Friday, January 23, 2015

Parenting with love: dealing with 'mistakes'

It was over a dinner a few days ago when Dumpling went “Mama, I made a careless mistake today. I forgot to fill in the HYPY for my Chinese class work.”

That started a long dinner where she was visibly upset and told me a friend of hers had an A star. She got even madder when I said that her classmate may be better at that task this round but we can always improve the next.

She started tearing and started losing her cool.

Then I realized that she was hurt that I said the other kid was ‘better’.

Sigh. My kiddo is a paradox all on her own – she is intense yet sensitive, mature yet throws the most childlike tantrums at times. Moments like these when I see her trembling lips, I have to bite mine and pray for patience.

Me: “Baby, it is ok, all of us make careless mistakes.”

Her: “No, it is not OK!”

Me: “You will do better next time then.”

Her: “You feel that my classmate is better.”

Me: (inwardly sighing because the Type A genes is from who else but moi?) “Baby, there is a difference between being better at something and just better.”

Her: stoic silence and then she pushed me away with a pencil.

Me: “That hurts ok! Stop doing that. I am not angry nor am I disappointed. Is it a pity, well yes because I know you can do it and you know that you can do it? But is it the end of the world, no. There will be many more instances where we make mistakes, sometimes careless and other times, genuine mistakes.”

Her: eyes brimming with tears

Me: “Why are you upset with me?”

Her: stoic silence

Me: (prayed for grace and it suddenly came to me) “Baby?” (she looked up) “I am really sorry that you are feeling that way. I did not mean to hurt you. Can I give you a hug?”

Her: (bawling her eyes out) "I am so upset with myself! I know that I can do it yet I am so careless. I am so disappointed Mama!!!"

I hugged her till her fat tears trickled to a stop and I felt so guilty. Why? Type A genes aside, it suddenly hit me that as adults, when we go through school work with them, we often chide and nag at them for being careless. It leaves almost no room for them to make mistakes.

It did not occur to me that by doing so, we have unconsciously placed ourselves high up on the pedestal where as parents, we can do no wrong and we have never made any mistakes! All our children hear from us are “why is this not done?” or “Why were you so careless?”

I then spent the rest of the hour sharing stories of some silly mistakes I made, how I double up with a coworker at work to vet and proof read advertisements etc., and that I did not pass my driving exam on the first try!

The society and its expectations are moving along so fast at times, that I often forget that my kid is all but 6. Her little legs may not catch up with me and she may not write as fast as I would like for her, but I realized that time with her and these precious moments where we are ‘present’ and where she enjoys her childhood are far more precious than any ‘mistakes’. 

A buddy with me with this quote today and I would like to share it with you.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Primary One: the 6 things I learnt

Just like that, Dumpling has finished her second week of formal education in Primary School and is attending her third week now. It has been a learning curve for her as much as it has been for me: the-getting-to-know-the-classmates-parents, the mad bento preparation in the morning, teaching her to look at the timetable and pack her school bag, getting her to look through her journal so that we know what homework she has, etc., and the list goes on.

And just like that (and with some dramatic flair *drum rolls*) she's suddenly more grown up and frankly, seems more ready to tackle the weeks ahead than me. Along the way, I learnt as much as the kid, but in different areas. :) Here's sharing some tips with you parents who with children going to P1 next year!

1) Label, label, label! 
Kids lose their belongings and this is a norm. Dumpling has been very blessed to have good teachers who would remind the children to stow and pack away their belongings daily. So far, there has only been one incident where Dumpling left her entire pencil case, yes, ENTIRE pencil case in class. This along with her journal which has records of her daily task / homework.

The good thing is that her school is a single session school so there were no afternoon classes and her items were still there, under her desk the next day. But there have been incidents where she left her lunch bag in the canteen and had to go back to get it. This is where the labels come in handy. We also labelled her shoes as well as her uniforms - pinafore, tee and shorts!

I have been using the value kits from Bright Star Kids labels since Dumpling started attending her Chinese play classes at 18 months and have not looked back. The totally neat thing about this site is that you are able to choose and customize your labels and even preview the artwork before placing an order. Besides the usual pencil labels and book labels, the link above points to a School Labels Value Kit which also includes iron on labels for the uniforms! Some of the labels have been in use for more than 2 years and they have not peeled off. The downside is that they do not have Chinese font at the moment.

