Friday, July 3, 2015

Small Spaces: A play corner in England

One lovely thing about blogging is how you get to meet, and sometimes chat with people from all over the world. Since the start of our "Small Spaces" series, I've had readers writing in to share the spaces they have designed for their children, and during the last run of this series, we had a mum all the way from Japan sharing her child's play space!

To end of our train, I thought I'd post about this lovely corner that was shared by Chelsea, who resides in England. Chelsea happened to chance across our Small Spaces posts, and said she would love to share her corner. The corner was such a neat and cheery one that I asked if it was ok for us to share her space on the blog. She said yes, and sent us more pictures!


Chelsea is mum to a three year old girl, whom she calls Boo. Here's what she has to share about this learning corner:

"I see an opportunity in every corner and on every wall. Living in a small house meant I had to utilise my space. This picture shows the back wall of my kitchen, which is an ideal space to enjoy water, paint and messy play activities, without having to worry about getting a mess on the carpets or walls." 


"I am a single parent, so it pays to be clever with up-cycling your furniture, and using everyday materials for storage and creative craft play. Thank you, and I hope this inspires you to create some of your own small spaces! Love, Mum Chelsea."






I just love how everything has a space of its own, and is neatly corralled in various boxes and baskets. Thanks Chelsea for sharing your space! (If you'd like to take a peek at more of her home, you can find her sharing photos over on her new FB page here.)

And that's the end of our "Small Spaces" blog train. It has simply been wonderful following through the blog train this round, and I've been inspired by all the spaces that were shared! I hope you have been too. If you'd like to browse for more posts in this series, please click the button below.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Grateful Gatherings: Lessons from littles


I've been feeling rather overwhelmed the past two weeks or so. We've had issues of defiance from the older two, and it has been tiring chasing the toddler who has been getting his nose and hands into everything (including the toilet bowl!). This week, the kids have reminded me that:

:: They are seeds, that take time to grow.
We often go for the quick fix tips for our parenting problems, from the one phrase that stops whining, the five steps that would get the kids to clean up their room, or the ten things we can do to be a good parent. Sometimes, I read these articles and get so inspired, only to forget that this parenting gig is a marathon, and not a sprint. That our kids need time to grow and mature, and that sometimes we don't see any results until many years down the road. I am still praying that God will help to still my impatient heart, and let them have room to slowly grow up. 


:: They need relationships, more than activities or enrichment.
I've been reading about positive parenting, and have been reminded about how discipline needs to stem from having a close bond with our child.  Many times I wonder if they are acting up because they are bored, and whether keeping them more occupied with activities would help. But even if I try to keep them occupied, most of the times the fights still happen, and we still get the usual tantrums, simply because they are children, and not perfect. I've realized what matters is for me to work on my relationship with them, and the heart issues, and that the head issues would sort themselves out.


:: Getting along with people is others is not easy, but we must keep working on it. 
They have been fighting all the time. Especially the younger two, who both have fiery tempers and would take a go at each other with their fists and legs. We keep talking things through with them, we keep praying, and I hope they will learn, in time to come. I can't say things are getting better, but we can only try (Side note: I found this article very helpful for dealing with siblings.). I guess siblings are really a good way to learn socialization skills!


:: Simple is always best. 
They are easily contented with the simple things. A cheese sandwich in the lunchbox. Swinging high on the swings. A good story, read while snuggling on the sofa, or a bus ride to co-op. They don't need much material things.


This week, I am thankful that we are always learning, and even parents get to learn precious lessons from our children. May God give us strength and wisdom to continue down this long and winding road of parenting!



Mum in the Making

Friday, June 26, 2015

Maidless, with multiples: Why and how we survive without a stay-in helper


We have three boys aged six and below, and people who first meet us usually inquire if we have a stay-in helper to help with the housework, especially when they hear that we are homeschooling the boys. They usually respond in two ways when we tell them we do not have a helper: some would say "wow, that must be tough!", while others would advise us to get a helper, to which I would shrug and smile and lead the conversation elsewhere  :) 

Both hubby and I have not had a live-in helper for all our lives. My mum chose to stay home to take care of me and my brother, so we didn't have a helper growing up. The hubby's parents both worked, but they too did not engage a helper. My mum has been constantly advising me to hire a helper, especially with the arrival of Baby J, since she saw how I was struggling to keep on top of housework and how the house was constantly messy. However thus far, we've only started getting a part-time helper to come in once a week, to help with the deep cleaning. 

