Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Go Out with Kids without Going Crazy



Disclaimer: This post was written to motivate parents to bring their kids out more. It is in no way meant to offend anyone nor be overly preachy on the benefits of spending time with children. 

For more ideas on fun things to do and fun places to go with kids in Singapore, check this out.

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I often find myself completely exhausted at the end of every outing and all I want to do is flop on the sofa and fall asleep there. My kids however, are energetic throughout, from the time we set out, on all the modes of transport we take, at all the places we go, and finally, even when we're home, they've still got some energy reserved for their books and toys and perhaps even a little whining.

But that said, we do have fun when we're out, and even though it's getting easier, it can sometimes still get quite challenging, particularly because there are many occasions when we are out with the kids on our own, outnumbered 2 kids to 1 parent. I know of parents who have never brought their kids out on their own, and those who try to avoid it as much as possible because they think that it is too overwhelming for them.

So here are some pointers, tips if you may, that have helped us; I hope they will help you too:

MOVING AROUND
1. Bags for everyone
If we're out for a big day, I try to make the kids carry a backpack each. In each of their backpacks, there is a bottle of water (their own), a hat, and some small toys or books (they choose). I have my own backpack too which holds my own water bottle, their snacks, and a change of clothes. Backpacks are my new favourite because the last thing I need when I'm chasing two kids is to have a sling bag sliding off my shoulders.

2. Hold hands
We always hold hands when we're out. We've used one of those "cute backpacks with a long tail" (i.e. child leash) only once for each girl - Poppy at age 2 when we visited the zoo for the first time and Calla at age 2 at Disneyland when Max didn't come with us. If you see the value in those backpacks, they are useful especially if you have more than two children to care for. Don't bother about what others say or think; the safety of your children is more important.

3. Travel light
The reason I like backpacks is that our hands are kept free. Plus, it's easy to just get up and go with a backpack stuck on you. We don't go out with a stroller and very seldom bring our kick scooters out on long distances. It's just tricky having to manage two kids and two scooters on trains and buses!

4. Fill up
Our bottles are filled to the brim when we leave the house, and we refill each time there is an opportunity. Coolers are great, but this is Singapore, so tap water is ok too. Keeping hydrated in this very sunny country is so important!

5. Take time to appreciate things
Many times, we rush to reach places and then rush to play and rush to eat then rush home for bed time. After a while, I thought that was a bit ridiculous! So now we sometimes stretch our time to check out things that catch our attention and just to appreciate the things around us (within reason!). It could be watching a squirrel jumping from tree to tree, picking rocks or simply checking out a temporary toy fair!

6. Wear something with pockets
I kid you not. Because they are so useful. My pockets always have tissue because you never know if there's something you have to very quickly wipe. Like a snotty nose before mucus becomes a yummy snack. But seriously, pockets serve as temporary bins well, until you can find a real one for that snot-containing tissue.


TRAVELLING
7. Plan your route beforehand
We do not drive so we rely heavily on public transport. Websites like gothere.sg and phone apps like MyTransport.SG, Iris NextBus and Bus@SG are helpful too - they provide estimated bus arrival times so you know how long you have to wait. Sometimes that's important because then you know if you have enough time to make a quick toilet visit or if you have half an hour to spare to browse around in a shop.

8. Entertainment
For long train rides (especially routes that are mostly underground), books and small toys come in handy. We like our Toobs animals - they are cute and hardy and the kids make up stories with them. Puzzle books are a favourite too. We play I Spy (I spy green shoes, black bag, brown hair, orange shoelace etc) and hand games (scissors/paper/stone, oh pay som, cherry cherry lom jiam pas) and sometimes I create little scavenger hunts for them and put them onto small clip boards so they can tick the items off - that's only when I know we're going to be on empty trains.

9. Use what's available
Do you remember 'driving' the sky train at the airport as a child? I do. And my kids? They love the Circle Line because they get to 'drive' the trains. I play along with them and ask them to 'not go too fast' or 'Quick! Brake! We're almost at the station!'. They've even worked out a system - one of them is in charge of the actual driving and the other is in charge of the other things like turning on the lights and opening/closing the train doors. Most times, they entertain the other train passengers too.

They also like when I tell them where we're going and how many stops it would take so they help me to look out for our stations.



VISITING

10. Set boundaries
The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to set physical boundaries. If it's somewhere we've been before, I will start this conversation with the kids before we arrive, and remind them to "stay only on the soft ground (for playgrounds for instance)" or "no going out of this room (if we're at an event)". If it's a new place for us, I quickly survey the area and squat down and get their full attention before explaining the rule of the day. Then I ask them again "What's the rule for today?" and they are not allowed to go off to play until they can tell me the right answer.

11. We look out for each other
The kids are reminded often to look out for each other and to stick together. I tell them that there are two of them and one of me and I cannot possibly split myself into two different direction. I remind them to play together or at least close together, and they like to come say hi to me often if I'm not playing with them. If they run to me alone, I always ask "Where's your sister?" (even if I know the answer) which makes them look. I think that makes them mindful of their responsibility to keep an eye out for each other. Yes, they are only kids, but we feel they should always have each other's backs.

12. Put on your eagle eyes
I keep my eyes on them constantly. I'm not at the stage yet where they can play and I can sit on the bench and read a book. Perhaps one day!

13. Check opening hours
I like being spontaneous but when out with two young children, I have to limit that to a certain degree. So I always make sure I know what time the places we want to visit open to minimise disappointment. We learnt the hard way that the water play area at Children's Garden/Gardens by the Bay closes at 6pm, and that most stand-alone libraries open at 10am (those within shopping malls mostly open at 11am). I like spending time with my kids but walking around aimlessly with bored kids while waiting for something to open is not fun for any of us.

