Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Cognitive Whizz's Science Escapade

Earlier this year, the twins were invited to join in Cognitive Whizz's Science Escapade workshop in  June. The twins have always loved science, and so have Iz and I actually. In fact, Iz was sulking - he wanted to join the science camp too! He couldn't attend as he was "over-aged" at 11 years old - the June Science Escapade was meant for ages 4 to 8.

Being 4 half days long (9.30am to 12.30pm each day), the camp took up practically a whole week. We had to shift other stuff around to make time for this camp, since the twins were keen on it. We hoped it was worth it, for you can't get back time spent.

I was also intrigued by the Science Escapade blurb on the poster as it mentioned famous kids books author Julia Donaldson and the characters in her books like Stick Man and Superworm. The kids and I have always loved reading and books, so this was a draw for us.
Science Escapade by Cognitive Whizz
Each day's lesson starts with Denise, the main trainer, asking the kids how they are feeling that day. Using flash cards and facial expressions and body language, she demonstrates a variety of feels and introduces a pretty good range of vocabulary to the kids.

Here are some of the words I managed to take note of: exultant, joyous, astonished, despondent, remorseful, daunted, jittery, vexed, frustrated and enraged. Out of so many words introduce, Denise would go on to focus on 4 words each day. Thus by the end of the 4 half day camp, the kids would have learnt the meaning of 16 words.

Given that the target age group is from ages 4 to 8 - this is quite a good standard of vocabulary. I was very impressed and surmised that it's a Science main course with a free English side. Isaac though, raised his eyebrows and whispered to me "I thought you said this was a Science camp?"

Next up, a dramatic reading of one of Julia Donaldson's books. The book for the first day was Stick Man.  I was indeed starting to wonder when the Science would come in... At the end of the book, we had our answer. The reading of the book and it's story, was to lead us in to the science! The kids were to help Stick Man get home to his family, by building a catapult to help him get home! Ah! Using the catapult and other examples, Denise proceeded onto the day's lesson to teach the kids the concept of Levers. Ingenious leading in! A nice touch!

Making the catapult
Denise discussed with the kids and introduced to them the concept of how elastic potential energy is turned into kinetic energy. The kids were provided with ice cream sticks, rubber bands and a spoon, to make their own catapult with - to fly Stick Man home! They all got to test out their constructions with a styrofoam ball as the load.

In another segment, Denise taught the kids how to identify the following in every lever
1. Effort
2. Load
3. Fulcrum

Next she got the kids to identify the above three parts of a lever in everyday items such as a shovel, tongs, ice cream scoop, a nutcracker etc. The kids even got the chance to crack their own nut.

Throughout the morning, in between segments, the facilitators would get the kids to stand and do certain exercises. There was the morning hello segment, and other activities that would get the kids up and moving as well. For young kids, movement like that is very welcomed, and I could see how allowing the kids to move now and then helped settle them and made it easier for them to sit still and do stuff at the table. It was a good balance that worked well.

The kids also got to make their own table-top basketball game which uses a small catapult to launch the ball into the hoop.

All in all, a very eventful morning, chock full of science theories and activities. This would prove to be typical for all four mornings.
Day 1:  Levers
Day 2: Pulleys and wheels
Day 3: Acid and alkali (base) 
Day 4: Air pressure

Lots of content, delivered in simple ways, to engage the kids and capture their attention. Key concepts and key words would be repeated over and over again to help embed this information in the children's minds.

Lever: Effort, Load, Fulcrum!
Cognitive Whizz is the brainchild of Denise. She has been conducting lots of hands-on science experiments with her kids since they were toddlers. With encouragement from her friends and family, she decided to run these holiday science camps so that more children can experience science in such fun and engaging ways.

Denise, as the main trainer, is excellent. Her energy level is consistently high, and her exuberance is contagious. Whether she is reading from a book or flash cards, or demonstrating a concept or experiment, she is clear and concise, energetic and loud enough. Many a time, the experiments are so engaging and interesting, that the kids tend to crowd forward just coz they're so excited! But Denise is able to be firm, yet kind, in telling them to sit back down so that everyone can see what is going on.

It also helps that they have a very good Facilitator to Participant ratio. In a class of less than 20 participants, there seems to be at least 4 to 5 facilitators, in addition to the main trainer. This translates to 1 Facilitator to 4 or 5 Participants - which is very decent. This results in the participants getting lots of 1 to 1 attention when they break into groups when to do their hands-on work. I eavesdropped on the facilitators as well - they're good! They know their content well, and are able to guide the kids effectively, and calm them down when the kids get too excitable or rowdy.

Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of science concepts taught. There were topics which I thought was quite advanced but Denise managed to simplify them concisely and teach the concepts to the kids. To top this off, I truly appreciate how Denise and her facilitators were able to manage the children without resorting to shouting or threats - as I have seen many educators do. I like how Denise uses positive and respectful language with the kids. This in turn sets the tone right for how the facilitators treat the kids, and how the kids behave towards one another. All in all, Cognitive Whizz has my full endorsement - highly recommended!

Cognitive Whizz - A Science Escapade! 2018
This time round, there are Disney characters involved! What's more, this time round, Cognitive Whizz has teamed up with Kidz Amaze @ Toa Payoh as a venue partner. Thus, every participant of the 4 half day (morning) Science Escapade can pop out for lunch and come back into Kidz Amaze and play for the rest of the afternoon till 7pm, for all four days! What a great deal!

I hear the December dates are pretty much filled, but if you're quick, you may still be able to register for the first run! Quote "TFC" before 17 November to get a special promo rate of $290. If you're to sign up for only one camp this holidays - let this be the one! 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017

Remember my DIY Carnival Games? It started with me making the games for my three kids to play. Then we brought them to a few family gatherings where they provided much amusement... Next we tried it out with our church group gathering of more than ten families and it was a hit! And because our church group loved it (pictures here), we decided to give it a try using these carnival games as our main contribution to our Church of St Mary of the Angels' Feast Day celebrations last year. 

Our biggest attraction, literally, was the bouncy castle. It was HUGE! In fact, we had to carefully position the bouncy castle so that the lights and fans suspended from the ceiling would not be disturbed. We had the bouncy castle the previous year in 2016, which we manned, together with our jumble sale store. In 2017, we decided to try out combining Bouncy Castle with the Universal Arcade carnival games, rather than jumble sale. We wanted to still run a bouncy castle as it was a huge draw for the kids - they loved it!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Bouncy Castle 
We quickly realised that our teens were all still kids at heart - they wanted to play too! So for the safety of our customers, we decided to split the sessions to segregate the jumpers by age. This way, we have jump sessions for younger kids, and sessions for teens. Thus, we ensure that our toddlers and young kids would not be in danger of being trampled on by the rowdy teens!

Our Sub-Committee in charge of the bouncy castle also planned ahead of time, for cleaning of the bouncy castle in between every few sessions of use. We stand by buckets of clean water and rags, to give the bouncy castle floor a wipe down every hour or so. All of us parents are all too aware of how dirty a bouncy castle can get with all the kids and teens getting more and more sweaty with every jump - thank goodness the hall is air-conditioned!

