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November 2013

Homelearning fun Learning fun!

Teaching the Kao Kids: Raising a Reader (Part 2) – Choosing Engaging Titles

November 29, 2013

I’m not going to be writing a ‘New York Times Parents’ Guide to the Best Books for Children’ kind of post for this entry, but I’d like to share some of the books that the kids and I love, and how they have helped tremendously in making readers out of them. Hopefully, these recommendations would interest your child too, and get them to love reading like how they helped increase the Kao kids’ appetite for books and more books.


  • 0 – 18 months: Board books with lots of pictures

As a newborn, a baby responds to words, rhymes and songs by cooing, gurgling and smiling and enjoys the beat and tone of your voice while listening to stories. By the time baby turns 6 months, he begins to enjoy reading with his favourite person and bonds with you when you start reading to him. When he reaches 12-18 months, the child starts to understand and says simple words. He is able to answer “where is” questions by pointing and reacts to hand movements, faces, and changes in tone of voice. If you give him books with sturdy pages, he might even begin to start flipping them. If you read him enough interesting stories, he’s going to start preferring to have some books repeated more than others.

We’re very blessed to own an assortment of picture books, board books, flip-the-flap books and plastic books from friends who passed them on after their children outgrew them. They have entertained all three kids during this phase of exploration and learning. I place these books at the bottom shelves of our library so they are always within reach.

I highly recommend the following for this age. These are quite guaranteed to fascinate your little toddler and encourage them to pick up a book for the fun they would have!

1. Books with mirrors

It’s sheer pleasure for a little toddler to be seeing and hearing himself through such books. Especially if reading such books are occasions of bonding time he spends with a person who loves him! I’m sure the story and peek-a-boo bits would thrill the little one and get him excited about reading!

Motherkao recommends: Disney Baby Einstein: Mirror Me! – this busy book with a mirror on every spread (and a peekaboo finale!) teaches babies and young children parts of the face in a playful way.

Mirror book

2. Finger puppet books

Finger puppets are an excellent way to introduce reading and visual play to your toddler. With finger puppets, board books come to life for the little ones and offer the most natural and enjoyable way to engage young children in the process of reading.

Motherkao recommends: Little Finger Puppet Books by ImageBooks which features Little Puppy, Little Horse, Little Duck, Little Butterfly and many more little ones! Check out the whole series here.

3. Books with pull tabs or flaps

These books are aplenty now everywhere, designed with many fancy schmancies and bright colours to entertain children. Books now allow kids to lift flaps, pull tabs, feel textures and even scratch and sniff real smells! Indulge your little one with these, I say. They are only babies once, and such books are such wonderful exploration tools to get them interested in books.

Motherkao recommends: A Mini Magic Colour Book Series published by Pinwheel Children’s Books. I chanced upon these at a book fair and thought they really fascinating! We bought the entire collection and the kids learned their colours at a young age through these books, where the creatures turn into colourful things when the tabs are pulled.

Magic colour books

  • 18 – 24 months: Rhymes with Dr Seuss

From 18 months onwards, a child learns new words everyday. He may also start to recognise specific books by their covers and wants to be read to if you’ve already established a routine earlier on. By 24 months, a child’s vocabulary grows exponentially and he begins to use simple words in combination.

I say, it’s finally time to bring on the rhymes, and there’s only one man for the job!

Motherkao recommends: Dr Seuss Board Books.

Dr Seuss board books

No one does it better than dear Dr Seuss! It’s a good time to let the kids meet Horton, Mr Brown, the Knox, Pat, Pop and Pup and have a good laugh at nonsensical, silly rhymes and quirky illustrations that would tickle their funny bones. One can never get enough of this American writer, poet and cartoonist.

By the way, I am still very much tickled at this age, reading his books aloud to the kids! But be sure to get the ‘Bright and Early Board Books’ Series (Random House) which are simple and sturdy enough for the little one to flip and follow.

  • 2.5 years old: Short tales, Phonics and well-loved children authors

At 2.5 years old, a child begins to speak in sentences and asks simple questions, especially “why” questions. He may also start to like reading aloud, and may join you in doing so. This is also the time when he is able to follow a storyline and remembers content, and likes hearing his favourite books read aloud over and over.

2.5 years old is also the time I would start developing a child’s phonemic awareness, and have them start their learning of the letters of the Alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. I would also, while teaching the letters of the Alphabet, begin on sight word reading which would involve getting the child acquainted with high frequency words which are commonly used and encouraging him to memorise the word as a whole by sight, so that he can automatically recognise these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode them. This is to prepare him to start reading on his own if and when he is ready.

My experience with Ben so far has been such: if given a choice, he would always want to be read aloud to, and I usually don’t pass on the opportunity to read aloud to him. But if he has no choice, and there’s nothing else to do (i.e. experiencing a common feeling called boredom), he would pick up a reader simple enough to read the book on his own, and revisit the story. This is the result of having started some routines of reading certain books at this age.

Motherkao recommends:

1. Scholastic’s AlphaTales

AlphaTales is a totally charming collection of alliterative stories. There is one for each letter of the alphabet and each book includes a simple story of a character plus a hide-and-seek picture page and a rhyming letter poem. At the back of each book, there is also a complete teacher’s guide filled with suggested activities and easy lessons.


This collection is a really good way to build phonemic awareness and get kids acquainted with the Alphabet. The Kao kids love this series, and the older ones would now pick up a book on their own to read and look for letter-related items in the hide-and-seek page.

2. Well-loved children’s books (by Eric Carle, Rod Campbell and Mem Fox)

At this age, we’re reading and repeating Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell), Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox), The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Quiet Cricket and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See (Eric Carle) – for its predictability, simplicity, and beautiful illustrations. At this age, most children are also beginning to be fascinated with animals, and these books offer young readers the opportunity to learn something about animals and the world around them  in a really fun way.

Well loved authors 1

I shared some lesson ideas in the earlier part of the year for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Dear Zoo here and here.

  • 3 years old: More inspiring stories and well-loved children books

By three, a child knows that it is letters and words that are being read in stories he hears, and starts to pay attention to distinct and similar sounds in language. He may also begin to play with language and make up silly sounds and words (more so if you’ve started reading Dr Seuss already!), and help you complete familiar stories and stories in what we call predictable books. Predictable books have language patterns and repeated refrains that children this age absolutely love, and I absolutely adore some of these stories which give me so much mileage in terms of creating and designing follow-up activities that allow us to revisit the story again and again in more ways than one.