14. Find out more
Like I said, I like spontaneity but I also want to be prepared. So checking out a venue's website beforehands lets me know if I need to bring swim gear or jackets for the kids to fully enjoy the day. When there is the option for water play, our wet bag is absolutely necessary - it keeps all the wet stuff in and everything else dry. We have the Bummis wet bag and it's big enough for 3 towels and 3 sets of swim suits. While finding out about the venue, I also expand my search to include food options so that after play, I know I won't have to walk around searching for food (incidently, dragging two hungry and tired kids in search of food doesn't rank very high in my list of fun things to do).

15. Visit the toilet often
Everyone goes to the toilet just before leaving the house and it is also the first thing we do when we arrive at our destination, the last thing we do when we leave, and just before meal times. We also go whenever there is an opportunity at places where there are few restrooms (like Macritchie Reservoir for example).

16. Photo-taking
We like taking photos to remind ourselves of our trips - the photos get printed and go into our scrap books after a while - but I remind myself that it should not always be about photos. A few token pics are fine but the outing should be enjoyed through my eyes and not through my phone.

17. Being fair
Sometimes when we're out at certain places, there are things that each child wants to do that the other isn't interested in. In the case of Universal Studios Singapore or Kids Stop at Science Centre Singapore for instance. When that happens, I present the options to them - we can either take turns and do what each other likes, do something else together, or if we can't all play happily together, we'll have to leave. Usually they choose to take turns. Phew!

(By the way, I never say "If you can't behave yourself, we'll go home now!" Because I don't want them to associate home with being boring and negative! Instead I say "Shall we leave now since nobody is having fun?")


EATING
18. Bring food if necessary
I always make sure to check if the places we visit have food options and if not, either plan our trip such that it doesn't coincide with meal times, or bring our own munchies.

19. Choose food options wisely
Each food outlet has its pros and cons - at food courts, you get your food very quickly, which is good news for hungry children, plus prices are always reasonable. The down side is that everyone thinks the same way. So if you find yourself stuck in the lunch crowd, you might want to consider other options. We quite like Hans and Saizariya for reasonably priced food.

20. Choose your meal times wisely
We eat our meals early - lunch at 11.30am and dinner at 5.30pm. We also like to eat before play, just to get it out of the way. That also motivates the kids to eat quickly because I tell them that the faster they eat, the more they can play.

I hope these tips help to make it less overwhelming and scary to bring kids out on your own! Don't forget to have a good time yourself! Enjoy the venue and smile too! Because you deserve to have a good time too :)

If you have any more tips, feel free to leave them in comments below. I'm learning too!









Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How to Make Tie and Dye T-shirts

We are loving our home-made tie and dye t-shirts! The best part of it is that the kids were part of the process from beginning to end and are so proud of their own creations. Contrary to common belief, tie and dye t-shirts are not difficult to create, and you don't need hard-to-get materials, nor follow complicated steps. 

Here's how you can make your own:

Materials
1 pack fabric dye (2 if you intend to have 2 colours on your items. Bear in mind that it will double your time required)
Water (depending on dye; it will be stated on packaging)
Gloves
Big container to contain water
Long sticks of old cooking utensils to mix dye and fabrics
Rubber bands
T-shirts

* We got our dye from Art Friend, Calla's t-shirt was from Cotton On and Poppy's and mine were from Art Friend

Time required: about 1 hour

Step 1: Using regular rubber bands, tie up white t-shirts. There are several ways to do this, and each will bring about a different result.

For (1), I chose a mid point and start swirling the t-shirt around it before finally wrapping rubber bands around it.

For (2), we simply bunched up little bits of the t-shirt and tied rubber bands around them about 1 inch from their ends.

For (3), we started off by pinching the centre of the t-shirt and putting a rubber band around it, 1 inch from the end, and then continued by wrapping bands around the t-shirt in intervals of about 1 to 2 inches. 



Step 2: Dye the t-shirts according to the instructions on the package. We used DYLON fabric dye in flamingo pink for ours. The pack allowed us to dye 2 kids t-shirts, 1 adult sized t-shirt and a bedsheet for a kid-sized bed. We added 1 cup of salt for a more intense colour.

Step 3: Rinse off the dye in first hot then cold water. Once the water runs clear, it is ready to be machine washed (to be safe, we washed all our newly dyed items together without mixing with other clothes).

Your new t-shirts are now ready for wear! Below on the left, is the result of method (3), and on the right, is the result of method (2). My t-shirt was done with method (1) but it didn't come out too well (it resembled a white t-shirt that had been stained unintentionally!) because I had wrapped it too tight, thus preventing the dye from seeping into the fabric.




Have fun!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Children are not an Inconvenience



The other morning I held a banana in one hand while persuading my 3-year old to simply walk - and not jump or run - down the stairs. The banana was half eaten, so I had to hold it up, much like in the style of an Olympic torch. The 3-year old was bent on pulling my arm out of its socket by jumping the bottom 3 steps of each flight. "That's dangerous! If you fall, I could fall on you and flatten you!"  She didn't stop jumping. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, she was laughing and saying "that was funny, Mama" and I was well, not smiling. 

This happens often for me and I bet many of you can identify with it as well. 

But when she got on the school bus and started to form little hearts with her fingers just for me, my heart melted and I was reminded by a phrase I chanced upon: 

Children are not an inconvenience.

It is easy to fall into the trap of categorizing them as such, and I believe that once we are able to recognize that they are learning and using us as examples, we would all be much happier.

For instance, every new mum makes comments about the heavy diaper bag. I willingly confess that I did the same too - the diapers, wipes, extra clothes, nursing wrap, toys, and the ever cumbersome baby carrier. And as they grew older, their water bottles, hats, bus cards, entertainment.

We tsk at them taking too long to eat. We grumble at them them to walk faster. We get frustrated when they don't listen and spray water all over the bathroom. We complain about always going to "child friendly" places and having to share our food. We get irritated when they ask questions as we're on our phones.

We do all this but if we stop to listen to our own words, what would we hear under them? Are we unknowingly telling our kids that they are inconveniencing our lives? 