Yes, the home is usually in a state of chaos, and there's always bits of cut paper and piles of books everywhere. Yes, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed at how much housework there is to do. But no, we will not be getting a stay-in helper, at least not for now. Perhaps we might reconsider this if we have another baby, or shift to a bigger place that would be harder to clean, but for now, I think we're ok doing without. 

I think the main reason we aren't getting a helper is that we think we are coping ok. I won't say we're thriving and have a lovely, organized and neat space, I won't say there is no stress when it comes to those piling towers of clean laundry waiting to be folded, and perhaps I might like a little more me time, or time with the kids, instead of having to sweat it out in the kitchen, or clean up and wash stuff. But we're more or less coping. Our home isn't a pig sty, we can find the stuff we need, we have clean dishes and clothes, our meals get to the table more or less on time. I still get to hang out with the kids all day. Our part-time cleaner is a gem, and does a really good job getting the home clean. She even rotates cleaning the fans and windows for us! 

That aside, we've heard so many horror stories of helpers who've given all sorts of headaches to their employers: from not being teachable, to stealing, or bringing their boyfriends home when their employers are out. For now, I don't think I am up to training a new helper, and experienced and reliable helpers are few and far between. Most of these aren't available, because the families they work for aren't going to give them up! While I've seen how helpers can be such an asset to the family, we are pretty private people, and are not comfortable with the idea of having someone stay with us. We also don't have the room to house a helper: the house already feels very cramped with three boys bouncing off the walls, and the study that doubles as a guest room houses the in-laws who frequently visit us from Penang. Finally, I think we'll be pretty hard to work for, since I can be fussy (clothes must be folded a certain way so they sit right in the drawers, etc), and the boys can make such messes!

Anyway, yes, so we are maid-less. Now another frequently asked question we get is, how do we cope? With having three littles, homeschool, no helper, and a hubby who sometimes has to work long hours? Well, here are a few ways:

:: We lower our expectations: We won't have a house that is spick and span, and a floor that is spotless. We don't have a home that is magazine-spread worthy. We do have to spend an hour or two cleaning up before guests come because of the chaos of three toy tornadoes. But we don't need spotless, or magazine-spread worthy. We just need a relatively clean home, that is not dusty (the kids have allergic rhinitis, so dust is an issue), we need clean dishes to eat from, we need regular meals. Those lower expectations, we can meet. 


:: We get the kids to help: The kids are expected to clean up their messes. If they cut a pile of paper on the floor, they have to sweep it up. If they spill their drink, they wipe it up. They need to return their used cups and dishes to the sink, and they help to set the table. The older two also help to fold some of the clothes. All three help to do clean-up time. While most of the time they don't do the job perfectly, them having to help out teaches them that housework is useful, and blesses the people around them. While we usually have to finish the job for them, and sometimes they can be more a hindrance than a help, I find that they get better with age and practice, and things eventually get easier, and neater. Finally, Junior J helps to take care of his younger brothers, and he's pretty good at reading to them and keeping them busy, which allows me a breather and gives me time for a toilet break! 


:: The kids are taught to be independent: Junior J packs his own bag for outings, and also takes his own showers. The older two carry their own bags when we are out, and they help to carry their younger brother's things, so that I don't need to carry both the toddler and a truckload of kid's stuff. The older two are expected to feed themselves at mealtime, and we do not allow them to run about during mealtimes. We sometimes still have to feed Lil J part of his meal, especially when he is not well and doesn't have an appetite, but we don't do the "chase the kid around with the spoon" thing, which makes mealtimes a lot easier to handle. The kids are also used to being left to their own devices, and are good at keeping themselves occupied: they play all sorts of games together, they scribble together on boxes, they build train tracks and tell stories. This allows me time to get housework done, since I don't need to keep them entertained all the time.


:: I get all the help I can: Like I've mentioned, we have a part-time helper that comes once a week, and her hard work ensures that our home is in a relatively clean state. That aside, my parents help to babysit the kids if the hubs and I need to run various errands, and my dad brings the kids to the playground in the evenings so that I can cook dinner in peace. We also rely a lot on our appliances to help make things easier: we have a dishwasher, we use the dryer if necessary, I rely a lot on cooking extra portions and freezing them for quick prep lunches. The Thermomix also helps to make mealtime prep easier some days. (You can read more about how our gadgets make things easier here.) Finally, the hubs chips in with the housework too. He loads the dishwasher and helps with the washing up, and used to do the vacuuming before we hired part-time help.


