Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tips for Reading to a Toddler

You know how we love reading, and how we've been reading to the kids since they were very young. So I love to take pictures of the kids reading, or of hubbs reading to the kids. Last night, I saw Shawna laying her head on hubbs' shoulder, and that's quite a rare sight, so I quickly snapped this picture below, and posted it on my Facebook wall last night. Attracted a whole bunch of Likes, and this question from my friend Patrina "When I read to my 2 yr old, she pay attention for a while and then start flipping pages or go play other stuff, how?!?!?" If you know me and my usual long-winded fashion, Facebook is not the place for my reply, this post here, is my reply :p
Love this shot of hubbs reading to the twins! :)
What do we know about toddlers?
Toddlers have short attention span. Thus, it is fairly normal for a 2 year old to pay attention for a short while, then lose interest and walk away. So what can we do about this?
  1. Choose appropriate books.
  2. Engage the child in the book by providing some "reading activities"
  3. Dramatise! Read with expressions!
  4. Set an aim and let the child agree and commit. 
  5. Persevere!
Appropriate books for Toddlers
Given their short attention span, choose books with short stories, more pictures and less words.Some kids like pop-up books. And books with flaps for the kids to flip, and books that intentionally feature different textures do lend a tactile feeling which is also good for engaging kids.

If your child picks out a book for you to read which is fairly long, just summarise on the spot to give her a gist of the story. For example, just use a sentence or two to describe the 'action' in the pictures, to summarise that page. 2-sentence summaries of a 10 page book will make a 20 sentence story for a toddler. Good enough. There is no competition to read long books to toddlers, what you are interested in is to have them concentrate for a length of time on a book. If the book is meant for an older child, then it is normal that a younger child may not sit through it entirely.

Also, if the child is resisting reading, you may wish to choose books with topics or characters which you know will interest the child. For example, many children love animals, so books on animals are popular. Or perhaps even books which have certain cartoon characters which they like. Use these books to interest them in reading for now. You can introduce books with different topics later.

I don't personally go hunting for specific books, and the only author recommendations for toddlers' books off the top of my head would be Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Eric Carle but here's a blog post from LittleBlueBottle that has lots of recommendations :) Mum in the Making has tonnes of recommendations over here and at her Facebook album. Oh and if your child likes fish and sea creatures, check out these titles laid out by Princess Dana Diaries.

At this age, the kids love repetition and crave familiarity. Thus it is good to have at least a some books of your own as the kids love to read the same book again and again. Often, parents buy more books not necessarily because the children want them. It's more for the sanity of the parents to not have to read the same book over and over again that they buy more books! :p You can check out books at Groovy Giraffe, a local online bookshop. Key in TanFamilyC to get 5% off your cart anytime of the year. Go register an account, if they have better promos, they'd email you! 
Isaac, Asher and Shawna when they were toddlers! I like that bottom left picture of Asher at the bookshelf with his pants half worn! hahaha...
Involve the child through reading activities!
Having a book being read to you can be quite boring if you can't quite understand what is being read to you, or if it is monotonous and boring. This is how reading may appear to a very young child who doesn't know many things and cannot relate to many things they see in books. Thus, one way to get around this, is to INVOLVE the child and ENGAGE him in the book through simple activities like the following
  • Counting - whenever you see a number of similar items in the pictures, ask your child to count. "Count the penguins!" "How many apples are there on the lion?" Count in English, count in Chinese, count in dialect! Use their fingers to point at each item as you count. Children this age can often rattle off their 1 to 10, but they don't know how to count properly. Thus you not only read to them, but can also let them learn their numbers and counting too.
  • Colours - let them learn colours by pointing out colours to them, or asking them what the colours are. "Who is Tom? The boy in a red shirt? or the boy in a blue shirt?" "What colour is this? Blue? Yes, it is blue! Good job! But you know what? It is also a special blue called CYAN!" 
  • Alphabets - Toddlers are also in the process of learning the alphabet. So every now and then, you can point to one of the key words that keeps appearing in the story and spell it out to the child, letter by letter. Often, I will spell the title too, as a precursor to reading the book. There is no need to spell every single word in the book. Just a few would do. If the child knows his alphabet, get him to spell the word to you. Use this opportunity to practice phonics too. "Fireman Sam Saves the Day. Fireman starts with? F! That's right! What sound does F make? Ffffff.... yes! Come, let's spell Fireman "F.I.R.E..."
  • Ask questions - ask many questions. "What a nice dress Cinderella has! Do you like it? What colour do you want YOUR dress to be?" Ask questions which the answers are in the book and pictures, say for a book on going to the park "Do you like to go to the park? What can we do in the park?". You can even express disapproval and negative behaviour and reinforce your approval for good behaviour in your questions   "Uh oh, was that a nice thing for the boy to do? No, right? He shouldn't snatch, isn't it. That is not a good thing to do. Do you snatch? Yes, sometimes you snatch from Cheh Cheh. But I like it that you apologised and hugged her. That was nice. Did this boy in the book apologise? Yes, he did! That's nice of him, isn't it? "
Yes, if you have an elder child, you can encourage him to read to the younger ones.
Dramatise! Read with expressions!
Read with expressions! Growl like a wolf. Make squeaky noises like a mouse. Talk with a deep voice like Papa/Grandpa. Squeal in delight like a princess. Make the story come alive! Your children are the best audience in the world, and they would love it when you dramatise stories to them. 

Set an aim, and get them to agree!
Before you start reading, set an aim, communicate this to your child, and get them to agree. "Mummy read this book to you, then you can go and play with your dolls, okay?" Get her to agree. So if midway the book, she starts to wonder off, you remind her "Remember, you agreed that we finish this book before you play with your dolls? Come on, 3 more pages only." and when she sits through it all "Well done! Good job! You agreed to read the whole book and you did! hi-five!" 

