Friday, May 22, 2015

Our Week: Art Adventures

Last week, we spent a fair bit of time building and dabbling in art. This week, we continued with our explorations in art, with the younger two messing about with do-a-dot markers (these are so brilliant for toddlers!), and Lil J doing some watercolor paintings.

We also continued playing with shapes to form pictures, inspired by the book "Wednesday":

Round stickers from Daiso. These are so great for craft!
The kids used them as sprinkles for their ice-creams. :)

Lil J's ice cream. The box with dividers was another find from Daiso,
it came in handy for sorting out all the cut out shapes.

Junior J also worked more with acrylic paints. After asking around last week, we were given some helpful advice and resources to check out, and I'm in the process of sorting through everything to see if I can come up with a systematic way of exploring art techniques with Junior J (Hopefully I'll get to share more soon!).

We've been painting on canvases (which we buy from Daiso) using acrylic paints from Art Friend. Junior J is still working on a series of paintings of dinosaurs, and this was his second original painting (you can see his first painting here):

I just discussed with him what he wanted to paint, and he decided on the colors and what went where. This round, we explored creating texture with the paint: he layered the grass and dabbed the paint on the canvas to get "bumpy" clouds, and we used the end of the paintbrush to scrape lines on the tree trunk. He loves adding little details, so he painted in flowers, as well as a little hat for his Stegosaurus. 

It's been quite fun exploring art with the kids, and I too am learning as we go along. I guess that's the lovely thing about homeschooling: you have the time and space to explore areas of interest!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

10 tips on living with food allergies

Egg-free doesn't mean boring: Our hermit crab dinner of minced pork,
rice, beans, carrots and cauliflower. 

Lil J has food allergies. He used to throw up after we fed him egg yolk when he was a baby, and he had pretty bad eczema. There was a period of time where he didn't gain weight for a couple of months, and we went half crazy trying to figure out what was wrong. We tried systematically eliminating foods from his diet, kept a food log, and continued monitoring. We went gluten-free, egg-free, dairy free… it became quite a headache to cook for the kid! Finally we consulted a PD (we were overseas then), and was given the wrong diagnosis that the boy was allergic to both milk and egg. The poor kid was given hydrolyzed formula, which he refused to drink (it smelled and tasted really strange, to be honest), and we totally took him off dairy products. 

After moving back to Singapore, we decided to get a second opinion. Some mothers recommended Dr Lee Bee Wah, an allergist over at Mount Elizabeth, and she ran the skin prick test for Lil J for common allergens (milk, soy, nuts, egg). It turned out the first diagnosis was wrong: Lil J was not allergic to dairy! (Hooray for ice-cream and cheese!) The test did confirm an egg allergy though. 

Now that he's three and a half, Lil J still has not outgrown the egg allergy. There have been instances where he's mistakenly eaten food that contained egg (usually when we are eating out, more of that in another post), after which he starts to rash all over and his eyes start to swell. There was one time when he grabbed the egg off hubby's breakfast plate when we were overseas and took a bite (this boy loves trying everything off our plates, which really gives me a heart attack because of the allergies!). Later his eyes puffed up so bad he could could barely see out of them, and the symptoms only subsided after a dose of Zyrtec. 

We also discovered along the way that the kid is also allergic to prawns. He tried prawns previously when we were up in Penang to escape the haze, and started rashing all over, and again, only a dose of antihistamine helped to relieve his symptoms. He also reacts upon eating similar foods like prawn mantis. 

Now Baby J seems to be showing signs of having food allergies too (he has been rashing up after certain meals, but it isn't an egg allergy since our meals are egg-free), so it's going to be another round of pin-pointing the culprit(s). 

So here's what we've learnt the past few years on bringing up kids with food allergies:

1. Don't mix up food allergies and food intolerances. 
Food allergies occur because the person's immune system reacts against certain chemicals in food, and these chemicals tend to be proteins. They are different from food intolerances, which are non-immune reactions (for example, lactose intolerance is different from a milk protein allergy). The treatments and approaches would be different.

