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The Best Season

I feel like we are finally where I want us to be.

We have settled into a routine where each day is predictable. Mornings are usually spent at home, so that the kids have their fill of free play. Classes and outings are mostly in the afternoon. So the kids know that it’s time to go out after their nap almost everyday. I like this routine too, because I feel accomplished by the time the kids go for their nap/quiet time – even if we do nothing else, the kids have played the whole morning!

Kor Kor has started attending the classes which I envisioned him to take up since he was very young – swimming, wushu and Mandarin speech & drama. Before this, he was too young for the classes… and also too young for the daddy to be willing to pay for his lessons 😛 Three classes is a bit too much on top of school I think, so we will stop the speech & drama classes before he starts primary school in a year’s time.

Didi is also attending wushu. Though a bit young, he’s happy and enjoys the classes : ) Now, just waiting for a vacancy at swim class! And for Meimei to be old enough to start ballet and guzheng, heehee.

Now that the kids are older, we can be more flexible in terms of naps when we do go out the whole day. The boys can go without a nap occasionally, and it is quite easy to get Meimei to nap in her stroller. This means that it’s easier for us to go for nature outings, yay! (I am exploring joining Nature Society as a family. Shall update if it’s interesting!)

I am also loving our home environment. The last round of decluttering was very successful. But it’s definitely not just one round of decluttering that did the job – it’s the accumulated results of many, many rounds. I read Simplicity Parenting almost one year ago, and it’s still having a huge impact on my parenting now. I love our work spaces / activity corners around the house – art station (which I have added on to since the post), playroom, reading nook, science lab, nature table (post coming!), construction area (very new), and others. (some areas have made way though :P)

Most importantly, my firstborn is growing up to be so sensible! He gives in to Meimei a lot and offers his help when I am tired or busy. To be frank, Didi is still very whiney at 3.5 years old… But he’s really very super cute! Makes me laugh at the most tired or stressed times : ) And Meimei, our princess, she’s getting spoilt and naughty, but never mind, she’s our princess! It’s good training for the boys anyway, to learn to give in to younger ones and girls. And urmm, I am confident of correcting her wayward behaviors, hiak hiak hiak, no more always getting your way now that you are older, Meimei!

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Yes, I am happy and love my days together with my children. I love being able to be with them and to seek learning opportunities together.

But let there be no illusion. Happy is one thing, TIRED is still very real. Just because I manage to do it, doesn’t mean I don’t feel exhausted. I am half-dead by mid-day, after the lunchtime rush. I don’t know what my point is here, just want to say, I am really very, very tired. Oh well 😛

 

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What We Are Learning Now

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Daily chores, topics for morning readalouds, & after-lunch activities

Our ‘school’ schedule for now. It has contributed greatly to accomplishing more, because in general, I prefer to have a longer stretch of time when I do anything with the boys, instead of just sneaking in five minutes here and there. That means I hardly got any chance to sit with the boys previously, cos we seldom had more than five minutes.. or they would be so engrossed in their play when I happened to be available that I chose not to disrupt them.

Now, I will just Make It Happen. Including ‘school’ time in our routine means that the boys know what to expect and they don’t need much prompting to appear at our school table. And if reading to the kids for the allocated 30 minutes means that lunch will be late, so be it.

School schedule.. school time.. school table.. Does that mean I am no longer unschooling? Hmm, I like to think i am still doing that. Firstly, our ‘subjects’ aren’t the regular primary school syllabus. Secondly, like most homeschoolers, I don’t think we can be so neatly categorised. And most importantly, the ‘category’ is not important to me, who cares what other people call us, right? 😛

I wish I could end off with ‘and we live happily ever after..’. But I am already feeling problems with this routine and this timetable. There are other things which I want to do with the kids but I can’t find the time (or breathing space!) for them… I have got all the equipment ready to start woodwork with the boys, but no time.. The kids need more nature walks, but no time… They should have more outdoor time, but no time.. (not necessarily nature, I don’t consider nice manicured parks or plasticky playgrounds as nature.) Ideally, we should visit the library more often, but no time….