2) PVC and Velcro shoes

During my days (yes, I am that old), it was canvas and I recalled having to wash them every Friday evening and then to 'paint' them once they are dried over the weekends. Come this day and age, I suddenly realised that our children have so many choices. For these lower age group children, I strongly recommend PVC shoes with velcro straps. Shoelaces will not be a practical choice for these 7YOs. When we went shoe shopping, there were choices ranging from $20+ to 40+ (and even more). Because the kids spend a fair bit of time walking to and fro (to school hall, canteen, classrooms, washrooms, library, general office, etc.) and that they now have PE lessons weekly, we decided to go with a pair that has a thicker cushioning for better support and comfort. We got ours from Adidas. 

3) Purse
I am a tad paranoid about my kiddo losing her purse and then having to starve the whole day till school ends. So, I reached out to a GF of mine who deals in handmade items and got her to sew a small purse (with an outside zip compartment) AND a strap where the strap is placed through the belt loop. With the back zip compartment, I will place 2 sheets of tissue paper in there for her to use it. It has worked well so far. :)

4) Bento
I am a bento-ing mum who's into her third week of daily morning bentos for the kiddo. On the few occasions that I have been to the school, I noted that there are only 4 stalls in operation. It's simple arithmetic for me. The girls get staggered recess so Dumpling shares a recess time with the P2s. So, technically we have 12 classes of students (avg. of 30 kids?) attempting to queue and eat within 30mins of recess time. That equates to about 360 children. Even if 40% bentos, we still have about more than 200 children queuing up for 4 stalls. Frankly that worries me a bit. Hence, my bento engine restarted. 

Things that I learnt so far:
i) Separate the fruits
If you have a fussy kid like mine, you will need pack your fruits separately when you prepare for items like noodles / rice. The noodles would end up covering the fruits and well, my kid will not touch the fruits then because it is messy. :/

ii) Time saving egg in bread roll! 
Baked egg items are lovely for days that you are in a mad rush. You basically dig out the bread centre (excluding the base) and crack an egg into the 'hole'. Add a dash of herbs and sprinkle some cheese. Pop it into the oven at 170/180 degrees C and bake it for about 20 mins. (Do check on this after 15 mins especially if your oven runs hotter than usual) So this basically frees you up for 20 mins! 

iii) Bite Size
Food that are bite size are often useful. For e.g. Buns / Sandwiches/ Wraps / Mini Shepherds Pie. They are generally nifty and I see that the kiddo finishes more when they are presented that way.  

5) Schedule
As a FTWM I need to be able to have information easily and this is where schedules help me. I have 2 copies of her school's time table. One is on my fridge and the other is in her school bag where we look at packing her bag with her every evening. 

So how I manage to bento daily is that I have a menu plan too. The system works for me as it basically frees me from pondering and panicking every evening. Just 20-30 mins prep and it lasts me for 3 weeks before I repeat the items (unless she asks for the repeats). 

To the right of my menu planner, I also have columns where I indicated if there is veg in these items as I try very hard to make it a balanced diet. 

6) Network
As a homeschooling mum previously, I have basically sort of gotten used to be hands-on. With the kiddo attending formal school, I still intended to be very involved. During week 1, I was on half day leave with the intention to help ease the kiddo into her transition. After hanging around in the canteen, it became very clear that I would not be able to meet most of the parents to get their contacts so as to start a WhatsApp chat group. 

So, I decided to print out some cards and got the kid to hand them out during her recess to her classmates. (I informed the form teacher prior who advised that recess time is the best time for Dumpling to distribute.) It was also a good experience for Dumpling to introduce herself to her classmates too! 

Bit by bit, within a week, I got the response. The network is important because it allows me to cross check matters on homework, etc., with the parents. For e.g. there was a slight confusion on the spelling list. On a summary list, it was stated that "Dan, the Flying Man" list will be tested during week 3. However, on Dan's list, it was stated as week 4! I would not have noticed till much later, until a mum in the group pointed it out. :) 

So there you have it! My 6 survivor tips for P1 so far!  

