Monday, October 31, 2011

A short intermission

After posting nearly every day for the past two months, it's time for a short break. I plan to spend some time pursuing a few small projects, so I'm going to take a week's break from this blog to do that. I've not been producing much "output" ever since I stopped making costumes for Ryan (see here, here, here, here and here) and ever since I finished the quiet book. All the inspirational "input" is building up in my head and needs to get out!

I also need some time to beef up our home practice materials and write up some more notes on Shichida for the blog (those notes take days to write!). I'll share some of the materials when I get back.

So don't go too far away! I'll be back real soon.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our slow weekend zipped by

The funny thing about slowing down and doing nothing over the weekend is that, when Sunday night approaches, you wonder, "Hey, where did my weekend go? I haven't done anything and it's back to work already?!!"


Truly, we didn't get up to much this weekend. When Ryan was not having classes, we preferred to just stay in. We took long naps, drove out nearby for meals, resisted going out to town for the 20% storewide sale at Kinokuniya, and played with Ryan at home.

We built dominos - tricky! This one took us four tries!

Ryan did some painting (under Richard's supervision). These were done with poster colours.

Hope your weekend was relaxing!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Recent creations

Last night, Ryan made this. It's a DIY bead maze/bead coaster. Cool, huh? In addition to promoting creativity and fine motor skills, it also provides lots of fun when Ryan plays with it post-construction.

We bought the set from Malaysia on our recent trip there. Actually, we bought two sets so that we could make a huge maze! Each set cost RM49.90. This is the back of the box, which shows suggestions for designs  (yes, it is made in China). Ryan didn't follow these suggestions though, he did his own thing.

The next creation was made by Richard and me, bearing in mind that Halloween is approaching. Spiders on a spider-web! Ryan says, "Spi-yer!!"

The spiders are made from pipe-cleaners and the web is just some thread wrapped around a styrofoam board. I stuck a round magnet on a strip of styrofoam for Ryan to pick up the spiders. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Being slow

I'm feeling a little out of sync at the moment. I'm looking forward to the weekend and some slowness. I want to be quiet and thoughtful for a while. I always have a dozen inspirations in my mind at one time - little projects I want to execute, interesting topics I want to toss around in my mind, improvements I want to make. It's all been building up and I'm getting itchy. You know me, I always need a creative project, and it's been some time since I tackled one. I need to hide away for a while so that I can stop accumulating inspirations and instead, start analysing and filtering them and get to work on realising the worthwhile ones.

In other news, one of my colleagues had a birthday which we celebrated in the office with a spread of food (including homemade muffins and a birthday cake, of course). She let me have this huge leaf from the bouquet of flowers we bought for her and I brought it home to show Ryan, mainly because of its size and the two (natural) holes in the centre.

When I showed it to Ryan, Ryan said, "nice green leaf". He was referring to the part of the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar where, after suffering a stomachache from eating lots of junk food, "The caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better." The "nice green leaf" in the story is full of holes from where the caterpillar ate through it, like this leaf.

Here's hoping you have a nice quiet weekend too.

By the way, my review on the book, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss is up at our Learning at Home section!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Ryan Wore

Ryan's nanny just got back from a holiday in Bangkok and Ryan got loads of gifts, including this outfit.

Top: Ovo babies
Bottom: Cotton On Kids

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back from our holiday

We are driving back to Singapore today. Ryan had a fabulous time with his cousins (he spent almost every night playing till late at their house) and we had a wonderful time catching up with family and friends.

One of the highlights of the trip was our outing to MV Logos Hope, the world's largest floating book fair. It's basically a large ship that travels the world bringing books to everyone. It was docked at Glenn Cruise Terminal in Port Klang and Margaret took us out there on its last day. We picked up loads of books for Ryan! You can see some photos of the ship on Richard's tumblr.

Having ice-cream at the ship's cafe!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning to blend letter sounds

After Ryan learned the letter names and the letter sounds, he started blending the letter sounds to read simple words. To be honest, we did not expect him to start doing that until he was much older. He really surprised us when he showed us that he could.