That we would much prefer to have an evening sitting on the sofa with our feet up on the coffee table watching 80s re-runs? That we would enjoy meals so much more we didn't have to make childish conversations? That we would prefer to be walking and checking our phones than holding their hands? That a relaxing holiday for two in France would be so much more fun than a trip to Legoland? 

When we pick them up from the school bus, do we say "Hello! How did your day go? I missed you!" Or "come, hurry up, let's go!"? When will it stop, us racing around from one place to another? When will we take our time to enjoy just being with them?

Let us remember that they never asked to be our kids. They never asked for us to bring snacks or bottles out for them or to buy them new books or to bring them to places or on holidays. It is us who do these for them, out of love.

I am not saying that everything should be put on hold just for the kids, nor that they should always take first priority; we sure don't want them growing up with a false sense of entitlement and thinking that everyone should respect that the world revolves around them. It's about being with them and growing with them and just letting them be children.

They can't help finding sticks on the ground fascinating. They can't not like jumping in puddles even if they're wearing their new shoes. They can't help being children but we can make the choice in being supportive parents.

I'm making this step to change, to watch what I say and be mindful of my actions. Because I want my kids to know that they are loved and not to think that they are an inconvenience.

Lately I'm telling them things like "thank you for being my daughter". It surprised them both at first, especially the 7-year old. But now they're both saying "thank you for being my Mama" and it's just lovely to hear. Step by step, we're working toward enjoying our lives together and not simply just rushing from one place to another. 

 


Monday, July 6, 2015

Art Projects for Kids



Somehow, art had found our way into our activities during the June holidays, and I'm glad it did. I was never much of an Art student in school (I mean, I was a student who took Art as a subject, but I was never very good at it), so it was fun to create art pieces together with the kids. We did so much that each of them now have an art folder, which we take out to admire once in a while.

It can be messy, but if you happen to have a day off, I strongly urge you to try your hand at some art with your kids. They're fun, and the kids really enjoy them. And no, it's not all about paint, paintbrushes and paper! Here are some that we did recently.


Rubber Band Twang
This was possibly my kids' favourite. It also created really pretty works of art and everyone loved this.

How to do it: Place paper in tray (for younger kids, you may wish to tape paper to tray to reduce movement). Wrap rubber bands around tray at regular or irregular intervals. Put paint on rubber bands (we found that the easiest way for us was to squirt some paint onto cardboard (we used toilet rolls). Then pull rubber band upward and TWANG! There are sound effects too!



Confetti Bursts
Another crowd pleaser.  Possibly because it's really really messy. Cleaning up is easier than you think - just bring out the vacuum cleaner and you'll get clean floors in 2 minutes (the kids will even gladly help with cleaning up!). The 7-year old LOVED this but strangely, the 3-year old didn't want to have anything to do with it the popping. She was happy to gather up the fallen pieces though.

How to do it: Squirt out glue on paper (I let the kids squirt out whatever shapes they wanted on one sheet, and then I put their initials on another). Then put confetti (we used coloured tissues but coloured paper works just as well too) into brown paper bags or small plastic bags (the small transparent kind). Blow into bags to inflate them, then position yourself (standing!) over your paper, and pop the bags! Repeat as many times as necessary or until your mother freaks out.


Handy Sponging
I like ideas that involve hand tracing because it's nice to look back at these pieces to see how small their hands once were! The 7-year old was happy to do this but the 3-year old needed a little bit of coaxing to cover her hand cut out with paint (hers is on the left).

How to do it: Trace out child's hand and arm on scrap paper then cut out. Using sticky tape, stick cut out onto white paper. With a sponge, paint over the whole sheet of paper, including the cut out. Once completed, remove cut out and let dry.


Cotton Ball Tossing
This is a great stress reliever I think! I usually don't participate in my kids' art sessions but this was one when I was asking them "Can Mama have a go too?" I'm so glad that they said "Sure!!" Both the 3-year old and the 7-year old loved this.

How to do it: In separate containers (we used yoghurt cups - they're the perfect size), mix poster paints with water. Dip cotton balls into paints and throw! It's great aiming practice!

Note: We brought this activity out of the house and leaned our cardboard (where we taped our paper) onto a metal wall. Clean up was easy peasy.



Candle Resist Painting
For some reason, we have a load of candles at home and not enough romantic evenings to use them for. The 3-year old grew bored of this quickly because it was too unmessy for her. The 7-year old found it exciting to see secret messages.

How to do it: Write secret messages for your little ones in candle wax on paper and get them to paint over the paper with water colours. Watch their eyes light up when they see your secret message!


Puffy Paints
This was fun for both the kids. The 7-year old was more precise with her creation, and the 3-year old was well, more 3-year old-ish with hers. Which led me to assume that she didn't enjoy it. But she surprised me days later by asking to put another piece of art into the microwave to see it puff up!

How to do it: Prepare puffy paints by mixing food colouring (2-3 drops, the more drops, the more intense), with 1 tsp of corn flour with 1 tbsp of water. It should be a runny liquid. Dab with cotton buds and when done, microwave on high for about 15-20 seconds.

Note: This will crack up over time so if you intend to store this piece of art, I suggest putting a sheet of contact paper over it (contact paper is like a huge piece of sticky tape, and can be found at regular bookshops - it comes in a roll)


Rainbow Scratchies
Rainbow Scratchies are so much fun and so easy to make. They both loved making it (though not as much as getting their hands all black with paint), and it took a lot of distraction to keep them from touching the paper while the paint dried!

How to do it: Colour on white paper with crayons, pressing down hard and making sure there's no white space. It's ok to overlap. When that is done, use a sponge (because a paint bruch would take forever) to coat paper with a mixture of black poster paint + a bit of dishwashing liquid (like 1 pump). Set aside to dry. When dry, use a toothpick to scratch away paint to reveal a rainbow below!