I know it’s about priorities. Which means I have got a Big Think ahead. I just read my own post ten months ago, and I am so glad I penned my thoughts down. I feel the same about my priorities now. Time to re-focus.
(Speaking of time, I had to really push myself to write this post. Not because I didn’t want to.. I wanted to! But I have so many books to read! Some of them, I have already read before, but as the kids grow, I need to read them again for new insights. But I don’t wanna give up this blog.. boo hoo.. As it is, I have already given up my 6am+ jogs. Which I shouldn’t, since health should be the foremost priority. But my body really can’t take the early mornings AND late nights. Time, time, time.. I need more time!)

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Revised Routine 5.0

Been very quiet on the blog, cos I have been very constructively engaged since I started this new routine. Constructive, meaning I manage to get quite a lot done and at the end of each day, I feel accomplished. It also means I am much busier and do not have as much time for the blog. Priorities, priorities, hmmm.

830am Breakfast (or earlier if the kids are hungry)

(The kids wake up around 7.30am and after giving them their milk, I just sit around because I haven’t completely woken up yet. And don’t wanna wake up. Blah. But must get breakfast started by 830am latest.)

9am DVD

930am I read to the boys

10am The boys help with lunch prep

1030am Free play while I cook

11am Lunch

1130 I wash up

12nn Boys help with housework and keep away toys

1230pm Meimei goes in for nap. Activity time with the boys

130pm Snack

2pm Boys go in for nap/quiet time

3pm Go out for lessons or nature walks

Then we either meet hubby for dinner or eat the dinner I cook during the boys’ nap and pack along. The kids are usually in bed by 8.30pm.

OK, that’s all for now, while I try to get my blogging engine started again! Vrrooom, vrroooom!

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How To Teach Maths: Addition and More!

Not everything can be learnt without teaching ok, haha. Though I do try to keep ‘lessons’ to a minimal, and always giving priority to free play and outdoor time. My earlier post on Kor Kor’s obsession with math operations might seem like there is nothing much the parents can do to ‘teach’. But yes, there is!

1. Provide a rich home environment. Not in terms of money, but a certain amount of investment is inevitable. Homemade learning aids are good too, but for someone like me with lousy art/craft skills, it’s probably gonna take more money to make my own.

I just leave these on the walls around the house, so that the kids will feel that Maths is just everywhere around them. But I don’t really talk about them, cos I don’t want to pressurize the kids.

2. A READY environment. I have had various manipulatives lying around the house since Kor Kor was very young. Though he did not know the correct way to use them, and it was a waste of my breath trying to show him how to use them when he was younger, at least he got used to the sight and feel of them. When he was ready to use them, they were not something new to him.

We also have Maths-related books aplenty. Read them to the kids at least once, and then the books are kept on the shelves for them to flip through on their own. They are free to choose any book for us to read during reading time.

Yes, it is possible to go buy manipulatives and books after the child exhibits an interest in them. But personally, I find that when I want/need to buy something, I won’t be able to find good ones. And when I don’t want/need to buy them, they keep popping up everywhere! So for basic stuff, I prefer to prepare in advance.

3. A READY teacher, i.e. the parents! When the child shows interest, we capitalize on it! I’m glad that Kor Kor’s interest coincided with my handsfree journey, otherwise I might have been too distracted and irritated to notice his interest and to answer his many questions. If I had not reinforced his curiosity and learning desire at the right time by being as enthusiastic as him, perhaps his interest would have suffered a premature demise.

These past days he has been asking me multiplication questions too. When he asked me ‘what is 16 x 18?’, my brain said I DON’T KNOW! But luckily, I did an e-brake and quickly calculated in my head and told him the answer. Because I wanted to demonstrate that it was NOT too difficult to do.

