Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rainbow streamers

Here's an easy activity that we did with Ryan recently. I cut some streamers from coloured crepe paper and I also cut a hole in a paper plate. Ryan stuck the streamers on the rim of the plate with glue and it was done!

Ryan had lots of fun swirling the streamers around and running through them! The crepe paper makes a gentle swooshing sound which adds to the fun.

This activity is great for fine motor skills as well as talking about colours. My intention was to talk about the seven colours of the rainbow with this activity, but you can choose any colours that you like of course.

[This post also appears in our Learning at Home section]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A necklace for daddy

We spent the whole of today out and about.  We left the house at about 9.30 am for swimming class, had lunch at Vivocity, had Shichida class, went to Paragon for some shopping and for dinner and got home close to 9 pm.

Bought a ton of stuff, mostly for Ryan. That's the way it is nowadays, I guess. Mostly books, a few games, some materials for art and craft work.

One of the things we bought was a set of plastic beads which can be used for counting, sorting, threading or sequencing/patterning. When we got home, and during Ryan's playtime, Richard opened the box and placed it in front of Ryan. Without prompting, Ryan picked up a bead and the string and started threading. Check out the video!

Check out his focus and concentration - he never looked up and just kept on going and going until he finished by which time he had almost 30 beads on that string! His fine motor skills are also pretty amazing don't you think?

When he was done, we joined the ends of the string to form a necklace and he gave it to Richard. Richard put it on and Ryan looked at it and said, "Nice!"

Ryan started his fourth term at JG Bilingual Playclub on Saturday, in the same time slot and with the same set of teachers as last term.

This will be his last term in Playclub as he will be eligible for Julia Gabriel's Edudrama programme in June when he turns 2.5 years old. The Edudrama programme is apparently for children who are 3 years but the Playclub children are "promoted" when they are 2.5 years old because they can start Edudrama with a parent-accompanied class and fly solo later when they are closer to 3 years old.

The usual lead English teacher and the usual lead Mandarin teacher were not in class today, so we had temporary replacements - Gerry Nerva and Yue Lin Laozhi. I liked the two of them, they were calm and confident and I really liked the way they handled the children.

Most of the parents and children were not new to the class, but there were still a couple of newbies and, as this was the first class of the term, Gerry took the opportunity to point out two things. Firstly, she mentioned that the English and Mandarin teachers would take turns to lead the various activities each week, so for example, this week the English teachers would lead the introduction/"fun pass" segment and the Mandarin teachers would do it next week. I've always known about this arrangement but I did ask Richard and he said that he never noticed! Haha! Well Richard only attends about two classes per term, so can't blame him. He said that, anyway, it doesn't matter to him because the class is supposed to be bilingual and the English/Mandarin switch is pretty seamless which is how it should be.

The other thing that Gerry mentioned, which I thought was pretty important, was that parents shouldn't talk to their children or to each other during the class activities as this distracts the children from the activities. The correct thing to do for the parent is to pay attention to the activity so that the child will follow suit. I thought this was useful advice because we do have the occasional child in class who is not paying attention or who is making a fuss. As for socialising among the parents, the parents in our class are very involved in what's going on and they are very focused on their children so there is actually very little interaction going on - after three terms, I still don't know any of the parents' names - so I think we pass that test!

Ryan was a little bored during class today. Although he participated in all the activities in class, I could see that he was just going through the routine. He wasn't that interested in what was actually going on. Perhaps it was just his mood that day, but I don't think so. I think he is genuinely a little bored after three terms. Nevertheless, he definitely enjoys the outdoor play segment!

[Click here to read my updated thoughts on this]

I re-read my post on our first Parents' Chats, where Linn explained to me that the class would encourage creativity, self-expression, musical/dramatic skills and social skills. Having gone through three terms and now starting our fourth, I think I can safely disagree. I think that her comments may be true for the programmes for older children, like Edudrama perhaps, but not for Playclub.

I did follow Linn's advice - so long as he's happy, keep him in the programme. Ryan has certainly enjoyed himself and so we've stuck with it. 

However, to be honest, I do not think that the programme has made much that much of an impact on Ryan's development. If you asked me whether I think Ryan has benefited from the programme, I would say yes. But if you asked me whether the programme made him the child he is today, I would say no. And if you asked me whether we could have achieved the same results without attending this programme, I would say a definite yes.

