Monday, August 30, 2010

Do Fun Stuff

I have been MIA for a while, I know, and I do have loads to update. Before I get down to that however, I'd like to share something with you - this album called "Do Fun Stuff".

This album was put together by Ryan Marshall over at pacing the panic room and it is fantastic. All songs are written specially for this album and it's just good pop.

Importantly, you'll be supporting a great cause. 100% of the proceeds go towards a fund set up by Ryan in conjunction with PRISMS (Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome) which will be made available to grad students who study Smith-Magenis Syndrome, a childhood development disorder for which there is presently no cure.

Hop over to iTunes, have a listen, leave a rating, click to buy it. Read Ryan's blog to learn how and why and for whom he made this album. If that doesn't touch you, look at it this way, if you're going to spend US$9.99 on something today, why not spend it on this?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend report

I had a couple of work meetings over the weekend but we managed to squeeze in quite a lot of family activities so, overall, it was an enjoyable weekend. It was a long weekend as Monday was a public holiday on account of it being Singapore's National Day.

On Saturday evening, we met up with some SMH friends at Shann's house for dinner. I think Ryan enjoyed hanging out with the other babies - he was running about happily and even trying to make conversation. He got another opportunity the next day, Sunday, when we met up with the gang again to have dinner at Paragon (Peking duck!) and after-dinner drinks at Urban Spoon in Jalan Kayu.

We wanted to make the most of the public holiday on Monday and so we thought of making a trip to the zoo to see the animals and to let Ryan have some water play at Rainforest Kidzworld. I guess half of Singapore had the same idea because when we got there, the carpark was full and there was a whole line of cars parked along the side of the road leading up to the zoo. The line stretched for about 2 km! We took one look, made a U-turn and went for an early lunch at Ivin's instead.

After that, we did our rounds at the book store, the toy store and the arts and crafts store, and then we went home.

Determined not to waste the holiday, we decided to go to Hort Park in the evening and go on the Forest Walk.  There are two trails on the Forest Walk - the Elevated Walkway and the Earth trail.  We took the Elevated Walkway which is a metal bridge that meanders through the forest and puts you at eye-level with the forest canopy.

We brought Ryan's little red car in case he got tired and he would sit in it for a while then get up and walk for a while and sit in it again.  Occasionally, he asked to be carried. When we reached the end, we had to go all the way back to get back to the car. Ryan got a little tired on the way back but overall, I think he enjoyed himself.  Check out the photos!

Here's Ryan in his hiking gear. I love this shot - he looks ready to hit the trail, don't you think? I put a light jacket on him because I wasn't sure if there would be insects and mosquitoes. There weren't any so I took it off mid-way.

We started from Alexandra Arch, about 6 plus in the evening.

Here we go!

No slacking! 

That's me carrying Ryan - we're on the top walkway!

Here's Richard carrying Ryan!

Here's Richard pushing Ryan in his little red car on the way back.  The car is made of plastic (including its wheels) and so it doesn't absorb the vibrations and shocks of wheeling across the metal walkway. If we come here again with this car, we must remember to place a rubber sheet on the seat.

It was a great outing, we clocked in some healthy exercise and got close to nature. I think it was a good experience for Ryan, he seemed excited and enthusiastic about the walk. He was interested in looking at the forest around him and he would stop now and then for a closer look and pick up things like leaves and fallen fruit and seeds for a closer inspection.

There are a number of other trails with tree-top walks in Singapore and we're planning to have a go at them soon. Nothing too strenuous, just a slow stroll through the forest. We took slightly more than an hour to get through the walk and back again, strolling slowly and stopping here and there for photos.

After we left the Forest Walk, we drove over to Vivocity for dinner and Ryan managed to get in his waterplay after all, at the Vivocity play area.  Perfect end to his day.

Thanks for having a birthday Singapore, we certainly enjoyed it!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Parents Chats at Julia Gabriel

Yesterday, Ryan's PlayClub class came dressed in red and white to celebrate Singapore's National Day, which falls on 9 August.  Here's Ryan in his outfit - I think he looks as though he's off for a golf game.

As promised, we had Parents Chats at the start of class. The head of the centre, Linn Mustapha, led the dialogue, with the rest of the teachers adding their comments here and there.  I realised that the Chats were meant for very general questions, eg. questions about hygiene, hand foot and mouth disease, etc., with the more specific questions to be addressed in one-to-one discussions with the concerned parent. Nevertheless, I took the chance and put up my hand to ask the teachers how I should assess whether the class is a right fit for Ryan.

Linn's answer was, "If he's happy in the class, let him continue." Well, I wasn't too happy with that answer - I mean, if Ryan is happy eating fries and ice cream for all his meals, surely I shouldn't be letting him continue doing so?

I tried again - I asked, what is it that Ryan is supposed to learn from the class? Then Linn explained the various areas that the school is addressing through the various activities.  For example, outdoor activities provide sensory play as do arts and crafts. Free play and arts and crafts encourage creativity and snacktime gives us a chance to work on social skills (saying please, thank you, etc.). Also, being in a group and working in a group builds a sense of spatial awareness and social interaction. Of course the activities like music, drama and storytelling help to develop self-expression and musical/dramatic skills.