Here, I'll share some of the items we have around the house that relate to blending. I would also say that, if your child is not familiar with the letter names and the letter sounds, please don't bother him with blending. He's not going to understand it, he's not going to enjoy it and he's just going to be stressed out and turned off.

I should also say that we don't sit down with Ryan and go through words with him. It happens spontaneously and naturally throughout the day while we are doing other activities. We don't have any structured lessons or anything like that.

Ok, the best thing to do is of course to talk, read and sing to your child as much as possible, to let him familiarise himself with the different sounds in words. I can't emphasise this enough - this is the best thing you can do and the thing that you should do.

Off and on we will sound out a word for him - for example, if we see a dog, we will talk about the dog, what it's doing, what sound it makes, whether it looks like our dog at home, etc. We will sound out the word "DOG" for him - /d/, /o/, /g/ and then we will blend the sounds for him. We do it both orally and also with written words when we see words in the carpark, at the supermarket, on the way to the playground, etc. We seldom do it while reading a story as it can be disruptive.

Sometimes Ryan will say a letter or a letter sound and I will build on that. So if he says "/b/!", I might say, "/b/ for ...?" He might say ball, then I might ask, "Yes, /b/ for ball! Any other /b/ words?" Then we'll go on and on for as long as he's interested.

We have "mobile" letters everywhere - alphabet biscuits, alphabet blocks, alphabet stickers, etc. All can be used to put words together. We also have a set of giant upper and lower case alphabet stamps.

We bought a DVD from Leapfrog called the Talking Words Factory. It's fun and it demonstrates simple blending in a way that is easy to understand. It is a sequel of sorts to the Letter Factory although you don't have to watch the first to watch this one. You just have to know the letter names and sounds. Ryan absolutely loves it. I should mention that it only teaches basic blending using word families so if you are looking for something comprehensive or if you prefer other methods of blending, this may not be up your alley.

Much much later, we bought another DVD called Letter Sounds by Rock 'N' Learn. I have to warn you that this DVD is quite "dry" compared to Leapfrog's entertaining material. It is actually for children 4-7 years old who are ready for phonics. If your child is not familiar with letter names and sounds, he's not going to last through the whole DVD. Ryan does enjoy it but he still much prefers the Leapfrog material.

We also have an iPhone app called Word Wagon by Duck Duck Moose. The blending at the phonic blending level is not as clear as it could be, but I think Ryan just enjoys fitting the letters into the slots. I would not recommend this for learning blending, but if your child already knows some blending, it's not a bad app. It also teaches letters and spelling.

In this photo, Ryan is playing with Leapfrog's Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder. It was a birthday gift from a dear friend. We put it up as soon as we got it, when Ryan was still learning his letter names and sounds. It didn't get much love and attention until fairly recently. Anyway, as you can see from the photo, Ryan can use it to create CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant).

We have some simple books to help with blending. I won't mention them just yet, because we are not using them much. We are still doing our usual reading routine - reading aloud to Ryan and just enjoying the story and the pictures, and we'll probably continue with that for a long time.

That's about it, really. Although Ryan can read simple words (simple blends and some sight words), we are not really focusing on blending right now. We are still concentrating on early literacy and pre-reading skills, to give Ryan a solid and strong foundation for reading, plus we still believe that we don't have to rush into learning to read at his age.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011


I popped into IKEA with Ryan on Friday morning to pick up a few small items. Ryan is not yet tall enough to enter their children's play area, but that's ok because the whole store is his playground.

These next few shots were taken on our previous trip to IKEA, when Richard was with us.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recent creations

These were done with watercolours.

These were done with poster colours.

Another piece done with watercolours.

These were done with acrylics.

We are in Malaysia at the moment, spending time with family and friends. Hope you are also having a great weekend with your loved ones.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Sometimes I think, what if, God forbid, something were to happen to me, to Richard or to Ryan? I cry just thinking about it, yes I can cry about something completely made up. Still it is something that scares me shitless and breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces.