Come, let's go on a tour of our Universal Arcade games! Our awesome Children's Liturgy Team worked together to beautify the carnival games I made - which on hindsight, looked skeletal and drab in appearance. The people you see in the pictures are mainly our Children's Liturgy Team members tending to the game stalls. Yes, the kids too! We have our kids help out as well for they are useful members of our team and it takes a lot to tire them out :) So we adults are mighty glad of the help they could provide during this busy weekend.
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Villain Busters and Mini Mayhem
In Mini Mayhem, throw the hoops to loop the yellow monsters to earn stamps! It's that easy! My children hand drew the pictures of them and coloured them meticulously before I had them laminated. The laminated pictures are tied around a 1.25 litre soft drink bottle which we half filled with water to weigh it down.

In Villain Busters, players would be handed some squishy toy animal, and they throw it at the pictures of the villains! The pictures are actually flaps which will move back and let the item through when it is being hit! This game was made by the good people at Paper Carpenter.
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Flush It! 
One of our most popular games is Flush It! Just throw the toilet rolls into the toilet bowls! The top picture was posed for - the toilet bowls certainly don't stink!?!?! The toilet bowl covers were kindly loaned to us from Sinbor Company, and have never been used before, only for display. We simply attached it to cardboard boxes which we wrapped up nicely in fancy, snazzy wrapping paper! People simply loved this game coz it looks so cute! :) 

When we were planning our games for Universal Arcade, someone in our team saw a picture of such a carnival game online, and suggested we make a similar one. So we asked in our group whatsapp chat:"Does anyone have any spare toilet seat covers in their storeroom that we can use to make this game?" To our surprise, Edyll replied almost immediately, saying that the company she works for would be able to sponsor us the toilet bowl covers. We were astounded! Ask and you shall be given, says the Lord! :)

St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Poke Kart
Another game which drew many onlookers was Poke Kart. Themed after the Poke Go game, players control a remote control car to certain checkpoints indicated on the track. Reach more checkpoints, score more stamps! The Poke theme is a little passe by now, so we're likely to re-theme this game into a Formula D racing car game.

Most of the walls of our Poke Kart track are actually bed slats which we found at the void deck. It wasn't ideal as the slats couldn't stand properly and we had to tape them to the floor. The shorter walls are made of thick cardboard protectors that came in some of the cartons of board games that I import to sell online. These weren't ideal as well, since they were relatively lightweight and would move when a car ran into it. We had to tape these to the floor too.

Now, once again, God provides! Just as we were thinking about how we were going to obtain suitable pieces of wood for us to construct a new race track for Universal Arcade 2018, we came across an opportunity for us to obtain such wood for almost free! Thus, thanks to an awesome stock of wood we got from Triple Eyelid Studio which they sold for very reasonable rates, we're working on constructing the new game track right now! So come visit our Universal Arcade 2018 to see the new track and play our games!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Nerf Wars
What's an arcade without some shooting games, eh?! Well, we have two! In Nerf Wars - we use original Nerf Guns, of course. Shoot the figureheads of the dark villain and his soldiers to earn stamps . The figureheads were actually from a Christmas party bag that used to contain candy within. I saved the little containers coz I thought they looked so cute, and now they've come in handy!

In Howdy's Shootin' Range, you use Rubber Band Guns to shoot a target. Our home made target shooting range was made from cardboard, and Yakult bottles. Hit the targets to earn stamps. We generally don't promote violence, but a little shooting practice is good fun! Look, even a granny, and Fr Justin gave it a shot - pun intended! :) The shooting games were naturally a hit with boys of all ages! What's with boys and guns?!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Howdy's Shootin' Gallery
Do you remember the flicking games Asher and Shawna helped me with? The twins loved the games they made so much, they asked if we can make a new one to use for the funfair, instead of using theirs! We made a new one which was bigger, and it got re-themed into "Feed the Ants". Flick the bottle caps onto the holes with ants' pictures on them to 'feed' them and earn stamps. Made entirely of card board and beautified by some good painting skills!

"Poo and His Honey Brunch" was a spur of the moment invention, using a mini catapult to bounce little bears onto the board in search of honey. Land the bears on honey spots to earn stamps! Once again, cardboard is our friend! So is Google :)
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Feed the Ants game, and  Poo and His Honey Brunch game
Eggs Run was inspired by an Easter Week activity that I helped helm at my kids' primary school the previous Easter. Easy enough to play, throw the eggs onto the egg trays and aim for the coloured spaces! Our Team gamely ate many eggs and collected many egg carton trays for us to paint and use in this game. No chicks were harmed in the making and playing of this game - they are plastic eggs! :)
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Eggs Run
You would have probably realised by now, our Universal Arcade games are very easy to play, but not necessarily easy to score - you need a bit of skill in most of them! This makes it fun and challenging for our players! You have to come experience them for yourselves! Like this game below, we have Park Your Car! Players need to send their car into the garage. Park your cars and earn your stamps! The facade of the garage buildings is a scrap collage project by Pauleen made of cardboard and coloured paper! Awesomesauce!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Park Your Car
Another perennial favourite of ours are the hand mazes that are made entirely out of cardboard! I made the ones in cardboard brown, and the other two were done by Francis & Renne - what a stroke of genius to have a background image! Inspired by You Know What, players have to navigate the mazes to get to various checkpoints, in the shortest time possible. We have four mazes in all, two are simpler than the other two. So depending on your age, you get a different one. You're welcome to come try them all! Many people do! They are that fun!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Handy Mazes
Last but not least, we have the Shield of Faith! Good Ol' Capt can throw his shields with unwavering accuracy so he must have put in many hours training his throw at a training facility like the one we have set up here! Throw the small shields into any of the rectangle holes, and earn your stamps! The small flying saucer shields are made up of some corn ware disposable plates that Ivy and I taped together with duct tape. We made sure they were decorated like Capt's shields. The banner is hubbs' expedition banner from the year before that was headed for the bin. I rescued it and it came in handy when we made this game. This time, it was Ivy who gave it an aesthetical facelift by taping up the holes in different colours and added the pictures of the shields.

We strongly believe in Reduce, Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle. You can see that most of our games are made from cardboard boxes we have re-purposed. We reuse and re-purposed many things such as cardboard, plastic bottles, bottle caps, and wood. We're a green bunch, right here! We're learning and trying our best to be as green as we can be - to show God how we can be good stewards of His creation!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Shield of Faith
You must be wondering what is this "earn your stamps" that we keep mentioning? Well, what are games without prizes to be won, right? So we have a huge Prize Redemption Booth full of prizes to be won! The bottom left hand corner of the collage below shows a St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 Game Card which you purchase with your coupons.

Each Game Card gives you an entitlement of playing three different games - yes, any three different games of all the games listed above - not including Bouncy Castle. You need to buy a Bouncy Castle Ticket to have a go inside the Bouncy Castle. So after getting your Game Card, you look for a game which you wish to play. Wait for your turn, and hand the Game Card to the people manning the game booth. For each game, you will definitely get one stamp - for participation. Then, you can earn up to three more stamps per game you play.  You will be awarded stamps accordingly, depending on how well you play the game you have selected. Thus, in one Game Card, you will get a minimum of 3 stamps, and a maximum of 12 stamps.
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Game Card & Prize Redemption Booth
You may come to the Prize Redemption Booth at any time to check out the prizes still available for redemption. They will have a Stamp Value marked on them. So for example, the huge Transformers below needed a total of 200 stamps to have it redeemed. The collage below shows some of our biggest winners in 2017, look at their grins!