While I had previously simply told him the answers to his math questions, I have now started talking about the process too, aka brainwashing. So after answering ‘what is 7 + 8’, I say ‘Mummy thought about it and got the answer.’ This is to encourage him to do mental sums instead of relying on manipulatives. Given that he’s only four years old, I am of course happy to let him use manipulatives when he wishes to. There are no restrictions on that at all. But I do want him to feel that it’s a good thing to do mental sums, to prepare him for the future 😛

4. In the spirit of capitalizing his optimal learning period, and because I am a true blue Singaporean mum and a Tiger Mum in sheep’s clothing, I have started a daily ten-minute lesson. During this short lesson, I reveal my full tiger stripes and I get to choose what I want to do with him. And yes, it’s often assessment books! Only 10 minutes, so it should be ok I hope! Nevertheless I do not stress or rush him, and I set a timer to stop. I will be choosing topics that he is interested in. So far he has not shown any resistance and is always enthusiastic to start his lessons.

 5. The last point is the easiest, and also the most difficult. WAIT. No, it’s not an acronym for anything. It’s the easiest because we do not have to do anything special. It’s the most difficult because we often want to do more.

I really do think this is the most important of all. And it’s not because I am a nice, loving, academics-are-not-important, type of mum. I am a competitive, academic-focused, achievement-oriented type of mum. I don’t stress my kids only because I believe it has an adverse impact on their academic potential.

He did this all by himself without using any manipulatives. I have no idea whether his peers are already able to do this too, but the point is not whether he is more advanced than his peers. The point is he managed to learn this without going through formal or even structured lessons.

 

I knew his pencil grip was not correct and he couldn’t really write yet. So I offered him the option of using number stamps, which he happily accepted. A few days later, we happened to have a pencil around (he used it to draw lines to connect answers like the above photo), and I asked him whether he would like to write his answers instead. He replied, ‘But I don’t know how to.’

The thing is, if I had insisted he write his answers, he would not have been able to do this workbook at all. Handwriting is handwriting, maths is maths.

 

Not that I won’t grill him on handwriting. If he still can’t write by six years old, which is just two months before he starts Primary One, you can be sure I will grill him!

He has started asking me questions like ‘what is 4 + 4? What is 8 + 4? What is 12 + 4?’ I think he’s getting the idea of multiplication!

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Resisting the Academic Pressure

The thing is, regardless of how my children eventually perform academically, I am quite certain that they will not be among the top of their class at Primary 1. Because I am determined to let them enjoy their childhood, to let them play and play and play. As it is, I have made the decision not to send them to kindergarten. Which means they might have a ‘culture shock’ in primary school. Or because they might simply be late bloomers. (Quite high chance of this for my sons, simply because they are boys.)

(But totally homeschooling from P1 onwards is not something I want. Because I love our education system too much :P)

So, how do we deal with the not-so-good results in P1? Other than mummy having to take many deep breaths and setting aside her competitive streak, that is…..

I really really hope my children will grow up to be resilient and adaptable. In this context about primary school, I hope they will be able to adapt to the new environment in school, and be able to withstand the peer pressure, the possible negativism from teachers, the definite negativism on their test papers & report books, the demoralization they might feel from the class ranking. I hope they will not be disheartened, and will take it in their stride. I hope you will be STRONG, my dear children. Be strong, and mummy is confident you will do just fine : )

My take on academic teaching in the preschool years is that the kids will either bloom sooner or later, or they will not bloom at all. The kids who bloom early, great, they are in time for P1 and will do well regardless of external ‘help’ (or hindrance :p) The kids who won’t bloom, tuition or any academic hothousing will not improve matters, will only make these kids stressed and unhappy. The kids who bloom later, perhaps as late as P5 after streaming, or even only in secondary school, I believe the most important thing is to protect their natural curiosity and desire to learn in their early years, so that they can still bloom when they are ready. If the bud is not ready to become a flower, it is futile to pluck open the petals to ‘help’ it bloom…..

