Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lil J's 3rd: The party decor










I admit, I always go a little berserk when it comes to party decor. I love dressing up the home for a party! Even the in-laws know that, and gamely chipped in to help the night before. My FIL even asked me about the theme, since we usually have a theme for each party. 

This round, we were going for a construction themed party, but I opted to choose Lil J's favourite colours of green, yellow and blue. ("GEEEN! My favourite!" he always says.) I initially wanted to do large tissue pompoms, but baby J was sick during the days just before the party, so I didn't have time to make those. However, we managed to do up the usual crepe streamer backdrop, which has become a permanent feature at each party (you can see some of our other backdrops here and here). I love this, because crepe paper is so cheap, plus we get a burst of colours in the backdrop for group pictures. As usual, we looped the streamers on yarn, which we stuck up using masking tape. And we dressed it up further with balloons (my MIL and FIL helped me to pump these up with our bicycle pump), as well as a bunting which Junior J and I made using regular vanguard sheets plus poster paint (vanguard seriously is cheap but good!). One great find this year were the big balloons from Daiso: these go up to 28 cm across, have a nice sheen, and are really cheap (you get more than 10 per bag!). 

Usually our party decor doesn't cost more than $10, and sometimes we don't even spend $5! (I can't really justify spending a lot on decor, since most of it gets tossed out.) However, this year I did splurge a little more on two things: flowers, which I bought from a florist the night before and arranged in two mason jars, as well as helium-filled balloons. Spotlight was having a sale on disposable helium tanks, so we bought one, as we figured the gas should last us for a few parties and would be cheaper than buying ready-filled balloons. So we filled up a bunch of balloons with helium and used the kids' vehicles to hold them down, and each kid got to bring home a balloon. 

Oh, and of course I couldn't resist drawing on our chalkboard wall! Lil J was ecstatic on his birthday, when he woke up to find a birthday message on the wall, with all his favourite vehicles, and his face looking out of all of them!
      

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lil J's 3rd: The cake and food







We were rather restricted with regards to food for Lil J's third birthday party, since he has food allergies. So we opted to buy pizzas from Casa Verde (we love their pizzas!), and made our own salad. My in-laws helped in the food prep and also helped to cut fruit, while my mum made konnyaku jelly for dessert. 

The biggest headache would be the cake, since Lil J has an egg allergy, and it is almost impossible to find eggless cakes at bakeries. Last year, we ordered a regular cake, but managed to find a slice of eggless cake for Lil J. This year, we celebrated his birthday with our co-op groups with agar agar "cakes" made by my mum. 

For the party, I opted to order a cake from Diana (whom you're probably familiar with, since she is the awesome cook/baker behind the blog, Domestic Goddess Wannabe). I requested for a chocolate mousse cake... but it could not contain any egg. And she managed to whip up a really good double chocolate mousse cake, which our guests loved! Diana provided crushed oreos separately, and I sprinkled that onto the cake as dirt, and topped the cake with mini construction vehicles. I bought this set of 5 from here, but the cake could only fit 3, so I placed the bulldozer, excavator and dump truck, which were the vehicles that Lil J requested. I DIY-ed the birthday signs using powerpoint, and printed and cut them out. Lil J was really excited that his cake had his favourite vehicles, plus that he could even eat the dirt on the cake!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: While the dust settles

I've been feeling rather breathless this week. You know how you have a to-do list, and your list just seems to grow longer rather than shrink each day? There's so much I've been wanting to do, but as each day comes to a close, it seems like little gets done. Oh, of course there's the housework and meals and making sure the kids don't hurt each other... but I can't help feeling like I'm surviving rather than thriving.

But whatever the case, I am glad that as I end each day, panting and usually exhausted, there is always something to be thankful. I look back at my #oct2bthankful photos and realize that we are surrounded by so much beauty and so much love, and rushing through life doesn't help you to enjoy those things. So here's our past week of thankfulness:

:: Oct 21st, Tuesday: Lil J turns three. We celebrate with family and have dinner out, and he gets to order whatever he likes, so long it doesn't contain the foods he is allergic to. So he asks for sashimi, rice and edamame. And he gets to order jelly as he can't have ice cream. And he willingly shares it with his brother. I am thankful for his loving generous nature. 


:: Oct 22nd, Wednesday: We gather with our church friends to celebrate Lil J's birthday. The kids have a great time (I hope). I am thankful for our friends, for the opportunity to gather, to celebrate, to feast. 


:: Oct 23rd, Thursday: Some friends visit and the kids have a good time playing. I was thankful for little friends, for a full busy day, yummy lunch and helping hands from family.