But worry not, there is something for everyone! We have small prizes available for redemption for as few as 3 stamps. So even if you only buy one Game Card and don't play the games well, you'd still be able to get a small trinket, at least! However, that hardly happened at all! Our Universal Arcade games are such good and wholesome fun, that many families came and had so much fun! We overheard people saying that "THIS IS WHERE THE REAL FUN IS!"
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Nestle Breakfast Cereals, Singapore
Not only do we have good fun, we have good value food too! Nestle Breakfast Cereals was so kind to send us cartons of cereal that have a few more months to their Best Before Date. They are simply awesome greensome to do that! Did you know that as estimated $200 million of worth of food are discarded in Singapore annually? Well, we're happy to say that Nestle Breakfast Cereals try their best not to contribute to that figure! We were all fairly familiar with Cheerios, but many of us were introduced to the Nestle Fitnesse range of cereals for the first time. Apparently, they contain over 40% wholegrain nutrition, essential vitamins and minerals including folic acid and dietary fibre. These healthy cereals were a big hit! Thank you, Nestle Breakfast Cereals!
St Mary's Universal Arcade 2017 - Grand Prize Winners!
Our Children's Liturgy Team had put so much effort, time and energy into making and sprucing up these games, sorting of prizes, worrying over logistical issues, manpower scheduling, marketing efforts and photography - all good photos in this post by Brian Ng :) As such, we were all ecstatic to see how well the Universal Arcade games were received. It gave us joy, and hope too, to see so many kids and adults alike, having fun with good ol' fashioned carnival games - with no electronic gadget in sight! Many a kind parishioner praised and thanked us for running these games, as they had enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

So, if you have enjoyed reading about the games above, you MUST come and experience most of them at our Universal Arcade 2018! In fact, it'd be most of these games, and more! We're planning and making them now, as you read this post! The main St Mary's Feast Day Funfair (tonnes of delicious food and other game stalls run by other parishioners) would be on Sunday 5th August 2018 from 8am to 3pm. However, Universal Arcade is also open on Saturday 4th August 2018 from 5.30pm - 8.30pm! So if you wish to beat the crowd and yet check out Universal Arcade - come on Saturday evening!

Church of St Mary of the Angels Feast Day 2018
Last but not least, in addition to our awesome Team, we had loads of help from our own personal friends and family, as well as parents of the children attending Children's Liturgy at St Mary's! They helped stock our Prize Redemption Booth! Not a single prize was bought by us! The prizes were all crowd-sourced from family, friends, parishioners and friends of friends. Our Universal Arcade would not have been the roaring success it was without the contribution of the awesome prizes we received. 

We believe, and we know, that many of us in Singapore are a privileged bunch of people that actually have a surplus of many brand new things that we still keep holed up in our cupboards and bomb shelter. These may include toys, games, bags, household appliances. Bring them out and donate them to us to use as prizes for our Prize Redemption Booth! We welcome used items as well, if they are in excellent, working condition. 

NOW is the time to declutter and send your good stuff our way! Small items such as stationery sets, small toys, and books, are also welcomed, but we are sorely lacking in big prizes that our big winners happily carted home last year. So now we need more! 

If you're in the West, drop off your items at the St Clare Hall at Level 2 of the Church of St Mary of the Angels at 5 Bukit Batok East Ave 2, Singapore 659918 - every Saturday in July from 3 - 4pm. If you know of any friend attending our church, pass it to them and ask them to drop off the stuff for you! :p Alternatively, whatsapp 94301421 - and we'd see if we can arrange something. 

Let the miracle of Five Loaves and Two Fishes, 2018 edition, begin!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Bring Your Kids to Work Day!

Before I became a mumpreneur, the corporate company I used to work for had an annual Bring Your Kids to Work Day. It was kind of a misnomer as you usually hardly get any work done that day. I think it was more for the kids to come see your work place. The company was also nice about it, organising fun stuff for the kids, like a magic show or some crafting activity. Most people end up bringing their young kids - you hardly see older kids like those in primary/secondary schools. But I guess that was to be expected since those kids were probably all in school!
 
So it came to be that yesterday was the first time in the history of My First Games that we had a Bring Your Kids to Work Day! But this time round, I did expect them to do real work for me, as in, seriously help me out with what I was doing. Now, before you start your complain email to the Ministry of Manpower about me using child labour, let me tell you why the kids weren't in school yesterday morning... It was the PSLE oral examinations day! The younger kids didn't have to go to school on Thursday and Friday. And since I'd already agreed to go to a secondary school to sell games, I decided to bring them with me... to work!
Bring Your Kids to Work Day 2017
In my line of work, running an online shop, I would usually accept any invitations to go to schools or workplaces to sell games, if it doesn't clash with anything on my schedule. These would usually be weekday morning/lunchtime affairs, which would wrap up at say 1plus pm. Then I would quickly pack up my wares to get on with my other full time job - picking the kids from school and being with them. So it's usually a busy morning for me to have to display and sell my wares, and the rush to have to pack up stuff to be in time to fetch the kids from school. So I was rather glad that this time round, the date clashed with the PSLE Oral days, which meant that I didn't have to rush off to fetch the kids. In addition, I now had additional three pairs of hands to help me with carrying stuff and setting up the booth. More importantly, I had three more pairs of mouths to help me teach customers-to-be how to play the games we loved and sold.
 
The kids were very pleased and excited to be coming with me to work. They were pretty hyped up about it and enthusiastically went about arranging the tables, lay out the table cloth, display the games and set up the cards in preparation for when customers would arrive - and they would teach customers how to play.
 
There were a few other stalls present, mostly selling food like honey vinegar and snacks, loads of snacks like rice crackers, chocolate and potato chips. We were the only non-food stall present selling stuff. Situated right outside the staff room door, we were supposed to sell to the school's teachers who would come by to see our wares in between their lessons.
 
We were there for slightly over 4 hours. And I would say it was an average sales day. It wasn't totally bad for there were sales, but it wasn't exactly excellent either - I'd done better at some other schools. What I found interesting was the children's reaction to their day at work with me. So I had a mini interview with each of them this morning to find out their thoughts...
 
Question: What did you think about your day yesterday, selling games with me? 
 
Asher: "It is tiring and not fun at all. I thought it would be fun and that many people will come to our stall (but that was not the case)."
 
Shawna: "It wasn't fun at all.  I thought it would be like that time when I went with you to your secondary school to sell bears.  People came. I think next time just bring a lot of snacks to sell. "
 
Isaac: "I think it was a bit boring because not a lot of people came to our stall so we can't show them how to play the games. But it was also quite fun because I could play Gobblet Gobblers with a lot of the teachers as they found the game very cute. "
 
As you can tell, our stall wasn't very happening at all. Not many people showed interest in our games. So even though I had three additional headcount ready to explain the games, and play them with customers... people weren't interested to begin with! And yes, the kids all noticed that the snack store had a lot more interest and business instead!
 