Motherkao recommends:

1. More Eric Carle

As your child begins to acquire more language skills at this age, it’s time to bring on universal themes, more abstract concepts, more moving tales and books with more extensive vocabulary. I’m often found shopping at various online bookstores to acquire more well-loved children’s favourites, and I’m always thinking more Eric Carle at this point. Eric Carle’s list of printed books in English can be found here and his books in print number to 40. I wished I could buy them all! Some great reads to introduce the children at this age include Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, Little Cloud and Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me.

Stay tuned for some lesson activities we did with Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? next month.

Eric Carle

2. More Dr Seuss

It may be a little overwhelming and difficult to follow at first, but you absolutely need to transport your little ones to Seussville where fun is good and nonsense prevails.

Dr Seuss

Get them to meet all the nonsensical imaginative characters that would blow their mind away, and immerse them in a world of craziness and funniness of Dr Seuss! We’ve had so much fun meeting Thing 1, Thing 2, the Cat and Sam I Am reading Ten Apples Up on Top, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and McElligot’s Pool, and at this age where they are so very imaginative, the kids never say no to a good Dr Seuss book.

Dr Seuss Quote thing 1 & 2

3. Mr Men and Little Miss series

We introduced Mr Men to the kids this year when Fatherkao decided to make it a routine to read aloud one book every night to the kids. I’ve never read this series by Roger Hargreaves as a kid, and my, I found all the ‘men’ in this series delightfully funny. Every little book is an enjoyable read – every story contains a simple moral lesson, brightly coloured illustrations and simple literal humour – and it also introduces adjectives like grumpy, clumsy, messy, sneezy to the kids. I like it when the kids get to build on their vocabulary listening to stories.

Mr Men Library

Mr Men chart

When I get my hands on the Little Miss Library, it will be my turn to read one book to them every night. Can’t wait!

Little Miss chart

  • 4 years old: Non-fiction, Berenstain Bears and Shel Silverstein 

By four years of age, your child would be able to recognise alphabet sounds, sounds that are the same and sounds that are different, and some printed letters and numbers. He would also be able to focus on a specific task and take turns speaking in a conversation. By now, if he is an avid reader, he would have had some books memorised and can recognise rhyming words. According to the experts, if you have been reading 20 minutes a day with your child from birth, you would have, by now, given your child almost 400 hours of pre-literacy experience. 

This is the age where exploration of the world at the cognitive, intellectual level really begins, and for me, it really IS the best time to introduce books that has the ability to shape his perspective of the world we live in.

Motherkao recommends:

1. The Berenstain Bears

The Berenstain Bears is a series of books created by Stan and Jan Berenstain and continued by their son, Mike Berenstain, which feature a family of bears who generally learn a moral or safety-related lesson in the course of each story. I particularly love the books that are published in collaboration with Christian publisher Zondervan that share Christian beliefs, featuring Bible verses, values and virtues.

Berenstain Bears

The Kao kids love these books too, in part because the Bear family is very much like ours, with Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear, Sister Bear and Honey Bear!

2. Shel Silverstein

For the record, I will tell you I love, love, love Shel Silverstein. And it is this love I have for his books that I have introduced him to Ben who is four this year. I love his unique style of writing, which is funny and sad and makes you think. He transports his readers into his world that’s filled with an extremely bold sense of humour, which is riotous, delightful and thought-provoking at the same time.

Shel Silverstein

You need to read The Giving Tree and Runny Babbit, if you haven’t! Ben and I read The Giving Tree together during our special time occasionally, and it’s a book that you can explore with your child on many levels of interpretation – about God, parent-child relationship, friendship and the environment  – and it’s a deeply inspiring book for any four-year-old.

3. Lots of non-fiction according to his / her interests

This is the time to delve into non-fiction and bring on everything that he might be exploring and discovering, from math facts to going to the dentist to the solar system. Kids will definitely appreciate an adult reading and finding out things together with them, and reading non-fiction is also a great way to answer their questions.

We’ve amassed many of these non-fiction books from Scholastic and Nat Geo, and the kids are sometimes taken out of the world of fiction (by me) to pore over them so they can learn more about our world.

Nonfiction 1

Nonfiction 2

  • 5 years and on: Roald Dahl’s short stories

Motherkao recommends: Roald Dahl’s short stories for children

I’ve started introducing chapter books by Roald Dahl to Ben (and Becks, but she loses interest after a while cos’ “there are no pictures!” says the little girl) and it’s been quite a success, except that it is tiring to read his books out loud, chapter by chapter. I’ve finished Fantastic Mr Fox and am starting on George’s Marvellous Medicine, and we’ll be meeting Mr Willy Wonka in a while!

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a must for all kids, in my opinion. He’s one of the greatest writers of our time and his stories can fuel the limitless imagination of children and take them on their own wild flights of fantasy along with the BFG, the Witches, Willy Wonka (and the Oompa Loompas, my favourite people!), Danny and the Twits! I know, cos’ he’s taken me on a few of my wildest flights when I was a child!


My goal for my children is that they read well before they turn 6 on their own and to have that love for reading kept alive always. I am looking forward to the day that we can all snuggle together on a nice rainy day with our own books and read for hours on end. Till this day comes, I will be introducing more age-appropriate titles to them and have them fall in love with reading over and over again.

Do you have any recommendations for engaging titles which your kids absolutely must read? Do share them with me in the comments below!


Next in Part 3: A Word on Readers

Previously in Part 1: Getting your kids to love reading

All this blog's PR Stuff Food, glorious food! Motherkao loves... Motherkao's recipes Product Reviews

Look, Ma! Something big and black’s in my kitchen! (All hail the new Philips Avance XL Airfryer!)

November 27, 2013

We’ve been eating in more often than out lately because something black and big has given us every reason to.

This something big and black is my new Philips Airfryer.

All appliances line up! And this big and black thing's currently in prime spot!

All appliances line up! And this big and black thing is currently in prime spot!