2. If you suspect a food allergy, try eliminating the suspected food. A food log might help.
If you suspect your child has a food allergy (he has rashes, has trouble breathing, or starts wheezing after certain meals, or he has eczema), eliminating the suspected food that causes the allergy would be the easiest (and cheapest way) to manage the allergy. Trying to pinpoint the cause can be tricky though, since meals can have many ingredients (and if you eat out, you may not know the entire list of ingredients). A food log in this case can be helpful (though somewhat troublesome to keep), since you can look back at all the things your child has consumed and pinpoint what foods might be triggering off the reaction. 

3. If the food log isn't helpful, getting tested might give you answers. But please see an allergist if possible. 
We were really going crazy trying to figure out Lil J's allergies, and the initial wrong diagnosis made it even harder for us to prepare his meals. One tricky thing about pin-pointing allergies in young children is that many of them are still breast-feeding, which means the mother's diet also affects the child (so you might have to keep a food log for yourself too!). I found that having the skin prick test and consultation with Dr Lee really cleared our doubts: I could fatten the boy up on yoghurt and cheese, and now we were very sure that the kid had to stay clear of eggs. 

4. Focus on what your child CAN eat. Not what he cannot. 
Initially after we confirmed the egg allergy, I felt a huge sense of relief knowing what we were dealing with. However, that was followed with weeks of feeling frustrated that I couldn't prepare meals that had egg, since eggs were quite a staple in our meals. Junior J used to be a really picky eater, and eggs were the easiest form of protein to get into him (he took ages to chew meat!). Also, I was making bentos for him, and eggs (with their cheery yellow colour) tend to be an staple in these. 

However, I realized that harping on the whole "it's so hard to live with allergies" thing didn't help, and there were so many other things that Lil J could eat! For example, we would use cheese in bentos for protein and to add that pop of yellow colour, and sometimes, I would do an extra dish separately for the rest of us that contained egg. Having to prepare two different meals felt troublesome, but I figured my way around that later. 

Also, don't apologize to your child that he cannot have this or that. We've had grandparents tell the kid they are sorry that he can't eat this dish or that cake, which tends to brings his focus to what he can't have (and usually makes him feel worse), rather than what he CAN have. Got a party to attend, and the kid can't eat cake? Bring a special treat for him to eat (Those chocolate surprise eggs are great if your child can have dairy).

5. Your child might still be able to have food that he normally cannot eat. You just have to figure it out. 
One difficulty of having an egg allergy is that many sweet treats that children like contain eggs. Most cakes and cookies usually contain egg, and certain brands of ice-cream contain egg. We managed to find places or bakers that made egg-free cakes, however, recently I decided to make my own, since that really helped us to save (click here for our tried and tested recipe for a very yummy eggless, no-bake chocolate cheesecake). We also found places that served egg-free ice-cream (eg. Baskin Robbins and Udders), and we now also make eggless pancakes for breakfast. If you bake, you can replace the egg with alternatives (click here for a very useful list).

It wasn't so hard for the prawn allergy. However, there were certain foods (other than prawns itself) the boy had to stay away from: Penang laksa, because belacan and hae gor (prawn paste) were used, and various soups that cooked prawn shells as a base. We learnt to cook our own laksa (and omitted the belacan and hae gor), and figured how to make Italian seafood soup without the prawns (we use this recipe, but omit the shrimp and increase the amount of squid used). 

6. You must read labels. 
We've learnt that eggs can be sneaky: they turn up in all sorts of foods. Homemade marshmallows typically contain egg (but the cheaper, store-bought types don't), and some pastas don't contain egg as an ingredient but may contain traces of egg (because of cross contamination in factories that manufacture multiple food products. This also applies for nuts.). Many white sauces and dressings (eg. mayonnaise and tartar sauce) contain egg. Meatballs from Ikea contain egg too! Reading labels always help to clear up doubts, and over time you get the hang of what foods your child can or cannot have. 

7. Train your kid to always ask before eating.
After a few scares, Lil J has learnt to always check with us before trying new dishes or foods offered by others. This boy is a foodie, and loves trying new stuff. He used to like to grab stuff off our plates to try, but has learnt (the hard way unfortunately) that he needs to check if the meal has something he cannot eat. 