Isaac: "I'm surprised the snack store did so well because I don't  really like snacks so I didn't expect other people to like snacks so much. I am also not surprised though, because a lot of people in my school also likes the snack store and they buy from them a lot. " 
 
Honestly, even I was tempted by the wares of the snack stall! They sold a mind-boggling array of Japanese and Taiwanese snacks, and did exceedingly well. I was mighty pleased that my children weren't interested in the least! The boys didn't bother to even look at the food up close, and even though I saw Shawna going by to have a closer look, she wasn't interested in anything enough to ask me to buy. I am proud to say I resisted the temptation to get any snacks too!
 
Question: What were your expectations like? How did you think it was going to be, selling games with me? 
 
Isaac: "I expected that a lot of people would come and we would be busy teaching people how to play and playing the games with them."
 
From what Asher and Shawna said above, I could see that they had the same expectation as Isaac. They were looking forward to a busy morning explaining games to people. I would say this is the Optimistic Outlook of Entrepreneurs! And so I did explain to them, that things may not always work out the way we expect them to be.
 
Asher and Shawna grew distracted from their task - as there were not many customers to entertain. They went off to play on the school swing they spotted on their way to the toilets, and left Isaac and me to fend for ourselves. So when there were teachers who were excited about one of our bestsellers Gobblet Gobblers and kept wanting to play the demo set we laid out - Isaac was very happy to indulge them in multiple games, especially when the teachers realised that Isaac played the game well and he was the one to beat!
 
Question: Why do you think not many people came to our stall?
 
Shawna: "Because they don't have time to play games as they need to do their homework ."

Isaac: "I think because a lot of the teachers here don't have children. I also think that the snack store attracted a lot of attention and made them spend all their money. "
 
Asher: "Because they don't have kids or their kids don't play games. Or they think games are not fun so they don't play games.  That is so sad." 
 
Isaac was admonishing me on bringing only two copies of Go Away Monster because they were sold and another customer wanted another copy. We also sold all three copies of Sushi Go we brought because one of the staff already had the game and had introduced it to his colleagues prior to us coming by yesterday. So I explained to him how we could only being a few copies of every game if we wanted to bring a large selection of games. And how it was impossible to predict exactly what would sell well and what wouldn't.
 
Well, all things considered, I think the kids have got a pretty good read on the situation.  I think it was an excellent experience for them, being on the job with me.  I told the three of them "This is what Mummy does on some days, when you're in school. I go to places to set up stalls to sell games. It isn't always very fun, though it is almost always very tiring! And there isn't always a swing to sit on, nor friends who treat us to ice-cream and cold drinks."
 
Special thanks to my primary school classmate WC, for the drinks and ice-cream, and multiple games of Gobblet Gobblers with Isaac. You singlehandedly brightened up our day! :)
Mdm HWC's photo! :)

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Auntie Pam's Carnival Games

I've always loved to play games. Any kind of games. Board games, carnival games, yard games. All sorts of games. I've also always loved to make stuff. Especially making stuff out of other stuff - reusing and recycling things. But the trigger was Isaac, really. It'd been happening one too many time, when we were at a funfair or a carnival where there are game stalls, and we would only be willing to buy the family at most $10 worth of tickets and had to ration that between the three kids for them to "play stuff" at the funfair. As you probably know, $10 doesn't get you very far. You could, possibly, at best, play 5 games at $2 a pop. Or more likely only 3 times if each game costs $3. Even $20, or $30, or $50 would honestly be insufficient to sate the appetite of the young ones seeking to play their fill at a funfair. 

We had this conversation once, when Isaac begged us to get more tickets so he could have another try at the game booths. You know, the ones where you invariably get three balls to throw at some target, or three shots with a toy gun, or something like that. 

Isaac:"Please Mummy... one more try..."
Mummy:" Why do you want to play the game?"
Isaac:"Er... because I want to get a prize?"
Mummy:"What prize? Those small toy thingies? Do you really want that?"
Isaac:"No... not really... erm... I just want to play... looks fun..."
Mummy:"You pay $2 and get three tries to throw a ball to try to hit something. If you want to play, I can make many games like that for you and you can play all you like. Without paying a single cent."

In the end we convinced him and the twins to go line up for the Zorb ball experience. Even though it was $5 per head, we convinced them that they would have more fun at trying something like that, than throwing three balls. 

Another time, we gave him some tickets and allowed him to use it any way he wished. He went off, played some carnival games and came back. We asked him if it was worth it, and he agreed and said he now understood what we meant. It also helped that being in primary three now, he has at least two years plus experience of using money. This has helped him have an inkling of the value of money. He realizes that spending his entire daily allowance of $2 to throw three balls, wasn't really worth it. 

I felt bad denying him the fun of playing funfair games though. This innate sense of the need to want to let him have such fun thus provided the impetus that pushed me into action. To turn the thoughts and plans in my head, into real physical things. I started making simple carnival games. 
I wanted to make games out of everyday items we have lying around the house, stuff we would normally throw out. Also, I needed them to be easy to keep, so they had to have a small footprint, or be able to be dismantled. And this was what I came up with in The First Batch of games.

First Batch of Auntie Pam's DIY Funfair Games - Clockwise From Top Left: Shoot for Gold, Ring the Target, Bin It, Basketball, and the standees for Target Practice
Shoot For Gold - I cut plastic milk cartons, shampoo bottles and body soap bottles in half to fill the cardboard box. Players get three or five bottle caps and aim to throw them into the golden coloured bottles. Bottle caps are used instead of balls, so that the game master doesn't have to run after balls. 

Ring the Target - These are just CD spindles, which I duct-taped to make it look brighter. The mini hoops are the luminous light sticks that kids like to wear around their wrists. They don't shine anymore, but that's okay - we just need them as hoops. Players have to aim for the spines and loop the spine! 

Bin It - These bins are the covers of the CD spindles whose spines/bottoms  I used for Ring the Target. I previously used juggling balls (which were not fully round) to throw, but that made the game too difficult as the diameter of the 'ball' was slightly greater than half the diameter of the plastic bin - making it quite a challenging task. Now, we use a set of five-stones. It's like throwing something into the bin, aim for a bin and Bin It! 

Basketball - I added two more hoops (empty duct tape rolls) attached to the box with cable ties.  This one is fairly obvious too eh? Throw the ball into any of the three hoops! This game sits in the box itself, so that the game master for this game would not have to run about picking balls - the balls should drop right into the box itself, making it easy for retrieval.

Target Practice - I had the kidzes help colour in the bad guys in the colouring books we had at home. Cut them out, and pasted them on cardboard. Using scraps of cardboard and making slits in them, these formed the stands for the baddies on cardboard. I had a whole booklet of Thomas & Friends stickers that had lost its stickiness, and so I decided to just glue these on cardboard as well. Tah dah! Target standees for our highly popular shooting game Target Practice! Every time we use them, we make use of whatever chairs or furniture we have available to form the shooting range. The extensiveness of the shooting range would depend on how innovative and creative the Game Master and his assistants are for that day. Just look at the variety below!
Target Practice - Everyone loves the shooting games at a funfair and ours is no exception! The line of kids that forms to play this game is usually the longest!
So, what fun is games without prizes eh? Don't worry, we've got that covered too. I figured we all have loads of stuff at home, right? New stuff, as well as used stuff. One man's trash is another's treasure. And kids always find other children's toys more fun anyway. So we pre-empt all the parents, and ask that they bring stuff from home. Stationery, toys, books, bags, stuff - new or used is fine, as long as the used items are in good condition. And boy did everyone rise to the occasion! Most mums are simply glad to have this opportunity to declutter their homes and bring stuff to donate to the Prize Redemption Booth. We also encourage the kids to give away toys which they no longer play with. It was a great success, just look at our Prize Redemption Booth pix below - filled to the brim with loads of awesome stuff. 