Say what? Yes, you heard that right – an AIR fryer. Apparently, air is now the new oil with Philips Airfryer’s Rapid Air Technology. What it does is that it combines fast circulating hot air with a grill element that helps fry food with air instead of oil. Hot air is emitted from the top of the airfryer and moves around rapidly and evenly within to cook the food.

What it also does is that it’s open up a whole new world of frying, grilling, gratinating, roasting and baking (yes, this big mama allows you to bake too!) all kinds of food to have in the comfort of our home. One appliance, FIVE ways of cooking!

If you know me, I’m pretty strict with the kids when it comes to fried food. They don’t get to eat fast food at all, and hardly eat at Western food stalls if we’re out. The only thing they are allowed from MacDonald’s is their corn cup. I tell them as long as I am around, I will not put junk in their body. And if I happen not to be around, like if they are at a school party or with other adults from the family, it’s their decision whether they want to put junk in their body. My number one gripe about fast food is that it’s highly processed, and that they are usually cooked in a profuse amount of oil.

But with the Philips Airfryer, I can create a Happy Meal so very easily (and healthily)! So far, I’ve popped in frozen food of all kinds which the kids love: cuttlefish balls, fish balls, gyozas, spring rolls, breaded cod fillets and tempura prawns. You can buy frozen food from the supermarket and cook them without a single drop of oil in the Philips Airfryer to satisfy the kids’ fried food cravings. Just make sure you read the label and buy those without monosodium glutamate (especially fishballs) and flavour enhancers (some fish fillets are not made with real fish).

Airfried frozen snacks

Airfried frozen snacks

We’ve also had ourselves airfried fish, potato fries, and shrimp toasts made from scratch, as well as air-grilled Cajun chicken steaks and honey chicken thighs, all ingested without the guilt of oil and fat!

Airfried bites (clockwise): shrimp toast with caviar, fried pomfrets, honey chicken thighs and Cajun infused chicken steaks

Airfried bites (clockwise): shrimp toast with caviar, fried pomfrets, honey chicken thighs and Cajun infused chicken steaks

Airfried fish and chips

Airfried salmon and potato fries made from scratch, which is healthier! I marinated sticks of potatoes in 4 tsp of olive oil, salt and pepper before airfrying them at 190ºC for 8 minutes.

I recently made a batch of mai pian har cheong gai (shrimp paste chicken wings with oatmeal – ma’ own creation!) – the combination of the two best things in zi char, which are usually prepared either as something deep fried in oatmeal or deep fried in shrimp paste.

And I must tell you, this dish sealed my position as the top chef in the Kao household in the eyes of the kids (there are three – the helper, Fatherkao and myself – but methinks I’m currently number one, hurhurhur). If not for oily hands, I would’ve snapped a picture of all three of them yanking the flesh out from the chicken wings like cannibals and licking their chops the whole time at dinner.

The wings were awesome. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. All airfried without a single drop of oil. The Philips Airfryer even extracted some from the skins to reduce the fat content for us!

Airfried to yumminess

Airfried to yumminess!

The oil left in the pan even though I hadn't added any!

The oil left in the pan even though I didn’t added any!

You can imagine how exhilarated the kids are now whenever they hear that I’m going to be cooking for them with the airfryer, because this usually means something yummy and crispy is coming their way.

A Happy Meal made with airfried snacks!

A Happy Meal made with airfried snacks!


And here’s my really simple recipe of the gloriumptious chicken wings to share:

Recipe: Mai pian har cheong gai, made with the Philips Avance XL Airfryer

Oatmeal har cheong gai


  • mid joint chicken wings
  • packet of shrimp paste marinate
  • a teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 cups of oatmeal


  • Marinate wings in shrimp paste and sugar. Leave to stand for at least half an hour.
  • Preheat Airfryer to 200ºC for 3 minutes.
  • Roll wings in oatmeal before placing them in the Airfryer basket.
  • Airfry wings at 200ºC for 8 – 9 minutes until cooked and crispy.

The Philips Avance Collection Airfryer XL with Rapid Air technology (S$539) is available in stores in December 2013 at leading electronics and departmental stores.

Black trio

The Philips Airfryer Black Trio (from left to right): the Philips Viva Collection Digital AirFryer (SGD$459), the Philips Avance Collection Airfryer XL which is bigger and better with 50 percent more capacity (SGD$539) and the Philips Viva Collection Airfryer (first generation)

Cook with Air today! And here’s a discount code for you!

Cook with Air today! Quote [MotherKao] and buy the Philips Viva Digital Airfryer at $399 (Usual price: $459 | FREE $50 SHOPPING VOUCHER) and Philips Avance XL Airfryer at $479 (Usual price: $539 | FREE $50 SHOPPING VOUCHER) at the PHILIPS EXPERIENCE SHOWROOM*.

This promotion is valid from 1st December till 31st January 2014.

*Limited to 1 Airfryer per person. IC must be produced.

The PHILIPS EXPERIENCE SHOWROOM is at 620A Lorong 1 Toa Payoh Building TP4 Level 1 S(319762) | Tel: 6882 5800

Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9.00 am – 7.00 pm | Saturday: 9.00 am – 1.00 pm | Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays

The Philips Viva Digital Airfryer and Philips Avance XL Airfryer are also available at regular prices in leading electronics stores, department stores and supermarkets island-wide.

Disclosure: This post is the part of a series of sponsored conversations with Philips Singapore. I was given the Philips Avance Collection Airfryer XL for the purpose of this review and paid to cook and eat 100% guilt-free by the good people at Philips. All opinions here are my own. 

Ben Kao Everyday fun! Fatherkao loves... Milestones and growing up What to Expect... As a Mother

From two to four, of toys and more

November 25, 2013

This post chronicles my son’s development over the years, particularly his changing obsessions with toys and characters.

This post is written for parents with little boys – I’d like to offer you a glimpse of what you might encounter the next few years raising your son.

This post is about the many phases of boys and their toys, and what weekly emails from parenting websites like Baby Center never warned you.


Vehicles of every kind

At two, my firstborn was crazy about construction vehicles. As soon as he started talking, he started learning the different names of the huge trucks he saw on the roads – excavator! concrete mixer! dump truck! he would try to say.

First trucks

And so very quickly he got himself a whole load of these toy vehicles to play with.

A few months later, he started liking trains. He became fascinated with someone called Thomas and all his (goddamn expensive) creepy round-faced friends. He got an entire collection of die cast trains for Christmas that year.