Persevere! Persevere! Persevere!
Remember! The child is only a toddler! It is normal for them to have a short attention span. It is your job as her parent though, to lengthen that concentration span. Reading is one way to do this. (Playing boardgames is another hehehee...). Take note of the timing when you read to your child. Today, she may have concentrated for only 3 minutes, but persevere! tomorrow, it may have improved to 5 minutes. Persevere! Read everyday! And slowly, but surely, the child's concentration span will get longer and longer. 

My drawing of Magneto
On this note, I end off with an anecdote of my dear Asher.

Last night, Asher asked me to draw Magneto. I didn't know how to, so I took out my X-Men book and attempted to draw the picture of Magneto above. As I was drawing, I muttered:"Asher, Mummy dunno how to draw Magneto lah..." Immediately, Asher replied "Then you must PERSEVERE, Mummy!" I said "Woah, where did you learn that big word from?" "From my school teacher from Learning Vision lah." "Do you know what it means?" "Yes, it means to try and try again." wah.... steady lah Asher. And so, with encouragement from my four year old, I persevered and drew the above Magneto!!! Not too shabby, eh? :p

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

How we stopped the cries of "SO UNFAIR"!

You know how it goes, especially in families with more than one kid, the older one inevitably needs to give way to the younger one/s at times. And there would be cries of "SO UNFAIR!" from the oldest child, whether it really is unfair or not. Of course, we try to educate Isaac, that life is not always fair. That he should try to look at things from a different viewpoint. That "fair" is not necessarily equal division. That some things are very trivial and not worth being upset about etc... In fact, as the eldest child, he does sometimes get benefits that the younger ones don't and we do not hesitate to point that out to him.  However, being a 6 year old boy, emotions do get the better of him, and what we say to him just doesn't seem to sink in. 
Isaac's first journal homework he had to do for school.
So we had this string of circumstances December last year, that was the perfect set up for me to educate Isaac and stop the cries of "SO UNFAIR!". You see, Isaac was attending Learning Vision which is a childcare centre that is also a kindergarten with a very sound curriculum that prepares the kids for primary school. For some reason (unknown to me), the childcare/school's end of school year, is in November. Thus, with Isaac in K2 last year, he technically graduated in November, and hence we had the choice of withdrawing him from childcare with his day in end November. I was in a dilemma for awhile. On one hand, I wanted to have him at home in December, as I thought that'd be his last days of relative freedom from homework stress before he commences his 10 years of formal schooling. His last days of play play play. On the other hand, I understand that the childcare had interesting activities to further prepare the kids for primary school for those kids still attending childcare. Also, it would be quite a nightmare getting the twins to go to school while their big brother didn't have to. In the end, I succumbed to fun. We withdrew him and he could stay home in December.
Isaac spending time with hubbs, playing a 'war' game, and ice-skating!
Another reason why I wanted Isaac at home was also so that hubbs and I could spend some time alone with him. Having three kids, our attention is somehow always divided amongst them. So we cherish the times when we can have one-to-one with each kid. The December hols last year was a good opportunity for us to spend time with Isaac, especially since hubbs would have his hols then too.

As written by Isaac in his very first journal entry homework he had to write for school, he had a very eventful December holidays. He didn't have to go to school (whereas the twins had to). We signed him up for one of Science Centre's Family Programmes, an Adventure Camp with Dinosaurs overnight camp that he had to attend on his own (parents not allowed!). He got to go ice skating with hubbs, just them two. He came with hubbs and I to karaoke one afternoon. And I organised playdates for him with his friends at our home. All these, just for him, while the twins were in school.
Playdates for Isaac and his friends during the December hols
So, in December, once the twins were in school and/or out of earshot, I would keep needling Isaac about how UNFAIR it was... I would say:
"Isaac, it's SO UNFAIR! How come you can stay at home while the twins need to go to school?! How come you can go ice-skating with Papa, but the twins cannot. How come?! WHY!? So unfair so unfair!!!"

"How come you can stay at home and have your friends come over and play while Asher and Shawna have to go to school? Why? So unfair. SO UNFAIR. I think we need to send you to school. This way, it's more fair. Isn't it?"

"Why is it that you get to go out with Mummy and Papa and come karaoke with us? So unfair leh. You go to school lah. Go go. What? No?! BUT THAT IS SO UNFAIR!!!"

"Wow you have so much Lego, but this who has so little... SO UNFAIR! We must give them some of your Lego! Oh and board games too! So many board games! Give away!"

"You so lucky! You have one brother and one sister! This (insert name of only child friend) don't have! SO UNFAIR! We must give away Asher or Shawna to him/her!"  - Thankfully he goes "No!!! Cannot give away Asher or Shawna!!!"

So on and on I went. Everything and anything that Isaac had a slight benefit over, I would milk it for all it's worth, pointing out the unfairness of the situation. And finally Isaac said:"Okay, okay! I get it! I won't say "SO UNFAIR" ever again!"

We're already into April now. And for the last 4 months, he hasn't said it, not once. So he remains true to his word, he has stopped saying "SO UNFAIR!".

Friday, 4 April 2014

Kidz' Lessons from a Flea Market Stall

Hey everyone! Today, we welcome on Tan Family Chronicles, my sister Petrina Tan! She is an ex-banker turned full time mum, now working from home on a marketing/franchising job. Petrina & Chris have three beautiful girls named Rebecca, Isabelle and Natalie. Recently, they participated in the Sentosa Kidz Flea market which we went to show support. It seemed like such a fruitful experience for them that I asked my sister if she would like to guest post on their experiences, on Tan Family Chronicles. And she agreed! Yay!  ~ ;)pamela the chief chronicler! ~

In the words of Petrina Tan: 

2 weeks of preparation, 3 families, 8 kids, 5 hours – learning the value of hard work and perseverance - PRICELESS

The hubby and I have always been worried about the kids growing up too spoilt, not being able to take hardships when they grow up, not knowing the value of money, etc. I mean, most Singaporean kids have it pretty good. They are well-fed (when you tell them not to waste food because there are lots of hungry kids in other countries, their eyes kind of glaze over), well-clothed, well-educated and many are also well-travelled. The biggest hardship in their life would probably be the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), but that is another story for another time.