At each carnival game session, we need the parents to volunteer to be Game Masters for each game. Each Game Master would be provided with a "chop" - an inked stamp. Kids would be given sheets of paper. Each time they play a game, depending on how well they fared at the game, they would be awarded chops/stamps by Game Master on their pieces of paper. Collect many chops, then proceed to the Prize Redemption Booth to use your chops to redeem prizes =) 

It was a hit. The kids loved earning the chops, and they loved spending them too. We routinely ask the kidzes if they enjoyed an event we have just been to or an activity we had just done, and why they think so. We do this as we want to understand what they are thinking. For the carnival game sessions, Shawna specifically highlights that she enjoys spending her stamps "shopping for prizes". The boys heartily agree, and we do notice Isaac often spending his chops redeeming items meant for giving to the twins. In fact, we see other kids doing that too - redeeming items for their siblings. Most heartwarming :) 
Play Auntie Pam's Carnival Games, earn stamps, and spend them redeeming your prizes at the Prize Redemption Booth!
My DIY homemade carnival/funfair games was a such a huge hit that our friends started calling me Auntie Ringo - after the once ubiquitous Uncle Ringo professional funfair operator. It was high praise, and I was most pleased. It also inspired me to make more games.

I made the Mazes. Made entirely out of cardboard, white glue, some imagination and lots of estimation. The first maze is the one on the right below, the Three Little Pigs Maze. Players are timed to see how long they take to complete the route. A marble is placed at the Start, you use your hands to tilt the board and guide the marble - the Wolf - to the 1st little pig's home, 2nd pig's home, 3rd pig's home, before going to End to complete the route.

The mazes reminded me of  the Triwizard Tournament Maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And being the huge Harry Potter fans we all are - the next maze is the Harry Potter themed maze! After having the experience of making the Three Little Pigs Maze, I now understood how I can make the maze more difficult to navigate. Thus I set about making a more challenging maze.

In the Harry Potter maze (below, Right), you are Harry Potter (it's a yellow & red marble!), and you begin the race at Start. You have to get to the numbered checkpoints, the last being Checkpoint 7. The checkpoint drawings are illustrated by Artist Asher, as follows:
Checkpoint 1 - Sphinx
Checkpoint 2 - Dementor
Checkpoint 3 - Acromantula (Spider)
Checkpoint 4 - Blast-Ended Skrewt
Checkpoint 5 - TriWizard Cup
Checkpoint 6 - Cemetery
Checkpoint 7 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry

It was a pity we did't think to check that the checkpoints monsters were not met by Harry in the same order as they were in the book, but well... I loved the illustrations done by Asher, and I wanted to keep them.
Auntie Pam's DIY cardboard mazes - Harry Potter Maze and Three Little Pigs Maze
The success of our new game - the mazes - inspired the kidzes to invent games too. Thus we started to brainstorm about other carnival games we could make. I was telling them that we had a lot of Throwing games, we had a Shooting game, the mazes were a sort of "Rolling" game... what were we short of? A flicking game, I said! 

The twins caught on, and we started to discuss and brainstorm about the mechanisms and themes their games could take. I challenged Isaac to think of a different game as well. I didn't want to end up with three similar flicking games. Inspired by the real funfair his school had recently, Isaac had the idea to build a small version of a dunking machine.

I had the kidzes draw out on paper their construction plans for their games. One must always have a plan. So it was that we began the long, arduous process of designing and constructing a game. The twins drew the circles, but it was hubbs and I who used the penknife to cut out the circles. They helped with the gluing and made the decisions regarding the theme. Asher and Shawna were completely in charge of the aesthetics of the game though - a truly excellent job they did with that. Much, much better than anything I or the hubbs could have come up with. 
Do-It-Yourself! Make Your Own Carnival/Funfair Games today!!!
We spend the whole of Sunday afternoon doing this, but the kids enjoyed it tremendously, and want to do it again! Read on to learn more about their good work done!

Go Home Kids! by Shawna Tan
The kids are three small balls, who need to get past fast flowing streams and volcanic lava pits to head to the three dark blue holes which are the entrances to the secret underground tunnels which will get them home! (She rejected my theme suggestion of Moles). The marbles have to be placed on the small square depression in the middle of the Start Panel - as Shawna is adamant that you can only flick with fingers on one hand - you cannot use your other hand to hold the marble. The game is trickier than it seems because there is a "drain" depression right at the back of the board, trapping balls and preventing them from bouncing off the back wall into the blue holes. Shawna decides that players who manage to send the kids home will get 3 chops or 5 chops. Generous!

Ant Trap by Asher Tan
Players flick bottle caps and try to enter them into the holes with numbers in them. The numbers indicate the chops you would receive if you manage to flick your bottle cap into those holes. Here, you flick bottle caps which have more friction, and are less forgiving than balls which will roll and possible get somewhere by luck. Players would likely get a minimum result of at least one chop, but the three chops slot is the smallest and is quite tricky to get into. Love the ant hill scenery backdrop, ants and anteaters that Asher has drawn and painted!

Down with Goliath! by Isaac Tan
This is a toy soldier scaled dunking machine!!! The toy soldier is Goliath, and players play the role of David, who uses stones (five stones! ;p) to hit the target, which swings back, causing the other end to swing forward and topple Goliath into the Acid Moat below! This entire contraption was conceived by Isaac. And he did all the decorations himself too.
Carnival Games by the Tan Family Kidzes! Down with Goliath by Isaac. Go Home Kids by Shawna. Ant Trap by Asher. 
The kids can't wait for there to be another Carnival Games Session so that others can get to play their games. Already, they are dreaming of the queues that would form to play their games, and Shawna even asked me if she could choose the adult Game Master to be in charge of her game. The kidzes are already clamouring for another Game-Making session. As Isaac puts it "Building games is painfully slow, but the outcomes are magical!" And what magic the kidzes have done! Beautiful!

So have I inspired you to Make-Your-Own Carnival Games?! :) Try it, it's fun! The kids get to exercise their imagination and hone their STEM skills, and we adults get an exercise in self-control where we have to control ourselves to NOT tell the kids what we think is the "correct" answer and solution to everything - let them think through it themselves! You'd be amazed with what they can do!

So have I convinced you to let your kids make a little mess at home in the process to making something? If I haven't, watch this video on Caine's Arcade! It was what inspired me as well and started me thinking and forming ideas in my head! I love how innovative Caine is and how his story spawned a whole movement - The Imagination Foundation and the Cardboard Challenge! Really awesome stuff.