If you've been a weapon for Charmaine, you'll know that she's in a better place now. Please pray for her mother, Cynthia, and her brother, Jase. It is a terrible burden to bear.

Friday, October 21, 2011

At home with Ryan

Ryan's nanny is taking a family holiday so I have Ryan all to myself this Thursday and Friday. On Thursday morning, we went to the market for a simple breakfast and spent the rest of the morning at home, playing and reading. And dancing, of course.

While we played, we incorporated some Shichida home practice as well - we pretended to be airplanes for image play; we did some ESP games and some memory games (Ryan aced them all); and we did some dots cards.

I mentioned that Ryan has a new sensei for Shichida class this term, after two years of being with Teacher Nuraini. Last week, after class, Ryan's new sensei heaped praises on Ryan, saying he is such a bright child. She said that Teacher Nuraini had told her that Ryan was a bright child and that she could see it too. It reassured me a lot that Ryan's sensei believes in his abilities. I was also grateful to Teacher Nuraini for looking out for Ryan and passing on a good word.

We played a few games with letters and words today, working with different materials. I mentioned in an earlier post that we use stickers quite a lot when we play, and we did today. I thought I'd share a couple of these games with you.

The first one is very simple. We got stickers of different types of vehicles and we put their names together with stickers. Here's Ryan with bus and car on his hands - these were subsequently transferred onto paper together with the rest of the vehicles. Placing the stickers on himself made it kind of special, I guess. He did a dance while he had them stuck on him!

Next is this matching game. If you look closely, you can see letters on the sheet of paper. Ryan stuck each one on and then looked for the corresponding animal. The animal then gets placed next to the letter. We ran out of animals so we couldn't finish the alphabet - where can I get an animal that starts with X?

In the evening, it was painting again! Ryan couldn't wait to get started - he was hurrying Richard to set up the table!

This time Richard brought out his old acrylic paints. Yes, Richard's paints, not Ryan's! Richard used to take Art as a subject in school and art has always been an area of interest for him. He loves to buy books on artists and their work. Still, I think he has not touched these paints for years!

Here's Richard helping Ryan with the brown paint - it was so hard! Some of the colours were still soft though, funnily enough.

After some free hand painting, Richard guided Ryan to paint The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Looks good! Ryan kept saying, "Hungry Cat-per!"

Next Ryan picked an animal to paint from Eric Carle's "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" - he picked the brown bear. I don't have a photo of them painting the brown bear though. I only have a photo of the final product. I'll put up a post with all the pieces done over the past few evenings - some are not too bad!

Ok, that's it. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Little Wonders

Sometimes I look at my little son and I wish I could freeze time.

I pack away clothes that he's outgrown, toys that he no longer plays with, little mittens, little socks. Every new piece of clothing means he is a little older, a little less a baby. Every new pair of shoes is a reluctant step for me. It's great that he's growing up well, but there's always a tinge of loss.

I want him to always be this exuberant, this reckless, this innocent, this loving, little boy. Untouched, unblemished, unjaded. I watch him skip and dance on the path, making sure that he never misses a puddle. I pick him up and feel him sink into my body and I hug him tighter knowing that there will soon be a day when he won't need a lift anymore. I throw him in the air and swing him about, watching his face light up with a huge grin, all the while trusting that I will not let him fall. I never want to risk losing that trust.

When we're reading, he wants to sit on my lap or pressed right up against my side. He takes my hands and insists that I keep them wrapped around him. When I fetch him from his nanny's place, he greets me with a tight hug. He may be preoccupied with something but he still wants us to hold hands. When he sleeps, he needs my arms around him. He fits perfectly in the crook of my arm. He can't get enough of me and I can't get enough of him. Please can it stay like that for always?

Everytime he says a new word, it hits me like a brick. It's happening, whether I like it or not. He recites the days of the week and the months of the year and I praise him, marvelling at how he learned them after his nanny recited them just twice. Inside, I'm silently screaming "Stop!". I hear him say, "Mama" and I tell him to say it over and over again. I tell him "I love you, I love you, I love you" - I can't say it enough.

