions. These meetings suit our boys better, since they tend to get intimidated at larger gatherings. I love seeing how they play together with their friends, and I must say they have learnt how to get along better with others through these group gatherings!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Thankful Tuesdays: The thing about boys

These days, our conversations with strangers or acquaintances usually run along the line of a few commonly asked questions, in this order:
1. You have three kids?
2. Is your baby a girl? (For some reason, all three of our boys are usually mistaken as girls when they were babies. And of course, we do correct them.)
3. Oh, you have THREE BOYS? (This is usually followed by a moment of silent horror.)
4. Wow, how do you cope? or many a time "So are you going to try for a girl?"

Yes, I get it, daughters are lovely to have. Everyone extols to us the benefits of little girls: they are conscientious, they are affectionate, they show care and concern, the older ones take care of their siblings very well. Mummies get to have lots of fun dressing their little girls up, they get to dress matchy-matchy with them. You get to scrap in pink and pastels, and can stick on a million and one Prima flowers on your layout featuring your daughter, and it would be just perfect. 

But we have boys. Three of them. So we are well-versed in the challenges of boyhood, which have been featured in many a blog post by witty mamas (for example, this one). Boys are fascinated by gross things and are delighted with loud farts and burps. They stick their boogers on the wall and think its perfectly fine. You are always wiping or washing or putting down toilet seats if you live with them. They are rowdy, they can't sit still, they are always getting into one scrape or another. Their idea of fun is jumping off the bunk bed or destroying something, basically anything that gives mama a heart attack. So yes, boys can be challenging, in ways that girls are not. 

But can I just say this? Boys and girls are wired differently, and while we lament about our boys fidgeting and struggling with sitting still during lessons, they have their good points too. Here's a few things we love about them:

:: That beautiful juxtaposition of tough and tender: Boys can be incredibly sweet, and it makes it all the sweeter when thoughtful gestures come from these little men who are pretty rough around the edges. Mamas to little boys, you should know how wonderfully snuggly boys can be, and how much they need hugs and kisses when they are little. Adolescence does bring about raging hormones, but some fragment of that sweetness does remain: I remember how thoughtful some of my ex-students (who were fifteen or sixteen year olds that towered over me even when I was in heels) could be, helping me to carry things, and writing cards for Teachers' Day.

:: They have a special place for Mama in their hearts: Words can't really describe this, but I think boys have this special relationship with their mothers. It's just like that father-daughter relationship. 

:: Handling emotions and relationships becomes more straightforward: Boys may face difficulties controlling their emotions. However, things are usually simpler for them, as they tend to take things at face-value, and say things as they are. Girls are a little more complicated.

:: All that incredible amount of energy can be channeled for good: They are usually bouncing off the walls, but if directed towards their talents or interests, boys can harness their energy in creative and productive ways. They can use their strength to work, to build, to conquer.

:: They are usually blessed with analytical minds: I love how they think, how they are obsessed with construction and destruction, I love how they try to solve problems, and how they like numbers and maps and tools. 

:: You get to save money on clothes and wardrobe space, and save on dressing up time: Girls have all manner of clothes. Then there are the accessories. And the shoes. And those matching tights. And.. the list goes on. Boys? It's either shorts, or pants. And T-shirts, singlets, or shirts. Dressing them is pretty easy (unless you have a toddler in his "I must wear my rattiest T-shirt to church" mood), so usually that means getting them out of the house is a slightly faster affair. And footwear? Just a pair of shoes and pair of sandals for each, which leaves more room in the shoe cupboard for Mama's!

:: Diaper-changing and toilet training is a lot easier: My mum always remarked that it was much easier to change baby boys, and it is true, once you learn how to block projectile pee! And if the boys are out and about in nature, and there is no toilet for miles, a bush or a plastic bag would easily do the job. 

So please, if you ever meet us and our three very noisy boys... don't give us a look of pity. Yes, we can sound a little like a circus on the loose, but life with boys is also filled with lots of joy. I thank God for blessing us with these three very different boys!

P/S: So back to the question everyone asks: will we be trying for a girl? I'd say we're open to #4 in the future, and we will be thankful if God blesses us, be it a girl or a boy!

PP/S: A disclaimer before I get any hate mail from mothers of girls: This post was not meant to put down girls, or suggest that they are any less than boys. Boys and girls are just different, and have their strengths and weaknesses. I am just writing this simply because I feel that while we are quick to extol the great points of having girls, we tend to poke fun at the boys for being who they are.

PPP/S: Ok, I'm being long-winded today. But if you've enjoyed reading our posts, we'd love for you to cast a vote for Mum in the Making for the Singapore Blog Awards, under the Family Blog category. You can vote here. Thanks very much!

Mum in the Making


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