8. Friends and family must be educated too. 
Once Lil J was wandering around the playground during a co-op session, and asked another mother if he could try the food she was feeding her son. It turned out to be fried rice, which was fried with egg. Thankfully the mum had the foresight to ask if it was ok to let him try it! (Which is why point 7 is really important if your child is old enough.) 

The thing is, most kids don't have allergies, and sometimes friends don't really think twice about offering children ice-cream or cake with good intentions. If your child has an allergy, please let your friends know, and keep a watchful eye on your kids, especially on play-dates if your kids would sit together for a meal. I've had cases where kids would offer their food to Lil J, or Lil J would ask to try their food, so it's safer to watch out!

Also, I find that relatives too may not be clear about what foods are ok to offer. I've had relatives try to feed Lil J store bought chocolate cake, saying that it's just chocolate, and that it's just a taste. (Grandparents in general are known to feed yummies to their grandkids without their parents approval, right?) In most cases, I've resorted to exaggeration, because in many cases explaining to them just doesn't seem to work. I tell them they can kill him if they feed him stuff without checking with us (which is the case for kids who have anaphylactic reactions to their allergies). 

9. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: your freezer is your best friend.
If your child has allergies, then chances are you might have to cook meals for him when you are eating out. It's a lot easier if you freeze extra portions of meals that you are already having at home: pasta sauces, soups, sandwich fillings like pulled pork etc. This way, you just need to defrost his meal and steam it up before heading out. Eating out with food allergies has it's challenges, so I'll be writing a separate post on that soon. 

Also, if you have children who don't have the same allergies, freezing food means that you can serve the forbidden food to the other family members, with little chances of cross-contamination. I usually prepare muffin tin frittatas (our recipe here) over the weekend, and freeze these for Junior J to put in his lunchbox when we are out. I heat them up in the toaster, and don't have to worry about contaminating Lil J's meal. 

Junior J's lunch, with a muffin tin frittata.
Lil J gets the same, but without the frittata. 

10. Always carry your meds with you.
We've learnt this the hard way: we've had to scramble to buy Zyrtec a few times before when Lil J develops an allergic reaction when eating out. Please carry antihistamines (or the epipen if necessary) if you decide to eat out and your child has food allergies. This is even more so if the allergies are severe (but I'm sure parents of kids with severe allergies would already know that), or if you are traveling, since you may not have easy access to a pharmacy! 


I've found that once you get used to it, living with food allergies isn't that difficult. However, this is in our case where the allergies are limited to two food types, and the reactions are not severe. I'll share more about things to note when eating out, as well as some resources I've found useful in future post. Meanwhile, for those with kids who have allergies… do share your tips if you can!

PS: Like I've mentioned, Lil J's allergies are not severe. For those with children with serious food allergies, our tips still apply, but please take any advice with caution. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: 10 lessons from staying home

I've been a stay home mum for almost 6 and a half years. It's been a crazy, noisy and messy journey, one where you can be so angry one moment, and yet laughing the next. Just yesterday, I had to scold the boys so many times for messing with their lunch and not eating, and yet they had me laughing later with their funny antics.

Staying home has been a roller coaster ride, and here are ten lessons I've learnt:

1. Your home is probably messier, but that's ok.
If you're not working full-time, you'll be staying home more often, and the same goes for the kids (that applies also for kids of working mums who have relatives or help who care for them at home). A more lived in space will naturally be a messier place. But then, memories are made too, amidst the messes right? 

How our dining table usually looks during school time (actually it looks like that most of the time!).
Books and pencils and random scribblings litter the table. I'm learning to shut my eyes to some of their mess.

2. You'll have to spend a fair bit of time on housework.
Unless you have a stay-in helper, you'll find yourself spending quite a bit of time doing housework. A messier place needs more tidying, there's also the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning to do. While you might have stopped work to spend time with your kids, you'll find that a high percentage of time would be spent tackling chores, but that doesn't mean you are sacrificing time with the kids. Rope the kids to help out with age-appropriate chores, so that you can work side by side. I feel it's also fine to work on the chores while the kids learn to play on their own: they learn that the home doesn't get clean on its own, that their clothes don't magically appear cleaned and ironed in their wardrobes, that housework is valuable and meaningful, as it provides comfort and is an act of service to the family.