Sentosa Kids Flea 2014
So when a friend mooted the idea to enroll our kids in Sentosa’s annual Kidz Flea Market for little “Play-treneurs” , we thought it was a great idea. “Let them learn how hard it is to earn some money”, “finally an opportunity to get them to overcome their shyness and approach strangers to sell/explain their products”, “good way for them to learn about perseverance, and rejection…” - were some of the thoughts we had. It also appealed to us that part of the proceeds of the flea market would go to charity, an excellent way to encourage the kids to give back to the less fortunate.
What are “Play-treneurs” and what is the Sentosa Kidz Flea Market about?

Someone in Sentosa (or their events company) came up with the idea to organize a flea market catered for kids and operated by kids. They coined the term “Play-treneurs” which was (no prizes for guessing) derived from combining the words play and entrepreneurs. The idea was to teach the kids to be little entrepreneurs and have fun whilst doing it.

The Sentosa Kidz Flea Market is organized annually during the March school holidays. Three weeks prior to the event, the kids were given a ‘training’ session on how to be a “play-treneur”. This involved giving them some tips on costing, pricing, sales techniques and product display. Basically breaking down the 4 Ps of marketing into kids lingo. It was brief, but good enough to give the kids an idea of what to expect/do and a starting point to get them thinking on their strategy for the flea market.

The preparation

We had ‘joined forces’ with two other families to start up a stall. We were close friends with both families and our kids played well together. We brainstormed and came up with these final products… (most of which were made from recycled materials or were donated).

I regretted not having the foresight of taking pictures of the ‘production’ process. It was very labour intensive but turned out to be a good bonding experience for all of us. Kids, Mums and Dads were mobilized. We toiled over the various tasks of cutting, sorting, laminating, weaving, amidst cries from the kids about ‘how tiring it was’. To which, the mothers would typically respond, “Yah lah, you think it is so easy to make money?”

Many days and late nights later, plus one heartfelt bedtime prayer the day before the event for good sales and good weather ….we were ready to rock and roll.

Products and services the kids were to hawk at their Kids Flea booths

“It was really hard work!”

God must have heard our prayers as we were blessed with fantastic weather on the day of the event. That meant a pretty decent crowd at the flea market. We started setting up the stall at 1 pm and by 2 pm, we were welcoming our first customers.

To be honest, I had low expectations of how the kids would perform. In fact, the hubby had a premonition that it would be the parents who would be left manning the stall whilst the kids would be running off to play, getting distracted by the various stalls and activities at the flea market. My only brief to the kids before the event was, “Don’t be disappointed or give up if people reject you. You will likely face many rejections before you get a sale. And don’t feel bad about it.”

As it turned out, they rose to the occasion. In all my years of motherhood, I can earnestly say I have never felt more proud of them. For most of the five hours, they stayed focused to the task of selling. They developed their own sales strategies and worked together as a team. The children stood at different entrances to the flea market, even stepping out of the designated areas to position themselves at places where most of the tourists and customers were.

The kids netted very decent sales revenue, we were even told by the organizers that we were one of the top donors for the day.
Pamela the Chief Chronicler says:"I love these tags and bought a whole bunch of them! Can't wait to use them!"

The real rewards …. 

Initially when we started out on the project, there were a lot of thoughts on whether we would break even, what we could sell to achieve higher sales, practical questions that any self-respecting entrepreneur would ask. But as the day progressed, it became obvious to us that more important than the money earned were the intangible lessons that the kids gained. Lessons that went beyond what the school was teaching them. Here is a summary of some of the key take-aways we felt the kids had gleaned from their experience:

1) Speaking up and communicating with strangers.
  • This may not sound like a big deal. But for my painfully shy kids, who balk at even ordering their own meals at Mcdonalds, this was a huge step. Based on the sales revenue and average dollar per sale, we calculated that they must have approached at least 100 customers between them.
  • From our own experience and interaction with people at work, we knew that it was critical for our kids to learn to speak up and pick up good communication skills. This was a good first step.

2) Value of perseverance and hard work.
  • 5 hours of standing in hot, humid conditions, to sell your wares. I need not say more.

3) Coping with rejection and failure.
  • The first few rejections were tough on the kids. They were not used to selling, much less facing rejection after summoning the courage to approach strangers. I was glad that I had prepped them mentally about this. But I was even more glad that they had learnt to take rejections in their stride as the day progressed.
4) Learning the value of money.
  • Instead of spending their hard-earned money at the flea market, they learnt to barter-trade with the rest of the stall-owners to ‘purchase’ what they wanted.
  • The older two siblings were heard reprimanding their youngest sister for ‘wasting money’ when she bought a Kinder Bueno chocolate after the event. “What? It was so hard to earn that money and you wasted it on chocolate!!” (Hahahah…)
Girl power kidpreneurs!!!

5) Assessing people/customers and adopting appropriate strategies to convince them
  • This is a critical life skill. Not just in terms of how they might apply it to their careers but in general, it is an important skill that can be applied to all aspects of their lives. A life skill not taught in any textbooks but something that they had to learn through using their own judgment and experience.
  • We were pleasantly surprised that they could share with us their takeaways on effective sales strategies (e.g. always target young girls who are with their fathers. If you convince the young kids, most parents would buy for their kids. If you see a young Caucasian female, approach her to sell the hair braid…the list goes on.)

6) Learning to be creative and finding solutions to what people need
  • When the family spent one year in Palo Alto (aka Silicon Valley) some years back, one of the things that really struck us was how ‘entrepreneurial’ everyone was. By this, I do not mean that they were all starting businesses, but there was generally a strong can-do spirit of wanting to find solutions to improve not just their own lives but the lives of those around them. From the young kids we met in school to the adults, there was a strong sense of purpose and passion. We found ourselves asking what we could do to inculcate this in our kids, so that they will not grow up complaining all the time, feeling entitled, or expecting others (i.e. the government) to provide them with solutions.
  • Through participation in this event, I can see how events like these encourage the kids to think (if I may borrow the cliché term) out-of-the-box. More importantly, it sets them thinking about what kind of products/services would answer the needs of others, and how people were willing to pay for solutions or items that met their need.
Sentosa's Kids Flea complete with businessman suit aprons and certificates!
The verdict

So the parents obviously thought it was a worthwhile event and were glad that we enrolled the kids in it. But what did the kids have to say?