:: Oct 24th, Friday: Thankful for my youngest. He has been the toughest to care for, but oh, those sunny smiles and gurgling laughs!


:: Oct 25th, Saturday: The hubs has been really busy at work this month. I was so thankful that the kids could hang out with him during the weekend.


:: Oct 26th, Sunday: I was just thankful for a new week to realign and resettle, and for the predictability of mundane, everyday life!


:: Oct 27th, Monday: I look at my children and tremble at the enormity of the responsibilities of parenthood. And I am thankful that God enables and strengthens.

Lil J, pretending to be a spider with a cape. (Don't ask.) 

I cannot believe that we'll be entering November really soon, and that the year will be coming to an end. 2014 has passed in such a blur! So, what are you thankful for this week?


Mum in the Making

Monday, October 27, 2014

Read: Joy Cowley's Well-Being series (Review and giveaway!)


I've shared previously about how we were teaching Junior J to read. Back then he was already 5, and had started reading by sight. So I just taught him phonics to equip him to further, and we systematically read through all the levels of Bob Books. Since then, we've finished going through the phonics book as well as all the Bob Books, and have been reading all sort of readers in the afternoon. 

As such, I've been hunting for good readers to introduce to Junior J. For me, a good reader not only allows a child to practice reading and learn new words, but also should be interesting, and if possible, hold some content that allows for further discussion. (For more guidelines on accessing reading materials/programmes, do read this very through article.) I find there are lots of readers out in the market, but some are just simplified stories with little content, marketed to sell as readers. 

Anyway, we did manage to find some pretty good readers. Recently, we were also introduced to the Joy Cowley Well-Being series by Esther of Little Good Books. This series consists of three different sets of readers, which touch on various topics pertaining to physical, emotional and social well-being. We were sent the Social Well-Being series to review.

The topics covered in the Joy Cowley Well Being series.

I liked how various relevant topics were covered, from dealing with grief, to healthy eating and friendship. Each book uses simple language, and the text is clear and easy to read for emerging readers. After Junior J read each book to me, we would spend some time chatting about the topic, like about his friends, and about how we can help out at home. These books can be a springboard for further discussion. 


Another thing I liked was how the stories were set in a local context (but not entirely, as you'd see brass bands, and mainly houses rather than HDB flats), which makes it feel a little more relevant. 


More difficult words are also highlighted at the back of each book, along with a very simple suggested activity. 


As the stories are kept simple to make them suitable for teaching reading, don't expect very deep content. After all, these are not living books, but just readers. However, they are pretty good for emerging readers, and great for initiating discussions with your kids!

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Little Good Books is generously giving away a set of Joy Cowley's Emotional Well-Being series to one reader of this blog! To enter in the giveaway, just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. Don't forget to include your name and email address in the comments section of this post!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: We received a set of the Social Well-Being series to review, and no monetary compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Homeschool: A busy week

The week that has passed was a busy one, since Baby J was sick for a couple of days and there was lots to do for Lil J's party. Here's a glimpse at the play and learning the kids did this week:

Exploring flower parts.

Playing with natural materials in the nature corner.

Playdates: Junior J hosting a magic show with Tigger.

More playdates: The boys had lots of fun with the balloons leftover after the party.

We set up a light table (more on that soon), and the boys looked at 3D shapes. 

Phew! I know next week's going to be busy since the hubs is having a crazy time at work, but am just glad this week is almost done! How was your week?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lil J turns 3


Oh you. My ham in the sandwich. You turned three this week, and this mama is still in disbelief that her baby is a big boy! You know that, because I still call you "baby", and you retort back, and remind me that you are a big boy. 

You used to be the one that could never sit still. These days, you are still fidgety, especially during meals, but you've grown to love books and now can sit down quietly for stories. You love the Berenstain Bears, and all manner of books on trucks and construction vehicles, and are obsessed with excavators.

Mess is still your middle name. You tend to disappear into the toilet and spend lots of time playing with water at the sink, and you cannot resist investigating any body of water, from drains to fountains to puddles. You love cake (unfortunately you can't eat most cakes because of your egg allergy), and have been caught trying to nibble at your birthday cake while everyone is still singing you a birthday song! You are quite the beverage boy, and would always be investigating everyone's drinks and asking for sips.


We marvel at how you always speak complete sentences, and love your kiddy voice and how you tend to mispronounce things and drop your "r"s. You are starting to be fascinated with numbers, but absolutely refuse to learn your alphabet. 

You love green and yellow things, and you are a carb king: you scarf down pasta and noodles and you love rice. You also love fruit, but meat is on your not-too-fond list. 

You are quite the imp, but you also have such a generous giving little heart. We love you so so much... and here's a big Happy Birthday to our little ham!


