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A Crazy Month… And The Lessons I Learnt

December was a really crazy month for the kids and me, mainly because I signed Kor Kor up for a few holiday programmes at the CC, plus a 3-day skate course and a Lego workshop at KidsSTOP. On top of that, we joined a zoo homeschool co-op, toured Gardenia factory, had playdates with friends who were back from overseas, and attended two birthday parties, and of course, Christmas parties! There was a year-end break from swim class and speech and drama class, but wushu lessons were on-going.

It was quite a stressful month due to the rushing around and more significantly, because we could not follow our usual routine. On hindsight, I really shouldn’t have signed him up for SO MANY programmes! Argh. Actually I had only planned to let him attend a speech and drama programme. But when I looked through the CC’s holiday programmes, so many seemed so interesting! I guess I got too excited… πŸ˜›

On the positive side, Kor Kor was OK to attend the programmes. Now that he is older, he doesn’t mind being left alone in an unfamiliar place with strangers anymore. However I don’t think he really enjoyed the programmes, other than the skate camp. I also felt uncomfortable that the classes were mostly accompanied with worksheets even though they were non-academic topics (Space Fantasy, Kitchen Science, etc)… Even worse, Didi and Meimei wasted their time while waiting for Kor Kor. I wish I could say I spent the time purposefully and constructively with them… but..

Come to think of it, I think I could have done a better job teaching Kor Kor and playing with him the activities that they did during the programmes. Minus the worksheets and waiting time and the course fees. Argh.

So, I have learnt my lessons. For the June holidays, I shall probably only sign the boys up for the skate camp.

You know, quite often we hear people saying the firstborn gets many more advantages and privileges. For example, Kor Kor attended My Gym and Little Neuro Tree when he was not even two years old. Earlier this year he attended Alpha Gym for a term. But the younger two will NOT be attending such classes, and definitely won’t be attending holiday classes like what Kor Kor just did. Not because I am not willing to pay for classes for Didi and Meimei. Not because I have no time to bring them to class. But because Kor Kor aka the Guinea Pig had tried and I have found that these classes are not good enough/necessary/much beneficial. So Didi and Meimei are reaping the fruits of Kor Kor’s labour, haha!

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Making Makers

This is actually the title of a book I just started reading, and it’s exactly what I am trying to do – make makers out of my kids. My goal is for the kids to make, to create, to build, to invent! Came across STEM for kids and I am hooked. Science, Technology, Engineering, Math! (Sometimes Art is added to make it STEAM. But… science and math stuff are easy for me, but errrrrr, art… maybe later :P)

But after reading quite a few books like Tinkerlab and Tinkering: Kids Learning By Making Stuff, I realised there was one big problem. Firstly, I am not a creative person. Secondly, the books give instructions for how to DIY amazing things, but I don’t want my kids to be just following instructions! So, after some brainwork…

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A new tinkering area for the boys!

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The boys have a tinkering box each – with things from my craft stocks and random stuff around the house.

Next step. If I just leave it up to them, I really wonder how long it would take them to start making, despite all the materials they have access to. I think making is a habit, a culture. They probably wouldn’t know what to do with all those random loose parts, until inspiration struck dunno when… Boredom is supposed to be good for creativity, but for a book lover, it is very difficult to feel bored, especially with a book-loving mummy who buys many books and with a wonderful public library πŸ˜›

I decided to take the bull by its horns and CREATE the culture! I shall let the boys see me making things. But I do not want them to see me referring to instructions in the books or on my iPhone. I shall pretend they are my own ideas, ha! So, the night before I plan to ‘make things’, I do my homework. I read the instructions and remember as much as I can. I also draw the drafts in my notebook, to set a good example for the boys to plan and to put in ink their ideas.

Then, when I am making, the boys only see me referring to my drawings! But seriously, because I sometimes forget the exact instructions, or because I do not have the exact same parts as in the books, I have to do a lot of improvisations and trial-and-error.

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Wooden spoon catapult

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Propeller-driven car ver 1

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The 1st car didn’t move too well, so I experimented with other wheels and axles. Success!

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Sail car

I made all those in one day! Thanks to having an entire free day at home : )

Two days later…

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This dump truck is my first baby! I thought of the whole thing myself, with a movable dumping bed, a door that opens, and a see-through windscreen!

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I made the trolley in Meimei’s hand!

Then we moved on to something more exciting – moving robots!

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Drawing machine – markers attached to a plastic cup. The motor moves the cup and the markers draw on the paper.

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Didi’s robot

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My robot haha

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Kor Kor’s draft for his robot!

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Kor Kor’s robot

Red Ted Art’s Blog has a post on making mini robots, and I also referred to the Tinkerlab book for instructions. I had no prior experience with using toy motors before, but as I was making the robots, I realised it’s much easier than I expected!