3. You can't do it all.
With Facebook highlight reels, and the media spotlighting mums who seem to "do it all", there is a tendency to want to try to do the same. I found myself trying to juggle writing this blog, updating content on the FB page, cooking, cleaning, homeschooling, caring for the kids, and working on the shop. I sacrificed on sleep, and was constantly exhausted and quite cranky. A few months back, I realized that I really can't do it all (even though I would love to!), and that we only have one life to live on earth, and 24 hours in a day. So I reduced my commitments for the shop, started planning simpler dinners on days when we were out, and made it a point to sleep enough.

These days, I sleep at 9 pm with the baby, and rise early to sort out chores or other matters. Sleeping early has helped: I don't use an hour or so at the end of the day to unwind by mindlessly scrolling through stuff on the Internet, I get enough sleep, and I keep a better grip on my temper. However, while I get enough sleep, I admit that I have very little time to do anything aside from the necessary chores. I have a whole lot less time to blog or work on home/DIY projects, but as the kids grow older, I foresee I'll find more time for those.

4. Your rewards are mostly intangible.
I think this is one of the challenges that stay-home mums face. You don't get paid, and there are no awards. The people you "work" to serve aren't exactly the most appreciative, and are usually not very co-operative, you won't get much affirmation or praise. Children are like seeds, and it takes years to grow a tree. Meanwhile, the journey might seem long, and many times you might not seem to be making any progress when it comes to the kids.

But for those who stay home, I think you know those moments that lift your heart right? The ones which are hard to pin down or capture in pictures? The time when your little one tries to control his temper, when he usually finds it hard to rein it in? The time when you see the siblings playing nicely together and not fighting? The time when you sit on the sofa, exhausted, amidst a mess of toys and blankets and cushions, and realize that home is the place you want to be? Catch these moments and store them in your heart. They might not be Facebook-able, or blog-worthy, and they sometimes are so fleeting that you can't freeze them in a picture. But these are the moments that make staying home worth it.

5. Don't compare. Or compete.
I've shared this before here. Don't compare what you do (or what your hubby or family members do) with others. If you can't do it all, then focus on your strengths and interests. Like to cook? Make good meals for the family. Enjoy crafting? Take out the paints and toilet rolls and get messy with the kids. We aren't Martha Stewart (who has a team of designers, photographers and stylists anyway!), so just do what you love, and don't try to be someone you're not.

6. Staying home doesn't rot your brain.
I've had people tell me they can't stay home because they'll be bored. On the contrary, I've never learnt so much in my life: I've learnt to cook (before I became a mum, my repertoire was restricted to spaghetti bolognese and instant noodles, but now I've widened it to a way more varied selection!), I apply science principles to housework, I get to read so many books in a day. I used to only know 4 different dinosaurs, but now I know more than 30. I'm still learning how to equip my kids with skills and the love for learning, and I'm learning how to be a better mum. You won't be bored, since the kids will make sure they'll keep you busy and on your toes!

7. Neither does it dull your social life. 
You are not stuck in the workplace, so you get to go out any time of the day! (Sort of that is, except nap times for us.)  The kids are out half the time, and I get to catch up with good friends every week. Being a stay home mum does not mean you have to stay home all.the.time. And for those friends that I don't get to meet up, there's always the phone or Watsapp. I found that staying home actually makes me more pro-active about meeting and making friends. At work, you have your colleagues to hang out with, but if you stay home, you need to take the initiative to meet up or connect with others.

Lil J at the zoo, observing a mother cichlid and her fry.
We get to go on so many more outings together compared to if I was working. 

8. Me-time can be a luxury, sometimes.
I've learnt that me-time is important, because us mums are humans, and also need time to ourselves. However, me-time can be a luxury in certain seasons in life: when the kids are sick, when you are taking care of younger kids, when you don't get much help from family. While I'd encourage every mum to get some me-time to recharge, I always remind myself that me-time just has to be sacrificed sometimes, and isn't something I should be whining, or feeling bitter about.