“Hmmm….it was really hard work….I don’t think I want to be a business person next time.”

“I am not sure which part of it I liked most, but I just liked it. I want to do it again next year!”

And I suppose the fact that they could not stop talking about it for the rest of the night, and the next day, must mean that they enjoyed it. :)

Thanks very much, Petrina! What a ride! Can't wait for a couple more years till the twins are older, and we'd be getting a booth ourselves! :)

Monday, 31 March 2014

Disney on Ice - The Kids' Review!

After the Disney on Ice roadshow we went to last month, I didn't actually tell the kids we were going to Disney On Ice. This was because I knew they'd look forward to it soooo much that they would ask for it EVERYDAY. As in, everyday, they'd insist that Disney on Ice was on THAT DAY, and they wanted to go. So for the sake of our own sanity, we decided not to inform them till a few days before the performance. Predictably, the moment we told them we were going to go for Disney on Ice, they asked to go immediately! :p

The day of the performance came, and as expected, the kids really enjoyed it. So much so that they really didn't mind when I put them to work answer questions from me about the Disney on Ice performance. Well, perhaps also because they didn't think it was "work" - the kids enjoy art and craft and have fun drawing and writing, so this was quite a fun exercise for them. I wrote some questions on pieces of card, and asked them to write their answers in their colour so we'd automatically know who wrote what without them writing their names. Isaac in Blue, Asher in Green, and Shawna in Red and Purple and Orange - she wanted to use them all!
The actual Disney On Ice Treasure Trove. A pretty good likeness, I see!
Isaac was so amused with the whole exercise that he drew that picture above himself, without me asking him to. I could recognise the ice-skates and Mickey Mouse, but I didn't know what that large thing was. So I asked "Is that... er, Noah's Ark?" "Mummy?!" He said in an exasperated manner "That's the Treasure Chest lah!" Oh right, silly me. 

 So off they went, writing answers to my three questions:
  1. What was your favourite character that appeared on Disney On Ice: Treasure Trove?
  2. What did you like about the performance, other than the characters?
  3. Which characters did you wish would appear, but yet did not?
Isaac had free reign to write his own answers as he could write and spell pretty well, only misspelling Rapunzel's name. Thanks to their childcare Learning Vision, the 4 year old twins can write their alphabet fine, but they can't spell that well yet, so hubbs and I had to help them with the spelling. Shawna would tell me what she wanted to write, and I would spell it for her. Hubbs helped Asher.
Which were your favourite characters that appeared during the Disney on Ice performance?

Asher: Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Lion (from Lion King), Mickey Mouse and Snow White (he liked the part where she ate the apple and died. *morbid*)

Shawna: Lion from Lion King, Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Minnie Mouse

Isaac: Peter Pan, Simba's Uncle Mufasa, the Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel and her Frying Pan (*violent*!!!), the Double-Sided Cards from Alice in Wonderland and Mr Smee!

I asked Isaac who Mr Smee was, and he said "He's the stripped fat fellow that is one of Captain Hook's men"... Ah... I never knew...

Personally, the Little Mermaid is a favourite of mine, so I was mighty glad to see that she made (at least!) a brief appearance. I suspect that Isaac liked Rapunzel coz of the damage she could inflict with her frying pan. It reminds me of a book we have at home which is one of our favourites - it's a twist off the Rapunzel tale. In our book, the Wolf is looking for a Tasty Gran to eat her. Gran appears, with a Frying Pan, and promptly whacks him *Biff*Boff*Bang* with the Frying Pan! and says "Take that, young man!" hahaha... we love that book!  
Kids write which characters they liked best at Disney on Ice Treasure Trove. They had so many characters they liked that they used up both sides of the card to write them all down!
The smart-looking double sided cards from Alice in Wonderland that Isaac likes! I did notice how clever it was that they were double sided too.

What else did you like?
What did you like about the performance, other than the characters?
Shawna: costumes, songs
Isaac:  Pixie dust - from Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan, (Giant)Lanterns - from Tangled (Rapunzel), Crocodile - from Peter Pan.

When I asked "What do you like?" the kids immediately rattled off the names of the characters they liked. So I specifically asked "Anything else other than the characters?". Shawna took on my suggested answers of songs and costumes and wrote that down. Asher gave me a blank look and said "huh?". Isaac, took me literally, and said "Pixie dust is not a character. Crocodile also not. And lanterns also not character. " Alriiight.... :p

As for me, I really enjoyed the Lion King segment. I loved how they did the costumes of the animals, especially the ones in the stampede. Each dancer actually more than one animal strapped to him/her, so that it really had the multiplier effect, and made the impact of the stampede felt. The giraffes and zebras and all the other animals too, were very nicely represented. I guess I wasn't that much of a fan of the animals in costumes, and preferred the ones in the Lion King segment.

The stampede in Lion King.
Which characters did you wish would appear, but yet did not?

Shawna: Beauty & the Beast, Daisy Duck, Toodles
Asher: Cinderella, Princess Sofia
Isaac: Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Lumiere & Cogsworth (the candlestick and clock from Beauty and the Beast)

Now, I must confess that the kids haven't really been watching many Disney movies, though they have seen my favourites like Beauty & the Beast and Little Mermaid. The kids, however, do get to watch Disney Junior Channel at my in laws' place when they are there. So I wasn't very surprised that they didn't think of many Disney movies' characters they could put down for this question, and yet all three named characters they say on Disney Junior.