:: We always try to make things as streamlined as possible: We're always thinking of ways to make things at home work better. For example, the kids now use trays (these are from Ikea) when they are painting, which reduces the amount of cleaning up that I need to do after each session. If we are in a rush, we just put aside the trays when we are done, since the trays technically don't need to be cleaned, and I don't need to spend 15 minutes wiping the table. If the kids are constantly asking us for a certain material, we think of how we can make it easily accessible to them. Right now, we are still decluttering our stuff, so that we can be better organized.


:: I take short-cuts if I can: Most mornings are a mad rush if we are headed out for co-op or outings, since the kids tend to take ages to eat their breakfast, and everyone is moving slowly. Again, I try to make everything as streamlined as I can: I try to pack our stuff before the kids wake, and we eat simple breakfasts that require minimal prep. I usually have to cook Baby J's lunch if we are headed out, so this is how I do it in the shortest time possible: I make his soups and sauces in bulk (usually these are just the same sauces and soups that the rest of the family eats, but I spoon out his portion before I add more salt/herbs), and freeze them in this food tray (this is better than using a ice-cube tray, as the compartments are much bigger). In the mornings, all I have to do is to pop these three stainless steel cups into the electric lunchbox for steaming, one containing the frozen soup/sauce, another containing hot water and his pasta/noodles (the boy isn't fond of porridge and likes textures), and a third containing some finger food (like frozen edamame, corn or peas). I end up with a cooked lunch for the kid after 15 minutes (I take out the pasta/noodles first), without having to stand at the stove! 




:: We keep things simple: Meals are a simple affair, and we don't do the rice with a couple of dishes kind of meals. Usually it's noodles, or pasta, or a one-pot something. Our learning activities are kept simple so that I don't need to spend a lot of time preparing (so if you notice, we hardly do any of those lapbooks or flashcards since those require a fair bit of prep!), and we use curriculum that requires minimal preparation. Keeping things simple saves time, time that is crucial because we are so short of it!


So all in all, I think we're coping ok without a stay-in helper. I'm not saying that not having one makes you better or more capable (after all our house is much messier without one!), and many mums I know are doing really well with a helper to chip in for the chores. But for us now, not having a helper works for our family, and we're good to go without for our current season in life! We hope those tips might come in handy for those who are finding it tough going without help (you can also read our SAHM survival tips here), it's tough, but it does get easier!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Read: Learning math through stories


I've alway struggled with math, and didn't enjoyed learning it, since I didn't see how we could actually use most of the concepts taught in real life. Learning how to multiply and divide made sense, since you need that to calculate your grocery bills and figure out how to split your pizza between four people. But differentiation? Complicated formulas that were used, just to help you find that ever elusive x? All those didn't seem relevant or useful at all.

However, while I'm more or less done with my own math education, now I have to teach my own little boys the subject. Preschool math is still more or less straightforward, and still very useful in real life, so I have not found it hard to teach. After all, you can teach simple math anywhere: by counting leaves, during a trip to the supermarket, watching the numbers change as you go up and down in the lift.

I've shared how we've been using Math U See as our main curriculum for math, and that has been serving us well (even Lil J has started, and is on the Primer level since he loves counting and dealing with numbers). However, while the Math U See curriculum is great for establishing a good foundation in math, and the manipulatives enable kids to really understand the concepts, I find it pretty dry. There is a fair bit of practice involved, which is inevitable since you really need to practise working out those concepts to master them, but that means kids can get a little bored after awhile. So to spice things up a little and to help them to retain their interest in math, we've been looking at stories to supplement their learning in this area. Here are some books that the boys particularly enjoyed:


:: Life of Fred Mathematics: This is a series of books, written novel-style, featuring five year old Fred Gauss, who is a math professor at Kittens University. The stories are funny, since poor Fred is constantly making unwise decisions that land him into trouble! Each book covers mathematical concepts in a way that is relevant to real life, and also introduces various nuggets of general knowledge too.



As these are chapter books with some black and white illustrations, this is probably suitable for slightly older preschoolers aged 5 and up. Junior J loves the stories, and we've learnt many concepts by just reading one chapter a day together. (Sometimes, Lil J wants to sit in too!) Each book has approximately 18-19 chapters and each chapter ends with a "Your Turn to Play" section that allows kids to practise what they've learnt, with the answers printed on the next page for further discussion.