9. It can be a challenge for introverts.
The greatest challenge for me wasn't the loss of income, or the feeling like I didn't matter. It was the constant noise and being around the kids non-stop, where you just couldn't get a moment to yourself. Since we homeschool, I more or less don't get a break from the kids unless the hubs or my dad takes them out, and even those times alone are spent cooking or doing housework. There was little time away from the kids or family, and I found that exhausting as an introvert who needed time alone. Staying home can be a double-edged sword: the introverts might enjoy more time home, but find the non-stop noise from the kids grating, while the extroverts might like the freedom to head out more, but chafe at being stuck home with less adult interaction.

For my case, I learnt that I start to get really cranky if I don't get those short breaks away from the kids. So my dad tries to bring them to the playground in the evenings so I can cook in sweet silence, without having to carry a baby or break up yet another fight, while the hubby tries to give me a short break during the weekends. If you are an introvert and find staying home tiring from all the time with the kids, do rope your family or friends in to give you that short break! (Even if it is for you to fold the clothes in peace.)

10. Your husband's support, and words matter. Very very much.
Unless you stay with other family members, your hubby would be the main adult you would be chatting with at the end of the day. So what he says would matter very much! (Hubbies, please note, and mums, send this to your hubby so he can take note! This applies to working mums too of course.)

At the end of the day, positive and encouraging words from the hubby mean a lot, simply because we spend most of our time just dealing with the kids and hear little affirmation for what we do. Some appreciation goes a long long way, and after a tiring day dealing with fights and tantrums, negative comments can hurt really deeply. And husbands, actions speak louder than words, so chip in with the dishes or housework if you can!

I guess I decided to reflect on my journey staying home with the kids, after hearing some friends ponder about whether to stay home. It is not easy, it is exhausting and many a times frustrating, but I really thank God for this privilege, since not everyone gets to stay home and have a supportive hubby on that decision. While I still sometimes bemoan the loss of time away from the kids, there are no regrets!

PS: You can read our 10 tips on how to survive being a SAHM here

PPS: I have a deep respect for working mums, and how they manage to juggle both work and family. It is not easy balancing both! This post was written to share openly about the challenges and advantages of staying home, and not meant to put down mums who are working, or suggest that staying home is the best way.

Mum in the Making

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Week: Building and exploring art

These days, I'm still trying to find that spark in my kids. Lil J is really interested in numbers, so we've started Math U See with him. He's still helping out with the cooking in the kitchen. And he's started building more complicated structures these days.

A house, by Juni

Both boys have been spending a fair bit of their free time building. I recently took out their Lego (I previously kept it because they were strewing the pieces everywhere instead of building with them, and it drove me crazy!), and they've been busy building all sorts of things with it.

They've also been busy with crystal climbers, as well as architectural blocks.

And they also get busy creating and building during playdates. (This was taken by Junior J. They were preparing a picnic!)

Building stuff aside, we've been trying to create more, since that gives both boys the opportunity to experiment with tools and materials (something that Lil J really likes). These days we're doing more book-related crafts, like the beetles we recently shared about on the blog

Creating after reading the book "Wednesday". 

I had a chat with Junior J about what he would like to explore further, and he was not sure. After some discussion, we decided that he would try his hand at painting dinosaurs: 

This boy is the artist in our family. He doodles all the time, and is always asking for paper to scribble on. Paper runs out so fast in our home, that I've resorted to giving him all my old university notes that were printed on one side and bound together, so that he can draw on the blank sides. He draws mainly dinosaurs, and food, but also likes making lists. He does lists of books, of dinosaurs, and recently he has been making lists of the stuff each member of the family eats! He also likes making "colouring books" for his younger siblings, where he draws things that they like onto pieces of paper, then sticks them together with washi tape to form books.

He mainly works with pencil and paper, but enjoys the occasional session with poster paints or watercolours. I did think of sending him for art classes to equip him with various techniques that could help him to express himself, but the boy has been adamant that he does not want any classes at all. That aside, I think it would be hard to find an art class that teaches technique without restricting the subject matter. 