Dinosaur Printing
We kind of stumbled upon this activity actually. We were reading about dinosaurs at dinner, and our dinosaurs were with us. And because we hadn't kept up our paints from an earlier session, we decided to put two and two together by mixing dinos and paints. Verdict: Both kids were excited to start but grew bored quick; they were however VERY happy to give their dinosaurs a full shower after though!

How to do it: Squirt paint on palette (ours is the lid from an ice cream container - works perfectly), put dinosaur feet into paint and print them on paper. Roaring optional.



Ice Painting
Truth be told, this one was over very quickly, and the kids enjoyed getting their fingers cold and then pressing them on their unsuspecting mother's stomach more.

How to do it: Freeze a sheet of ice (a baking tray is great for that). Using cotton buds, dab food colouring onto ice. You could possibly place a piece of paper over your completed art piece to save the work, but ours just ended up well, brown.



Squirty Art
This is a fun activity to teach young children about gravity as well. Both my kids enjoyed this but really wanted to squirt the pavement as well! Ultimately we did but washed it off right after - dilluted poster paints come over easily.

How to do it: Mix poster paints with water and add to squirt bottle. We only have two bottles so we only put a bit of colour each time, so that we could then change colours. Squirt away! Have fun playing with the different types of nozzles too! And good luck keeping your kids from spraying on their others' paper!

Note: As you can see, we have a big piece of cardboard behind our paper - this was an outdoor activity but we didn't want to get the walls all colourful either!

So there you are, 10 easy activities to try out with your kids! Have fun!

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About our art folders: Sometimes we create a few pieces of the same thing, so we usually just pick one to put in the folder (they are taped with washi tape). I recycle the rest when they're not looking! Sometimes the 'artwork' doesn't turn out well, but we keep it anyway, just as a reminder. Poppy or I label them with dates and activity names. Our art folder is simply made up of pages of vanguard sheets and tied together with ribbon.

About our paper: For our pieces, we mostly used drawing block, which is easily available at bookshops. You can also use card stock but that's slightly pricier. Drawing block comes in a size similar to A3, which I will then cut into half for all our activities. This cuts down on wastage, and fits into our art folder perfectly.

About our paints: We use poster paints from IKEA and Crayola. We use Club House, Bake King and Star food colouring.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Practical Tips for the National Day Parade 2015!



We were lucky enough to get a pair of tickets to watch the National Day Parade Combined Rehearsal and pardon the French but, this is probably set to be the best NDP ever! It was awesome. Truly awesome. My 7-year old enjoyed it, and I did too, every bit of it. I was utterly impressed at how everything was thoughtfully planned out and nothing went uncatered for.

And the main action was at the Padang! Those of you who have watched National Day Parades at the Padang, you know what that means! The drive past! With tanks and fire engines and all! It's called the Mobile Column and you can see more at the NDP 2015 site. Watch out for something special at the very end.  

It was spectacular (because, NATIONAL DAY PARADE?!), and we loved every bit of it. The vintage parade was one of my favourites - those of you who have seen parades from the 80s, you'll enjoy this part. The stickmen performance made us laugh out loud. The snipets involving everyday Singaporeans made everything seem more human and less mechanical, and all the typically Singaporean things that we miss? Awesome, just so awesome. The marching band and their fans! That was hilarious and totally unexpected!!! And were the fireworks awesomer than usual? Yes! Supposedly the largest ever! It is SG50 after all. I'm not giving too much away because it was so fun to be surprised and I hope you will enjoy it the same way we did!

We really enjoyed the NDP rehearsal, and we just know that you will too. Here are some tips that will help you and your family enjoy the NDP fully:

1. Go to the Padang / The Float @ Marina Bay via public transport
The Padang seats 25,000. The Float @ Marina Bay seats a further 25,000. That's A LOT of people! Leave the car at home and take the train instead to ease up the roads, won't you? Both venues are within walking distance from City Hall MRT station.





2. Bring snacks
Seating begins from about 3pm, and everyone is required to be seated by 5pm. The actual parade starts at about 6pm, but there are activities to keep you entertained till then. The parade will end at about 8.30pm so bring cereal bars, small buns or fruit. Closest eateries that you can get to after the parade would probably be at Raffles City or Funan Digilife Mall but they are likely to be packed with everyone having the same idea.



3. Enjoy the show
Don't just keep your cameras and phones in hand all the time; watch the performances! The NDP 2015 photo gallery will have downloadable pics if you want them!

4. Bring your trash with you
Trash  has always been a problem with big events. This year's goodie bag includes a plastic bag for you to stash your trash, and there are huge disposal areas at exit points for you to throw them when you leave the parade.  This is what's so wonderful about Singapore, we learn from our mistakes and improve upon them.

5. Don't bring a big bag
First of all, it's not allowed. Secondly, each spectator will be given a big goodie bag, and it's going to be tricky for you to squeeze between seats (especially when leaving) with all your bags. Within your goodie bags, there are 2 bottles of water, so you don't even need to bring water. Other useful things in the goodiebag include a poncho and fan. How thoughtful, right?

6. Go pee before
Really. Not joking. Especially if you have a kid with you. Unless climbing up and down stairs and going to portaloos is your kind of thing. Closest public toilet to Padang: Raffles City Shopping Mall/Funan Digilife Mall. Closest public toilet to The Float @ Marina Bay: Marina Square Shopping Mall.



7. Let loose and enjoy
Don't be shy to do the Padang Wave or sing your heart out to "Count on Me Singapore". Go ahead and Stand Up, Stand Up for Singapore! Come on, it's the NDP!!! And say the Pledge and sing the National Anthem. There is no other time you will feel this proud to be Singaporean.

8. Chope place somewhere else
If you did not get any tickets, not to worry, you can still watch the Parade via "LIVE" streaming, or at least catch the awesome fireworks at these venues.

9. Wear red
I know, I know. Not everybody has clothes that make them look like a walking Singapore flag. But hey, when in Rome! Cotton On Kids was recently having $5 red t-shirts on sale, and I'm pretty sure you can find plain adult tees in red almost anywhere. Also, when you're in any other colour, you are sure to stick out and those around you may or may not give you dirty looks!