Thomas and friends

When he turned three, his obsession with cars started, which very incidentally, also got his father (the bigger boy) extremely excited. They started amassing Tomica die casts and building tracks of all kinds, which very quickly consumed them to the point of obsession. They would sit together to watch cars move from Point A to B after building those massive car tracks that take up half the space in the living room for hours on end.

Car track

Unfufilled childhood dreams

I never understood the point of it, but apparently, it was like being in car heaven for these boys.

Handy Benji

After the car phase, Ben’s curiosity with tools began, in part because he started watching a series called Handy Manny on Disney Junior and in part due to observing his father work with tools to build the stuff we bought from IKEA.


And just like that, I suddenly had a handy little man at home overnight, “working” with hammers, screwdrivers and spanners. It was a very noisy phase indeed as he went knocking around the house all day and night.

Building blocks and Lego

When tools became passé for him, he spent hours creating things from his imagination with his Lego blocks.


Lego Quadro

He made all sorts of stuff – stuff we can never make out, stuff which existed only in his mind, and a whole range of playthings from dragons to zoos to carnival grounds. Whenever he came to us to show us what he’s made, we’d say, “Wow, that’s amazing! What’s that?” but it never deterred him from making more and fuelling our own imagination too.

Dinosaurs, wild cats and animals of all kinds

Between playing Lego and sometimes revisiting earlier obsessions like his toy cars and tools, Ben started getting curious about animals, particularly those prehistoric giants that have gone extinct a long time ago.


That was when we threw him a dinosaur party. That was when I also had a challenging time learning all those five-syllable names of dinosaurs talking dinos with him all day long (oh yes, the pterodactyl flies! oh wow the acrocanthosaurus ate these! watch out, here comes the nedoceratops!). I’m telling you, the dino phase was the one most tiring ever! I’m actually secretly hoping Nat skips that cos’ I ain’t wanna name another dinosaur ever in my life.

At four, Ben moved from dinosaurs to animals – farm animals, zoo animals, safari animals. There was this time he was particularly interested in big wild cats. Ask him now and this boy can tell you the difference between a leopard, cheetah and puma. Ask him now and he can also tell you also why the tiger and the lion are both kings in their own respect. He knows where these cats live, what they eat and their different characteristics. Because of his interest in animals, he’s pored over many encyclopaedic books all by himself at home and at the library just to learn more about them.


Bam! Bam! Bam! Kababoom!

Nerf battle

Ah yes, weapons. How can I forget? Sword, shield, bow and arrow, oh yes, and GUNS. So my four-year-old, together with his sister and baby brother now, are so into them. In the beginning, I was one determined mother who swore that I would never allow my kids to play with toy weapons. Not even water guns in the pool. Everyone has an informal causation theory that playing with guns leads to aggression and violence, and I am one big believer of this theory. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for the kids, their father thinks otherwise. “No link!” he says. “This is what boys play!”

And that was how I lost the battle against weapons.

Actually, what made me not insist any longer was this piece of research I found online:

According to Michael Thompson, PhD, child psychologist and author of It’s a Boy!  Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18, children learn how to control impulses, delay gratification, think symbolically, and view things from another’s perspective through imaginary games. Play also allows children to act out their fears and aspirations. “As a little boy, you’re not very powerful,” Thompson says. “With a gun, you feel powerful and heroic.” According to Thompson, it’s really about dominance and heroism, winning and losing, and who gets to be the good guy in the end. Of course, when there’s hurt and aggression involved, that must be stopped by the adult.

So the kids started playing with Nerf guns with their father (I shared here about Fatherkao making dinosaur target boards to play with the kids, and it was great for hand-eye coordination!), “smiting” one another with swords and learning how to defend themselves with shields and playing with bows made of plastic and arrows that had suction cups.

Sword play

Ben the Knight

Ben also started watching the animation series Mike the Knight and was immersed in a world of bravery and chivalry, and dreamt of knighthood day and night for months.

More than meets the eye

Transformer fever

Three months shy of his fifth birthday, some creatures that can change their bodies at will have started to dominate his world. Intelligent robots, called Transformers that could think and feel, are now his favourite playthings, and he’s experiencing a fascination with these species of “living robotic beings” with a curiosity and obsession I’ve never seen. He’s fired me with questions after questions about these beings after watching the movie, and finally took out his Transformer toys which he never really could figure out or understand in the past that were given to him as gifts. He now talks to them and about them all the time, and functions in a world of Transformer-speak that has a huge invisible sign warning everyone else to keep out.

Transformer love


As I mentioned, this post is about boys and their many toys. Although I write from my experience with one boy, I’m sure what I’ve shared isn’t just specific to Ben alone.

Comparatively speaking, the little girl doesn’t seem to have obsessions of these varieties. She’s ok with stuffed toys, dolls, girly things and masak-masak play like cooking, cleaning and other domesticated things but has never dwelled on it every single day liking just one particular thing for months! I’ve not ever stereotyped toys for my boys, not at least before they were three. Ben plays with dolls and engages in play activities like cooking and cleaning occasionally with Becks and Nat, but it’s interesting how his preferences and interests have geared towards things with masculine attributes all on its own, and turned into phases of obsessions which are going to be so unique to him to remember his childhood by.

And it’s incredibly amazing how God wired boys. From what I understand, these boys remain, umm, boys, for a long time even in adulthood with bigger, better toys. Quite apparently, the one person that influences Ben’s interests in toys is himself one big boy looking to relive his childhood too. You should see the look on both their faces whenever they are in a toy store. (Right, Fatherkao?) 

I know more exciting times lie ahead as my little boy turns 5, then 6, then 7, and I am thinking the Justice League of Superheroes, war soldiers, and more Transformers already!

Ben Kao Milestones and growing up

Transformer Fever

November 22, 2013

Questions a four-and-a-half-year-old asks his mother about Transformers

Transformer fever

Question 1: How did Optimus Prime become so powerful?

Question 2: Why is there no one driving Optimus Prime?

Question 3: Why is there someone driving Bumblebee?

Question 4: How do the Autobots transform? What buttons do they press on themselves?

Question 5: Do they run on batteries or electricity?

Question 6: Why are there bad guys to fight?