Shawna missed seeing Toodles and Daisy Duck - both of which she sees in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I'm not sure where Cinderella came from, since the kids have never seen the movie. But Asher went to great lengths to describe Princess Sofia to me when he momentarily forgot her name and insisted I knew who she was. Isaac insisted that Peter Pan was NOT Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Okaaay...
The characters that the kids wished had appeared on Disney on Ice.
Yes, my only disappointment with Disney on Ice is that there wasn't a Beauty and the Beast segment, complete with Lumiere and Cogsworth and Chip and his mum. But then I also thought that the Little Mermaid segment was too short. So having said all that, I think what I'm really saying, is that I think I want to rewatch my favourite Disney movies all over again. But the kids, especially my little girl, my Shawna, really enjoyed the show very very much. The moment it ended, she looked at me and said, "Mummy, I want to watch again." :) And I think that says it all.
Disney on Ice Treasure Trove Finale
We were provided tickets to watch Disney on Ice: Treasure Trove. All opinion above belongs to us! :)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Spudding good time @ Spuds & Aprons!

Did you know there was a place called The Jewel Box in Singapore? I certainly didn't. Apparently, it is the building that houses the Cable Car Station on top of Singapore's very own Mount Faber. The Jewel Box houses a number of eateries in the same building and we managed to check out Spuds & Aprons, casual dining with a fantastic view! We (including the kids!) liked the place so much, that we visited Spuds & Aprons another two times within 6 weeks of the first time we went there!

The first time we went there, was on a Friday night in January this year, for dinner. We didn't realise that there was complimentary (FREE?!) valet parking for all diners of the restaurants at The Jewel Box, including Spuds & Aprons with a minimum spending of $30, even during weekends(just excludes public holidays and eve of PH). Not knowing this, we actually parked a short walk away at the public carpark. It was a nice brief walk surrounded by greenery (see pic below! ;p) and the kids got to explore an old cable car that has been grounded. Still we thought the free valet parking was an excellent idea, since most people would probably balk at coming up here for a meal if they thought they'd have difficulty parking.
Kids in a grounded old cable car on Mount Faber. Not sure why Isaac is showing us his Enid Blyton book! :p
The first thing that caught the kids' attention was the koi fish pond! They were fascinated with the fish, and kept looking at them. The souvenir shop that sells the cable car tickets is right next to Spuds & Aprons and sells paper cones filled with pallets of food for the fish at $1 per pack. The kids really had tons of fun feeding the fish. Even after they were done, they still hung around looking at the fish, and pointing out "funny fish" to each other. I would never have thought that a pond full of fish would have kept the kids entertained ALL NIGHT, but they did. That's the power of nature for you! 
There were seats right beside the pond, but as we were there that night with our friends Angeline, David & Dana from PrincessDanaDiaries, the tables weren't large enough for us beside the pond. Besides, the adults were enthralled by the view off Mount Faber at Sentosa, as well as the view towards Keppel Island, so we insisted on sitting on the other side of the spacious restaurant. The kids were kept entertained by the koi in the pond till it was time for dinner when their food arrived, and after they ate, they were back at the pond.
The kids at the koi pond of Spuds & Aprons. Isaac must have been speaking to the guy in the red shirt at the table nearby. Didn't realise that till I was selecting pictures for this collage :)
The food was excellent, in our opinion. We loved it. Between us four adults, we had the Tobiko Crusted Cod Fillet, Braised Lamb Shank, Crispy Pork Belly, and Grilled Char Siew Lamb Rack as mains, and Chilli Crab in a Tux and Homemade Chicken Liver Pate as sides.  The kids had meatball spaghetti and pizza. The food was all mouthwatering and I would recommend all we had, except for the pizza. No, this is not the place for pizza, but everything else was simply delicious and I knew it there and then that we'd definitely be back for more!

We had a lovely view of the sunset that evening. Gazing at the rooftops of multi-million-dollar condo units that will likely never be ours... But it's okay, with good food, good health and good company, we must be contented with what we have :)
Great food and great view! Remember to go with great company!
As the night worse on, the sunlight faded away, and the view changed! Now it was one of lights lights lights. We imagine that you might be able to catch fireworks from here if Sentosa releases some on special occasions. Albeit being a Friday night, the place was not brimming, I imagine, largely because not many knew about this gem of a place yet as it is rather new. There was a large party of about 20 adults who were celebrating a birthday of one of them there. Just as I was wistfully counting the months to my birthday, the live band started to play! Oh my oh my oh my, I definitely want to celebrate my birthday here now! The band was very good, playing many familiar songs I knew, and they even took requests. I didn't have to request anything though, as they did a good job playing songs I liked! It's a sign!!! :p I went to ask when the band plays, and the answer is: Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Nice!
Spuds & Aprons, wickedly good! Indeed! Loved the live band!
So we had such a good time there that night, that I immediately started thinking of when we could go back again. And I knew the perfect occasion coming up (then) - Chinese New Year Reunion Lunch with my parents and my sister and her family! I knew my family would love the food coz we loved it, the pricing reasonable (mains were generally between $18 to $35) the ambience was fabulous, ther service was good, the free valet parking PERFECT for my Dad who hates going to places where it's difficult to find parking lots, and I was very certain the 6 kids would have fun by the koi pond. I was also keen to visit Spuds & Aprons during the day time, as I was sure the view and atmosphere would be vastly differently from the night, but equally dazzling.