10. Remember to show your appreciation
The motivators and ushers - they would probably have clocked in several more hours before you show up, and yet you will realise that they're all happy and smiley. They are volunteers, i.e. they are not paid to do it. Please say thank you and smile and wave back at them when they greet you ok?

I look forward to seeing all your NDP pictures!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Bus Stop Seat Analogy



I was cuddling my 3 year old yesterday. It was the last day of the school holidays and we'd just talked about all the things we'd done during the break. She'd just had her shower but somehow, despite a hair wash, her little sweaty smell had managed to creep into the curls of her hair. I inhaled deeply and enjoyed the lingering baby smells.

The funny thing about kids is that they're growing, right under our noses. As we sometimes go overboard with our planning for "real" activities, and ignoring their requests to read in the process, they're growing. 

As we shoo them out of the kitchen while we prepare their meals, they're growing. And they're changing. 

It just happens. 

We do all these wonderful things to create a memorable childhood for them. We take all these beautiful pictures for their albums. But sometimes in the process of doing so, despite our very best interests, we lose out on precious little moments. 

"Mama come read Peppa Pig to me"
"Sorry love, I'm checking the bus schedule and the fastest way to get to this really fun place I'd like to bring you to"

Not that it's wrong to do all these things for the little ones that we love. But sometimes we just forget. We forget that yes they may enjoy indoor playgrounds and running at the beach but sometimes all they want is us. 

For us to look at them when they say "Mama look what I'm doing!"  For us to laugh and really guess when they say "Guess what the ocean said to the beach!"  For us to clap at their dances, laugh at their funny faces, eat the pretend food they cook at their pretend kitchens. For us to join them when they say "Mama come play with us!"

Because, sneakily, they are growing, day by day. And one day, the kids that we know today, will be different. And we will never get these days again. 

Just like how, without us really noticing, our country now sports swanky metallic bus stop benches instead of the 3-paneled orange ones we know. 

So, childhood. Let's enjoy it. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Happiness Index





I turned a year wiser recently, and with every birthday, I mentally took stock of my life. 20 years ago, I thought I had it all worked out - get a good job, get promoted in a few years, be in a Managerial position by 30, live in a condo, travel yearly, earn lots and lots and lots of money. Because that's what every parent tells their child, right? Study hard, so you can get a good job and earn lots of money.

I have shimmied past my mid-30s and still, have yet to check any item off that list - I work part-time, live in a 3-room flat, hardly travel, do my own housework and take public transport everywhere.

The strange thing is, judging by the standards that I set for myself, I should be unhappy, but in actual fact, I'm not. Which is strange, really. Must be age.

I'm not quite sure how it came to be this way but over time, I started to stray away from the 'regular' benchmarks of happiness. I became less bothered about the things I did not have, and looked more toward making what I had count, and to make lemonade with the lemons that life gave. It's like everything was in bokeh until now, and now my focus has sharpened and I only want to concentrate on the things that are important to me.

It doesn't bother me that we don't drive when all of our peers do. It doesn't bother me that we live in the smallest home, don't have the cushiest job, travel the least. Don't get me wrong, it's not about sour grapes and I fully respect their choices. It's just that I don't yearn for those things anymore.

Because I'm happy the way things are for us. Being on a tight budget has forced us to find inexpensive places to explore, and forced us to eat home more. It's made me dig deep in my memory bank and remember all the activities I did as a child that didn't require any money, to share them with my kids. It's allowed us to take things slower and to appreciate what we have. Because what we have is immeasurable.




One afternoon, my 6.5 year old had one foot out of the front door to run errands with my husband when I stopped her to give her half an apple to chomp on as she walked to the supermarket. To my surprise, she said "Thank you, Mama; people will look at me and see what a lucky person I am because I have a Mama who cuts apples for me."

She's mistaken, of course. Because it is I who is the lucky one, to have a family to cut apples for. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gadget-Free Activities for Kids




Set aside your phones and unplug that tv! Here are 8 gadget-free activities that you will enjoy as much as your kids. Let's play!



CREATE SOMETHING WITH STRAWS AND PIPE CLEANERS

Materials required
Scissors, straws, pipe cleaners

Method
Bend pipe cleaners into halves. Then insert them as far as they can go into the straws (1 pipe cleaner can go into 2 straws). Start building! (For older kids, you can even set challenges like "Can you build a really tall structure that can stand by itself?"). A wonderful quiet time activity.



MAKE YOUR OWN RAINBOW SCRATCHIES
Materials required
Crayons, black paint, sponge, card paper or drawing block, dishwashing liquid

Method
Colour on paper with crayons. Press hard to make sure there is a nice glossy finish, and that there are no white gaps. You can even overlap colours. Next, mix black paint with dishwashing liquid (just 1-2 squirts of the latter will do) and using a sponge, paint over your colouring. Leave to dry (about 1-2 hours, depending on how thick your layer of paint is), and then it's ready to be played with! Simply use a sharpish object (toothpicks and satay sticks work well) and scratch away to reveal rainbow markings.


GIANT PAINTING
Materials required
Big piece of cardboard (like the kind your bookcases come in!), paints, anything that can be used as brushes (we used dishwashing brushes, whisks, pastry brushes and bath sponges). Optional: palette (we used a paper plate)

Method
Lay cardboard on ground outside. Either squeeze paint directly on cardboard and paint away using "brushes", or squeeze paint on palette/paper plate and transfer with "brushes".


BUILD A READING FORT
Materials required
Blankets or quilt covers, cushions, books, pegs

Method
Find a cosy corner - it doesn't have to be very big because kids aren't very big and they love little spaces! We used the bottom of our dining table this time but the back of the sofa works as well! Fasten blankets around to create 'walls', and throw cushions and pillows on the floor to sit on. For additional comfort, place 'fort' against the wall so that kids can lean back for better support. Add books and read! Fairy lights optional but oh so pretty!