Question 7: How did the Decepticons come about?

Question 8: Why must there be bad guys?

Question 9: Do the good guys fight among themselves?

Question 10: Why can’t we just have a movie only with the good Transformers?


Mom’s answer to her four-and-a-half-year-old: I am not a boy. I don’t watch Transformers. -_-

Homelearning fun Learning fun!

Teaching the Kao Kids: Raising a Reader (Part 1) – For the love of reading

November 20, 2013

It’s no rocket science that in order to raise a reader, you need to do one most important thing.

Surround the child with books…

On our shelves (clockwise), we've got Read Aloud books, Chinese books, board books and non-fiction books

On our shelves (clockwise), we’ve got Read Aloud books, Chinese books, non-fiction books and pop-up board books


Paperbacks, Dr Seuss and hardcovers

Paperbacks, Dr Seuss’ titles and hardcovers

And more books…

Our Social-Emotional Intelligence Readers, Nat Geo Readers, and our predictable favourites from Eric Carle and other well-loved authors

Our Social-Emotional Intelligence Readers, Nat Geo Readers, and our predictable favourites from Eric Carle and other well-loved authors

Simply having books everywhere around the child will make reading the default activity every time they are at home, especially when they are tempted to say, “I’m bored, what do I do now?”

Over the years, we’ve acquired many books. I wanted to recreate for my kids what I had as a child – access to books, books, and more books. I was an avid reader as a a kid, and am still one (an avid reader, not kid), in part because I had all the wonderful people in my life buying me books on every possible occasion, and I had wanted so much for my kids to fall in love with reading like I did. To me, books are a wonderful investment for their future.

Besides surrounding them with books and giving them easy access to them, here are some tips to get your kids to start reading, and hopefully enjoy reading:

1. Reading aloud to them often, preferably daily

Brain-development research shows that children aren’t ready to learn the mechanics of reading until around age 5. The best way to kick start their love for reading is to read to them even when they can’t understand everything you say. When they are infants, you can try reading aloud to them for 10 to 15 minutes a day, point to pictures and explain the illustrations. At preschooling age, you can increase the length of time by reading aloud to them for about 30 minutes a day.

According to Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, “The more models of fluent reading the children hear, the better….Reading to children also increases their knowledge of the world, their vocabulary, their familiarity with written language and their interest in reading.” So the next thing you can do besides surrounding them with books is to make reading aloud a routine so the children get to hear the stories that can fuel their imagination. This gets them excited about reading.

Dear Zoo_Reading the book

Reading aloud Dear Zoo to the Kao kids: this huge flip-the-flap book is a predictable classic for all ages

I read aloud to the children as often as I can, even if it means reading the same book for the nth time. I started off with simple stories that would interest them, and have now progressed to reading aloud Road Dahl’s best loved tales chapter by chapter. There’s minimal illustrations in such books and this forces the kids to listen closely and imagine the characters and setting for themselves. We’ve just finished reading Fantastic Mr Fox, and the kids were absolutely gripped by the story that was read aloud to them over a course of two weeks! As part of their bedtime routine, Fatherkao also reads one book from the Mr Men’s Collection to the kids before they get tucked in by me. You can imagine how thrilled the kids were when we started this routine to have their father tell them stories of Mr Bounce, Mr Grumpy and all the other interesting characters in Mr Men!

Mr Men

A very expensive collection, which we managed to snag at a greatly discounted price at the recent Popular Sale!

2. It’s not boring to them, repeat when you can!

If there’s two things preschoolers love, it has to be predictability and repetition. Predictable books use repetitive language and/or sequences, rhythms, and rhymes and allow children to predict what the sentences are going to say, thereby increasing enjoyment and helping to build vocabulary and memory skills. In addition, reading the same book again and again helps develop a child’s vocabulary and improves their reading skills.

One of the books we have in our home library – which I have read for I-dunno-how-many-times to each child (I’m thinking at least 30?) since the day they were little babies in my arms – is this simple, predictable book Ten in the Den by John Butler:

Picture from

Picture from

It has the most beautifully painted illustrations, and the simplest of narratives – Little Mouse asks his friends in the den to “roll over, roll over” only to find that he is the only one left in the den. He then scampers to join his friends at the bottom of the hill. Ben loved it as a baby and so did Becks. And now when I read it to Nat, the older two are still so intrigued by this little story that they pick up the book after I am done with it and read it in its entirety purely from memory. The adult might find it a chore to be reading it with dramatic tone and gestures for the nth time but I’m telling you, it’s a whole new experience every time for a child even if it’s the fourth year he’s hearing this story. Kids love a good story repeated, and they will pick up a familiar book any time to revisit those positive feelings they felt when the story was read to them.

3. Buy them if you can

I have nothing against going to the library, and I bring the kids there quite often to browse the children’s collection there. But there’s something about buying books which allows the children to read and reread that borrowing doesn’t. Books are like an investment, really. These stories are repositories in your children’s memory bank which will be recollected and revisited when they are older, even in adulthood. Besides, there’s this special feeling a child would have when he holds the book that he owns which cannot be compared with holding a library book. Especially if the story strikes a chord – that’s when that connection with reading magically happens.

There are many avenues to purchase books without having to rob a bank. Scholastic sends out quarterly book lists to childcare centres and sells paperbacks at a huge discounts to them, so you could ask around and pool your orders together with friends who have kids enrolled in childcare. There are also book sales happening ever so often at the Singapore Expo, like those organised by MPH and Popular. You can also check out The Groovy Giraffe, Singapore’s one and only remainder bookstore, as well as  Book Depository, which offers free shipping worldwide for good deals.

4. Don’t pressure; motivate instead

There was a point in time I was pressurising Ben to start reading on his own. I drilled him in sight words. I made him learn his phonics. I forced him to read Graded Readers. All because I read a blog that was written by a mother whose kid started reading on his own at three. I had thought that that was the norm, and started heaping tremendous expectations on my firstborn. After a couple of failed attempts, I decided to do a bit more research in this area, and came to realise one thing: you don’t raise a reader overnight. It takes consistency and effort, and a lot of encouragement and motivation. What I wanted was not to have Ben to read. I wanted more; I wanted him (and Becks, and Nat) to LOVE reading. It’s extremely vital for a parent to follow the child’s pace and not to force the issue. That’s the only way that a child becomes a reader for life.