Yes, Ryan knows that you have to sit down for snack time in class and you have to put away your plate and your cup when you're done. Yes, he knows that he should give the magic box a tap when it comes around. Yes, he knows that he should put his artwork on the drying rack when he's done with it. But, all that is just part of a routine and there's no magic in that. If Ryan were not in this programme, he would still have a routine. And if you think about it, the class is only two hours a week of routine. The rest of the week, when he is not in class, Ryan still has a routine everyday, which he seems to have internalized pretty well. I think most children are already on some sort of routine in their everyday life.

As for socialization and developing social skills, frankly, I think that, at this age, these should not be of worry. It is perfectly normal for a child to play on his/her own at 2 years old. This is the time that he/she is developing a sense of personal identity and, although they like to "help" other people in small ways, it is not necessary for them to play co-operatively with others. Certainly, in Playclub, the children have never been asked to do anything that requires teaming up or depending on each other, although they all do the same activity at the same time in a close group. In fact, I think that if socialization is the goal, then being with family is the best solution because the child actually gets to interact with the people. In class, there is actually very little meaningful interaction going on. It's just a group of children in the same room. 

I also do not see how Playclub makes the children more expressive or how it encourages musical/dramatic skills. There is no segment where the children have to perform or to present anything. In fact, most of the children aren't even talking yet. Most of the time, the children are watching the teachers perform - much like watching TV or a movie. It's true that Ryan has become more talkative and expressive over the past year. But I would not attribute that to Playclub or to any sort of programme. Any normal child would become more talkative and expressive as they grow from 18 months to 26 months, with or without an enrichment programme. It's a development that will happen, whether you encourage it or not. I do know some children who have been with the centre for a while and they are very expressive for their age, but in my view, these children would have been very expressive even if they hadn't been with the centre.

I do think that the arts and crafts segment is fun, there's usually something interesting going on. However, once I understood that the point of the segment is not about creativity or art and that it is about fine motor skills (picking up little bits of paper or stickers, handling a brush, shaking the glitter out, etc.), then I was less impressed because Ryan does a lot of fine motor activities at home. 

I am not saying that the Playclub programme is no good. What I am saying is that, at this stage of development (18 to 30 months old), it doesn't make any impact on your child's development whether you send your child for these sort of enrichment classes or not. Remember that all these enrichment classes are a recent phenomenon. As recent as one generation ago, there was no Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning or anything similar. In fact, in many countries, enrichment classes for this age group is still unheard of and you will not find many early childhood educators who encourage this sort of thing for under-3s.

Nevertheless, if you're looking for a enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, then JG Bilingual Playclub is a pretty good choice. After all, Ryan enjoyed three terms of it and is going for his fourth. I would recommend it, because of its teachers and because the centre has programmes for older children that your child can take up in the future. 

Anyway, here's to a fantastic last term at Playclub!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mister Seahorse and his babies

Here's an activity that I made to reinforce colour recognition and counting.

I cut out the seahorse shapes using a template I found on the internet. The template was for twenty seahorses for a counting activity but I decided to use them (mainly) for colour recognition. I used felt but paper or foam would be fine too. I was intending to draw some eyes on them but Ryan already recognised them as seahorses and couldn't wait to start playing with them, so I didn't bother. Ryan was introduced to seahorses when we looked at sea creatures and also when we read Eric Carle's book, Mister Seahorse.

We play with these in a number of ways. Ryan will pick each seahorse up and say its colour (he actually did this naturally the first time he played with them, without any prompting from me). As he picks each one up and says its colour, he will also arrange them in a line.

Alternatively, I will arrange the seahorses in a line and get him to pass them to me one by one, based on their colour. I will ask, "Please give me the orange one" or "Where's the beige one?". Once the seahorses are all in a row, I will repeat the exercise by asking similar questions - "Which is the pink seahorse?" or "Show me the green one".

You can also make two sets of seahorses (ie. two blue ones, two red ones, etc.) and use them to play a colour matching game. Another idea is to ask your child to sort them by colour families - you can see from the photo that we have a dark green baby seahorse and a light green one, a brown one and a beige one, a dark orange and a light orange one - these can be paired up and you can teach colour gradation that way.