We've already finished the first seven books in the Elementary Math series (there are ten books for the first series), and will continue to use Life of Fred to supplement our math learning. I find that while Life of Fred is a very interesting way to learn math (Junior J even learnt to add four digit numbers together through this book, and is learning multiplication now), it cannot be used as a stand-alone curriculum as it does not provide enough structure or practice. Because of that, it complements the Math U See curriculum perfectly, and I've heard of quite a few homeschoolers using these two hand in hand to teach math. One warning though: these books are rather pricey. However, they are of good quality, and we figured it'll be an investment since a few kids would get to use them.

Life of Fred is not available in the libraries here, and while I purchased our copies locally, the distributer here is not longer selling the books. As such, these can only be purchased in the US, either directly from the publisher, or through Educents. Educents is having a sale on the series right now which is ending soon, and the books are now cheaper than if you buy direct from the publisher. Do note that you will need to arrange for your own shipping back to Singapore if you do purchase the books.


:: Sir Cumference series: This series of books introduces geometry through adventure stories featuring knights! Kids get to learn concepts such as area, perimeter, circumference, pi and radius, while reading these books with full colored illustrations.  Again, these are more suitable for those five and up, but the younger kids might just enjoy hearing the stories being read to them.

Source: Amazon

We've borrowed some of the titles from this series from the library (see here for details), and have also chanced on one book when we were digging amidst the second-hand books at Evernew Bookstore. That aside, you can purchase the books from Amazon here.


:: Books by Loreen Leedy: Loreen Leedy has written several books dealing with math concepts. Her stories are mainly told through comic book form with full-colour illustrations, and I find these are simple enough for four year olds to understand. We particularly liked "Measuring Penny", which introduces the concepts of measurements, as well as "The Great Graph Contest" which teaches kids how to draw various types of graphs to represent information.

Source: Amazon

Loreen Leedy's books can be borrowed from the library, or purchased from Amazon.


:: MathStart Series: These books are simple stories that are accompanied with full colour illustrations, which introduce various math concepts to younger children. The series is split into three levels, with the first teaching concepts such as comparing sizes, shapes, matching and sorting, the second introducing topics such as addition, subtraction, tallying and symmetry, and the third teaching topics like division, fractions and angles. The first level books are probably simple enough for 3 year olds to understand, and Lil J enjoys flipping through these books.


Source: Amazon

You can borrow some of the titles from the library, or purchase them from Amazon or locally at The Learning Store (Note: These may be slightly cheaper at The Learning Store, but only when they have a good warehouse sale. Otherwise, the prices are better on Amazon.)

I hope these recommendations might come in useful, and we'll share more titles in time to come as we explore specific math topics. Meanwhile, do check out our list of book recommendations for Science, or our Rave Reads folder on the FB page. Happy reading!

PS: This is not a sponsored post, and we are sharing these titles because we love them! However, this post contains affiliate links to Amazon, but at no added cost to yourself.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: Dear Papa


Dear Papa,
You work really hard taking care of your patients. Somedays you get held up in the OT and don't come back until it's almost bedtime. But of course, somedays you surprise us by coming back earlier and bringing us to the park to hunt for otters. We know your working times vary, so every night, we ask you what time you'll be home tomorrow, and look forward to the time we hear your key turning in the door.


We love weekends because we get to hang out with you, and do all the rough and tumble stuff that Mama doesn't do with us. She's always afraid that Baby J will get hurt, but you? You just swing us and throw us in the air, because it makes us laugh. You're the only one who manages to carry two of us at one go, and the one who brings us out for ice-cream during Baby J's nap time. 


You're the one who reads to us, when Mama is busy feeding the toddler. The one who gets a sense of satisfaction clipping our nails, and clearing our clogged noses when we are sick. The one who does that super yummy roast chicken and buys our favourite mangosteens for us. (We still hope that one day, you'll be able to eat durians along with us though.)


We know sometimes we can get you really angry, and we can be quite a handful. But we want to say thank you. Thank you for praying with us, for reading to us, for taking care of us, for working so hard so that we can be comfortable. Thank you for fixing all the stuff we've broken, and for helping Mama with all her crazy projects. Thank you for teaching us how to enjoy boyhood. Thank you for being there as much as you could be. 

