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!


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!

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?! 

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. 
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!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Camping, again!

We went camping again, during the March holidays this year. We have lost count of the number of times we have gone camping. This is probably our 6th or 7th time, thereabouts. I find that, the more we go camping, the easier it gets for us to pack for it, and we also seem less tired out by the experience. Every time we go camping, our companions may vary as well, as different groups of friends express interest to join us. Or, we have friends who invite their own friends along. It's always fun to make more friends. 

This time round, I tried to post more on social media, since I wasn't sure if I'd get around to writing this post. But now, since I am writing the post, shall insert all my instagram and fb postings here too :)
Paragliding @ Pasir Ris Park!
When we got to our regular campsite, we saw people attempting to get in the air on their paraglides - or whatever you call them. We never actually saw them take off. But it was interesting that they were even there as we have never seen any before on all our previous camping trips. 

Also, one remarkable thing about this camping trip was that it was windy, VERY windy, throughout the entire time we were there. I wondered if the paragliders had known ahead of time that it would be so windy. Was there a windy prediction of sorts available? 

Our kampong on Day 1
We went about pitching our tents. The ground was dry and hard, making it tough for us to knock the pegs into. We managed by using rocks we found at the beach as hammers. The three families that were there on Day 1 all had similar looking tents as it was the same Winning brand tent. It can be easily bought at any hypermarket, or at the Beach Road Army Market where we had gotten ours. It's cheap - less than a S$100 - and hence a great tent to buy if you're not sure if you would be getting into this camping gig for multiple times. We have more or less fully amortised our tent since we have camped more than 5 times for sure. The tent frame has started to show wear and tear, and we're ready to get new tents after this camping trip since we know that we'd be camping many more times to come. 
Even the bear wants a sea view!
We discovered something in recent camping trips... It's better to camp on weekdays! Weekends see the parks becoming much more crowded than on weekdays. This translates to having more people around, and more significantly - dirty toilets. It's not that the toilets are not being cleaned, no. The cleaning Aunties and Uncles we see there do a magnificent job of keeping the toilets clean. But more people on weekends simply mean dirty toilets due to high usage, and sand and mud being tracked into the toilets faster than any cleaner - mechanical or human - can clean up. As such, we highly recommend camping on weekdays, if possible.

Airbeds for the win!
Here's the inside of our 8-men tent. Plenty of space for the 5 of us. On our first camping trip, we brought along yoga mats to sleep on. "It's just for one night." we thought. Yes, it was just for one night. But in that one night, hubbs and I realised that we were no longer 17 year old teenagers on camping trips. Our bones and body ached badly just after one night! So we bought a queen sized inflatable air mattress the next camping trip, thinking hubbs and I could sleep on that since the kids didn't seem to mind sleeping on the yoga mats. Well, one CAN be optimistic, right?

Of course, the kids happily took over the queen sized airbed and hubbs and I were left to the yoga mats again. Subsequently, we bought another two single beds - one each for hubbs and I. Separate single beds for two reasons. Firstly, air beds are such that if one person moves on one side, the other side is affected and would move as well. So for undisturbed sleep, two singles is better than one large one for two adults. Secondly, having two separate small mattresses gives us more flexibility in positioning it in the tent/s. 

Except of course, we didn't count on Shawna claiming one of the singles as her own. Staked her claim by placing her pillow and bear (which she packed and brought herself) on the single bed. Grabbed the one right by the tent flap too - so it'd be more breezy. So hubbs ended up on the queen bed together with the boys. Well, at least it was more comfortable than the yoga mats!

Camp shower!
This is a 40 litre solar powered camp shower. You fill it up with water and hang it up somewhere in the sun (signages work great). The black colour pvc absorbs all the heat of the sun and warms up the water within. When needed, just turn the red knob and you have a warm shower! We wouldn't want to go naked in public but it's handy as a tap to wash your hands or for washing off the kids after they go to the beach. You could let the water heat up all day, then take it into the public toilet's bathroom at night and have a hot shower. But, truthfully, we didn't do that. Too much of a hassle. Besides, after an entire day outdoors, a cold shower was a welcome. The kids and I have all gotten used to having cold showers when we go camping. Thus, this hot shower device remains to be just a novelty. It'd be great for people who simply can't stand cold showers, though. Purchased at the army market at Beach Road too. 