We do use them to count too. Obviously, the more seahorses you make, the more you can count up to.

Simple activity to make and lots of ways to play!

[This post also appears in our Learning at Home section]

Monday, March 21, 2011

A full Sunday

Swimming on Sunday was a little uncomfortable - the water was warmer than usual which made it feel heavier. The chlorine content was higher than usual, I could smell it coming off the water and Ryan was rubbing his eyes after each time he went under. I could still smell the chlorine on my skin after the post-class shower. Hope they'll adjust it back to normal next week.

This week, Ryan needed no coaxing at sticker time - he willingly left the pool to collect his reward stickers at the end of the class. Usually he lingers at the poolside and I have to get out of the pool and lead him to it.

After swimming, we swung by Liang Court for lunch and a short session at Royce Kid's Gym. We tried to go last week but our timing was off - they were just about to do a clean-up - so we thought that we'd try again this week. We weren't much earlier this week but they offered to let us in for about 30 mins, so we said yes. We haven't visited the place since we signed Ryan up and they will be increasing their rates starting April 2011 so we thought we try to squeeze as much value out of his membership! Anyway, as it turned out, 30 minutes was enough for Ryan. He was perfectly happy to leave when his session expired. I think he hadn't had enough sleep/rest and was a little tired. We visited the Meidi-ya Supermarket at the basement and then took a short walk along Clarke Quay to clock in some outdoor time. We headed home after that.

There was no Shichida class as Ryan's sensei was on leave so, after a nap, we joined some friends at Marina Barrage for a picnic, some kite flying and some games for the children (mainly involving bubbles). It was quite cloudy and the wind was down (hardly any kites were up) so I didn't bother to take any photos. When the wind finally picked up, it was already dark but we were so excited that we went ahead and got our kites up anyway! The kites flew pretty easily and it was good fun until it started drizzling and we had to pack up and leave. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable outing and we had a nice time catching up with everyone.

Ryan didn't last long upon our return home. He fell asleep before 10 pm. All in all, I think he had a good weekend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Gazillion Bubble Show

On Saturday morning, we took Ryan to see Fan Yang's Gazillion Bubble Show at Downtown East. This famous bubble and laser show has been playing in New York since 2007 and has even been featured on shows like Oprah Winfrey, where Fan Yang performed and achieved his 15th Guinness World Record (he has 16). The show was very well received when it came to Singapore last year and this year's version promised to delight with a few new segments, including an ocean of giant bubbles washing down from the stage into the audience, making you feel like you're underwater.

The evening before the show, to put Ryan in the mood, we had a bubble play session with him at home. Actually, it didn't take much to put him in the mood - once the bubbles appeared, Ryan was squealing with delight, chasing the bubbles everywhere.

With a name like Fan Yang, I was expecting an Asian man. To my surprise, Fan is the son of a Hungarian father and a Vietnamese mother and he spent his early childhood in Yugoslavia. He lives in Canada and New York now.

The show was quite enjoyable. You might think that a show about bubbles won't make much impact, but really, if you're in the frame of mind to be entertained, this show will do it. Fan performed some pretty amazing stuff and the wonderful thing was that you could sense his pride and joy in his work. From the way he looked at his creations, to the gentle and confident, almost loving, way he handled them, to the happy bounce in his step when he was in the middle of a segment, it was clear that this man is motivated by a genuine love for what he does. Fan also shared his life story and some of his personal thoughts throughout the show, which gave it a touching and inspiring feel.

Ryan was quite intrigued and, once he got used to the loud music (which took him the whole of the first half), he started clapping and making comments. For us, the highlight of the show was the part where Ryan got to go on stage! Fan was throwing little foam balls into the audience to pick volunteers and I caught the last ball! What fantastic luck! Trust me, I got a lot of envious and hateful looks from the children around me! I asked Richard to take Ryan on stage although we were not sure if Ryan would do what Fan might ask of him. As it turned out, they didn't have to do anything other than to stand there, while Fan made a wall of giant bubbles. Here're some photos (Richard is kneeling with Ryan in his arms on the extreme right).