We love you!

Love, 
From your three little boys, who think farting at you is the coolest thing ever.  

~~~~~~~

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” 
-Umberto Eco


The world celebrated fathers on Sunday, and I thought that it was fitting to dedicate this week's Thankful Tuesdays to the man in our life. Everyone wasn't well over the weekend, so we kept this year's celebration simple, with a dinner at home with family and a handmade canvas as well as cards. Happy Belated Father's Day to all dads out there! 



Mum in the Making

Friday, June 19, 2015

Science: On learning and scoring (An interview with Jayce Or)

A few months back, I attended a Primary Math and Science seminar for homeschoolers, conducted by Jayce Or, a fellow homeschooling parent. The seminar helped me to get a better understanding of how Math and Science was taught and tested at the Primary level. While we hope to homeschool through the Primary years, our kids still have to sit for the PSLE, so getting a better understanding of how these subjects were taught and tested was useful. 

Our recent post about the issues of Primary Science education generated a fair bit of debate and feedback, so I thought it would be great to follow up with some posts to guide parents into helping their kids with regards to learning Science. So to start us off, I thought having a chat with Jayce would be ideal, since he is in a pretty good position to advise (you'll understand why, after you read his introduction!). 

~~~~~~~

Hi Jayce! Thanks for agreeing to share on the blog. For starters, please tell us more about yourself.
I'm Jayce, a teacher and curriculum developer at Learning Point Enrichment Centre. I just came back from my further studies (Master of Education) at University of Melbourne, Australia. Previously, I was teaching in two primary schools for about eight years. I have always been heavily involved in the school’s science department, especially in the setting and marking of exam papers, and teaching science in practical ways. I was the teacher-in-charge of one of the school’s Science Club and the other school’s Environment Club. I am also a father of four beautiful children, aged 3, 6, 9 and 11 years. My wife and I started home-schooling our kids since 2014, and we are still learning to teach them.  


What do you think are the key problems that contribute to students not faring well for Science?
There are two levels of problems that students face in the subject of Science. Students whose grades generally fall below 40 have weaknesses in the main concepts of the topics that they have learnt, and need to gain a stronger understanding of the key components required in order to improve. The next level of problems that students face are what most parents and even teachers find more difficult to overcome. This has to do with bridging the gap between knowing the scientific concepts, and applying what students know to answer exam questions. 


How would you suggest students approach the learning of Science? Should they use any tips or techniques when studying Science? 
My suggestion towards the learning of science is always to develop the love for science first. Getting kids to see, feel, smell, touch, hear and even taste begins a process of exploration for them to delve deeper into the details of what they are learning. One of the ways that many schools use to help students in learning science is to get them to draw the concept maps of the various topics to give a clearer picture of the main concepts they are required to know.  (Side point: Reading about Science can help too. Click here for a list of great reads on Science and nature!)


Could the questions that occur in a Science paper be sorted into categories requiring different skills? What are the skills required, and are there any points to note on how to approach these different kinds of questions?

A typical Science paper (including PSLE) will comprise of a complete set of questions to assess the concepts and skills required for a student who has been taught through the entire science syllabus. The skill set is listed in the MOE Science Syllabus 2015 and they are as follows: Observing, Comparing, Classifying, Using apparatus and equipment, Communicating, Inferring, Formulating hypothesis, Predicting, Analysing, Generating possibilities and Evaluating. (Side note: You can download a copy of the latest Primary Science syllabus here.)

Questions tested would include a combination of a few of these skills, in order to ensure that students have understood the fundamentals of science and know how to apply it. Approaching these questions would mean that the students have to be clear what types of questions are assessing on which skills. If not, the situation would become likely that the student could end up ‘using a hammer on a thumbtack’.


Is memorization of key words the only way to go, and how can we help students to identify key words in a topic? Do you think tuition classes or enrichment might help in this aspect?
Memorising of key words is not all there is to learning science. The crucial thing is still to understand the concepts, and apply it correctly to the question asked. Tuition classes or enrichment may help to a certain extent. Most of the time, they give more exposure to different questions with the intention to reinforce answering skills and techniques. I am currently planning a parents’ workshop on Science in September, to help parents to guide their kids in the answering of science questions. 