DINOSAUR SENSORY BIN
Materials required
Big container (we used the TROFAST shallow box), moon sand (or you can use regular sand if you like, or coffee grounds), dinosaur figurines (ours are from Toobs and Daiso) and "trees" (ours is from a fake plant from IKEA)

Method
Line bine with moon sand (or your chosen material), set up with fake trees, hide small dinosaurs in 'eggs' for the kids to discover, and plant bigger dinosaurs all around. They won't need any directions for this; they'll just dive right in!



PLAY WITH WATER
Materials required
Empty clear plastic containers, food colouring, funnels, droppers, syringes, measuring cup, measuring spoon

Method
Lay materials out on a tray for kids and let them play! They can be scientists at a lab, or chefs, or artists... it's all up to their own imagination!



COUNTING AND SORTING
Materials required
Ice cube tray, little tongs, small bowls or containers, small items like pastas, beads, pop-poms, sea shells, stones, seeds

Method
This activity is for younger children, particularly those learning to count or sort. Choose a number and ask them to put the correct number of items into the ice cube tray. Or get them to do some sequencing by following a pattern you've set. This is great for little ones training their fine motor skills.




CREATE WITH PUFFY PAINT
Materials required
Cornflour, salt, water, food colouring

Method
Mix 1 tbsp cornflour + 1 tsp salt + a bit of water until you get a runny consistency. Add food colouring. Repeat till you have as many colours as you like. Using cotton buds, draw on thick paper (we used drawing block but regular art paper will do too), once completed, pop into microwave for about 20 seconds. Note: This artwork will soften over time so if you'd like to keep it, you can put a layer of contact paper (it's like a huge piece of sticky tape, and you can get it from bookshops) over it.

For more gadget-free activities you can do at home, see here, here and here.

This post was brought to you by IKEA, where you'll find lots of knicks and knacks and bits and bobs for your gadget-free activities. Have fun!

For your easy reference, here are links to the items from IKEA we used:
Soda straws (200 straws for only $1.90!)
Trofast storage box ($3)
Part of the SANDIG 10-piece ice cream set ($3.90)
Kalas bowl ($3.90 for 6 pieces)
Plastis ice cube tray ($1.90)
STAM measuring cups ($1.50)
PLASTIS dishwashing brush ($1.90)
GRUBBORA pastry brush ($1.90)
MALA 12 piece paint set ($12.90)
SAMLA box and insert ($5)
FEJKA articificial potted plant ($3.90)
SARDAL light chain ($14.90)

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Almost Complete List of Library Reviews (Singapore)!


Hi there! This is a consolidated post of all the public libraries in Singapore, written by mums. We hope that our experiences will be a good source of information for new library goers, as well as regulars who would like to visit other libraries. But first, some fun library facts!  

Did you know that:
- That there are 27 libraries in Singapore? (28, if you cound the one at Sports Hub)
- Not all book-drops are open round the clock?
- You can sign up for a reminder service (for free) as well as renew your books online?
- Library membership is free for Singaporeans and PRs?
- Until end July 2015, members with basic membership can borrow up to twice their loan quota? That's 16 books per card!
- NLB has an app that allows you to scan and check out your books via your mobile phone?
- All the libraries host activities like craft sessions, story telling sessions, movie screenings and talks, that you can attend for free or at a very low fee?

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty amazed! So here we are, all the libraries in Singapore! Ready? Set? Read!


Bedok Public Library
21 Bedok North St. 1
Singapore 469659
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Bedok

What I love about this library is the Children's section on the entire third floor! You can just imagine the amount of space available. I find the environment so conducive for reading to the children and that fact that it is colourfully decorated helps too. There are sections devoted for baby books, preschoolers and the older children. Searching for books for the various age groups is made so much easier and enjoyable. Go during dinner time on a weekday and you can really enjoy a good read with your kid in a peaceful setting. 
This mum blogger contributed this review. 


Bishan Public Library
5 Bishan Place
#01-01
Singapore 579841
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Bishan

The library has a really good children's section, which spans the entire basement floor. There's lots of child-sized tables and chairs for kids to browse books, and their selection is rich, varied, and is kept very up-to-date with recently published titles. The female toilet in the children's section has a cubicle for kids too, with a smaller toilet bowl, so you don't need to carry toddlers doing their business. There's also a cafe on Level One. The only drawback is that the staff is a little particular about noise.
This mum blogger contributed this review. 



Bukit Batok Public Library
1 Bukit Batok Central Link
#03-01 West Mall
Singapore 658713
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Bukit Batok

I appreciate that there's a small function room within the children's section for younger and more active kids to make all the hullabaloo they want in the room. This makes the noise level in the children's section relatively contained. In addition, there is always a librarian roaming in the area to ensure the children (and parents) don't make too much of a din in the children's library. I cannot say it's the most baby/toddler friendly children's library in Singapore. But I personally appreciate the policing because I still very much prefer a quieter library.
This mum blogger contributed this review.




Bukit Merah Public Library
3779 Jalan Bukit Merah
Singapore 159462
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Redhill
(but it’s a good 15-20 minute walk away)

The wonderful thing about Bukit Merah Library is that it’s just the right size, not too big and not too small. At the entrance, you’re always greeted with some exhibition or other, and there will be displays of related books around. The downside is that the Children’s section, while tucked at the far end of the library, is not enclosed. Despite the sign that says “Read Aloud Corner for Children and Parents only”, the already limited tables and chairs are often taken up by older students and adults. There aren’t many seats available on the ground floor; there probably are many more up on the second floor but that’s where people go to read quietly. It’s nice to see people sitting on the floor or in little nooks and crannies, being immersed in their books, but to be honest, there is sometimes a faint funky smell around which reminds me a lot of sweaty feet.
I contributed this review.
  