5. Create a comfortable, well-lit spot to read

This seems common sense but it takes deliberate planning, really. Find a spot in the house that takes advantage of natural lighting especially during the day. At night, make sure that there’s good light for the kids to huddle around you for a good story. When it’s comfortable, they will read more, trust me on that!

The sofa in the living room next to our panel of full length windows is the best place to read in the day!

The sofa in the living room next to our panel of full length windows is the best place to read in the day!


Nurturing a love for reading is a process, a process that cannot be hurried. But it can certainly be very enjoyable if you surround your kids with imaginative stories and books that will take them to worlds unknown.

What are some things you do for your kids to nurture a love for reading? Do share them with me in the comments below!



Coming up in Part 2: Choosing Engaging Titles for Children

All this blog's PR Stuff Christmas happiness Going Out! Motherkao loves... The Kao Kids

A SpongeBob SquarePants kind of Christmas at Changi Airport

November 19, 2013

We’re going to be seeing a lot of yellow this Christmas! As part of Changi Airport‘s Christmas festivities this year, the folks at Bikini Bottom are surfacing from under the sea to spread some Christmas cheer.

Before Bikini Bottom was inflated... there were three kiddos waiting!

Before Bikini Bottom was inflated… there were three kiddos waiting!

We were invited to preview what Changi Airport has in store this Christmas last Saturday, and like what SpongeBob would say, “We’re ready, we’re ready, we’re ready!”

And so we checked out the world’s tallest Pineapple House, standing at 11 metres tall at Terminal 3…

Fun at SpongeBob's Pineapple House!

Fun at SpongeBob’s Pineapple House!

…Entered the transit lounge at each airport terminal to see the massive topiaries of famous landmarks – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum and the fabled Trojan Horse in Turkey. We also met SpongeBob, Mr Krabs, Patrick, Squidward and Plankton there, all having lots of dress-up fun!

Inside the transit lounge in T1, T2 and T3 to preview the "places of interest"

Inside the transit lounge in T1, T2 and T3 to preview the “places of interest”

And at Terminal 3’s Departure Hall (Row 11), we saw a ginormous Bikini Bottom – a bouncy inflatable playground standing at 9 metres, complete with a ball pit, a maze and a slide.

Bikini Bottom now inflated!

Bikini Bottom now inflated!

The kids haven’t actually watched an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants but they absolutely love the plush toys they were given in their goodie bags and all the photo opportunities while we were inside the various transit lounge. I used to watch SpongeBob A LOT when it was launched in 1999 (I was in JC then!), so guess who was the one most familiar with the characters! It was a fun morning out for me as much as it was for them, being able to relive some teen-hood memories of my couch potato days.

Thanks for the invite and the goodie bags, CAG and Nickelodeon!

Thanks for the invite and the goodie bags, CAG and Nickelodeon!

There’s gonna be a galore of fun-filled activities this Christmas season at Changi Airport this year, so do make the airport one of your ‘to-go’ places this festive holiday! As SpongeBob would say, “This is gonna be the coolest party eva!”

Chillax' with SpongeBob and Patrick!

Chillax’ with SpongeBob and Patrick at Changi Airport this Christmas!

(Self) Examination I ♥ lists Thunderstorm days

No love in my tummy

November 18, 2013

Two weeks ago I experienced symptoms similiar to a fourth pregnancy: nausea, bloating, morning sickness. I was wretching bile in the early hours of the first two mornings and kept awake at night by cold sweat as my tummy started getting all knotted up like clockwork come 2am.

Except that I am definitely not pregnant. And it definitely ain’t gonna be any fourth time.

I went to the doctor after trying to tahan the pain for 5 days, and was told I might have a case of peptic ulcer. A peptic ulcer is an ulcer caused by stomach acid. An ulcer is where the lining of the gut is damaged and the underlying tissue is exposed. The doctor prescribed some acid suppressing medication and instructed that I try it out for 3 days. If it worked, I could continue treatment for a week. If it didn’t, it means that the ulcer was more serious than she thought and I would need a scope and day surgery.

Picture by Rob Jr. Picture Credit:

Picture by Rob Jr. Picture Credit:

The ulcer is healing right now, and I am glad I am feeling much better. I’ve made a couple of changes to my lifestyle (small little ones!) to make sure the condition doesn’t recur, and at age 32, I am glad for this wake-up call to treat myself better even with full time motherhood duties consuming my entire body, soul and mind.

1. Quit bubble tea

Yes, I’ve made one of the hardest decisions I have to make this year.

For someone who has had a cup of bubble tea (I drink milk tea at 25% sugar with no ice and no toppings) every single day since March 11 2013 (the day the kids started kindy and I started walking to Nex 5 days a week), it’s a painful one to quit for the bubble tea addict that is me. But in light of the hyperacidity in the stomach, and the pain I’ve experienced for that 5 days, it’s clear sign that perhaps this addict needs rehab.

2. Light supper half an hour before bed

I don’t have the habit of eating before I go to bed (unless I didn’t have my dinner). But now I try to have a cup of warm Milo and some bites if there’s a gnawing feeling of hunger. If I’m feeling really hungry, I no longer try to sleep the hunger away till the next morning (which I often do for fear of gaining weight). A few nights ago I cooked myself a bowl of ramyeon before I went to bed. The warm soup that warmed my stomach helped me sleep very well that night!

3. Eno’s is not a bad idea

It took a while for me to differentiate these three uncomfortable state of being: feeling bloated, feeling gassy, feeling hungry. I never had all these problems until recently, and I found the answer to one of the problems in this horrid drink! Hands up if you hate Eno’s Fruit Salt as much as I do. But surprisingly, the fast-acting effervescent fruit salt used as an antacid and a reliever of bloatedness has saved me on more occasions than one. I’m making sure this is a frequently stocked up item in the medicine cabinet.

4. Don’t pile on the chilli. Or belachan. Or chincalok. And go easy on the tom yum.

Nuff’ said. Another big sacrifice for a person who absolutely loves, loves, loves her spices. Moderation is now the answer to all my stomach woes.

5. Go for warm instead of iced

Never thought I would say this, but yea. I thought I’d only order warm drinks and stay away from iced ones when I am 60. Drinking cold drinks gave me so much pain when I had the stomach ulcer episode, and so now warm beverages are the way to go for me.