I look at the three of us, our little happy family and I think of how these precious moments will eventually become happy memories stored under "the way it used to be". Memories from a time gone by. I know there is a lot more down the road, a lot more happiness, a lot more joy. Many more moments waiting to become happy memories. But sometimes, I just want time to stop. I tell myself to slow down, to stop worrying about the future, to savour every moment of these tender years. To hang on tight to this amazing feeling.

Let it go, let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know the hardest part is over?
Let it in, let your clarity define you
In the end we will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are made in these small hours
These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate
Time falls away but these small hours
These small hours still remain

- from "Little Wonders" by Rob Thomas

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


We haven't been doing much work with paints for a while. We've mostly been using markers, crayons and stampers for artwork. Nevertheless, we wanted to get back to handling paints so, for the past couple of evenings, we have been setting aside time for Ryan to do that.

Ryan has handled finger paints and poster paints before so we decided to teach him something new - how to paint with watercolours. Here's a Youtube video (about 1.3 mins) of Richard showing him how to apply the watercolours, how to wash his brush between colours, how much pressure to use, how he can manipulate the brush in different ways to get different effects, etc.

After that demonstration, we let Ryan loose and he painted a few pieces on his own. He enjoyed it lots!

The next evening, we brought the poster paints out. Here's Ryan getting down to it.

Back to the watercolours!

Discussing what colour to use next.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Learning Letter Sounds

While Ryan was learning the letter names, we would mention the letter sounds here and there, but he ignored us; he loved his letters so much. We let him take things at his own pace and, after a while, he started showing some interest when we mentioned the letter sounds. He then got into letter sounds very quickly and smoothly. Here, I’ll share some of the materials we have at home on letter sounds.

I should first say that I was able to teach Ryan letter sounds because I know them. I read both phonetically and by sight when I was a child, and in fact, mostly phonetically as I was phonetically taught more than one alphabetic language. If you want to teach letter sounds but are not familiar with them, do find out from a reliable source what the letter sounds are beforehand and make sure you have the correct sound for each letter, it may not be what you think it is. For instance, I hear many people say that the letter sound “M” is “muh”, which is wrong. The correct letter sound for “M” is “mmm” as in “This is delicious, mmm…!” The sound for “F” is not “fuh”, the sound for “V” is not “vuh” and the sound for “L” may surprise you!

At the moment, Ryan knows 26 letter sounds, one for each letter of the alphabet. However, some letters have more than one sound. For example, “C” has a hard sound, as in “cat” and a soft sound, as in “city”. You can teach more than one sound for each letter at one go of course, but we chose to do only one for now. We also did not teach sounds like “wh” and “ck”. We'll get around to all that in good time, no hurry. In the English language, there are approximately 36-46 sounds altogether (depending on which source you refer to). I would add that some sounds can have more than one representation, for example, the sound /k/ can be represented by c, k, ck, ch, or q.  

Learning the letter sounds is not learning phonics. Instead, it is part of phonemic awareness, which is pre-phonics, it is the basis for moving on to learn phonics. I've put up a post to explain phonemic awareness at our Learning at Home section. Put simply, all the letter sounds and sounds like "wh" and "ck" are known as phonemes and phonemic awareness is the ability to discern these sounds in words and to manipulate them. (Note that a phoneme is not the same thing as a syllable.)

Ok, let's get into the materials that we used with Ryan. I didn't take any photos, but have provided the links where I can find them.

Let me start with what we do in Shichida class. When Ryan was in the class for 1-year olds, we would sing a song called "The Phonics Song" (we still do it from time to time now in the class for 2 year olds). The lyrics go like this, "A says /æ/, /æ/, Apple; B says /b/, /b/, Bear; C says /k/, /k/, Cow; D says /d/, /d/, Dog" and so on. As the song plays, the sensei shows a picture of each letter and a picture of each object. The cards are not flashed; they are shown in tandem with the lyrics of the song (much slower than flashing speed). Ryan enjoyed this although we noted that there were some errors - for example, the sound for "M" is "muh" (which is wrong). I should add that the children are never tested on their knowledge of letter sounds in Shichida class. They just listen to and enjoy the song (of course they can sing along if they know it).