So for the past week, we set aside time to paint, using canvases from Daiso (I think these are still the cheapest around!) and acrylic paints. It's been alot of experimentation, of mixing colours, of figuring out how to minimize the mess (trays keep the paints off the table, and acrylic paints must be cleaned off immediately!). 

This was his first painting, which he's named "The Sea of Liopleurodons". He wanted the water to be a single, solid colour (as he said the sea appears a uniform colour in the documentaries he watches), but also added ripples using oil pastels to show that the water moves and swirls around the sea reptiles, which are chasing plesiosauruses (you can see their fleeing tails on the bottom left). The two are surrounded by squid and fish (added as an afterthought using oil pastels), and everyone is wearing a scarf! This little detail of making his animals wear clothing seems to be his own trademark. Recently he drew me a picture of some dinosaurs, and everyone of them was on a bicycle or unicycle and all of them were carrying little backpacks!

We've started on his second painting, and have been discussing and looking at other paintings: he's learnt how paint can be scraped thickly across a canvas in a certain direction to show movement and texture, and that we can layer various shades of the same colour to show depth. Meanwhile, I've been desperately searching for tips on how to guide him in his painting journey (I found this list of actvities, this guide to acrylic painting and this list of tools useful), so if you have any links or resources to share, I would really love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Grateful Gatherings: I don't like what you do. But I love you.

Yesterday the boys were at co-op and were playing with their friends. They were doing the usual wrestling thing, when someone suggested to look for a bad guy and chase him off. One of my boys suggested that his brother be the bad guy, and the rest started to pretend to attack him, which he didn't like, but couldn't seem to stop until I had to step in.

It broke my heart. Seeing one of my kids not standing up for his own brother, his brother who helped him to protect his toys fiercely, who looked up to him.

Then that protector of toys got into a fight with one of his friends. For the second time that day. That fiery temper, that does not take no for an answer, got all fired up when his friend did not let him take the toys when he was packing up.

On the way home from co-op, I felt defeated. I know that day, as I looked at my two sons, my heart cracked a little. But as I thought about the whole thing, I was reminded of a story, and that all of us, parents included, need grace. Desperately.


Oh dearest boys,

Yesterday I told you that I was disappointed. I was sad to see how you lost your temper, at how you didn't take care of your siblings, at how you forget that words, mere words, can have terrible consequences.

I told you both that I didn't like what you did. Because what you did hurt others, whether it is by words, casually uttered, or by flailing fists that cannot be controlled.

But you see, even though I didn't like what I saw and heard, it does not mean that I stop loving you. I still love you even when I yell about the messes at home, at how you would throw your things about and refuse to keep all your toys. I still love you when I confiscate your Lego because no one bothers to clean it up. I still love you when I tell you that you give me a headache with all that screaming and running around. I still love you even though you can be difficult during Mama school. And it is because we love you, that we discipline you. Love, while unconditional, still needs to set boundaries to keep you safe.

Yesterday's incident brought to mind the story of the prodigal son, the one who decided to squander his inheritance, who broke his father's heart and ran away. How his father must have hurt! Yet, he rejoiced when his son returned back to him. The father didn't like what his son did, but he never stopped loving him.

And even as I thought about the story, I thought about how God must feel about us. How we've chosen to disobey, to run away, to go our own way. How God must have not liked the many things we have done: Mama and Papa losing their temper, us placing so many things as priority over Him, Mama acting on her anger. But even so, He loved us. Loved us so much that He gave us His Son to die for us.

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
- C.S. Lewis

I was reminded that we are never good enough. We are imperfect people in a messed up world. But God loves us, and if we continue to trust in Him, He will help us to be good. 

So my dear sons, remember this. We love you no matter what, even if we don't like what you do. And our love for you, though imperfect, is but a dull reflection of that great and amazing love God has for you. And for that temper that needs taming, and those fists that need self-control, and that heart that needs some wisdom and love for your siblings... we'll keep praying to be able to discipline wisely, and that God will teach and change you.