I think that was a great experience for Ryan! As a thank you, Fan gave each volunteer a bottle of his bubble solution, and Ryan held onto his bottle throughout the rest of the show and even during lunch!

The new segment - the ocean of giant bubbles - was fantastic. I really felt like I was underwater! There were a few other new segments too, but this one was the best. Luckily, we were seated in the front and middle section of the hall, I'm not sure if the people up in the stalls managed to experience the sea of bubbles.

The last segment of the show was the laser performance by Deni Yang (Fan's son), to the music of Prodigy. This was pretty spectacular and I enjoyed it.

The end of the show
After the show, we bought some bubble makers and a large bottle of Fan's secret formula bubble solution.

As a souvenir, we got a family photo taken inside a bubble! Pretty unique, don't you think?

It was a fun morning and I'm happy that we caught the show. I think everyone, young and not-so-young, enjoys bubbles!

We had lunch at Downtown East, walked around a little and took a ride on the indoor ferris wheel before going home for a nap. Ryan wasn't too impressed with the ferris wheel, he was more interested in pointing out the numbers on the carriages.

Hey, that's number 14! (We were in carriage no. 13)
Had dinner at Parkway Parade before heading over to the Singapore Expo where Popular Bookstore was having a warehouse sale. Spent about $400 at the sale, half of which was spent on an electronic dictionary (Mandarin-English and some other languages). The dictionary is for me but recently I've been busy gathering Mandarin materials and resources for Ryan so you can expect some posts on that in the future.

Ended our night out at McDonald's at Kallang where we let Ryan burn off some energy at their very small play area. He was quite jazzed up after that and, before getting into the car to go home, insisted on practising his numbers and letters at the carpark lot. We do this quite often, especially when I send him to or fetch him from his nanny's and park at the carpark there. We go around the carpark and say out the numbers and letters that we see - the individual lot numbers, the car plate numbers and letters, the number on the speed limit sign, the letters on the walls, doors, floor (eg. "SLOW", "B1", "PUSH", "EXIT", "RESERVED"), etc. Sometimes I call out the number or the letter and Ryan runs and steps on it. It's great fun, Ryan enjoys it and I get a kick out of watching him play.

The first thing Ryan wanted to do the next morning when he woke up was to play with bubbles. He got Richard to blow some for him while I got our stuff ready for his swimming class. So it looks like he had a really good time at the bubble show!

Friday, March 18, 2011

While I was away

I have been spending the past few days catching up. Catching up on work, catching up with friends and most of all catching up with my two guys. My company trip to Bali was the first time that I've been away from them ever since Ryan was born, so it was a big step for all of us. I was going to be away from Friday morning till Sunday afternoon. We had two concerns - whether Ryan would have enough milk (breastmilk) and whether Ryan would be able to get to sleep without nursing (we co-sleep and he still nurses to sleep).

The first was the easier one to tackle. I nursed Ryan on Friday morning and left Richard with a couple of bottles of breastmilk for the rest of my trip. I asked him to rely on solids whenever he could. Richard was prudent enough with what he had to make the stock last and he even had a little leftover when I returned. I actually gave Richard licence to feed Ryan goat's milk/formula, but my dear husband knows how much it means to me that Ryan stays on breastmilk, so that's what he did. Actually, Ryan's nanny has offered him fresh milk and formula milk before but Ryan has flatly refused even to taste it.

Over in Bali, I expressed my milk. I didn't bring a pump, I just brought two bottles and some milk bags and I hand-expressed. That was the easy part. The tricky part was getting the milk back to Singapore without it going bad. I didn't bring a cooler bag/case so I had to bring the milk on board which meant that each bag could not contain more than 100 ml of milk and I could not carry more than 1000 ml in total. On the eve of my departure, I asked the hotel to store the milk bags in their freezer. Unfortunately, when they delivered the milk to me the next morning, the bags were still unfrozen. Nevertheless, the milk was still good. I had to leave the hotel at 10.30 am for a flight arriving Singapore at about 3.30 pm and, without a cooler bag, that meant that the milk would have to survive at least 5 hours unfrozen. What did I do? I didn't do anything. I just carried the bags until I boarded the flight at 1 pm (by which time they had been "unprotected" for about 2.5 hours). Once on board, I asked the crew to keep the milk for me in their fridge/freezer, which they did. When I got home, I popped the bags into my freezer and that was it.