Start with making the robots, just like doing a craft – glue or somehow attach cardboard rolls or whatever to make the robot, then add googly eyes, stickers, anything to decorate. Then connect the battery holder with the motor, and attach it to your robot. The interesting bit is you have to attach something to the axis of the motor as an ‘unbalancer’. A small coin will work fine. Tata!

Urmm, don’t expect too much though. I have no idea how to upload a video here, but as you can see in the video at Red Ted Art’s Blog, the robots just sorta vibrate and spin. Hmm, I guess it takes high-tech robotics to make the robots walk in a straight line? I need time to figure that out πŸ˜›

The best part about this whole experience of making to make my kids makers? After just two days of making, making, making, I am already feeling a lot more competent! Much faster too, and I have started to really like doing it (instead of just doing it for the kids). Hopefully my kids will feel the same way as they start tinkering and experimenting with what they can do. Yay!

(By the way, yes, I made all these. Not my kids. Not my kids with my help. They hardly did anything at all except be busybody and touch this touch that or just run off at times. The only thing they really did was the craft part to make the robots’ bodies. Cos my goal was to create the culture of making, NOT to give them instructions to follow.)

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We Made Insect Specimens!

Yes, at Kea Xplorer again! I had signed the boys up for this even before we attended the woodwork session, because I hope the boys would love and be comfortable in the great outdoors. But it was beyond my expectations, and seriously, I was blown away by the exhilaration of catching the insects with our own hands and making them into specimens!

There were two parts to the insect specimen workshop. In the morning, we went insect-hunting.

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Briefing at the beginning of the session. Yes the instructor, who was also our woodwork instructor, MADE the benches!

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Let’s go catch some bugs!!

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The bugs no chance

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My boys. Cool, right? πŸ˜€

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A slug!

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Instructor demonstrating how to break the nerve of a butterfly

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Got to hold the butterfly

Does it look like we were in a ulu forest? Actually, no! We were right across the road from many, many residential apartments, and a bit farther down were some other industrial-like buildings. It was just a long strip of some trees. It proved to me that we need not go to the forest or mountains to get a good dose of nature.

Before we attended this session, I was wondering HOW to catch the insects. I mean, I did spend quite a lot of time at places like Venus Loop, but other than mosquitoes and ants, I never noticed any other insects…

OK, the key word here is ‘noticed’. It is just about purposeful noticing, aka observation, aka Open Your Eyes Big Big. All we had to do, was hit the clusters of long grass with the insect net a few times, and we saw numerous grasshoppers, katydids, unknown insects jumping out!

But that didn’t mean it was easy to catch them. The little things were quick! And also very smart. After a while, it wasn’t that easy to spot them anymore. Argh. Never mind, then we moved on to the second part – making the captured insects into specimens.

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Demonstration… on a handmade clay beetle πŸ˜›

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Tata! Our work of ART! Haha, ok, work of sweat : )

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And we were given mealworms to bring home as pets!

Sorry, not many photos of the specimen-making process. Because I was too busy listening and learning and guiding the boys to do and urmm, doing it myself πŸ˜› So, how did we make the specimens? Basically, what we did was a fast-forward version of the proper procedure. The insects should be soaked/dried for days between the steps. The instructor had many jars with various chemical solutions to kill/preserve the bugs. What we did – immoblised the insects on corkboard with pins, then glued them to the box, and lastly the box was sealed.

Ya, I know that wasn’t much help, haha. Anyway I am definitely the wrong person to ask if you wanna make insect specimens yourself and this post was never meant to be an Instructable. The point of this post is to tell you how absolutely impressed I am by this workshop! If you are interested, do check out Kea Xplorer for their upcoming sessions. You can also see more photos of our session at Insect Specimen Pak 1 and Pak 2.

By the way, I am in no way affiliated to Kea Xplorer and this is not a sponsored post. I paid for the workshops and had never met the instructor prior. But really, I am now a super fan and strongly recommend their workshops to everybody! Good things must share! : )

 

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The Lost Hour

I used to be very obssessed about the kids’ bedtimes – MUST sleep early. Must nap. Why? There are many, many books and online articles advocating the importance of sleep for young children and how they should sleep – how many hours of sleep they need at each age, what time they should sleep, etc. In short, young children need to sleep a lot, and they need to go to bed very early.

But somehow, I had lost track of this very important brain factor along the way. We did not start having late-night activities. We did not start returning home very late. When I became aware of the problem and reflected, I realised that it was because I decided to take things slooooow, to let the boys take their time instead of rushing them all the time. (Still rushing them when we need to be somewhere by a certain time though.) So when they were engrossed in their play when we were supposed to be preparing for bedtime, I tried to let them play and to just wait, instead of hurrying them to drink their milk, brush their teeth… I also patiently read them many bedtime stories………….

It was good, cos everyone felt more relaxed and there were fewer tantrums. I was happy too cos task-oriented me could finish doing all the miscellanous stuff like washing their water bottles, unpacking & packing their bags. But it meant the boys often ended up going to bed around 10pm >.< And yes, they still woke up at their usual 7.30am, often even earlier.