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Monday, December 29, 2014

A teary goodbye

Dumpling officially ended her stay at her Chinese school on Boxing Day. She has been attending daily Chinese classes there since 18 months and as THE day drew closer, we were both feeling a tad unsure and a tad sad too.

4.5 years ago, I was on the hunt for a preschool for the kiddo. The kiddo, then, had just started attending a weekly mum and kiddo accompanied weekend class. We then came to know that the school started a pure Chinese PG daily drop off class and the owner (then) casually mentioned that option to me. At that point in time, I had actually made a registration with a different preschool. Maybe it is me being paranoid (likely) or me being neurotic (highly likely), I decided that Dumpling needed more help in the Chinese language and I could homeschool the rest on my own till K2. And I did just that.

A long journey of more than 5 years of home learning with 'formal' homeschooling of 4.5 years where every evening we would read, learn through unit studies, learn about Math and when we can, do Science experiments too. It wasn't a very usual decision and it definitely was not an easy journey. Having said that, anyone who knows me well, would know that I rarely make usual and easy decisions. LOL

After 4.5 years of being exposed to 3 hours of Chinese language on an almost daily basis, I must say that I made the right decision for Dumpling and for us. For Dumpling, it is that incidental learning and the daily exposure to the sound of the language, the vocabulary and the learning through play where the language revolves around craft work, poem recitation, songs, etc. that worked for her.

What I also like from her pure Chinese learning journey is also the exposure to vocabulary and words that I have never learnt before. She did a 10-week theme a few years ago on Countries and Culture with a focus on food. I was really impressed that she came home sharing the Chinese names for Taj Mahal, White House and even food names such as Pratas!

Mastering a language for me is more than just being able to do 听写 (Chinese Spelling) and being able to complete worksheets. It is being able to communicate and use the language in her daily life too. Hence I make it a point to let her queue and buy her own food at the food centre or even help me with grocery shopping at wet markets where she is able to use the language.

She likes the language so far and while her sentence structure is not all that great (spoken), her diction is spot on. She doesn't like writing that much but in the recent PTC, the teachers have both commended on how far she has grown in terms of her perseverance and penmanship.

And my goodness, look at how much she has grown over the past 3.5 years!

(Her first day of being in the school uniform almost 3.5 years ago.) 

(Taken on her last day of school on Boxing Day)

On the morning of her last day, she told me that she was a bit sad that she will not be attending her Chinese classes anymore. She also added that she will miss her teachers and her friends. My heart ached a little and I struggled to find the words to comfort her for once. I could only hug her and assure her that we will head back to visit her teachers. 

While there have been operational issues here and there at the centre (and friends have asked me why the decision to continue her in the Chinese classes), I would say that it is mainly due to 3 reasons. Firstly, I am still anal about the daily Chinese immersion. Secondly, her teachers have been really great and carting, and lastly, the environment is just the right fit for her. On the homefront I believe that we have been doing great and she's also developed into an avid reader. She has truly "come into her own" and grown to be a sensible and a confident young lady. 

For her graduation concert, she led a Chinese dance segment which she put up a wonderful performance. 

(She spotted me...)

(Broke into her trademark smile at the sight of me holding my camera LOL)

It was a Peacock Dance! The class has practised this dance for a few months and just a week before the concert, she was diagnosed with a mild case of HFMD. That gave us quite a fright but with God's grace, she got well enough to participate and even join in the full dress rehearsal :)

It has been a hard, tiring and yet wonderfully amazing journey of homelearning with her on Chinese (as I believe in supporting from home) and homeschooling on English, Math and even Science. It is through this homeschool journey that our bond is cemented and where I have been honored and thankful to have witnessed her growth and her little successes and milestones. 

It is definitely a road less travelled and not for the fainthearted. I have given up many years of social life and my weekends are burnt with kids' activities but I would not have wanted it any other way. If I were able to go back into time, I would still have picked the same journey and done the same thing :)

To Dumpling's Chinese teachers for the past few years, 
"Thank you very much for your support, love and for the care you have showered her so abundantly with. 

We have been very blessed to have you in her life and early formative years. I am often amazed at how much she loves the language and I thank you for partnering with me and 'supporting' us on our Chinese homelearning journey too. As she starts a new chapter in her life, I am sure that you have given her the foundation to bloom and succeed.”