Source: Marshall Cavendish

Are there any good guidebooks/assessments you would recommend? 
If I had one book to recommend, it would be the Science PSLE Revision Guide by Marshall Cavendish (the orange book). The content of the science textbooks from P3 to P6 is contained in one book instead  of being spread across four to eight textbooks, and the key concepts are always in bold for easier reference. Studying the main concepts from this book would be sufficient to cover all the topics for PSLE. 

~~~~~~~

Thank you so much, Jayce, for taking the time to share with us! Those tips were certainly helpful. 

We do need to focus on cultivating a love for Science in our kids, and then help them to grasp key concepts and attain the various skills required. There is also the need to guide them into learning how to identify the skills and concepts required in questions, so that they can bridge the gap between understanding the concepts and applying their knowledge. We hope to chat further with Jayce, so if you do have any questions on learning Science, please leave a comment!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Make: Rainbow blocks for less than $10


The Germans seem to have a love and fascination for making children's playthings out of wood. It's just one of the things they do very well: toys beautifully crafted from wood, stained or painted to perfection. I think wood is one of the loveliest materials for toys, with its natural variations in colour, the swirling woodgrain, and it's ability to be sanded down to smoothness. When we were in Germany, I was really tempted to get some of the wooden toys made by longtime toymaker Grimm's Spiel and Holz Design, but they were pretty expensive, so we ended up not getting anything (I half-regret that now though!).


I particularly liked their rainbow blocks, since they came in such a range of colors, and I was very excited to read that you could DIY your own! I decided to try making some using materials from Daiso, and they turned out pretty well, so I'm sharing how you can make your own today:


1. You'll need just two things: a set of liquid watercolors (ours were from Daiso), as well as unfinished wooden blocks (again from Daiso). 

2. Squeeze a dollop of paint (in whatever colour you'd like) onto a palette or plate with a flat base (no rounded bases please), and then add in a few drops of water. Stir to mix. Place the wooden block into the paint, and let sit for a few seconds, before turning to coat another side. Repeat, until all sides have been soaked in paint. Gently tap the block at the side of the palette to let excess paint drip off. 


3. Leave the cube on a tray to dry, and repeat steps 1 and 2 with the other cubes. The cubes should be completely dry in a day. 


Some tips to note:

:: Adding a few drops of water to the paint helps to distribute the colour evenly, since I find that the undiluted paint is too thick. However, you have to trial and error to find the paint-water balance. We discovered that the colors were not as intense as we'd like them to be if the paint is too dilute. Letting the cubes soak in the paint allows for an even colour distribution, compared to using a paint brush (but Lil J insisted on helping so I let him!). The lovely thing about using watercolors is that the woodgrain of the blocks shows up through the colors (unlike if you use acrylic paints), and the colors actually accentuate the patterns of the woodgrain. 

:: To get a whole range of colors, I started by using primary colors, and then gradually mixing them (red with yellow, yellow with blue, blue with red) to get a range of secondary colors. Along the way, I also tried mixing in white to lighten the colors. If you do follow this method, don't forget to continue to dilute the paint by adding in drops of water during the mixing process!


:: The blocks fit nicely into those little crates that they sell at Daiso too. All in all, we used up 3 packs of blocks, so our rainbow blocks set cost us $10, if you include the crate!


:: The quality of the Daiso wooden blocks seems to be dropping. We used some blocks that were purchased a year or two ago, as well as some that were recently purchased. The older blocks were made of harder wood, were sanded smooth, and didn't have splinters. Those were lovely. The newer blocks unfortunately were made of softer wood, were rougher, and many had chips or splinters and had to be sanded down. I'd say that these would be ok for older kids to play with, but keep them away from babies who are still mouthing their toys. Also, remind your kids to ensure their hands are dry when playing with these. If you'd like an alternative (especially since the blocks can go out of stock quickly in Daiso), Amazon stocks these Hygloss unfinished wooden blocks and these quality for free global shipping (Note: These are a tad smaller than the Daiso ones.).

If you do try to make your own rainbow blocks, do share your photos with us over at our FB page ok? Would love to see what you come up with!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thankful Tuesday: 5 things I've gained from staying home


I know I've shared about how it can be tough staying home. I've lamented about how it can be discouraging, and how it can be tiring. However, I realize that I've also learnt and gained so much, after having to stay home with these little ones. So here are my rewards from the past few years:

:: I get to hang out with my kids all the time.