Bukit Panjang Public Library
1 Jelebu Road
#04-16/17 Bukit Panjang Plaza
Singapore 677743
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Bukit Panjang LRT

Bukit Panjang Community Library, though small, is well organized and peppered with corners and useful information which make borrowing and browsing a breeze. :) There's even a children's section in this small community library; it is simply peppered with gems. At the entrance, there's a thematic display of books and this month (May 2015), the focus is on Caldecott titles. There are also a kids' magazine rack filled with interesting magazines such as Young Scientists, Story Box, along with Chinese magazines (喜羊羊)etc. There's even librarians' recommendations! And to cater to the busy parents / caregivers, there is also a section at the entrance featuring new arrivals and books in mother tongue languages! :) So there you have it, a little gem of a library tucked in a shopping mall!
This mum blogger contributed this review. 




Central Public Library / National Library
100 Victoria Street
Singapore 188064
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: City Hall or Bugis

I love to visit the Central Public Library at Bras Basah for its wide selection of non-fiction books, the playful and magical atmosphere made from recycled materials that educates about the importance of being environmentally friendly, and the many cosy corners to relax and read. Of course, even adults will not be able to resist reading under the canopy of the tree house.
This mum blogger contributed this review. For her detailed write up on Central Public Library, go here
  



Cheng San Public Library
90 Hougang Avenue 10
#03-11 Hougang Mall
Singapore 538766
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Hougang

Cheng San Public Library, though small, has a children's section that appeals to both adults and children.  Because the children's section is located just after the entrance, there is no need to hurry the kids pass other parts of the library and hushing them up. What I like is the very nicely decorated activity room with story-telling sessions and workshops catered for children.  Plenty of seating area, bookshelves that is of the right height for children, categorization of the books (e.g. information books, fairy tales, stories for babies, preschoolers, age 6-9, 10-12) makes searching for books easy.
This mum blogger contributed this review.
  

Library@Chinatown
133 New Bridge Road
#04-12 Chinatown Point
Singapore 059413
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Chinatown

I love that Library@Chinatown is located right in the heart of Chinatown, the largest historic district. Be immersed in the vast collection on the Chinese Arts, culture as well as the heritage of the area. For the old, tune in to former radio channel Reddifusion and enjoy the old dialect broadcast while giving your eyes some visual treat on the radio collection. For the younger generations, jump on the cosy cushions and enjoy the reads.
This mum blogger contributed this review. For her detailed write up on Library@Chinatown, go here





Choa Chu Kang Public Library
21 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4
#04-01/02 Lot One Shoppers' Mall
Singapore 689812
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Choa Chu Kang

Choa Chu Kang Library has a large collection of children’s books and my kids love reading at the steps of the beautifully decorated Expressions Corner even though chairs and tables are aplenty. I also like the fact that the library has taken the initiative to come up with this Popular Picks section for the 6-8 year-olds which makes looking out for series so much easier for mums of newly-transitioned-to-chapter-books-readers. The downside of this library - I’ve many encounters of books strewn in the wrong shelves during the school holidays due to the high volume of number of people who frequent the library and misplace the books after browsing.
This mum blogger contributed this review.
 




Clementi Public Library
3155 Commonwealth Avenue West
#05-13/14/15 The Clementi Mall
Singapore 129588
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Clementi

The Clementi Library is a little gem. We enjoy visiting the Clementi Library as there are always thematic book recommendations beautifully done up and many cosy little nooks to withdraw into the world of books. Its accessibility is a huge plus - nestled in the Clementi Mall (right next to the Clementi MRT), it provides a cheery, peaceful and resource-rich haven for children to indulge in reading while parents run quick errands at the banks, post office and supermarket. We find the librarians here much friendlier and helpful than some other branches we've visited.  Besides children's books, the Clementi Library also has a small selection of DVDs and multimedia CDs for loan.
This mum blogger contributed this review.





Library@Esplanade
8 Raffles Avenue
#03-01
Singapore 039802
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station : City Hall or Esplanade

The Library @ Esplanade is one place we often we go to borrow Music books for my son as it is the only public library that specialises in Music, Dance, Theatre and Film.  The Music section (called Music Village) is the only place we zoom to, we have not explored any other sections (Villages). The Open Stage holds events, and next to, there is a Cafe. Having a public library in the city is really nice.  It provides you with a quiet place where you can retreat to in the bustling city.
This mum blogger contributed this review.


Geylang East Public Library
50 Geylang East Ave 1
Singapore 389777
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Aljunied

Geylang East Library is a 5-minute walk from Aljunied MRT station. The children section occupies the entire first floor with an artificial grass lawn which many sprawl on while reading. There are well-organised fiction and non-fiction sections for babies to pre-teens and a “new books” shelf which is my first target! Parenting and pregnancy books are placed nearby for convenience. Children-friendly videos aplenty and interesting exhibits are on display periodically too.
This mum blogger contributed this review. 



Jurong West Public Library
60 Jurong West Central 3
#01-03
Singapore 648346
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Boon Lay

Jurong West library is located within The Frontier Community Centre and is just a short walk from the Boon Lay MRT station. It has 3 levels and the children's section takes up the whole of the second level. Within the Children's section, there is a read aloud corner where parents can do reading to their children without having to worry about keeping their voice volume to a minimum. There are lots of board books and early readers that cater to babies, toddlers and young children. On the other side of the children's section, there is a story telling corner. Regular English storytimes is conducted here and the turnout is usually very good. Sometimes there will be children or family workshops or programmes conducted here as well.
This mum blogger contributed this review.



Marine Parade Public Library
278 Marine Parade Road
#01-02 Marine Parade Community Building
Singapore 449282
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Nil

Very child-friendly library - an entire floor for the Children Section, with lots of seating and gorgeous floor to ceiling windows! The librarians are nice and ok with young kids making a fair bit of noise
This mum blogger contributed this review.