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Unit Study: Ancient China

“So, will you still be teaching her from home when she goes into Primary School?” I have been asked the question quite a few times over the past few weeks. I have also been toying with the thought quite a bit because friends with kids who are already in Primary school have said that once formal school starts, there wouldn’t be time to do any other activities / learning. Well, that certainly is a bummer for me as I strongly believe that there is more to life than being textbook smart and we have always had fun reading, learning and discussing through unit studies and activities which are Science or GK based.

But just when I thought to slow down in December, Dumpling told me one day that she wanted to learn more about China. Ancient China that is. That started a flurry of prep activities on my end as I had to research and read up on information that has long been passed back to the teachers! LOL

My style has never been the worksheet driven kind of approach and in true Mama Sue style, I decided to make it a travel adventure for the kiddo with these:

An activity book in the form of a passport AND a boarding pass!

When she was younger, I used to set up theme tables with thematic books, craft materials, relevant displays / sensory bin on a daily basis for our thematic study. It was fun for her to suddenly enter the room and see the set up and know that we have new activities to have fun and learn from. But as she got older and is able to be left to read independently, she would often be a few steps ahead and finish the books before I can even "work" with her on the topics!

(Taken in 2010 when Dumpling was 2 and we were learning about senses; taste was of course one of the senses we explored in greater details)

This was the display that greeted her when we started a new theme on that day :) And yup, Dumpling was indeed excited.

You might ask what's with the meat and the capsicum? That's part of our cookery activity that evening! Do you know that some authors have said that Sweet and Sour sauce / style of cooking originated from Hunan, China?

And so, she helped me prepare the ingredients for Sweet and Sour Chicken. Spring rolls (in the background) are of course a popular Chinese dish and we had that too. 

We learnt about the various dynasties and it is apparent that Dumpling's early intro to the Chinese language as she spotted the dynasty that the famous Poet, Li Bai was from. :)

We also learnt about inventions that came from China! Do you know that ice cream was said to have hailed from China too?!?

And so we made our own ice cream - without the use of a freezer! If you search online, most of the recommended ways are to use fresh milk and add on sugar along with vanilla essence. To save time, I used strawberry milk instead where I did not have to concoct anything.

:: What you need and the steps
You will need 2 ziplock bags (1 larger and 1 smaller), salt, ice cubes and milk!
1) In the larger bag, add in the ice cubes and sprinkle salt into it (maybe a tablespoonful of it)
2)  Shake so that the salt mixes well with the ice
3) Pour half a cup of milk into the smaller ziplock bag, seal tightly and place it in the larger bag.
4) Ensure that the ice covered the smaller bag and shake the bag
5) In less than 5 minutes, you will see that the milk starts to solidify and changes into "ice cream"!

:: The discussion
We also did one round without the salt. "So what made the milk changed to ice cream," I asked. That prompted a series of discussions about the  freezing point and the role of salt. :) How cold was cold? Below zero Degrees Celsius apparently.

I reserved more books from the library and will be picking them up and exploring this topic further and (hopefully), be able to finish it by next week before she officially starts a new journey in Primary School!

So to answer the question - are we gonna still continue with our homelearning journey? I would think (hopefully) so since homework is minimal in Primary 1 and 2. I hope to still continue on our little journey as long as she still enjoys learning and exploring. :) Leave a comment below if you would like to give us some suggestions on the next country of focus in our unit study! :)

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Thoughts #5 - 华语,原来可以这样学!

I had a rocky start to introducing Dumpling to the Chinese language as she was about 15-16 odd months old. It was the first time I did a Chinese read-aloud for her. I still recall her look of shock as she mumbled to ask me what I was saying. It has never occurred to me that it would be hard introducing another language to Dumpling but at that moment,  I realised my folly. That also started my home support on Chinese learning.

Chinese, to me, is based on 听,说,认, 读, 写 。Before a child can speak it, the child needs to be able hear it constantly. Listening is fundamental as the child can then pick up vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.

Oracy is the next most important area as I believe that being proficient in Chinese is a life skill. To me, it is more than being able to read but to be able to have a language that is useful in our daily lives. The 'progress' for this, comes in various tiers; knowing what to say, how to say and having the confidence to use the language are 3 entirely different matters.