Then I read this book and it woke me up.

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An experiment was conducted where groups of fourth-graders and sixth-graders were randomly told to either go to bed earlier or stay up later, for three nights. The difference in amount of true sleep turned out to be an hour. Only an hour, yet the effect was significant – a slightly sleepy sixth-grader would perform in class (test of neurobiological functioning) like a fourth-grader.

Truth be told, it didn’t take much to convince me, because of my sleep-fanatic background. All I needed was a reminder. Nevertheless, I find this book to be a great read. It covers ten topics, each in a very digestible chapter. And it’s available from the library! Happy reading!

 

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Kor Kor Learns Woodwork!

Last Saturday, Kor Kor and I attended a three-hour woodwork session by Kea Xplorer. It was a great start to woodworking experiences, which I want the boys to learn and to try. Though the program was targeted at children, it was very useful for me as well, cos I was totally clueless in this area!

We learnt how to use the tri-square, hacksaw, F-clamp, file, sanding block and sawhorse, as well as woodworking safety. The instructor and his assistants were very helpful and went around the room giving each participant individual guidance. Kor Kor was a really happy boy throughout the three hours, despite the gruelling work of sawing. (Good for training patience and perseverence! Cos a junior hacksaw is not that powerful, you know? :P) I think it also helped a lot that the instructor was able to engage the children very well.

I would like my sons to know how to do woodwork, to be a handyman at home. But regardless of gender or whether this is a learning goal you have for your child, I think the sense of satisfaction of making something with one’s own hands is indescribable!

We are already looking forward to the next workshop!

(This is not a sponsored review.)

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I Bribe My Kids

If you stay dry in bed for n nights, you get a reward.

If you control your temper for n days, you get a reward.

If you bathe yourself for n days, you get a reward.

Bribes vs rewards? Thin fine line.

I usually use this method for things which I can’t really force the kids to do, or things which I can’t even really get angry about. Yet I know they are ready to do it. For example, Kor Kor was reluctant to start bathing himself. He said he did not know how to do it. OK, I don’t really mind bathing him, so I just dangled a carrot. If he’s keen to get the reward, it provides the extra push for him to start doing it. Like going without diaper at night – I can understand he feels safer with the diaper, in case he incurs my wrath for bedwetting. Plus, it’s much easier to just pee in the diaper than to wake up to go to the toilet! Carrot again – if you want, you try. If you would rather continue wearing diaper, so be it, I can live with it.

In order to encourage him to keep trying and to make it a habit, I give him a reward once he achieves the desirable behaviour for about three days. Then a second reward if he can do it for five days. Then a third reward if he manages 15 days. By then, it should be second nature and there will be no more reward. Say, he manages to control his temper for a stretch of 15 days, that means he has the ability to do it! It also depends on the level of difficulty – for bathing himself, it was only one reward for a stretch of ten days and that’s all.

I am willing to splurge on slightly more expensive presents, rather than many small items for daily behaviour, because my goal is to get the problem over and done with once and for all. Once it’s clear that he CAN do it, I expect him to do it without any reward. Instead, he will get punished if he fails to do it, e.g. time out for throwing tantrum or refusing to bathe himself. (Doesn’t apply to bedwetting though, cos it’s normal to wet the bed once in a while, and it can be caused by many factors. To be dealt with gently. So far so good though!)

What are the rewards Kor Kor has received thus far? A Transformers toy which cost $19.90 for three days of good temper. A pair of walkie-talkies ($20+) for staying dry for 15 consecutive nights. (He also got smaller rewards when he stayed dry for shorter stretches, but I can’t recall what they were.)

At five years old, I think Kor Kor has the ability to think ahead for longer periods and to be more self-disciplined. How about Didi? He’s only 3.5 years old, and I don’t expect much of him yet. He’s still wearing diaper to bed at night though the diaper is actually dry most mornings. We asked him whether he wanted to stop wearing diaper and he said no, so we shall just wait for him to be ready.

However, there is one behaviour which I really cannot stand anymore! No, it’s not whining. Not that I like his whining, but I think that’s too huge an issue to tackle at his age. But recently, he has started screaming, as in those high-pitched AHHH..! I have promised him to buy him his chosen Transformers toy when he can stay scream-free for ten days. Since he’s so young and ten days probably feels like an impossible eternity to him, there is also a bait of a small piece of chocolate every night if he’s scream-free for the day. His progress? Urmm, maybe it is impossible to hit ten days?? He has eaten many pieces of chocolates, but after a few days, he loses it and goes back to zero again. But it’s still good. At least now when he screams, I just need to remind him, “you are screaming. Can you stop?” and he’s ok most of the time.

My favourite takeaway from this blatant bribery? When I see Kor Kor swallowing his tantrum when I remind him to be of good temper! πŸ˜›