At home, I would definitely say that the best things we did were to read (a lot) to Ryan and to play a lot of games with letters and words. You've seen one of our games in this post. We use a few different sets of these alphabet/word/picture cards, which helps to keep things fresh and interesting.

I've also shown you the items we bought for letter names (see this post and this post). We use these items to play games with letter sounds, they work just as well.

The very first item we bought that was dedicated to phonics was actually this Phonics Desk from ELC. Actually we bought this much too early, even before Ryan learned the alphabet. We grabbed it because we needed to make up 7 items to qualify for a discount. Ryan was less than a year old then and he didn't appreciate it at all. We have not re-introduced it though, we've put it aside in favour of other games.

Learning letter sounds is an auditory process so, in addition to playing games with Ryan and talking/reading to him, we do use things like CDs, DVDs and yes, the iPhone/iPad, to deliver the letter sounds. He usually  plays with these when we are unable to give him our full attention, like when I am driving or when I am busy with something. I am not fond of them. Nevertheless I have to give credit where credit is due.

One iPhone app which played a big part in introducing the letter sounds was the Starfall ABCs app. It wasn't available on the Ipad when we bought it but it is now. Ryan loved this app from the very first time he played it, and still does, and I do believe that he learned a lot from this app.

Another app which we bought for the iPhone was AlphaTots, which Ryan enjoys very much. We bought this many months after the Starfall ABCs app, by which time Ryan was very familiar with letter sounds and it was good reinforcement. The good thing is that it includes a lot of verbs. For example, for the letter "L", you get "launch" and for the letter "R" you get "recycle". There are also a lot of fun things for the child to do for each letter. For "K", he has to try to kick a goal! The app also has the famous alphabet song. It is now available on the iPad as well.

On the iPad, we actually didn't have anything until very recently when we bought Elmo loves ABCs, which has songs and videos for letters. Ryan loves this very much.

A very good DVD for introducing letter sounds is the Leapfrog Letter Factory DVD. After seeing the wonderful response to Leapfrog's Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park (which I mentioned last week), we snapped up all the Leapfrog DVDs we could find, including this one. Ryan watched this over and over again and still does.

For CDs, I played a Letterland CD in my car for a few weeks. Let me clarify that we do not depend on Letterland (or any other system of phonics) to teach Ryan. We do, nevertheless, have that CD and a few Letterland books (Ryan just picks out the letters, he doesn't bother about the characters). The CD was fun and Ryan even sang along to some of the songs, but on its own, it was not instructive in terms of relating to letter sounds. We were just listening "blindly" in the car. I mean, the "A" song goes "Annie Apple, she says /æ/, she says /æ/, she says /æ/, Annie Apple she says /æ/, she belongs to Mr A" (to the tune of London Bridge is falling down). Err, fun but, like I said, not very instructive without using the Letterland books. Ryan listened to that CD for weeks, but he still does not know who or what Annie Apple or Bouncy Ben is. If you use it with the books with the pictures of the characters, it will be much more meaningful.

Subsequently we got a Leapfrog CD as part of this set we bought online. The songs were familiar to Ryan because he had watched the DVDs from where the songs were taken. Ryan loves it! This CD includes songs about letters, numbers, and math concepts.

I did not bother buying an alphabet wall chart. In my view, many alphabet wall charts are not helpful for teaching letter sounds. They simply present words that begin with the particular letter, not necessarily the phoneme that the letter usually represents. For example, you usually see xylophone or x-ray for the letter "X" but I would prefer Ryan to learn the phoneme "ks" as in fox. Ryan does come across x-ray and xylophone when we read books but that's all right because the words appear in context. Please read this article which explains it further.

Last but not least, we read and read and read aloud to Ryan, plus we sing lots of songs!

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

A different point of view

Here're ten from Richard's latest phone dump. Enjoy! (You know where to go for more!)

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