So the first time we visited Spuds & Aprons, we sat the The Garden. This was the non-airconditioned part of the eatery, where it was open air. For once, the kids didn't utter a single word of complaint as they happily played by the koi pond. This is how the place looks in the day. It's so pretty that we spotted some local tour groups stopping by to let the tourists take a look at it and take pictures.
The Garden @ Spuds & Aprons, The Jewel Box, Mount Fabe, Singapore.
Now, do you know what struck me when I saw this place? It'd be PERFECT for a wedding solemnisation to be held here!!! And the only reason why I am telling you this, is because I am happily married and so am not going to go through another wedding anytime soon! For if Spuds & Aprons had existed in the year 2005, I might have seriously considered having my wedding solemnisation here. Look at it, it's perfect! The tiny gazebo where the live band played can house a band, the wide open spaces, the LOVE installation, the Bell of Happiness, the spiral-ish stairs that I can make my grand entrance down to the Garden, the second floor private dining area and The Dining Room can both be contingency plans in case it rains, or just to house the relatives who are more likely to complain of heat... Fantastic! But since I am already married, I am so generously letting all of you know about this place kekeke... And it looks like I wasn't the only one who thought it was a good idea. The names above the bell are the names of the latest couple to wed there, and the names have been different every time we visited the place. So if you want to have a unique setting for your wedding solemnisation in Singapore, here's the perfect solution! You only have to act fast before your other friends catch on! :p
Perfect wedding solemnisation venue - Spuds & Aprons!
This time round when we went for our Chinese New Year Reunion Lunch, we sat at the air-conditioned area known as The Dining Room. Interestingly, it was my Dad who requested it, not the kids :p So this time, we had a great view of the cable cars and of Sentosa's skyline, in aircon comfort!

And thanks to the fact that we had 6 adults and 6 kids amongst our party, we ordered up a smorgasbord of culinary delights to share. It was all very good, and we even had second rounds of those we particular liked, like the Tobiko Crusted Cod Fillet on green tea soba, and the Grilled Char Siew Lamb Rack. We were so full but I had to have the house specialty Chempedak Bread & Butter Pudding which I sampled a bit of the last time we came. So we ordered the chempedak bread & butter pudding that came a scoup of ice cream to share. However, it disappeared faster than you could say "Spuds & Aprons" that we ordered another one shortly after the first one came - and vanished!
Food glorious, food!
The food at Spuds & Aprons is really pretty good. Coupled with all the good stuff I have been repeating above... we came back here a third time, just two weeks after this second visit. It was for a gathering of friends, our CNY gathering. We wanted a venue which had decent food, kid/family friendly, and not too crowded. Naturally, I suggested Spuds & Aprons. This time, we were alerted to the fact that if we applied for The Jewel Card, we'd get 20% off our bill immediately. Some quick calculation later, it was obvious that we should get the card and so hubbs applied for it on the spot. Then it hit us! Urrghh! We should have gotten the card 2 weeks earlier! That'd have saved us a ton off our bill and land us The Jewel Card to boot! This, I declare, is the only regret we have about this place. Hummphh. So remember, if you come in a group, chances are that it is worth your while to get The Jewel Card. Besides, it has many Cable Car and Jewel Box privileges AND also the member privileges of Sentosa's Islander Card. (Now, how do I hide this post from Sentosa's PR guys???)

The kids, as expected, were so occupied with the koi pond that the adults had a good time chatting, and didn't have to entertain the kids at all. The bag of doodling books and story books that I bring along whenever we went out to eat went untouched throughout the whole time we were there. Love the colourful wall by the koi pond. The koi fish here are very well fed as the kids love feeding them! :)
Who knew that fish could be so captivating to kids?!
After lunch we went on a cable car ride into Sentosa! :) It's been ages since we took a ride, and the adults and kids all enjoyed the ride. Asher and Shawna have been asking umpteenth times to ride on the cable car and so they finally got to do it. They were thrilled with the moving cabins, the high altitude, and the bird's eye view of all around us. There were the jokes of what they would say to a bird if he flew too close. And the kids had fun making expressions of how a bird's face would look like smashed up against our cabin glass. And then the girls were all distracted by "ADVENTURE COVE!!!" - and Isaac, Asher and Shawna went "We wanna go THERE! We wanna go THERE!!!"
Cable car ride from Mt Faber to Sentosa.
We originally wanted to go for ice cream, and head back on the cable car. But the Luge station was just across from the Cable Car Station on Sentosa, and the kids asked if we could go on a luge rides. Hubbs went to check it out and realised the group buy of 10 rides, worked out to be only about $5 each. And it was just nice for 12 of us, since Asher and Shawna would ride with hubbs and I. So off we went! To the Luge! Even my parents rode! 
Luge fun on Sentosa!
We had an excellent time that day. The kids declared that it was the most fun Chinese New Year Reunion meal EVER, and requested that we do the same thing EVERY YEAR. Oh my, sounds like the start of a tradition to me! :)

The Mount Faber Leisure Group sponsored our very first meal at Spuds & Aprons, and the Cable Car ride for the 12 of us. Everything else, we paid out of our own pockets. Truly highly recommended, I kid you not :) Oh and when you go, remember to visit the Level 1 indoor toilets! Most beautiful toilets with a view to boot!

Spuds & Aprons
109 Mount Faber Road, Level 2, Singapore 099203
(+65) 6377 9688
Operating Hours:
Sunday to Wednesday :11 am to 11pm
Thursday: 11am to 12.30am
Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays: 11am to 2pm

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Who is the Chairman today?

This is a question we ask the twins almost everyday. "Who is the Chairman today? Vice-chairman?". Yes, our twins, our 4 year old Asher & Shawna twins. You see, this year, the twins have wonderful Teacher Yani as their teacher in their Learning Vision childcare, and she has these very neat ways of encouraging the the kids to behave themselves, and urge them towards being responsible, kind and helpful.

I first heard of this Chairman business one day after school, when I was fetching the twins back home. As I was driving, I heard Asher and Shawna talking to each other and my ears picked up the words "Chairman" and "Vice-Chairman". Apparently, Asher was the Vice-Chairman that day, and Shawna was going to be the Chairman the next day! I was intrigued! Shawna also said she was a Superstar! and Asher said he was Rockin', but I couldn't make head or tail from anything much.
Behaviour Ladder to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour. Ingenious!