One challenge I had was that, unlike Caine, I didn't have a whole garage to store the games in. Neither did I want to throw away our hard work and have to remake them every time we wanted to use them.  So I needed to make sure that the games could be kept neatly and stored for repeated use. So I figured that they had to fit into certain cardboard boxes that I had. And so it is, that all the games you saw above, are all stored in the 6 boxes in the pix below.

Tan Family Carnival Games - all kept and ready for the next session!
So get on it and make your own carnival games today! Check out our other Make-Your-Own series posts below!

MAKE YOUR OWN TOYS TODAY!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

An Honest Review about Monsters Under the Bed

Posters of Monsters Under the Bed holiday creative writing workshops, Singapore.
In the past couple of years, since Isaac was in Primary 1, we've been very fortunate to have attended no less than nine creative writing workshops conducted by Monsters Under the Bed (MUTB) during the school holidays. And I say "we" and not just Isaac, because the MUTB folks are the kind of folks that doesn't mind the parents of their attendees hanging around, observing them carry out their programme. Hence the writer in me jumped at the chance to sit in on every session as I wanted to see what and how they teach, and whether a considerably seasoned writer such as I - could learn anything from them. Thus, I think I am pretty qualified to give a comprehensive review of these Monsters Under the Bed (is that a cool name or what?!) people, and the workshops that they have been organizing. And I guarantee you, by the soles of my kampong slippers, that this will be an honest review.
INKtotheVoid 2015! Scifi adventure theme inspired by Star Wars! The kids get a space blaster each! Spray-painted to space-perfection these water guns look like the genuine space blaster indeed! The hubbs and I couldn't resist playing with the guns before they were sold! Love how innovative these MUTB guys are!
WHAT I LIKE

Parents Are Allowed to Sit In the Entire Session
I'm sure all the other enrichment centres have a myriad of reasons why they don't allow parents to observe their going-ons when in session. But I find it telling that MUTB would allow parents to sit in on the sessions - it's like they have nothing to hide, you know what I mean? It's like they know that they have a solid programme that can stand up to scrutiny if the parents so wish to hang around to see what they're teaching their kids, and how it's being done.

Now, by and large, not many parents even choose to hang around. Most just drop their kid/s at the workshop and skip off for work or brunch or something. And for those of us who do hang around, we know we're supposed to sit at the back and not cause any disturbance, of course. But still, you can be there if you wish. And that's saying something.

One trick MUTB applies to keep all the kids in check is to have House Rules. But of course, they sing it in tune to the theme of the workshop! SurviveINK, MUTB 2015.
The Themes of the Workshops
Every workshop is centered around a theme. These themes can be vastly different. And before you can ask me why every workshop has the word INK in it... It's actually an acronym. INK stands for Imagination 'N Knowledge.

Here's a mini brief of the themes of the workshops we have attended 
  • EnchantINK - Fairy Tale themed. But not in the Disney sense. MUTB delves into the history of where fairy tales came from, comparing the original Grimm tales to the modern day happy-ending Disneyfied stories we know today. Kids get to write their own fractured fairy tale to their gruesome end.  Read my full review of this workshop.
  • MonsterHuntINK - Monster themed. Kids get to create their own versions of everything! Their own monsters, their monster's lair, their own hero, deck the hero (or heroine!) out in weapons of their own invention (don't forget the Secret Weapon!)  and finally, write out the story of how their hero went on the monster hunt. Read my full review!!
  • InvestigateINK - Investigator themed. The kids are Reporters of a publication and are thick in the action of a mysterious drama of murder as espionage! Kids write out a report of what actually happened, to have it printed in their publication. Read my full review! 
  • HauntINK - Ghost themed! Very spookily (well) done, the kids are exposed to how good ghost stories are written. How they can up the spook factor of their horror stories. Read this full review by Ch - one of the participants of HauntINK!
  • EpicQuestINK - Percy Jackson inspired theme of a Hero and his journey while on his quest. We are made to realized that actually many stories that we read (kids' genre, that is) consists of a hero on a quest, and the story is all about his journey. Again, the kids invent their own hero and bring him on a journey to fulfill his quest. Read Owl's Well's full review!
  • SurviveINK - Zombie themed!!! Trainers and kids role play as modern day people caught in a major worldwide incident where people are being turned into zombies. The last bastion of refuge in Singapore was there at The Arts House (where the workshop was held). Read Owl's Well's full review!
  • SpellCraftINK - Harry Potter inspired theme of witchcraft and wizardry. Participants are enrolled into the Mundane School of Monsters & Magic and would learn to design their own spells and artefacts, hunt and identify magical beasts, as well as learn how to insert "secrets" into their story to make it interesting and exciting! Each group is a "House" and the kids even get their own wands! I so wanted my own wand too, but there were no extras! sob sob sob!!! Read this full review by Unlikely Lady of Leisure.
In SpellCraftINK 2015, the kids had to participate actively in discussions and brainstorming sessions, to earn tokens to spend on buying themselves a wand! Look at all the lovely wands handmade by the MUTB team! Everyone's pleased with their wands for even though they think they have chosen the wand - it is actually the wand who chose them! :p
  • HowlINK - Werewolves themed. Another murder mystery! One that's set in a lonely village surrounded by woods this time. Participants learn to create tension and suspense in their stories and hone their ability to observe, interview and investigate! Full review by SaysHappyMums.
  • INKtotheVoid - Star Wars inspired Sci-Fi adventure themed! Participants learn how to design their own fun fictional technology (weapons, spaceships, whatever you can think of!), build entire planets & civilisations and of course, create the larger-than-life characters that form the main protagonists in their stories! Full review by Owl's Well!
One of the things I really like about MUTB is how they motivate the kids to participate actively in discussions and whatnot as well as do their work - writing. The more the kids participate and write, the more tokens/credits they earn for redeeming for stuff. Be it weapons, or protection amulets, or safety bracelets - the kids get to spend their tokens the way they want! INKtotheVoid, MUTB 2015
Just see how cool their themes are!!! Every time we marvel at MUTB's themes, Debs of Owls Well and I just look at each other and lament "How come we didn't have such interesting themed creative writing workshops when WE were young!?" After every awesomely done MUTB camp, I wonder to myself what other interesting themes would MUTB be able to come up with for the next camp? But they don't seem to have any trouble coming up with gems! By the way, the workshops usually run for three half days from 10am to 1pm on weekdays. I'm not sure why we call holiday workshops "camps" even though the participants don't stay overnight or do anything remotely like camping - but that's what people call holiday workshops nowadays. Sometimes.