Library@Orchard
277 Orchard Road
#03-12 / #04-11 Orchard Gateway
Singapore 238858
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Somerset

The two-storey library, on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Orchard Gateway Shopping Mall, screams chic. Its design-centric focus plays out in the decor as well, which boasts sleek, curvilinear white shelves, bamboo floors and black-walnut chairs with comfortable leather seats. 

The book and magazine collection also stands out from those of other public libraries, with a focus on fashion, graphic and interior design. I love hanging out here during lunch time because it's surprisingly peaceful. Apart from the fact that it doesn't have a children's section, this library is a quiet haven for parents on their "break".
This mum blogger contributed this review.


Queenstown Public Library
53 Margaret Drive
Singapore 149297
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Queenstown


The Queenstown Public Library just celebrated their 45th birthday in April, and I can remember going to the Queenstown Public Library as a young girl. Although the interior looks completely different now, it feels so nostalgic and almost like part of our heritage to bring the kids here as my mother did with me. The library does not have a dedicated children's room, but the noise from all the excited children don't seem to bounce off the walls as compared to other branches, nor are the little ones constantly reminded to behave. It is less busy than many other libraries, has lovely high ceilings, and the children's reading area boasts lots of sunlight and a view of lush greenery.
This mum blogger contributed this review.
 




Sembawang Public Library
30 Sembawang Drive
#05-01 Sun Plaza
Singapore 757713
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Sembawang
 

Sembawang library is the second library (first was Jurong East) to provide Early Literacy Section of books for children of all ages (especially for 6 and under) and even some handy toys to play too. There is also some tablets for children to use the educational apps.

At the back of babies section, there is also modernised wooden steps and reading deck area which my kids love to venture and "play". The kids or yourself could even read or lie inside the crate boxes.
This mum blogger contributed this review. For her detailed write up on Sembawang Public Library, go here
 


Sengkang Public Library
1 Sengkang Square
#04-26/27 Compass Point
Singapore 545078
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM

Closest MRT station: Sengkang 

The children's section at the Sengkang library is one that is an open concept. While it is not exactly embedded together with the rest of the adult section, it is also not a closed up area snug away from the adults section. This way, it allows children to freely explore the library beyond their section, and likewise allows adults to accept that noise and that the occasional cute little kid running around in the library is fine. Inclusion is somewhat required in today's society to remind us of tolerance and acceptance which is what I love about the Sengkang library. Also, shelves of books are at children's level, which allows them to go book-shopping without much help from an adult before settling into a cosy corner to read. This is pretty much tried and tested with my kids!
This mum blogger contributed this review.


Serangoon Public Library
23 Serangoon Central
#04-82/83 NEX
Singapore 556083
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Serangoon

Located at the heart of a major transportation node, this public library on the roof level 4R of NeX Shopping Mall in Serangoon, offers a wide selection of quick and easy reads such as comics, graphic novels and magazines which are prominently displayed to make it easy for users to pick up a book on the go.

We enjoy browsing through the wide selection of books; 70,000 volumes of fiction and non-fiction books for children to be exact. The children's corner is clearly demarcated in yellow on the map. Yasmin loves sitting at the comfortable tables and chairs provided, to read after browsing. However, we find that at times, many older children and teens like to occupy these seats to do their school homework. This branch also host a big enclosed area for reading programmes and activities for kids. It helps that the check-out counters are close-by to the children's section.
This mum blogger contributed this review. 



Sports Hub
4 Stadium Walk
Singapore Sports Hub
Singapore 397697
Mon-Fri: 10:00 AM - 08:00 PM
Sat-Sun: 10:00 AM - 08:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Kallang

The Sports Hub library offers many fun (and FREE) activities for children! You can play a game of giant chess or checkers, play some Xbox games, watch free screenings of sports-related events, and of course, borrow some books to read. The Kids Zone on Level 2 has beanbags lined along the wall, so that visitors can read comfortably there. Do note that books borrowed from the Sports Hub library can only be returned there, as they are not part of the National Library Board. 
This mum blogger contributed this review. For her detailed write up on Sports Hub Library, go here



Tampines Regional Library
31 Tampines Ave 7
Singapore 529620
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM

Closest MRT station: Tampines



The first level is dedicated to the Children's Section. Whatever Non-fiction Juvenile books like facts on animals and the like can be found at a click. This is excluding the rich popular and unknown literatures and sections designated for our local authors. The staffs are informative and helpful, my kids love the 'train' seats and cosy corners.
This mum blogger contributed this review.

 


Woodlands Regional Library
900 South Woodlands Drive
#01-03
Singapore 730900
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Woodlands
 


The children’s section occupies the entire 4th floor of Woodlands Regional Library. We love the spacious yet cozy children’s section. Often, we come here after dinner on weekdays. While my 10-year old immerses herself in her story world at one end of the library, my 5 year-old would flip through books or have some imaginary fun at the “enchanted tree”.
This mum blogger contributed this review.  



Yishun Public Library
930 Yishun Ave 2
#04-01 Northpoint Shopping Centre
Singapore 769098
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Yishun

Book collection for children is pretty good.  Arrangement of the books are logical and kids have no problem finding the books they want. It’s bright and neat and usually not crowded. The toilet is just near by. The only thing is there is no separate section for the children, and because of that, there is always a person keep patrolling and shhhh-ing the children, even if the child is reading just a little louder. There are no child-appropriate chairs and tables.
This mum blogger contributed this review.


******
Not included in this post:
Jurong Regional Library (Children’s Section under renovation)
21 Jurong East Central 1
Singapore 609732
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Jurong East

Pasir Ris Public Library (under renovation till end 2015)
1 Pasir Ris Central St 3
#04-01/06 White Sands
Singapore 518457
Mon - Sun: 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Pasir Ris


Toa Payoh Public Library (Children’s Section under renovation)
6 Toa Payoh Central
Singapore 319191
Mon - Sun: 10:00 AM - 09:00 PM
Closest MRT station: Toa Payoh


*** Images: Individual contributors, and National Library Board


 

 





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