So when I sent them to school the next day, I looked around their classroom and saw this on the wall. I'm not sure what Teacher Yani calls it, but I call it the Behaviour Ladder. The pictures of all the kids in class were laminated, with blue tack on their backs and could be shifted around. From what I gather from the twins and from Teacher Yani over the past few months, this is how it works:
  • Everyday, everyone child starts at the level Ready to Learn, it's like a neutral position.
  • If a child behaves well, he is rewarded by an upward shift - he or she can move their picture to a level higher. 
  • Good behaviour includes being helpful to their friends, eating their meals on their own, keeping toys on their own without being told to do so, etc
  • If a child misbehaves, the child's photo will be brought down a number of levels, depending on the severity of their misbehaviour, and whether they apologised or are repentant (or not!)
  • Misbehaviour includes snatching, fighting, pushing etc
  • Children who reach Superstar will become the Chairman and Vice-Chairman the next day. If there are more than 2 children who reach Superstar that day, Teacher Yani will take note and the kids will take turns to be Chairman over the next few days.
I loved this system! Love love love! Firstly, I love the labels! Above the neutral position of Ready to Learn, there are 4 levels - Good, Rockin', Fabulous and Superstar! Frankly they all sound good to me, and that's great! Because, what we want, is for the kids to be encouraged to behave well, but it doesn't sound good to have obvious delineations like the traditional "Good, Very Good, Excellent." reminiscent of the "Good, Better, Best" comparison. To me, as long as a child is above the neutral position of Ready to Learn, I feel that that is good, as that means that the child has tried.

Secondly, it's great that everyone, even the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the day, all start at the neutral Ready to Learn at the start of every day. This means, even the kids who misbehaved the previous day, have a chance to start anew the next day. That is great! Indirectly, it teaches that everyone should have a chance to start afresh. That we shouldn't bear grudges of what happened in the past, but move on, and strive hard for the future.

Thirdly, if you look at the negative levels, it goes from "Warning" to "Cool Down" to "Office Referral". I thought it was interestingly but aptly worded. If you misbehave, you are given a Warning. They did not label the child as "Bad" or "Worst" - that is putting labels on a child, on his person. Instead, in this case, "Warning" is a state - "You have been warned... to stop the bad behaviour,  to behave well instead.". Then you have to heed the Warning, to stop the bad behaviour, and to apologise - if the situation calls for it. But if you continue in your bad behaviour and/or continue throwing a tantrum then you may be downgraded further to "Cool Down." Again, there are no aspersions cast on a child by calling him humiliating names like "Horrible Hothead" or "Most Naughtiest Child in Class". But because "Cool Down" is below "Warning" in the chart, the children instinctively know that the lower you get... is not good. And the last position is "Office Referral."

I laughed and ask Shawna and Asher "What does Office Referral mean? What happens if you go to Office Referral?" Their eyes widened and they solemnly shook their heads "No good, no good. Don't go Office." I pressed on "But why? What happens when you go to Office? You have to see Teacher Jamie? (who is the Principal of the school.)" "Mummy, if very bad, Teacher Yani go Office and tell Teacher Jamie. then she call Mummy Daddy!" they almost wailed at that. This was hilarious, it brought tears to my eyes. 
Many Superstars in school on this day! :)
And so it became a daily ritual for me, that everyday, when I went to pick up the twins, I will pop into their classroom to see where they ended up that day on the ladder. On the days that I forgot to do so, I would ask them and they would tell me. Asher would happily proclaim that he was Rockin' that day, or Fabulous, or Superstar and he was going to be Vice Chairman the next day. Shawna too, will report accordingly, unless she threw a tantrum that day and was reduced to Warning. She would quickly tell me that after she was reduced to Warning, she slowly but steadily worked her way up to Rockin' by the end of the day. 

When the kids misbehave badly, especially if they fought or hurt another child, Teacher Yani would whatsapp me to inform me. We would then make sure we ask the kids what were they that day, and especially if they were reduced to Warning or even Cool Down. We would then coax them to tell us what happened in school and we would talk to them to make sure they learnt why the behaviour they exhibited was not good, and why they shouldn't do it again. 

Oh! We also asked the kids what the Chairman and Vice-Chairman do? Apparently, they would be the Teachers' Helpers that day. And, amongst other duties, they get to help erase the white board, and it is their duty to remind their classmates to be quiet, if they are too noisy. So, being a Chairman is like being a Prefect, or a Class Monitor, in Primary or Secondary school. When we first learnt of this, we thought it was a bit premature to use this system on 3 plus 4 year olds like the twins and their classmates - but we were wrong, it worked very well indeed. 

What I like about this system, is also how it rewards the child for good behaviour without giving candy, or stickers, or any other tangible things. Instead, what it gives the child is an intrinsic want to behave better, and be proud of themselves for behaving well. This is far more invaluable than any prize can be. And best of all, all the kids benefit from this!
Well behaved kids &amp - Ready to Learn!
In the past, when we ask the kids "How was school? Were you good today?" we hardly got any response. Admittedly, these were very vague questions and even adults would be hard pressed to answer these questions in a meaningful way. But now, we ask questions that the twins can relate to and reply. So this has become our daily conversation with the twins. We would ask "Who's the Chairman today?' and they would tell us. Isaac loves to ask "Who went to Warning today?" and the twins would tell us too. I would ask "Oh how come they went to Warning? What happened?" And they would tell us what happened. Hubbs and I would ask them if what their friends did was correct, and they would know, "Oh he should not fight, right? Must be gentle." 

Every day when I pop in to see the end-of-day Behaviour Ladder, I am pleased to see that, most of the time, Asher & Shawna would be in either Rockin', Fabulous, or SuperStar. They also seem to be appointed Chairman or Vice-Chairman on a regular basis. What a ingenious way to encourage good behaviour! :) Perhaps I should see if I can adopt this for home use!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Day 10: Prayers for Those Who Look a Little Different

Tan Family Chronicles' Pray With Us series
Day 1: Prayers for the Dearly Departed
Day 2: Prayers for the Littlest Ones We Never Got to Know
Day 3: Prayers for Those Here, But Not Present
Day 4: Prayers for Children to Be Well
Day 5: Prayers for those with Cancer
Day 6: Prayers for Those Who Want Kids But Can't
Day 7: Prayers for Those with Down Syndrome
Day 8: Prayers for all Marriages
Day 9: Prayers for the Safety of our Children

Day 10: Prayers for Those Who Look a Little Different

Today we have as our guest poster, Ms Theresa Goh Rui Si. She was born with congenital spina bifida and hence does not have use of her legs, and depends on a wheelchair for mobility on land. Theresa started swimming from age 5, and began to take part in swimming competitions from age 12. She has represented Singapore in dozens of international competitions, and won us tons of medals. She was the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC)'s Sportsgirl of the Year in 2002 and 2003, and subsequently, Sportswoman of the Year from 2004 to 2006.