Many folks like to associate ulcers with stress, and I tend to think being stressed out lowers one’s immunity somewhat. Although it’s not been proven that stress, cold drinks and spices cause stomach ulcers, well, whatever it is, I’m making sure that this doesn’t come back to torture me again by chillax-ing as much as I can, and not get so worked up with the kids.

Be kind to your tummies and keep healthy!

Also linking up with:
Homelearning fun Learning fun!

Teaching the Kao Kids: Preamble to the Series

November 13, 2013

Since the year is coming to a close, and since I often get questions from readers who ask me how I teach my three children who are so close in age, I thought I’d start a series on the resources I use and the routines I started this year in my attempt to home-teach them.

I started off this SAHM gig with the intention to homeschool all three of them. This proved to be a huge challenge and it didn’t take me long before deciding it was impossible. Ben turned four in February this year and began to reveal himself, at four years, with an enormous appetite for information and knowledge – he was brimming with questions, questions and more questions every waking minute. Becks was still in her Terrible Twos, being only two-half when I left my job, and every day with her has been nothing but exhaustion and fatigue. She is obstinate and emotionally-driven, and it took a lot out of me to have to handle the host of emotions (and tantrums) from her every day. As for the baby, he turned one earlier in the year, and was still very much a baby – needing to be nursed and played with all the time.

We struggled to develop a routine together and I thought I was all set to homeschool them with the Hands On Homeschooling curriculum I bought from the States. Within a week, I knew I would go insane if I continued trying. It was just impossible to perform mothering duties, prepare resources and stay patient, not to mention TEACH. In all honesty, I tried to make things work. I’ll try to get Ben and Becks to do Becks’ level of activity, and then work with Ben on his own. I got the helper to watch Nat every time we were engaged, and even held him to nurse while with the older kids if he fussed.

But I couldn’t keep up. With the preparation of resources, that is. Plus, I am really not into crafting (which features a lot in the HoH curriculum) and frequently wondered if the curriculum was rigorous enough to prepare them for Primary One. The Western model is big on self discovery and exploration, and learning through your senses. Not so much practice. If you look at the tracer-printables in HoH and compared it with preschool assessment book-tracers from Popular, you’d be shocked to find that writing the letter (of the Alphabet) twice (at most thrice) is all there is in the former, while the ones we have published locally require the preschooler to trace at least 15 times! I’m not against self discovery and exploration, but I keep having the nagging feeling that what I have ain’t rigorous enough to prepare them for the real world they would be facing, that is, the Singapore Education System.

I still have every intention for the kids to be schooled in our system, and despite my gripes and bugbears about the system (having been born and bred in it and having spent some good 7 years as an educator), I believe that the kids need to go through it to know the competitiveness out there, and along the way, develop strength and resilience in character. Even with its flaws, the system has done well to produce brilliance in many aspects, albeit through examinations, KPIs and ranking.

So in other words, I am not sure if I alone, am enough, or good enough, as their teacher if I were to consider the end goal.

Thus begins the outsourcing. I figured the kids also needed opportunities for socialisation and to be nurtured (because I have the tendency to drive), and so we put them in a church kindergarten for three hours daily. It has been one of the best decisions I have made. The teachers there are so wonderfully patient, the kids are enjoying kindergarten so much for the songs they learn, the craft they do, the friends they make and the stories their teachers tell. Ben particularly adores his Chinese teacher, a middle-aged lady who has ignited his interest in the Chinese language. He remembers the games played and stories told in Chinese class, and returns home to repeat whatever his lao shi said in class that day. And I totally love the way the kindergarten is teaching their nursery kids – everything is learned through songs! They would sing familiar tunes every term but of different things – so far, Becks has learned about fruits, occupations and transport, all through singing and crafting. These are clearly things I wouldn’t be able to do with them. Also, it wouldn’t be possible for them to socialise in the most organic way – at kindy, they’ve made a couple of friends and are learning, with every opportunity to socialise, to navigate through emotions and the need to belong – all on their own.

Anyway. We quickly settled into a routine which worked for us with this arrangement. The kids went to kindy for three hours 10 weeks in a term, and I would home-teach them when they returned. Now that Ben is four-half, Becks is three and Nat is 20 months, we’ve found some things that work for us and parked aside things that didn’t. I don’t reinforce what’s taught in their kindergarten; I do my own thing – a mix of ideas gleaned from the HoH curriculum, printables from online resources and things I create on my own. I acquired what I thought are the basics for every preschooler – graded readers, story books, games, DVDs and preschool resources (aplenty from Popular) – and developed my own set for the kids, usually following a theme / an idea.

And since I get questions from readers of my blog – and friends – who often ask me how I manage with three kids and home-teaching them, I thought I’d just share some of the things I use and do, and our routines in a series of blogposts. Hopefully, I can also learn some things from you if you have any thoughts, ideas and success stories to share. Do watch this space for the weekly series!



All this blog's PR Stuff Going Out! Reviews The Kao Kids

Review: Grimm’s Fairy Tales (and my take on fairy tales for children)

November 9, 2013

We all know how grim fairy tales can be (pun intended). So many of the pervasive stories found in the Brothers Grimm’s tales in their original versions can be terribly terrifying, gruesome and bizarre. Like I would never forget how my Lit teacher deconstructed Little Red Riding Hood for me when I was reading Literature in JC. And revealing the sexual misconducts, blindings of mankind and macabre twists found in well-loved tales like Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin. (Thank you, Mrs C, for opening my eyes.)

Which is why I don’t read fairy tales as bedtime stories, and I make sure the kids only watch / read / hear the sanitised, child-friendly versions of them (think Disney and cheery, cartoony books). They vaguely know some stories, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, but that’s pretty much it. Ben used to tell me when they were read fairy tales at childcare that “it’s quite scary, those evil witch people” (I think he was referring to Snow White’s stepmother) and I told him to shut his ears cos’ Well, Son, you don’t have to know all these fairy tales, really. Wait till you’re older and Mama will surely tell you more, and take apart the stories so you will never read them the same way again! That’ll be even more exciting! Hurhurhur. I didn’t exactly tell him that; I just told him not to pay attention if it made him feel afraid.