Now, my children are still young and I feel the need to protect them from outside attempts to kill their natural learning tendencies. Hopefully by the time they are 6-7 years old, they can go to primary school and protect themselves with their resilience. It is not always a kind world out there, the best I can do is to protect them, nurture them when they are impressionable and weak, and to set them free as they grow stronger.

By the way, yes, I am competitive. So it’s quite killing me to be laidback about the boys’ academic learning. But I believe this will produce the best results for them, academic or otherwise. Hope I am not sabotaging them!

To summarize for my babies who might be reading this in future:
Don’t be stressed when you go to primary school. Don’t worry about results.
Behave yourself, obey the teachers, always be respectful. (If there’s a need to disagree with your teachers, mummy will do it. But you won’t know about it.)
Do your homework and submit on time.
Make friends, play with friends, enjoy yourselves, have fun!
Pay attention in class, or at least be quiet during lessons.
Be happy, and wait to bloom!

If mummy becomes a crazy kiasu parent over the next few years, you can use this to back yourselves up :p

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Kor Kor’s Current Favs

The hottest books in our home at the moment…

Dinosaurs and more dinosaurs

Dinosaurs and more dinosaurs

We have had dinosaur books at home since very long ago, but Kor Kor wasn’t always particularly interested in them. His interest was revived recently after our visit to the Titans of the Past exhibition. Just received the National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs and we are loving it! The book introduces 52 dinosaurs, each over a two-page spread with lovely illustrations and bite-sized information.

To space we go!

To space we go!

Our affair with the planets started very innocently… One morning Kor Kor asked to play with stickers and the choices I gave him included one of planets and rockets. From our earlier readings he easily recognized Earth and started to ask questions about the other round things. I stumbled along trying to answer his questions to the best of my knowledge (i.e. very limited). Sensing that his curiosity was aroused (no help from Mummy’s inadequate answers), I gave him the relevant books from our set of encyclopaedia.

As I looked at him eagerly flipping through the books, I realised it was one of those MOMENTS – one of the reasons why I decided to be a sahm, so that I could ‘catch’ his passions and stoke the flame! As soon as I could, I googled for good books on the topic and reserved two books from the library online.

And, err, I had ‘accidentally’ ordered the NG Little Kids Big Book of Space when I was ordering the dinosaur book. BEST! Really, these First Big Books are very, very good. I strongly recommend them!

Borrowed the Chinese books during a trip to the library. It IS taxing to read them to the boys, but I would like the children to know Chinese not just as a subject, but also as a ‘common language’ – whether it’s Science, Math, Geography, etc, we can learn about them not just in English!

Loving the series!

Loving the series!

We have had the Magic School Bus book on dinosaurs for quite a while, from our neighbour whose kids have outgrown it. But the book was sorta cast aside as I found it too wordy. Now I know it was because Kor Kor wasn’t that keen on the topic back then, so he didn’t really pay attention when I read it to him, so I found it difficult to engage him.

Then I happened to find the MSB Lost in Space book recently when he is in his Space obsession… and the rest is history! He totally loves MSB now! The next thing I know, he has dug out the dinosaur one from dunno where and is flipping through it on his own.

It’s a very different feeling now that he’s captivated and engrossed and asking relevant questions whenever I read this book to him. Very easy for him to learn and for me to teach when the MOMENT is right : )

(I didn’t purposely only borrow the Chinese MSB books. I would prefer the English ones as they are easier for me to read and understand. I can understand Chinese but my processing speed is only half at best. But the English ones are usually unavailable, while there are soooo many Chinese copies on the shelves. My brain told me not to take the Chinese books… tired you know… But my heart said, ‘take them… you know your son will love them regardless of language…’ Multiple brain cells gonna die in the next few weeks.)

What are your child(ren)’s favorite topics? Do share!