Of course, I could only be so casual because the milk was at most 2 days old. If I had been away for longer, I would definitely have needed more back-up. I also had no worries about feeding any undetected expired milk to Ryan because he absolutely rejects it. These kids know better than we do.

The second concern was not at all easy to tackle. Richard said that, while the daytime naps were less stressful, it was tough going at night. Ryan literally spent the whole of the first night crying and thrashing about. Richard said Ryan was even pawing at his mouth showing that he needed his mummy around to suckle. Richard had to bring him through the entire house to show him that I wasn't hiding somewhere. It was heartbreaking. Richard also had to carry and hold him the whole night and I don't think Richard got any sleep at all. The second night was a little better. Not much better, just a little. There was crying, thrashing about and pawing at the mouth (some minor scratches to show for it) but Ryan was so tired that he kept falling asleep but he was stressed enough to wake up every hour or so and then cry himself back to sleep. Richard carried him throughout the night, just like the night before and let Ryan sleep on him.

It sounded like torture to me and if there was any thought in our minds of getting Ryan to stop nursing, that thought swiftly evaporated. The intensity of Ryan's reaction is a clear signal to us that he is not ready to detach (pun intended) and we are not going to force him to do anything he's not ready for. In particular, we are firmly against any strategy that gets the child to "cry it out", whether it is to achieve sleeping separately, sleeping throughout the night, weaning, or even going to school. I don't agree with those parents who ignore the child, let the child cry it out and, once the child stops crying, conclude that the child is all right. In my view, all it means when the child stops crying is that the child has finally accepted that you're not going to come to comfort him, to help him or to be with him. He may be able to deal with that knowledge. However, that's not a message we want to give to our son. If he still needs us, we'll be there.

So when I got back, the moment Ryan asked to be nursed, he got it. When it was bedtime, he was so excited that he was squealing and making little happy noises as he got into bed and prepared my side of the bed for me.

Apart from that, the days passed by quickly. On Saturday, Ryan had his end-of-term PlayClub class when he dressed up in our homemade cowboy costume, which drew lots of oohs and ahhs from the teachers. On Sunday, he skipped swimming class (it was raining) but went for Shichida and he did well in class.

As for me over in Bali, well it was nice to have some me-time but actually most of the time was spent in workshops and the rest of it was spent watching the rain. It rained everyday. I didn't see the beach at all.

The massive 9.0 earthquake over in Japan happened on the Friday that I arrived in Bali and there had also been some recent volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Indonesia issued a low tsunami alert and there was neverending coverage of the devastating impact of the tsunami and the painful aftermath on all the news channels. It was just terrible and heartbreaking to watch. On Saturday, the tsunami alert was lifted for Indonesia but many of my colleagues were still nervous enough to change their tickets and fly home as soon as the workshops ended.

I didn't change my flight but there was definitely a sense of relief when I boarded the flight home on Sunday. And when I got home, I hugged my family a little tighter and a little closer.

Japan, our prayers are with you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hello again, cowboy

I'm back! Touched down at Changi International Airport at 3.25 pm and re-united with my two boys shortly thereafter. It was such a great feeling to have Ryan run up to hug me at the arrival gate! Actually he was pretty subdued - no squealing plus he didn't say anything - I think it was because he was tired. The past two nights without me have been tough on the two of them and they haven't gotten much sleep. Still, there was a little smile on his face and he was happy to have me carry him so I think he was happy to see me! I sure am happy to see my boys!

I'll write more about our family's experience with me being away in another post. Here, I want to show you Ryan's end-of-term costume for Playclub. The theme for this term was "Things People Do" and I decided that we should make Ryan a cowboy costume!

The outfit is comprised of a vest and a pair of chaps (the leg coverings that are worn over the pants). It was pretty simple to make but quite time-consuming. It took about three hours, and that's with minimal sewing involved.

I had to do quite a bit of research on the chaps to understand what they were supposed to look like but once I got the picture, the design was quite straightforward. Here's a close-up.