I've talked about how difficult it is for introverts to be around kids the entire day. But that aside, we do get to be the one that brings the kids for all the fun stuff. We are the one peering at Inuka the polar bear swimming in his tank with the kids. We get to go to the playground together. We are usually the ones who blow the bubbles, as they chase them. Just recently, the hubby was lamenting that he too wanted to go and see Argentinosaurus and Giganotosaurus at Plaza Singapura, but he didn't get to go, since we opted to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds. It made me realize it was really a privilege that I got to do all these with the kids, while he slogged hard at work, and only got to hear about all the stuff we did at the end of a long, tiring day.

Digging for fossils.

:: Being with them all the time means I know their routines, quirks and acts of naughtiness first-hand. 
Since I get to hang out with them all the time, I have the kids' routines down pat. I know their quirks firsthand: I am the first to discover that Junior J is on a mushroom strike, I know what makes them tick. I have the time to chat with them, and figure out how to make them do something, and I have the time to have conversations with them during teachable moments. 

Of course, it means we usually have to bear the brunt of any naughty behavior, and we are usually the first to know if they've done something wrong. Yesterday I left the older two to play while I patted Baby J to bed, and I came out to find that the kids had put up a gallery of their own pictures using half a roll of masking tape, after which Lil J had taken a scissors to his hair and had cut off his fringe! There was masking tape plastered all over the wall, and hair all over the floor. They tried to sweep up the hair but ended up making a bigger mess. I was horrified… but hair grows back, and this becomes a story we will recall with a smile. In a sense, being there all the time means I get to be part of their story, more. But I'm still confiscating the scissors, for awhile. 

No more scissors for you, young man.

:: I've become a better cook.
I couldn't cook anything except spaghetti Bolognese and instant noodles before the kids came along. I was just too busy and tired at work to want to learn how to cook anything else. But fussy eaters, and having to eat in most days has given me no choice but to learn. After all, there is only so much Bolognese you can eat, and we didn't like the idea of the kids eating out too much, because of the high salt and MSG content of the food served. Learning to cook has been quite easy: You can search for recipes online, you can watch videos on anything from how to clean squid to how to chop a fennel bulb. Well-stocked supermarkets make finding most ingredients pretty straightforward. 

We made pizza from scratch!

:: I've saved more in terms of money.
Many look at staying home as income loss, but forget that having one parent staying home also helps in reducing expenditure. You no longer need to pay for childcare, and some also let go of their stay-in helpers after they make the switch. If you cook more and eat in more, that significantly reduces the money spent on food. In fact, these days we've learnt to make our own steak, and spend less than $50 making a dinner that would have cost more than $200 if we were to dine outside! Not working means I also don't have work-related expenses, like having to buy work clothes and paying for transport. 

Apparently, a significant percentage of the expenses used to raise a child in Singapore is tied to childcare and education (which includes tuition and enrichment), at least going by the infographics provided here. By staying home, we've eliminated the need to spend on childcare. Being home with the kids means that I can bring them out to play, and I am around to help them with regards to their learning, which reduces our expenses and need for the latter aspect. While the money saved may not amount up to the income that was lost, it does help in reducing the financial burden on the hubby, and I know many stay-home mums who have supplemented the household income through other innovative ways, such as setting up blogshops or small businesses.


:: I've learnt to be content with less.
We've learnt to live with less. We can't afford to travel much, and we spend a lot less on dining out, clothes or entertainment. But again, it has taught us that what we have is enough, and that it doesn't take much for kids to be happy. Being around the kids all the time has also helped me to see what really matters, all which have nothing to do with money, or things. 


So I am thankful. Thankful for having this privilege to be home with the kids, to be around through the good and the bad. What are you thankful for this week?

PS: This is just a personal sharing about what I've gained through staying home. While I'd love to encourage more mums to stay home with their children if they could, I am NOT advocating that staying home is the only way, or that working mums spend less quality time with their kids or do not have such a close relationship with their kids. 



Mum in the Making

Monday, June 15, 2015

Small Spaces: Our learning corner


Hello! Today it's our turn on the "Small Spaces" Blog train, where you get to have a glimpse into various real spaces designed for children. Since we homeschool, the boys are home for a large part of the week. This means that our home spaces have to work very hard for us! You've probably read about our reading corner, and have seen part of the boys' bedroom… and today we'll be showing you the learning corner that we've carved out of our entryway. 