I wrote all these to say that when I Theatre invited us to their final production of the year, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I did hesitate if I should take the kids. I mean, I’ve done a lot to keep them away from fairy tales, and because of what I know about this genre, I’d prefer they get acquainted later than sooner.

But having caught I Theatre’s Hey Little Mousedeer! earlier in the year, and getting to know this family-focused theatre company, I know – and it is with confidence I say – that I Theatre will surely deliver a brilliant family-friendly production for us all. I have utmost respect for the hands and heads behind this non-profit organisation that exists to create top quality theatre for children and families in Singapore. So it is with this confidence I know that I don’t have to worry about the show being twisted and macabre, and that Ben, Becks and I would have a good time watching this full-scale Broadway standard musical that promises to be suitable for the whole family.

GFT_Before the show

Indeed the production didn’t disappoint. The production had the overarching theme of family, with lovely songs that are catchy and inspiring (Mr Bang Wenfu, you’re a legend!) and brilliant delivery in terms of scripting and acting. The nine stories told were so carefully edited what we got were wholesome, sanitised versions of “happily ever after”, something which I seriously do not mind my children understanding and watching – for now.

The stories were told through eight animals, Wolf, Donkey, Cat, Rooster, Fox, Dog, Sparrow and Goose, and were creatively condensed only to highlight good virtues and values. Like The Enormous Turnip was told with the focus of not being greedy and jealous, and Hansel and Gretel had the message of family love triumphing above all. Rapunzel was surprisingly refreshing as it was told through puppetry, and all I could remember was Ben cackling away as the puppets delivered their lines with humour. And Little Red Cap was all about avoiding the woods, listening to your mother (I like!) and the brave hunstmen that saved the day. All in all, every story – even the not-so-familiar ones like The Musicians of Bremen, Lucky Hans and The Valiant Little Tailor – was all about good triumphing over evil and the joys we find in love and family.





And what we got out of that 90 minutes (15 minutes intermission not included) was that we had our funny bones tickled and ourselves an afternoon of wholesome family fun. I must say these animal storytellers from I Theatre were remarkably exceptional in captivating us with these tales that would have been otherwise so disturbingly grim if unedited!

GFT_With cast

Thank you, I Theatre, for enthralling us once again with your artistic brilliance!

Grimm’s Fairy Tales runs from 1 to 17 November at the Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building. Tickets from Sistic here. This production is suitable for families with kids aged 4 and up.

Disclosure: We were invited to watch Grimm’s Fairy Tales by I Theatre. There was no monetary compensation involved and opinions here are all my own.

Homelearning fun Learning fun!

Say w-w-what can we learn from the letter W?

November 8, 2013

The letter W introduced some very important things to us. We learned that…

W is for Water

I introduced water in a science lesson after we were done with our W tracers. We learned the importance of water through these activity sheets that taught us that all living things need water, as well as ways in which we can do our part to save water.

Water worksheets

The worksheets are zapped from the book “Little Thinkers: Nurturing the Child’s Creative and Critical Thinking Skills | Water | Activity Book for Kindergarten One”, published by EPB

The kids practised their hand-eye coordination by pouring water from big containers to small containers, and learned about liquids and solids by freezing water in ice cube trays.


All we need: bottles, jugs, funnels and ice cube trays

Learning to pour water slowly with lots of control

Learning to pour water slowly with lots of control

And no W-for-Water is complete without a wild session of waterplay! Which we do at the comfort of our own home – with warm water! (I recycle the water and limit the free flow to only a few minutes.)

Water play with lots of empty containers

Water play with lots of empty containers

Getting ready to pour water!

Getting ready to pour water!

W is for Weather

I did up a simple velcro board that described three kinds of weather: sunny, windy and rainy and got the kids to place the appropriate pictures under each weather condition. Ben learned to sight-read the words sunny, windy and rainy.

Weather velcro board

The kids match the appropriate pictures under each description of the weather

W is for the Days of the Week

Days of the WeekI also did up a velcro board for Ben and Becks after reading (for the nth time) Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar that featured the days of the week. They know it by heart now and can recite them easily, but they don’t know the words. So as practice, they arranged the days of the week on the board while reciting to learn the words by sight.

W is for Watermelon

Watermelon, watermelon, On the vine, on the vine. Sweet and red and juicy, Sweet and red and juicy, Please be mine! Please be mine!

I chanced upon this little song online (sung to the tune of Are You Sleeping?) and thought it was so cute! I got the kids to paint a paper plate using watercolours and we made watermelons to “eat”, but not before teaching them some fractions. We cut our watermelon with a pair of scissors, and learned about halves and quarters.

Making a watermelon: we first painted red on the inside, green on the outer circle, and then dabbed black dots on the red circle

Making a watermelon: we first painted red on the inside, green on the outer circle, and then dabbed black dots on the red circle

W is for Where’s Waldo

To train Ben to focus, I got him to sit down for at least 10 minutes to look for Waldo. I absolutely loved the series as a kid and relived it by searching for Waldo with him!

During my time, the series was called "Where's Wally?" Now, Ben enjoys searching for Waldo and it's been great fun for him!

During my time, the series was called “Where’s Wally?” Now, Ben enjoys searching for Waldo and it’s been great fun for him!

We stopped the moment we started seeing stars! Hurhurhur.

W is for Whale

We wrapped up our homelearning for the letter W with a lovely story by Julia Donaldson.

The Snail and the WhaleThe Snail and the Whale is a beautiful story about a tiny snail longing to see the world and hitching a lift on the tail of a whale. Together, they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins. The journey, however, made the little snail feel so small in the vastness of this big, big world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, the tiny snail is the one that saves the day.

The book was a great resource to learn rhyming words. There’s plenty of rhyming in the story, and the kids got to listen to the rhymes again and again. I made these word cards of all the rhyming words for Ben and Becks to refer to when they listened to me read the story, and they had to identify the words whenever they heard the rhyming pairs.

Rhyming words found in The Snail and the Whale

Rhyming words found in The Snail and the Whale

Becks had the most fun with this activity. She is now three and finally understands rhyme. Now she frequently shouts words out loud to check if they are rhyming words!

The letter W has been great fun, but we’ll be moving on to another pretty pristine letter next month that involves pandas and prehistoric creatures!