Material is suede (with backing) from Spotlight. The fabric does fray a little but I think it adds to the authenticity of the look so I didn't bother to hem it. Richard cut out the stars from felt and glued them on. For the front waist clasp, I used a side-release buckle over which we slipped on a metal Levi's buckle covering. The chaps are secured over the pants legs and back using velcro on the ends of suede straps which I sewed on. This will allow us to use the chaps over any width of pant leg.

Here's a close-up of the vest.

The orange fringe on the front and back is cut from felt and glued on. The sides of the vest are tied together with strips of suede. No sewing necessary. Richard cut out the star for the back from felt and he also made the Sheriff badge from cardboard. The badge is attached using velcro.

I was toying with making a holster or a lasso, but decided against it because I thought that Ryan might fiddle with it too much and it might obstruct his movement a little. In this outfit, he was climbing up and down the playground equipment, sliding down the slides and doing his slam-dunks comfortably.

According to Richard, the outfit was a hit with the teachers and even Ryan's teachers from last term came over to check it out. Apparently, Ryan has got a reputation for turning up in home-made costumes, so the teachers were looking out for him.

Most of the parents are "new" so there wasn't much reaction from them because they thought it was store-bought! I think Richard's cardboard Sheriff badge was too professional!

Anyway, I'm very happy with how it turned out. I really like it and I hope Ryan had fun wearing it. Yee-Hah!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

While I am away

Hello lovelies, we have been busy the past few days so I have lots to update. Unfortunately I will only be able to get down to it after the weekend because I'm in Bali at the moment!

I'm here for a management retreat which means more work instead of play. Right off the bus from the airport and workshops are already starting.

I'm here without Richard and Ryan, so it is a significant milestone for our little family. It will be interesting to see how Richard, Ryan and I each fare over the next two nights. More about that when I get back.

Some trailers of what is to come:

Ryan is having his end-of-term Playclub class this Saturday and Richard and I have been working on another costume for him to wear for the party. I must say that I really like it! I have instructed Richard to take lots and lots of photos so stay tuned for that!

We have also received the photos from Ryan's party from the professional photographer. I will share some on the blog when I get back.

In the meantime, have a lovely weekend. See you back here in a few days.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Giddy-up Daddy!

This is Ryan's latest stunt!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A good day

Ryan surprised us by sleeping from 4 pm yesterday till 8 am this morning. That's 16 hours! Richard said that he probably grew an extra cm or so!

As many of you know, Ryan is a nightbird and he refuses to sleep until past midnight, sometimes close to 2 am. However, for the past few days, Ryan has been sleeping extremely early - he's out before 8 pm! His nanny says that he hasn't been taking any naps during the day. I don't know whether the lack of naps causes the early nights or vice versa. I do know that I'm not keen on him sleeping at 8 pm! I'm not able to play with him or talk with him.

Today was a better day in terms of sleep time. Ryan woke at 8 am, took a nap from about 12.30 till 2 pm and went down for the night at about 11.15 pm. We managed to make full use of the time that he was awake, and it was a good day.

As usual, Sunday began with swimming. We were very early today (for a change), and Ryan was in a good mood, having slept so well. He was active and chatty in the pool.

Ryan had a bit of a setback with the jumps off the side of the pool today. As I mentioned, last week we started putting some distance in between the parent and the child so that, once the child jumps in, the child has to swim to the parent. Today, the boy standing next to Ryan at poolside was a little scared so he sat down at the side of the pool and got his mom to come up close before he sort of slowly slipped into the pool feet first. Ryan watched him carefully and decided to do the same! He sat down and slipped into the water feet first!

Coach tried to correct this by getting the children to dive through hoops - arms and head first. Unfortunately, that boy was still scared so again, he sat down poolside, got his mom to come up close and then he slowly climbed through the hoops, feet first, into the pool. Ryan's turn was just after his and Ryan had been watching him very closely. Ryan followed his every step - climbing through and slipping into the pool feet first. Sigh. We're going to have to see how we can get Ryan to revert back to his arms and head first position.

Richard accompanied Ryan for Shichida class today and Ryan did well on his linking memory which surprised me a little because I had less time to practise with him this week (because he was sleeping so early!).

In the evening, we walked over to Telok Kurau Park for some exercise.