Your Mama & Papa.

Mum in the Making

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rave Reads: The Beetle Book

Recently, a friend helped us to purchase a pair of stick insects. We've been figuring out how to care for them (including hunting for hibiscus plants for their leaves as food), so I figured it would be a good time for us to read about insects in general. 

We started with Steve Jenkin's "The Beetle Book", with its beautiful illustrations. (You can read our mini book review of the book here.) Junior J had a great time painting some of the beetles in watercolour and drawing some using markers. 

We also made some beetles using cardboard. I helped to draw the outlines for these beetles, and the older two coloured them and added goggly eyes, and pipe-cleaners for legs and antennae. We were inspired by some of the imaginary bejeweled insects we saw at the Singapore Art Museum's Imaginarium exhibition, and added buttons to some of our beetles. For others, we added glitter glue.  

Junior J's jewel beetle (top) and Lil J's pleasing fungus beetle.

Lil J's pleasing fungus beetle on left and mottled tortoise beetle, top right. Junior J's rhinoceros beetle bottom right. 

We're quite bugged out for now, so we'll probably move on to a different topic this week!

PS: If you need ideas for butterfly crafts, check out our post here. You can get more updates on our activities via our Instagram, and if you need book recommendations, check out our Rave Reads folder!

Linking up with: 

Growing with the Tans

Friday, May 8, 2015

Our Week: Finding that spark

Painting beetles while referring to "The Beetle Book" by Steve Jenkins. 

Some time ago, I shared this interview on our FB Page in which a mum shared about raising innovative children: 

"It really drives me crazy when parents say, “I just want them to be happy.” I want more than that. Sometimes being happy can be just laying around, but real happiness comes from fulfilling what you were meant to do. Struggling and succeeding. That’s a much cooler idea. 

... Kids don’t [really] know what they like, and so that’s your job [as a parent], to expose them to as much as you can. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You can take them to the library and see what books they pull out. See what kind of skills they have. Your job as a parent is not to say, “Tell me what you want to be when you grow up.” Instead, if you just try everything and are super attentive — not in a helicopter-y, my-child’s-a special-snowflake way — you can be aware of what they gravitate to, and encourage them to do more of it. See if that light still shines in their eyes. Pay attention to what sparks them."

It made me think extra hard about the way we were homeschooling our boys. We always think of homeschooling as a wonderful way to encourage creativity and innovation, since we have autonomy over our child's learning. But in reality, we've sunk ourselves into set routines and practices that might even hinder such pursuits. These days, I find myself rushing my kids out to co-ops, and then rushing back for the baby's nap. I admit I've been finding "school time" a little stifling, since we rush through our books while baby naps. Following set curricula was something that I defaulted to, simply because I hardly had time to prep interesting activities (which the kids might end up not wanting to do), and I found I needed structure and guidance to teach them for some areas that I was not too equipped in, like Phonics, Math and Chinese. Our days felt full, but I felt like our homeschool was looking more like regular school than anything else. 

One thing I still appreciate though, is the time the kids are able to spend together playing, both at home and outdoors. The older two are now inseparable. While they fight half the time, you can tell that they miss each other's company when they are apart. I love eavesdropping on them playing: they hold parties for their animals, they build traps (unfortunately these are usually for their little brother), they sail pirate ships. 

But all that extra playtime aside, I've been trying to tweak our approach to learning and our schedule to allow for us to find "what sparks them". Junior J is a prolific doodler, so we've been trying to incorporate a lot more art and craft into our learning. Lil J isn't so ready for lots of drawing and colouring, but is fascinated with the physical aspects of craft: squeezing glue and smearing it, running his hand through buttons, poking holes. So we try to do both, and the crafty side of me has been enjoying those creative sessions too (for more updates on these, please check our Instagram account). Meanwhile, baby J also wants to join in the sessions, so he gets various art materials to work with: do-a-dot markers, Tadoodles, and washable markers

I've wanted to teach the kids how to cook, but Junior J hasn't been too keen these days. Lil J, though, is very interested, and has been asking to help out in the kitchen, except that I used to chase him out most days since I was always rushing dinner prep. It was always in the back of my head to use one of those cooking lessons for kids, but I found it hard to incorporate those into the mad mealtime rush. So in the end, I decided that I would just plan my meals as per normal, and cook as per normal, except that I would start cooking earlier and let Lil J help in every step of the way. I figured he'd learn all the skills along the way, even though they weren't taught in a systematic fashion. After all, that's how apprentices learn, right? 