With regards to toilets and bathing - yes, we use the public toilets. At all designated camp sites - the toilets would come with shower cubicles as well. As mentioned above, they can get very sandy and muddy on weekends due to high usage. But in our experience, even when it is muddy and sandy, it is still very acceptable for use. We also do our part to make sure WE don't track mud and sand in and add to the mess. Be sure to bring some large s-hooks along so that you have some place to hang your towel or bag of clothes on. 

Bubble fun for the kids!
"So what do you do when you go camping?" people often ask. For the adults, we'd be busy with setting up the tents, pumping air beds, cooking meals (outdoor cooking woohoo!), chit chatting with other adults, taking turns to go kayaking - if you or your friends brought one of those inflatable kayaks, or you could rent them as well. On the day we break camp, adults would be busy with taking down the tent, packing and keeping stuff... Yes, sounds like a lot of work - which is why we now camp 3 days 2 nights, so the pace is more relaxed. If you camp for 2 days 1 night - you pitch tent on day, and break camp the next day - very tiring, and doesn't seem worth the trouble. 

The kids on the other hand, other than helping the adults wherever possible (helping to pitch the tent, getting water from the toilets, pumping the air mattresses and the kayak), get to play, play and play some more! In previous camps, they would have spent at least half a day on the beach playing with sand. They didn't do that this camp, but were similarly busy anyway. They played with bubbles a lot, played a bit of frisbee, a bit of football, played at the huge Pasir Ris playground a lot, went kayaking, and played board games in the tent when the sun got too hot and high in the sky. Oh and Isaac self taught himself to skateboard on a friend's penny board. Excellent fun for the kids, whole day long!

BBQ dinner!
In Singapore, one is never far from food. So technically speaking, you could always go buy whatever you wanted for meals. However, outdoor cooking is part of the fun of camping! So we almost always tend to cook instead of tapowing food. Camping with kids, we find it useful to cook for the kids first. It is important to grab them to eat their meals when you know they SHOULD be hungry, instead of waiting till they come asking for food - coz that means that they're famished by then and would not have the patience to wait for their food. Thus, we often cook a big lot of pasta or noodles, and quickly settle the kids first. After the children have eaten their fill and run off for more fun, we can proceed to cook the adults' meals. This time round, we tried having a barbeque! We've not done it before so we thought we'd give it a try. Usually, hubbs buys shabu shabu meat from the supermarket and we have an impromtu steamboat using the saucepan. 

The darkness provides the kids with its own entertainment - playing with torchlights! The children enjoy going about with torchlights. The camp site is only lit with our own torches and light spilling over from the park's lights along the running and walking paths. 

Be sure to zip up the mesh later of your tents so that mozzies and other insects do not enter into the tents and feast on you while you sleep. But other than that, there are hardly any mosquitoes around. Be prepared and come with insect repellant though - we find that people who tend to get bitten by mosquitoes, will still get bitten despite the place being seemingly moz-free! 

Inflatable kayak
Hubbs' and EJ carrying the inflatable kayak to the sea. No, we don't drag it as it can cause damage to the kayak. It's not very heavy at all - 8 year old EJ can manage carrying it just fine. We understand that there's a kayak rental just further up the beach. Perhaps next time, when the kids are older, we can rent them and all go out to see at the same time! Expedition to Ubin! hahahaha...

The last camp, this kayak was the novelty. This camp, it was a hammock that someone brought that was the novelty. the children promptly lined up for their turn in the hammock, all camp long!

Great company for a camping trip - priceless!
At the crux of it all, what makes a camping trip good is the company. Fantastic activity for families and friends. Kids have fun, adults have fun. None of the kids asked for any electronic gadget at all, and this mummy blogger here got "scolded" for fiddling with her phone too often - I was posting pictures!!!

If you're not sure if camping is the thing for you, do the following, in order - top down...
  1. Go visit a friend who is camping - or simply walk up to some friendly looking people who are camping - that's what happens to us, people just come by and look-see, talk to us.
  2. Recce your intended campsite at the same time, check out the toilets and nearby amenities.
  3. Buy/borrow/rent a tent and camp for 2 days 1 night.
And then, if you think you might continue camping, then proceed to buy more stuff. Oh and before you start asking a million other questions, read the links below - more blog posts on camping, written by yours truly.

Read the FAQ!!! :) 


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