Practising his numbers while playing hopscotch!

When we got home, we took the chance to do some messy painting before taking a nice long bath. Went out for dinner at Parkway Parade before coming home to watch football on TV.

That was it. Relaxed but fruitful, with lots of family time. It was a good day.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Super Ryan!

The lesson for Ryan's PlayClub class this week is the colour gold and we were asked to come wearing something gold. Ryan doesn't have anything gold in his wardrobe and I certainly wasn't going to get him a gold pair of shorts or anything like that. So it was time for another project!

After tossing around some ideas, I decided to make a gold cape. Ryan likes wrapping his blanket around him like a cape and strutting about, so I've been meaning to make him a proper cape for dress-up play. This was the push I needed to get it done!

The cape was dead easy to make. There was absolutely no sewing involved, especially as I chose jersey material which doesn't fray (no fraying = no hemming!). Just measure, fold in half, cut and you've already done the hard part. Do give it a go!

Material is metallic foil jersey in gold from Spotlight.
I drew the outline free-hand then cut away the unwanted bits.
The finishing touch was ...

An orange "R"! It's Super Ryan!

Richard cut the "R" out from a sheet of adhesive-backed felt. I think it gives the cape a great personality. 

The cape can fasten around the neck, which Ryan wasn't keen on. It can also fasten onto Ryan's top, which is what you see in the pictures. I used sticky-back velcro dots for fastening. 

I think Ryan enjoyed his cape very much! He had a good session today, he had lots of attention and love from everyone. It was also his lucky day because they let the children have swimming instead of the scheduled water play.

Ryan knocked out in the car on the way home (about 4 pm) and slept till the morning. Being a superhero is hard work!

So, as mentioned, I went to visit NAFA Arts Kindergarten last Friday morning. I called up on Wednesday, two days before, to make an appointment and Friday morning was the earliest that they could have me. Richard couldn't make it, so I went with Ryan and my mum.

I was greeted upon arrival by Laura, who gave us the tour of the school. She was very good, managed to answer all my questions (although I suppose every parent asks the same questions).

The unique feature of the school is that it offers music, drama and dance classes as part of its main curriculum (in addition to the usual academics) and instructors from NAFA's School of Young Talents (SYT) conduct the classes. If the child shows potential in music/drama/dance, he/she will be recommended to SYT.

I think most parents do believe that music, (speech and) drama and dance (and movement) are valuable components that should be incorporated into their children's daily or weekly routine. Certainly, most parents we know place their children in enrichment courses for music/drama/dance, hoping to either stimulate any potential talent that their children may have or to simply provide a well-rounded education.

I know there are some pre-schools who get third-party professionals to conduct music/drama/dance courses but, usually in such cases, they are structured as "extras", i.e. you have to pay extra for your child to participate in them and the classes are held after school hours. NAFA actually builds all these classes into its main curriculum, so the children's experience of music, drama, dance and academics is seamless. The children come to regard music, drama and dance as part of their learning experience in school, as opposed to an extra enrichment class.

Yes, there are also some pre-schools that offer music/drama/dance as part of their main curriculum, but in the words of Chief Kiasu at, "If you want to learn kung fu well, would you go to Planet Fitness or go to Shaolin Temple?"

Hence, in 2008, this school was described on the forum board at as "next to impossible to get into unless you plan years ahead. It's pretty much one of the hottest, if not the hottest, in Singapore. Main reason is their focus on artistic and physical enrichment, at a very good price point. You can probably get similar services at other pre-schools, but the treatment may not be as holistic or will cost much more."

Since that time, the kindergarten has raised their fees, which I understand has eased the waiting list a little.

As for the school programme, there is the usual academics everyday (maths, science and language), including one hour of Mandarin. For English, they use the Ginn Lighthouse Series and Jolly Phonics / Jolly Grammar. For maths, they use Growing With Mathematics. Then there is one session of music or drama or dance everyday. In one week, they will have two sessions of music, two sessions of art and one session of dance.

There are the standard facilities - three playgrounds with a tricycle park, a dining area and classrooms. Then there is the art room, the dance room and two music rooms. We managed to pop in on the classes as they were being conducted and checked out all the different classrooms. Nothing fancy, but completely acceptable.