Chopping capsicum. He's using a Curious Chef knife,
which are great since the blade chops through veggies but do not slice skin.
Perfect since he still likes to wave the knife around!

Thus far, he's learnt to wash the rice, chop veggies and open cans. He knows that meat changes colour when cooked, and that he needs to wash his hands after handing raw meat. Each cooking session is a lesson in patience for me, as this boy insists on tasting everything and has to be stopped from licking the raw meat and eating copious amounts of salt... but I must say I do enjoy this one-on-one time with him! 

I guess this whole homeschool routine thing will take time, but I guess the beauty of it all is that homeschool does give us a little more time to figure it out. Hopefully we'll be able to light some sparks along the way!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: 17 months

Dearest little boy,

You turned 17 months a few days back. I keep forgetting that you are not even 1 and a half yet, since you're always trying to act like a big boy and mimicking your brothers. You've learnt how to push the blame, and when we tell you not to scratch and pinch, you tell us that Lil J scratches too. You're always trying to climb the art trolley and getting colour pencils to draw with, and you must have the long pencils and not the short ones. You like to borrow your brother's Perler bead camera and pretend to take photos with it, complete with the clicking sound of the shutter... except that most of the time you hold the camera upside down. You've been trying to pretend to snore, but you can't seem to make the sound, so you look like you're trying to snarl instead. 

Your brothers sometimes let you play with them. Most of the time though, they will ask you to go as you'll want their toys. You can hold your own in fights, but know that your best defense is to cry, wether or not you were in the wrong is another issue altogether. Your Ah Kong visited recently, and you were delighted, since no one plays with you as much as he does. You would always ask for "Ah Tong" and are still asking for him now, even though he's left for home. 

These days, you tell us that "I lup you" and follow that with wet kisses. You like naming various animals in your books, but you still refer to the octopus as "ahbahji". You are especially fascinated with pictures of crying babies, and would keep telling me "baby cry!". 

You are still Mama's shadow, and you panic when I leave you to play on your own. In a sense, I'm enjoying that clinginess since I know that will pass, and soon enough you'll be wanting to run fast and far. But meanwhile, I'll hold on tight to you, and enjoy you and your toddler days. We love you so so much.

Mama & Papa

Mum in the Making

Monday, May 4, 2015

Project Homeland: The Clock Playground

We visited the clock playground over the long weekend. This playground is next to Blk 514C on Bishan Street 13, and is located next to the bus interchange. I find it strange that a playground would be built where it is noisy and dusty with all the buses roaring past. However, I guess this playground probably saw happier days where kids would play there while on their way home from school. 

The playground itself has a pretty cute design, with two clock faces topped with a candy-coloured roof. The kids spent a short while exploring and sliding. 

Strangely enough, they were not too keen on playing on the structure itself, but preferred digging about in the sand. 

Unfortunately though, the sand was littered with lots of cigarette butts (we see people frequently gathered there for smoke breaks in the evenings), and there was a fair bit of trash lying around. That aside, the playground itself is not very well-maintained, so if you plan to visit, do caution your kids to watch out for jagged edges, like at the base of the slide (the hubby accidentally scraped his leg while sliding with the kids). 

Located next to the clock playground is a newer playground, one of the usual ones made mainly from plastic. The kids seemed to prefer this one, but also didn't spend much time playing on it. 

What they did spend time doing though, were hunting for these fruit pods, which littered the ground next to the playgrounds. 

Seems like when it comes to play, nature always wins. We brought back lots of these pods and they are now piled up in the nature corner. We might try painting them one of these days!

PS: You can read about our visits to various heritage playgrounds here, and another mummy's visit to the clock playground here.


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