Love,
Mama, Papa, Koko and baby.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Home: More on the nature table


We've not done much to the nature corner this week. However, the boys' collection of natural materials seem to be increasing: they bring home all manner of things, from twigs to leaves to pebbles. So the other day, I did a clean up of the corner which was resembling a leaf litter habitat. I've learnt that giving them containers, like bowls and cups, seems to help keep the collections sorted and make it look prettier somewhat. Lil J loves the corner, and likes to retreat there at various times of the day, to just fiddle with fruit and play with twigs. 


Another things we've tried is to dissect flowers. We took apart some flowers that were starting to wilt, and looked at the various parts of the flower. There after, we put the petals and other parts in a bowl and the boys got to mess around with it in the nature corner. 


I'm hoping to work on the corner soon, once we're done with Lil J's birthday celebrations. Until then, you can view glimpses and updates for our nature table here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thankful Tuesday: Ups and downs

This week has been full of ups and downs, but I guess that's the norm isn't it? So here's what we've been thankful for the past week:

:: Oct 14, Tuesday: I was thankful for home and all its comforts. And how doing a little each day does help to make a difference. We cleared the dining table, and it made such a difference when it came to doing Mama school!


:: Oct 15, Wednesday: The hubs was really busy and had a couple of work dinners this week, so it was a long day. However, I was thankful for a relatively fruitful day with the kids. Junior J was really helpful, finishing his work quickly and helping with the chores without being asked (he started folding his clothes on his own accord!). Lil J got to do some painting, and it was a pretty good day. 


:: Oct 16, Thursday: It was one of those cranky days, where baby refused to nap, and my back was acting up. I was just so thankful for my parents who helped out: my dad who popped by to babysit for some time, and my mum who helped to cook dinner. And looking at these 2 boys at the end of the day, I was reminded of how while we cannot manage in our own strength, God provides strength for each day, and I was grateful for that.


:: Oct 17, Friday: We had a playdate with friends, and I was so thankful for friends. Who buy lunch, drag their kids over to your place even when they don't drive, and even clean up after. I realized I was really blessed to have good friends, and was glad that our kids could be great pals too. If you're wondering about the pic, Junior J was having a magic show. He got volunteers (Oh how I laughed when I heard him asking for volunteers!) to slot in items into the baby's sorting box, so that they "disappeared". 


:: Oct 18, Saturday: We had one of those crazy errand running days, where we had to get groceries, balloons, and visit the bookstore and DIY shop, plus have lunch. We made it through, even with 5 trips to the toilet! I was so thankful for this little shopping assistant of mine, who helped me to carry things and was generally helpful. He declared the basket was his disguise, so he wore it over his head!


:: Oct 19, Sunday: Baby J was running a fever, and stuck to me the past few nights. While I was a little antsy as there was so many things to do, I am still so thankful for this little boy. For how he goes wawa, for how he loves and bounces to music, for his toothy grins and peekaboos.


:: Oct 20, Monday: It was a pretty messed up day, but I was glad we managed to settle some party prep. I was so thankful again for Junior J, who helped to pack the goodie bags and helped me with the banner. He tells me "ssssh we cannot let Lil J know! It's a surprise!".


There have been bad days and good days, and ups and downs. But I really give thanks for a week with my boys, for new mercies each morning, for a God that loves me.  What are you thankful for this week? 


Mum in the Making

Monday, October 20, 2014

Homeschool: Learning with Math U See (Review and giveaway!)


Math has been one of my weakest subjects (aside from Chinese that is), and I never enjoyed learning Math. My parents had to get me a tutor, and I more or less struggled through the subject, until I learnt probability and statistics. That was when suddenly Math made sense: it was useful, and it applied to real life! 

Anyway, I approached teaching Math to Junior J with a fair bit of apprehension. Yes, teaching pre-school Math is easy, since it is simple, and you can approach it in so many ways and integrate it with real life. However, my chief concern was whether I would be able to introduce Math concepts systematically, and give him a good foundation with regards to the subject. So I started asking other homeschoolers to see what Math curriculum they were using, and I found that a fair number of them were using Math U See. So I decided to try the curriculum out, and we've been using the materials for almost three months. 

The main draw of Math U See for most parents seem to be the fact that it is a complete, stand-alone curriculum, that focuses on teaching concepts and building mastery. The curriculum claims to teach the whys and does not focus on just memorization. It has materials catered up to the Secondary Math level. 