Excellent Execution
Anyone can come up with interesting themes - but not everyone can excute it well. I have attended events/workshops conducted by other parties before that sounded very interesting, but was so dismally executed that we feel very cheated of out time and feelings *sob*. But here is where MUTB shines. The team of trainers have obviously done loads of research and preparation prior to the workshop, and this shows in their execution.
Most workshops have a number of pre-recorded video segments which tie in to the theme of the camp. Very stylishly done. And for the e-generation, definitely a good hook. InvestigateINK, MUTB 2015. 
Firstly, the theme (yes, again). MUTB takes their themes very seriously. The trainers are usually dressed for the theme throughout the workshop, and they really get into it. For most workshops, the trainers usually take on a alter-ego name in line with the theme and ask the kids to call them by that name during the workshop. They then role-play that role that they are playing throughout the whole three half day workshops. There are often videos of them in character, filmed prior to the start of the workshops. Frequently, there would be live drama acted out by the trainers there and then at the session itself. For workshops with a mystery - who was the traitor? killer? spy? infected?! the answer is often revealed as a finale in a short drama acted out by the trainers on the last day. Truly a visual and sensory feast to be savoured and look forward to every camp.
In EpicQuestINK 2015, the participants got to make their own card game and board game in addition to writing their own story. In fact, the card game they made for themselves was a kind of story-generator to help them outline a story by just using the cards! Love it that the kids get to write and create varied stuff like that! 
In line with the theme, the kids often have very apt and cool take home souvenirs. In InvestigateINK, each participant had their own Reporter Staff Pass (was actually their name tag for the camp). In SpellCraftINK - the Harry Potter inspired camp, the kids each had their own wand!!! In INKtotheVoid - the Star Wars inspired camp, the kids got their own laser blasters (water guns spray-painted to perfection!) and got to put together their own half-length light-saber - one that truly lights up! In order to "buy" these items, participants had to earn points or credits by answering questions, or coming up with points/ideas during their writing/brainstorming sessions with their group's tutors. The kids take to this gamification very well and enthusiastically participate to earn more credits for their expenditure. This enthusiasm in a few inevitably spreads to the rest of the kids and that's how you end up with a class full of engaged and participative kids. Bravo.
There may be lots of fun and drama at MUTB camps, but there's lots of serious writing going on too. The one thing that is MISSING is the groaning and moaning of kids not want to write! The kids all delve into writing with gusto!!!  MonsterHuntINK, MUTB 2014.

Using their theme, MUTB selects the type of writing skills they wish to explore, teach and hone in the kids. For example, for InvestigateINK - the kids are taught to write in a third person reportive style. For EpicQuestINK - the kids are taught to outline their story of their hero's journey to make sure it has all the elements of an adventure of a protagonist sort of story. Very clever, and yet very apt for the theme they have chosen.

In their three half days (10am to 1pm for three days), there are segments of "lecture" at the start of each day's session, where the lead trainer teaches. So there are powerpoint slides, some videos etc. The content of the slides is written in simple English, clear and succinct such that even the 7 year olds in the room can understand. Yet, the points they teach are relevant and "deep" - that even I found myself taking notes at times. I like it that they don't "dumb down" the content to cater to the lower primary kids - they just use simple English to explain it. And the kids understand, yes they do.
Lecture powerpoint slides by MUTB - no dumbing down of content! Just written in simple English! InvestigateINK, MUTB 2015.
Passionate Teachers
The best teachers are most often the passionate ones. Oh and how passionate the MUTB trainers are! MUTB lore states that all their trainers are "published authors" (publications/books etc). From what I observe from their mini-lectures and how the trainers tutor the kids in their groups, it certainly does appear that the tutors are qualified and passionate about writing. And they also appear to be quite good with handling kids, being able to lead the kids in discussions and brainstorming. They are also patient yet firm with the kids. I have yet to witness any yelling-at-kids from any of the trainers in all these past camps, and yet, we don't see any madhouse unruliness that you might expect of 30 - 50 kids in a gathering.

These people above are not professional theatre actors - they're just some of the ultra passionate trainers at Monsters Under the Bed! With lots of drama thrown into the creative writing workshops, the air is often rent with infectious laughter! This picture collage hails from EnchantINK,  MUTB 2014.
The passion of the trainers exudes through their brilliant dramatic role-playing of their characters. They all look completely at ease in whatever costume or get-up they have on with not a shred of shyness or paiseh-ness at all. And because they behave so, the kids find themselves having getting into the theme and mood of it all as well. After a few camps, I realised that the trainers take turns to be lead trainers, and it seems that often, theme is usually a passion of the lead trainer. For example, the one in charge of SurviveINK (zombie) was a fan of zombie themed role-playing games. The lead trainer for INKtotheVoid was a Star Wars fan. And the one for SpellCraftINK was a Harry Potter fan. It makes sense, really. For the true fan is often the one with extensive knowledge of the topic, and they are the ones with the appropriate ideas for living the theme out. Very well done. I find myself wondering if I could take on a job with them - for how fun it must be to do this for a job!!!

Look at some of the sporting participants who dressed up for the last day of HauntINK 2014! The best, in my opinion, is the "chinese ghost" Ch of SimplyLambchops! Go read her review of HauntINK!
The Dress Up
It's been a MUTB workshop tradition that on the third and final day of the camp, the kids should all come dressed up in a theme-appropriate way. You may think that the kids of today would balk at that. But no. Thanks to the sporting trainers who have been dressing up since Day 1, the kids usually jump right into it, dressing up with gusto, complete with props and headgear where appropriate!

Pre-Workshop Materials
Before every workshop, the MUTB team would send out an email to the parents of the participants with reminders of the workshop's essential details, along with some reading material for the participants to prep the kids for the upcoming workshop. I thought it was a nice touch to get the kids hyped up about the workshop, and to get them thinking about it even before it starts. Isaac looks forward to these and would ask me before each workshop for the reading materials he's come to expect.

Pre-Workshop Preparation Materials for InvestigateINK, MUTB 2015. In InvestigateINK, the participants are members of the Press - Reporters who need to do a bit of investigation to dig up newsworthy information. As such, they need to have goo interview skills...
How They Cater to Different Ages
Parents who have never witnessed an MUTB creative writing workshop often wonder how MUTB can manage to conduct a workshop that caters from 7 year old to 12 year olds. What they do is that they split the participants into smaller groups - often 3 or 4 groups in total. The kids are split according to writing ability - so don't be surprised if the team requests a writing sample by your child, from you. It's not a test, it is just so they can gauge the level of writing proficiency of your child and place him together with his peers. This way, each group consists of participants with a similar writing proficiency - and this makes it efficient for the trainer in the group to lead. Also, because MUTB does not dumb down the content, the workshop conducts itself at a level which is engaging and informative even for upper primary kids. Heck, I think they should run it for secondary school  kids as well!


My niece Izzy (the one in purple) attended EpicQuestINK 2015. She was 10 and a good writer and was hence grouped into the most advanced writers group of the upper primary kids. And despite being a bit skeptical about attending this course to begin with (she thought it might be childish), she really enjoyed herself very much and thanked me for bringing her.
They Listen to Feedback and Constantly Improve Themselves
Being the kaypoh and opinionated me, I often give feedback to the team. And what I like is, they listen, and take action!

The first two camps we went to, we quickly realised there was no food provided (see point one under What I Don't Like). So I told them that they needed to prep the parents to explicitly tell them to pack snacks for the kids for the workshop. The next pre-workshop email had this advisory in it.