Two teachers accompany the class all the time, one speaking in English, the other in Mandarin. The same teachers follow the class throughout its three years from enrolment to graduation. I like that very much. Laura said that the turnover of teachers is relatively low, with some teachers having been with the school since the day they started operations.

I also like that they only enrol children starting with Nursery at age 4 (in some pre-schools, this is known as N2). I feel that they are on the same page as me, as I only intend to enrol Ryan at 4 (or later). They do offer pre-nursery for children aged 3 (N1 in some pre-schools) but this is only for siblings of current students.

I wouldn't say that the teachers are all huggy-feely but the children were happy so the teachers must be doing the right thing. They definitely know how to handle each child, to get the child to participate in the class activity, when to laugh with the children and when to be strict. The teachers know each of the children's names (I heard them calling the children), and I was pleasantly surprised that even Laura (who is not a teacher) was able to tell me the children's names. She even knew their personalities - she told me this particular child was very shy, etc. So, that is definitely a plus point.

In fact, I got the impression that the school looks after the children very well. For instance, they have a strict rule that the child, when arriving at the school, must be sent by his/her caregiver all the way to the classroom (or waiting area, if early) and the caregiver signs a log book each time. The child cannot simply be dropped off and be expected to walk into the classroom by him/herself. The principal is in school by 7.30 am and early comers can be sent to the principal's office to wait there. I like that, it shows a great amount of concern for the child's wellbeing.

There is no parking within the compound except during the start of the session when the children are being sent to school. At all other times, the front gate is locked and guarded and no cars are allowed in because sometimes the children are allowed to come out onto the driveway to do activities like drawing on the sidewalk/driveway. I read someone's comment in a forum that she was shocked that the children were allowed to have outdoor activities in the driveway as they might fall and hurt themselves on the rough ground. Umm, ok, I guess I'm not that sort of parent. I actually like the idea of my son being outdoors, whether it is on the driveway, on the artificial playground turf, on the sand or on the grass.

Another thumbs-up for the school - walking from our home, I can reach the back gate of the school in five minutes!

Overall, I got a very warm feeling while I was there. I felt that the teachers were genuinely interested in the children's development and all-round education. I felt that a lot of thought had been put into not only the programme, but also the simple things like how your child arrives in school everyday and how he gets to the toilet (the nursery classrooms are the nearest to the toilets and the nursery children are always accompanied).

I had a discussion with Richard on it, and we agreed that this is definitely a strong candidate for our final choice of pre-school.

(Edit: In October 2012, NAFA offered us a place for Ryan in their Nursery level starting in Term 2, March 2013, afternoon session. We turned down the place and asked to be put on the waitlist for a morning session.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hanging out at the park with Grandma

I was on leave on Monday and took the opportunity to check out Telok Kurau Park in the evening. It's at Lor J, next to the Siglap Canal.

Ryan wasn't too keen on walking so I had to carry him all the way there. Thankfully, it is just a short walk from our home via the Siglap Park Connector. Once we got there and crossed the basketball court, Ryan saw the playground and from then on, there was no stopping him. He ran the remainder of the way and got onto the playground equipment without hesitation, squealing with delight. He attacked the slides and climbing apparatus with gusto, shrieking and shouting. My mum was amazed, she said she always thought Ryan was kind of fragile. She was surprised that he is actually quite fearless.

I left my mum to supervise Ryan. Ryan is still in his sticky stage so he has not been very friendly to my mum during her trip here, unlike on previous trips. Nevertheless, while he was leaping about on the playground equipment, he was happy enough to let my mum help him up and down. So it was a good chance for them to bond.

There were a lot of children at the playground, all happily playing with each other. I also met an ex-colleague there, who was with his wife and 5-year old daughter. He said that his daughter was schooling at the PCF kindergarten nearby and some of the children at the playground were her classmates. I like that, such a homely and neighbourly feeling.

The playground is only part of the park. The park is quite spacious, there is a fitness section, a basketball court, and lots of green space. Perhaps next time we'll explore the rest of it. I know Ryan would love to go there again!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How we spent the rest of our Sunday

Richard flying our little blue kite!

Me, not doing a good job of kite flying

Ryan hooked up with two brothers for some football

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