I especially liked the manipulatives, and they were one of the main reasons why we decided to use this curriculum. I find manipulatives are essential when teaching kids Math, simply because they help to make more abstract concepts concrete. We started off with using Montessori beads for counting, and while they were useful, they were also fiddly little things, and I could not use these to explain certain Math concepts. We also tried Cuisenaire rods, but they too were smaller, and not as versatile. However, instead of writing about what didn't work, let's focus on what the Math U See manipulatives can do:

:: The manipulatives are base 10 blocks, and work like Lego bricks, so you can build layers to see how numbers relate to each other. (By the way, I love the pastel colours!) This isn't the case for the Montessori beads. These are also larger than the Cuisenaire rods and that makes it easier for little hands to manipulate.  Sometimes though, Junior J gets distracted and ends up building with them. But there are times where he learns through building, like the time he found out that ten pieces of 10s was equal to 100!


:: They allow kids to "see" addition, subtraction and number bonds clearly: Kids can stack the number combinations to see if they are equal, or count the "missing" blocks for subtraction.


:: They also allow kids to visualize multiplication and division easily. For example in the picture below, you can see that 3 x 2 is also the same as 2 x 3.


:: All in all, the manipulatives are used to teach concepts up to the Secondary Math level, which helps in terms of integrating learning. Even key algebra and decimal concepts are taught using these manipulatives, along with additional inserts. Having the different numbered blocks in different colours made it easier for Junior J to see what numbers he was adding or working with, unlike the usual base 10 blocks which come in a single colour.

These are the blocks provided in one set of manipulatives.
We store them in our own hobby case, but you can also purchase
the Math U See wooden block box to house them too. 

Lessons for Math U See are taught using the manuals, where the student learns a new concept each chapter, and works through a series of problems in the Student Manual. They also use the manipulatives in solving the problems, and I like how the size of the squares in the manual correspond to the size of the manipulatives, so that you can actually match them up. 

One of the pages in the Primer level. 

Different concepts are taught, including telling the time, which also involves the use of the manipulatives. You can view the topics covered for the Primer level here, which is the first level of the series, and browse the materials (and topics covered) for each level of General Math here.

Another page in the Primer manual

The Student Manual in each level is accompanied by a Teacher's Manual (purchased separately), which gives guidelines on how to teach each topic. These manuals come with a DVD with video demonstrations for each lesson, so that means you can actually watch the videos with your child to minimize the preparation needed on your part. You can view a sample lesson here.

A page in the Primer level Teacher's manual.

One thing I liked about the manuals was the way they presented the questions. The questions are phrased simply and concisely, so that the focus is on working out the math concepts and building mastery. There are no wordy, long winded paragraphs about someone eating apples and having to figure out how many apples are left. Those questions tend to require more skills from a child: the ability to read, to comprehend complex sentences and the ability to figure out what the question is asking. The books are printed in black and white print, so there are no distracting diagrams or pictures. However, that being said, this means that parents must also prepare children to solve more complex questions (in terms of language) to prepare them for the PSLE.

A sample from the Beta level Student Manual. 

Another sample from the Beta level student manual. 

Another thing I liked about the curriculum was that there was minimal preparation on my part. I did not have to prepare my own worksheets and I didn't have to spend alot of time reading up. This meant we could consistently cover a little math each day, because I would just need about 5 minutes to teach Junior J the new concept, after which I could leave him to try the problems himself.

However, because of the no-frills way of teaching these concepts, some might find the curriculum a little boring. And since it focuses on mastery, there is a certain amount of drill and repetition required, which sometimes frustrates Junior J. So I find that there is the necessity to adapt according to the child's ability. This may mean cutting down on the number of pages he/she has to do each time (or you might even consider skipping some repeated problems if your child gets bored, since each lesson is 6 pages long), as well as varying the lessons by including games or other math activities. 

Having this curriculum has been liberating: I can use this to ensure that Junior J attains mastery for Math concepts, and the time I've gained in not having to plan detailed lessons could be used to plan other Math activities for him to vary things somewhat. All in all, it is a really good curriculum to use, but of course, do make your choice based on your child's strengths and learning style!

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I was actually so keen on this curriculum that I approached Jenny, my contact from Green Sheep Asia (which distributes Math U See in Singapore, along with other learning materials/curricula) for this review opportunity. For those interested, do drop them an email at hithere@greensheepasia.com, and quote "MakingMum" to receive a free copy of their Skip Count Songbook and CD, when you order a set of manipulatives along with one set of Teacher and Student manuals. Do note that only ten sets are available for this promotion!

Also, I'm happy to share that Green Sheep Asia has kindly agreed to give away a set of the Math U See manipulatives to one reader of this blog! To enter the giveaway, just follow the instructions below in the Rafflecopter widget, and don't forget to comment in this blog post and leave your name and email address!

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Disclaimer: We received a set of manipulatives and Primer manuals for purpose of this review, and paid for all other materials. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

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