The entryway was actually corridor space, which the previous owner bought over. This used to act like our "garage", and there used to be shoes, balls and umbrellas scattered all over (you can see part of the mess in the before photo!). The space was doing nothing much, aside from being a catch-all for all our outdoor stuff (like the boys' bikes and scooters), so I decided to clean it up and use it as a learning corner. Here's how it looked like before, and after the clean-up:


We have a bench in the entry that nobody sat on (because it was usually piled high with stuff!), and I cleaned it up and used it as a nature table for the kids:


The table contains natural materials that the boys' get to play with: tree blocks (which the boys' Ah Kong kindly helped to saw for us), pebbles, as well as various things that the kids pick up on their walks. I use all sorts of wooden bowls, baskets and recycled fruit containers to keep these things organized. Sometimes, we throw in various animal figures (from these Toobs) for the kids to play with. 


Part of the nature table is lined with faux grass, which we purchased from Daiso. It gives an added sensory element to their play.

Their clay salamanders. More details here

To the right of the bench is a larger basket where we store their balls, as well as more nature materials. The baskets are from Daiso, as well as from the market at Sungei Road (which is a gem resource for baskets!)


Above the nature table is a picture ledge from Ikea, which we use to hold all the boys' smaller natural materials, as well as their magnifying glasses. The boys love picking all sorts of fruit and leaves and what not when they go on walks, and we sort and keep the stuff that doesn't decompose easily. These are held in Rajtan spice jars (from Ikea), as well as empty baby food jars (we sometimes use baby food when we travel, and I save the jars). 



Some of their nature-related artwork is displayed above the shelf, such as Junior J's painting of beetles, Lil J's veggie stamping on canvas (the canvas is from Daiso), and the butterflies that they've made. I also put up some vintage educational postcards on plant parts (from here). 


There was space to the right of the nature table, which I used to display the boys' aquariums: cardboard pieces painted to look like the sea, containing various sea creatures which they've made. We add new creatures to their aquariums occasionally. The toddler loves looking at these!


Top aquarium by Junior J, bottom aquarium by Lil J. Junior J's one even has a key!

Below the aquariums is an old Ikea frame that I've repurposed to allow us to display pictures. I'm planning to use this to introduce artists and their paintings to the kids, but for now they will just hold postcards from various parts of the world. Making this was easy: I just cut twine and pasted it to the back of the base of the frame using washi tape. The postcards are held up by wooden pegs from Daiso. 


We managed to squeeze in our sensory bin below that display. This is a Torkis clothes basket from Ikea, and by far the best container I've found for sensory play. It's tall enough to reduce spillage, and large enough to give all 3 enough space to play. I've found most other trays too shallow or small, or much too large. Best of all, it costs less than $8!

Right now the bin is empty, save for some tools that were from the kit from My Messy Box

The wall opposite to the nature table was empty, so I put up an adhesive blackboard strip (from Joli Petite). We have a blackboard wall in the house, but the boys mainly get to doodle on this one instead, as it is "outside" the house. This way, the dust gets more or less contained.


The boys use both regular chalk, as well as sidewalk chalk. I love the colors of the sidewalk chalk, as well as how these are nice and thick (which means they do not break easily!). This mini crate from Daiso is perfect for holding the chalk. 


On the side opposite to the main door is our mini garden, which sits atop of our shoe cabinet. The boys help to water the plants, but this is another area I would like to tidy and do up! Above the garden is our enamel tray display, which greets us when we enter the house (you can read more about this display here). 


All in all, this learning space is working well for us. Since this is "outside", the mess is more or less contained, which means I don't need to fret so much about dust (from the chalkboard) and sand (from the sensory bin). Also, the boys are trained to leave any natural materials at the nature table and not bring them indoors, so we are not so worried about soil and bugs getting into the house. There are just two drawbacks though. While this area gets plenty of sunlight, it also means it can get pretty hot, and we are thinking of installing a fan here. That aside, since this is just inside the main door, the boys sometimes get so distracted playing here that we can't get them to leave the house when we are headed out! 


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This post is part of the "Small Spaces" series that is hosted by this blog. Please click the button below to take a look at more children's spaces!


Next on the blog is Danessa Foo from PrayerFull Mum. Danessa is enjoying the new season in her life as a Stay-at-Home Mum, now that they are back in their homeland Singapore after being overseas for 2 years. Head over to her blog tomorrow, to find out how Danessa dealt with smaller spaces in her new "old" house after enjoying spacious living in America.

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