Dumpling has been attending Chinese Speech and Drama workshops during the holidays for the past 2 over years having done theatrical plays such as Alice in Variouslands, Little Red Riding Hood most recently, Hua Mu Lan.

I have the pleasure of knowing Daphne Low, founder of Apple Pie Language, from these workshops and I have learnt so much from her. Today, I am pleased to share a short chat that I had with Daphne on Apple Pie, her views on the language and tips to support this language at the homefront.

Me: I understand that Apple Pie started in 2003. Why made you decide to start a Chinese enrichment centre and naming it Apple Pie? Why is Chinese so close to your heart?
Daphne: Learning the Chinese language should be an enjoyable experience. I have the fondest memories of learning and communicating in this language from young with my family and friends and that's why Chinese is so close to my heart. Thinking of my early school years and personal experience reminds me of tucking and savouring one of my favorite desserts - Apple Pie. Sweet, warm and totally enjoyable. :)

With our students, I wish for them to have the same experience - where they will enjoy the learning process as much as we enjoy teaching them. And through the unique delivery of our programme, I would say that we’ve made a difference when we hear our students and their parents say ‘华语,原来可以这样学!’  Where there is a positive association with the language and that they see that Chinese can be learnt in a fun manner.

Me: It is very common these days to see young children reply and communicate mainly in English instead of Mandarin. What do you feel of such a phenomenon?
Daphne: Most Singaporeans are well educated and the common language used at home is English. Hence the first language that the child come into contact with will naturally be English and that will become his/her main language for communication. As there is a lack of providing a Mandarin speaking environment at home, the child does not have chance to practise the language hence, this becomes a vicious cycle as the child will not be able to pick up the language.

Me: Do you think Chinese is hard for children to acquire and why?
Daphne: Yes. As shared here, there are many factors that make Chinese very difficult to learn. For example the characters (Hanzi) used in the writing system seem to be archaic and obscure. Every word is a different symbol and it’s not phonetic so it gives you no clues as to how it is pronounced. The tone system also is a challenge because Mandarin has four tones. One other reason is, Mandarin has a large number of homophones. For example, the pronunciation “shì” is associated with over thirty distinct morphemes.

Me: What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for children to learn Chinese?
Daphne: A lack of fun and stress-free environment for children to practise the language.

Me: Do you have any tips to share for parents to support this development better?
Daphne: Here's are some recommendations:

1.       If you can, speak Mandarin to your child at home
This is important because learning and the usage of Mandarin should be beyond the classroom setting and where children are able to "see" it as a practical life skill. The more they use it, they better they become at it.
2.       Read Chinese story books to your child
Like the English language, reading is very important as it is through reading that children are exposed to vocabulary and good sentence structure. You can make it fun by reading with emotion and acting out various roles in the story.

3.       Enrol your child in a Speech and Drama class
Speech and Drama is one of the most fun experiences your children will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. Whether they are standing up on a stage, delivering a speech with quotes by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, or merely reading a passage from a book, they will begin to develop their language skills. Research has suggested that drama techniques provide an interesting way of motivating language learning in children.

These classes are fun and can assist in strengthening a child’s communication skills, to speak more persuasively, boost confidence in public speaking, build self esteem, learn leadership skills, increase ability to adapt and improvise, overcome shyness, become more assertive, build awareness of social skills, make friends and understand people. Adults are judged on how they express themselves and their style of speech every day. Drama classes are a perfect way for children to develop these skill

An extremely experienced teacher, Daphne Low has more than 10 years of Chinese Language teaching experience under her belt having taught pre-schoolers and primary school students.

Her forte lies in designing lively Chinese Speech and Drama lessons as well enrichment programs and she has conducted Chinese Enrichment Programmes at private schools such as Agape Student Care Centre and MOE schools such as Hwa Chong Institution and Rulang Primary School etc.

Presently as the founder of Apple Pie Language, she plays an instrumental role in the company as a Programme Designer, Teacher-trainer as well as the Marketing Director.

Daphne is passionate in achieving her greater vision of offering parents and children a nurturing and safe environment to bond, learn and develop through dramatic play.
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