Theresa at the pool! Picture by Alan Lim Studio, from here.
Theresa is our family friend, as hubbs and I got to know her even before we were together as boyfriend/girlfriend. She is one of the most inspiring people we know personally. Theresa is often known as "Singapore swimmer Theresa Goh" or "Singapore Paralympian Theresa Goh". But if you want to know more things about her than you even knew about Sir Stamford Raffles, do look at the Wikipedia page on Theresa. It truly is quite comprehensive, though I think it hasn't been updated since late 2008. I know this because the medals listed in the Wikipedia article are only until 2008, and Theresa bags us a few medals EVERY YEAR.

Without further ado, let's hear from Theresa Goh!

I zoom around on four wheels and surely, to see a mini version of a car speeding around in malls or anywhere that’s not a road, must catch a fair bit of attention. I’m talking about my wheelchair of course! I’ve been sitting on a wheelchair for the past 20 years of my life, before which, I moved around on crutches. Something that hasn’t changed between using either of them, is the fact that people stare. The only real difference is that when I’m on a wheelchair, I can speed past people before I see them staring hahaha.

I know I stand out from the general crowd. For as long as I can remember, strangers of all ages have always gawked and stared and, while this may have annoyed me immensely in the past (and still does, sometimes, on bad days), I’ve since gotten used to the most of the staring.
Theresa, carrying the Queen's baton in Singapore. Photo from Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Flikr Photostream
The first memory I have of knowing that I was a little different was when I was about seven. I asked my mom what I should say to the kids, if they asked about my hands and lack of digits. My mom playfully told me to tell them that she had eaten them because she got hungry. My friends were probably afraid of my mom back then. There were so many times after, that I knew I was different from the others but somehow, it never really bothered me till I got older. I guess age has made me more sensitive to the gawking but once I got past understanding why they stared, I became more okay with it.

One way of dealing with people staring, or most of the unpleasant things that happen in life, is to look at the lighter side of things. But, as I grew older, I understood that staring was how majority of society dealt with seeing something they probably didn't understand. While I usually ignore people who stare, I know a friend who engages young children nicely and asks them if they may have any questions that may help them understand better, why she is on a wheelchair or why she doesn’t look like everyone else.
Awesome picture of Theresa working out at the gym. Photo by the Singapore Sports Council 
People gawk at what they don't understand and I cannot blame them but, I believe that it also boils down to manners; it’s rude to stare at someone, even if it’s because you don’t understand why they may look the way they do. I believe this starts at home and I hope that parents teach their children to be more sensitive to people who look different. Before saying or judging someone who is different from you, it is good to first place yourself in their shoes and maybe gain some perspective from their eyes. How would they feel if they heard someone commenting on their physical appearance?

I remember an incident eons ago, when I was a wee little girl. A child asked their parent why I could not walk and the parent answered “Jie Jie was naughty and fell down”. While this ignorant comment by a parent may not have affected me much back then, now that I think about it, I wonder what the parent may have meant by their comment. Do they mean that people with disabilities are bad or that anyone whom is different is a bad person? It may just be laziness on the parent’s part to spare a few minutes to help their child understand and to help their child empathize with other people.
Theresa at the 2013 Standard Chartered Marathon. Photo by Singapore Sports Council
While I don’t recall having any other encounters like those ignorant parent since then, I’m sure that there a millions of people around the world who face direct verbal, emotional and even physical abuse daily because they don’t fit in or because they’re different. And though ideally, it would be nice if people had more understanding and empathy (word of the day right?), I have some final words to share from someone who understands what it’s like to be a little different.

To those whose bodies differ from the norm, and this applies to people with disabilities and those without physical disabilities, have patience and empathy and know that your body is as beautiful as the rest of them. I hope and pray for those who are different, to maintain their patience and to understand that most people mean no harm in staring or judging. Believe and know that your body is beautiful as it is, you are an amazing individual just the way you are. And on days where patience wears a little thin, take a deep breath, and let it out. You can rant to someone you trust, on your social media page or on your blog! Either way, let it out because it’s not healthy to keep negativity in. :) I believe that as long as you’re beautiful on the inside, your beauty will shine through on the outside as well. 
Theresa and her family and cat - Abby! :) Photo from Theresa Goh
We thank Theresa for her heartfelt contribution above, it makes me want to hug her! Do like her Facebook Page if you wish to have her in your feed once in a while for a boost of inspiration :)

In addition to her prayers, we would like to pray for children and adults alike to have and display sensitivity to those around us and those of us who look a little different. Be it a physical disability, a distinctive birthmark, oddly angled limbs, lack of hair, different skin tone... We seek to be more sensitive and understanding, and strive to educate our young to be more aware and kind and refrain from staring and making rude or insensitive remarks. We pray for the wisdom and the presence of mind to be able to control ourselves from displaying thoughtless and insensitive behaviour to the friends around us.

We pray for those who do look a little different. We pray that they forgive those who stare and do make tactless and thoughtless remarks. We pray that they have patience with these people, especially children, to help them understand and learn. We pray that they will not take these to heart, and cast it off their hearts and minds. We pray that they know that they are an inspiration to everyone else around them, just by being them.  

Below is a video about a project called “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer.” by  Pro Infirmis, an organization for persons with disabilities. To commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which falls on December 3rd of every year, Pro Infirmis has commissioned a series of mannequins that reflect the real bodies of people with physical disabilities for this project. The video below captures the entire process of measuring the people, the sculpting of the mannequins, the display of the mannequins in the store window display, to the reactions of the people who see them. A must watch!


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