Some of the camps can be realistic to the point of ... scary - for the camps with scary themes. So when I sense some of the kids getting overly spooked or worked up over something, I go give the team a heads-up. (See other point below in What I Don't Like) More often than not, they tell me they're aware of the situation, and they would follow through by making sure to clarify with all the kids and explicitly tell them at the end of the workshop, that everything that happened was fiction.
SurviveINK 2015 - zombies may have infiltrated the safehouse! The participants need to don masks to protect themselves from the virus and be brave enough to search the lab and search for clues! The whole world is counting on them! 
Another time, I reflected to one of the lead trainers that when their camps are fully subscribed, the groups tend to get quite big. So I kinda hinted that more trainers per group would be good so that each kid gets more individual attention and guidance from the trainers. He looked at me shrewdly and said "We realise that too! So we're going to have more trainers per group from now on." I thought he was just paying me lip service until the next camp came around and they DID have more trainers employed and assigned to each group! Well done!

In fact they keep improving and outdoing themselves that I often wonder how they're going to top their current best performance! After every camp, I'd ask Isaac which camp has been his favourite so far, and he'd inevitably name the recent one as one of his top three. And the thing is, I'd totally understand why!

The highlight of INKtotheVoid 2015 was the astounding fact that each participant got to put together their own half-length light saber. No extra cost - all included. *jaw*drop* right?! 
WHAT I DON'T LIKE

Food, what food?
Okay, I guess it's so typical Singaporean of me to complain about food. But look, a workshop that runs through lunch time (10am to 1pm) and doesn't provide a shred of food?! During my first couple of camps I was like "What?! They should!!!" But then, as we went for more MUTB camps, I decided it was a good decision for them not to provide food.

Firstly, there is no time. There is barely sufficient time for the team to deliver the curriculum as it is, because they actually do teach a fair bit, and the kids need time to have their group discussions and time to write out their stories. So if food was provided, a good half an hour, at least, will be gone.

Secondly, if they provided food, the fees of the workshop was bound to increase. And any kind of price increase is not good, eh. Besides, what kinda food are they going to provide? Would be tough to supply non-junk food that all kids liked - that rules out hotdogs and fried snacks of any kind.

So how do we handle this situation? I try to feed the boy a larger breakfast in the morning, and pack a dry snack (bun or cookies) for him in his bag. Oh and please remember the water bottle too!

In SurviveINK 2015, the participants have to think about their situation - they are hiding out in The Arts House from hordes of rabid zombies outside. They have to think about how they can survive this difficult time. Food? Defence against the zombies? How useful can a common household item like a metal ice bucket be?
The Ultra-Realism of Certain Scary Themes
I'm feeling moronic. Oxymoronic, that is. The thing is, I love it that the MUTB team of trainers are so passionate and enthusiastic about bringing the theme alive, that for many a time, the acting and dramatisation done by this bunch of very talented people tends to be too realistic. I love it. Me, the adult, that is. I know for sure it's just acting and it's not real; it's fake. But for a number of workshops, I do witness kids who were scared by the realism of it all. The acting was so real, that the kids wondered if it was real.

In SurviveINK the zombie themed workshop, the trainers came decked out in combat army wear, carrying fake-yet-realistic looking rifles, and the the sound of a zombie-alert alarm blaring really made it feel as though there was a real threat of zombies just outside the building interesting in eating your brains. Just watch this video below. I heard of a participant (young 7 yr old girl) who refused to attend the workshop after watching this trailer. Another friend brought her daughter (another 7 yr old girl) who was so shell shocked by the alarms blaring and the tension brought about by the realism - that she didn't want to stay for the workshop either. On the other hand, my then 8 year old Isaac, saw the video, looked at me with wide eyes and said "COOL!!!"


In InvestigateINK - a theft-cum-murder mystery, the kids got to interview suspects and act as reporter cum investigators. By and large, it wasn't very scary (see video below), but at the scene where Tai Po - one of the characters were "killed", the trainers carried the man who "died" out of the room and hid him in a dark room. For the rest of the workshop, the kids never saw that character again. This made some of the younger kids wonder if the man really died! When I overheard the kids discussing this in worried tones, I quickly told them it wasn't real, just acting. They looked at me doubtfully, saying "But Tai Po has disappeared. Why did he not come again, if he is alive?" I quickly went over to inform the trainers that it would be good to clarify by the end of the workshop that Tai Po was just acting and still alive and well, and they did - much to the relief of the kids.

The "Murder of Tai Po" !!! There wasn't even any fake blood or a real weapon, but the acting was realistic enough to scare some of the youngest kids. It's fairly obvious to the older kids and adults that it was a faked death though. Some kids scare easily, I guess. InvestigateINK MUTB 2015

Another scary workshop was HauntINK whose focus was on writing scary/spooky stories. The workshop's setting is slightly off-balanced Auntie X inviting everyone to stay in her huge (The Arts House) mansion for a few days in order to attend a dinner party. The MUTB team gathered items to create a spread on a couple of tables at the back of the room that just kept the kids coming back to gawk at. The spook factor was done so well that even I got the creeps just looking at the stuff. Throughout the workshop, there were little dramatisations here and there, and the suspense and thrill factor were kept high and running - that I overheard a few kids declare that they did not want to be in the room alone! The finale drama was quite something to remember as well. Turns out that Auntie X was haunted by the memory of her sister. There was a short duration where her sister possessed someone and spoke through her, you see. So, once again, at the end of this workshop, the trainers had to explicitly tell the kids that it was all fiction and made up, that it was all not true. The team had to consciously shed their persona and speak normally to the kids. I could feel the relief emanating off the kids in droves!!!


So you see, as an adult, I really appreciate how passionate the trainers are, and the amount of work the trainers had to put in to pull off such realistic works of art that is the MUTB workshops. They were truly amazing and seriously awesome - both the workshops AND the trainers, I mean! However, what it means is that: If your child is the squeamish kind, then you should take note of what the theme of the current workshop is on about, before deciding whether it is appropriate for your child. Certainly, if your child is a 7 or 8 year old girl - then this warning should be heeded for I noticed that those young girls tend to be the ones most affected. The older girls, ages 9 and above, seem to be able to hold their own to be spooked yet not scared, but thrilled, by the going-ons. Boys, well, you know boys. They seem to love love love this stuff - regardless of their age. Well perhaps, except for some 7 year old boys. But by and large, the boys lap it.
Hope I haven't scared YOU too much! The MUTB workshops really strike a pretty good balance - just that some kids scare easily. This collage pretty much sums up what Isaac thinks of HauntINK - he's spooked but gleeful about it! I certainly did not have any problems with him being bothered by anything he saw at HauntINK, MUTB 2014. 
CONCLUSION
So what's the conclusion? Do I recommend these Monsters Under the Bed, or not? Double confirm, chop, stamped, APPROVED! I wholly, truly, definitely, highly recommend the Monsters Under the Bed Imagination 'N Knowledge "INK" holiday writing workshops. And yes, even if you private message me to ask me what I really think about MUTB, I'd refer you to this blog post.

So when's the next camp? There are two coming up this June 2016! KapowINK - Superhero and KapowINK - SuperVillian! Just look at the awesome posters below for the essential details. Click through to the MUTB INK website for more information and to sign up. Your kid/s will thank you for signing them up for this workshop, I assure you!!! And further, we have a discount code for you to use to get 10% off! Just type the promo code "ink01"  in the Additional Comment field when signing up to enjoy the discount! What are you waiting for?! Go sign up now!



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