Well, I think that the structure of playgroups in most other schools are similar - free play, music, arts and crafts, outdoor play, snacktime, etc. I'm sure these other schools also have in mind the same areas of development - sensory play, creativity, social interaction, etc.  I think that the first answer that Linn gave me - so long as Ryan is happy, keep him in the programme - is essentially telling me that things are pretty much the same whichever school we go, so there's no point changing to another school, unless of course Ryan is unhappy here. Linn's second point was to assure me that there is a lot of value in the programme content and the students do learn something useful.  In other words, I don't have to worry about what is being taught, it's all good. I just have to see if Ryan enjoys learning it.

Actually, I don't critique and analyse every activity to check its educational value or developmental value - all I want to know is that Ryan is not wasting his time. So, ok, I'm willing to take Linn's advice and let Ryan decide whether he wants to stay or go.  If at the end of the term, he wants to stay for the next term, we'll stay. I'll trust that the class activities can deliver the lessons that they are designed to deliver and I'll be happy with that.  At least Ryan is spending two hours every week doing activities which are beneficial in some way - the alternative could be that he just sits at home doing nothing, right?

I should say here that I'm actually quite happy with the class. Ryan does seem to be enjoying himself. Safina and the Mandarin teachers are fantastic (the fourth teacher - the one assisting Safina for the English portion - changes every week).  If I have to identify an "X" factor that sets this programme apart from others, the teachers would definitely be it.

Actually, I might consider switching Ryan over to the Julia Gabriel Learning Centre at East Coast in the future.  The main reason is that our new home will be nearer to that centre.  Also, Linn mentioned during Parents Chats that their East Coast branch had bigger classrooms and the class feels less cramped. This was in response to a concern raised by a parent about the large class size (20 students+20 parents+4 teachers). Linn's response was that the school was working on a solution, which would be either reducing the number of students or finding a new location where they can have bigger classrooms like at their East Coast branch.

Actually, I don't have a huge problem with the class size. I would prefer the class to be smaller of course but it's not a deal breaker for me. This is because, despite being 1 of 20 students, Ryan still gets a lot of attention from the teachers. They always look out for him and he gets a lot of adoration. Anyway, he certainly doesn't seem to mind the crowd. If anything, I think the crowd actually helps to bring out his expressiveness - "the more the merrier" sort of situation.

Anyway, that was the Parents Chats session. After the Chats, we took a class photo - Ryan's first ever! Then we had class as usual. The outdoor activity was Ryan's favourite - swimming! Ryan had loads of fun splashing about and, as usual, he was the last one to leave the tub.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Julia Gabriel Bilingual Playclub

Ryan attended PlayClub yesterday. He seemed a little more reserved compared to last week, perhaps because he hadn't had his usual nap prior to the class. He wasn't cranky though and he was still interested in the activities. I was happy to see a fellow SMH mummy (Sue Lin) with her son Cayden in Ryan's class. It's always nice to meet a friendly face.

The outside activity for that session was waterplay - the children stripped down to their diapers and played with water in troughs. Ryan loves this - he was the last one to leave and he lingered on even after the teachers packed up everything and poured away the water from the troughs. I think I will set up something similar for him when we move to our new place, he will love it.

Next week, we will be having Parent Chats in class. That's when we can have a dialogue going with the teachers, so I hope to get some insight on some thoughts that I've been having.

My first issue is that there are a large number of children in Ryan's class which makes the class a little chaotic. I'm not sure whether this makes a conducive learning environment. There are always some children running around and distracting other students from the lesson that is going on. The teachers do strive to get the children to be orderly, to sit down and to pay attention but the teachers usually fail and then they have to implore the parents to control their children. The more children there are, the more disorderliness there is and the more time is wasted.  One of the teachers told me last week that it is usually the new students who run around and don't pay attention (Ryan was an exception) and they usually settle down after a while. Ok, I understand that, but as new students join in all the time (Ryan joined in Week 4), I'm not sure that there will ever be a time when the entire class settles down.

My second question is - how exactly is Ryan supposed to benefit from this class? How will I be able to assess whether the class is right for him and whether we should continue? When I put Ryan on the waiting list for this class a few months ago, I was thinking that the class would encourage self-expression and promote self-confidence. Now, Ryan has reached an age where he is starting to talk and he seems perfectly comfortable with his level of self-expression. He's not a rowdy/noisy fellow but he's not afraid of expressing himself when he has something to say. More importantly, even if he is in fact less expressive than others, so what - I don't want him to be someone that he isn't. So how do I assess whether the class has any value-add? I suppose this would be the most pressing question for me.

On to next week then. Next week is going to be more interesting. There's Parent Chats, followed by class photo taking, and the outdoor activity is Ryan's absolute favourite - swimming!

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