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Everyday fun! Learning fun! The Kao Kids

Whenever, waiting (not a case against gadgets)

December 25, 2016

I am a mom on a mission to keep the smart phones and the iPads away from my kids as much as possible, as long as possible.

Especially while we’re waiting.

I don’t think you need to give a child an iPhone or an iPad so he sits quietly while everyone waits for food / eats a decent meal/  has adult conversation.

Have you tried the following?

Whenever you anticipate waiting time…

  • Do copious amounts of reading (this is for now, only something that appeals to my firstborn)…

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  • Bring lots of scrap paper and colour pens/markers/pencils and invite your kids to draw away…

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  • Draw lots of randomness (you draw) and introduce some colouring therapy (the kids colour)…

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  • Buy activity books from book fairs / Bras Basah / Popular – I love those Preschooler Science booklets where the kids get to colour / circle / tick / cross out what floats / sinks / lives on land /grows in water / is used for home / made of plastic, etc because boy! do kids need to learn some common sense and general knowledge these days! These booklets are usually thin and easy to bring out…

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Recently I had one of my readers share these with me which she so meticulously and painstakingly created, and I thought she deserves a big shoutout; they are amazing – pieces of paper so nicely designed and so much to read and learn, and so easy to pack in the bag to whip out while waiting.

Check out Jacqueline’s billingual activity packs: Exploring My Neighbourhood, Ji Fan (which is chicken rice in Chinese; that was what Ben learned when we were holed up in BKK for a while with his tennis training. He’s learned how to order chicken rice in Mandarin and read the words!), Knowing Singapore, Conversations with Grandma, and Where is it (a fun and useful pack to teach kids to describe things and places). Especially useful, and worth a mention, is this pack called ‘How Much Is It’ if you have a kindergartener going to Primary One who needs to learn the concept of money. This pack deserves another post altogether as I reaped so much benefits doing this with Becks.

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Some snippets of the 'Ji Fan' activity pack where you can even play a game of ordering!

Some snippets of the ‘Ji Fan’ activity pack where you can even play a game of ordering!

~~~

I usually separate the assessment books for learning and the activities my kids engage in while we are out. There’s a time for the former, and usually it’s a specific carved out time to be focused for academic learning (so the habits instilled are very different from the latter). The latter (activity packs whenever we anticipate waiting time, that is) usually centres around doing lighthearted and fun things which involves largely incidental learning.

Before you throw stones at me – I do let the kids watch the TV and sometimes pass them the phone to check out apps – if books and activity packs are not so readily available. The educational apps are designed and created for the reason of keeping children engaged, and the key is always negotiating a start and end time.

We were recently introduced to the Nickelodeon PLAY app by the folks from Nickelodeon, and I found that negotiating the start/end time for a quick thrill in playing games work for my boys who are increasingly curious about ALL things games – anything that involves racing, fighting or moving virtually gets them super excited these days.

So once in a while, the kids get to check out TMNT and Game shakers games on the app, and play Crossy Road on their father’s iPad…

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And you’ll see children huddling and hovering over a device like this for a while.

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And that’s how we handle the whenever-waiting-opportunities at 7, 6 and 4 years of age.

All this blog's PR Stuff Everyday fun! Homelearning fun Learning fun! Nat Kao Reviews

Keen-to-learn Nat (ft. a review of Gakken’s Go Go Series)

August 16, 2016

Nat has a super competitive streak. He’s very aware of his siblings’ existence and abilities, and despite being 4 yearns to be learning what they learn, knowing what they know and doing what they do.

If korkor can build a Lego set from scratch, so can I, says Nat.

If Becks is learning phonics, I can learn phonics too. Hey everyone, hear me sound the letters. Annie Apple says ‘Aaa’, says Nat.

If korkor is learning how to volley, I can also do that. All he needs is to teach me what he learns in tennis, says Nat.

Look, Mama. I can spell and write my name! says Nat.

This boy is one eager beaver, I tell you. Whenever we visit a book store or any Popular fair, my eldest asks for construction toys (?!?!), my daughter wants stationery and my youngest begs to buy activity books. He wants to be tracing, playing maze puzzle games and colouring.

And so his wish came true when Gakken Asia Pacific sent him their Go-Go Brain Development Series last month:

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Imagine his happiness: activity books filled with fun games of helping animals find their way through mazes and tons of sticker fun. There’s counting involved and lots of animals (too cute!) to be amused by page after page.

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There’s even a guide for parents on how to use the series to teach useful skills to your child.

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See how much fun he’s had, and how focused and serious about his learning he can be, tracing with his fingers and holding a pencil:

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After every page of fun, all I got was a beaming face and an earnest boy asking to do more.

~~~

Activity books like these are my go-to resource to minimise screen time. Being engaged in one of these also help the little ones develop a sense of confidence that they are building new skills – all those peeling of stickers help to develop hand-eye coordination; the maze puzzles help train concentration and pencil control; the adorable animal characters can inspire a child to start drawing (or copying) and best of all, a child spends quality time with his mama!

It’s a great alternative to giving a child a tablet or mobile phone and it encourages a child to learn enthusiastically through fun ways. I know for sure that Nat loved every minute working on every page.

My only complaint was that his fun ended too soon and I have to start ordering more of these to keep his enthusiasm going!

More details + discount code + GIVEAWAY (yay!):

The Gakken Go-Go series activity books are available on sale at the following stores:

  • All Popular Bookstores
  • Play ‘N’ Learn (FREE SHIPPING for Motherkao readers/followers)
  • Openschoolbag (USE GAKKEN10 for a 10% discount when checking out)

You can also download the digital trial version (IOS only) on https://itunes.apple.com/sg/app/gakken-go-go-educational-interactive/id1091487932?mt=8.

And just for Motherkao readers, Gakken Asia Pacific is giving 4 activity books to 4 readers* of this blog, just so you can experience the fun in learning through the Go-Go Series.

Simply log in to the Rafflecopter app here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*T&C: The Go-Go Series is suitable for ages 2 – 6. Your details will be collected by Gakken Asia Pacific for the purpose of delivery if you win. Whether Gakken Asia Pacific sends you the book of your choice or randomises a selection is completely up to the company’s discretion.

The titles that have a star are NOT available.

The titles that have a star next to it are NOT available.

Disclosure: Nat received 3 activity books from the Gakken Go-Go Series for the purpose of this review. He’s been having lots of maze-puzzle and sticker fun ever since. All opinions here are Motherkao’s own.

All this blog's PR Stuff Milestones and growing up Reading fun Reviews The Kao Kids

Can books fly? Yes, they can! (Review of Flying Books Subscription)

June 28, 2016

Those of you who have followed me from Day One would know how much I advocate reading.

Some years back, I did a series on Teaching the Kao Kids and how to raise readers (you can read the first post here, second one here & third one here). I’m also known as a mom (still!) who refuses to throw an iPad or mobile to my kids to keep them entertained. Till now, my friends whom we dine out with are pretty amazed that my kids still take out books to read while waiting for food to come. I’m really glad to have started on the right footing with the boundaries on technology and heartened that the kids have fallen head over heels with books.

I pretty much rely on book lists from these sources: flavorwire and huffingtonpost, and I try to buy books that have been recognised by the Caldecott Medal (and its respective Honor Books). The kids and I often enjoy these reads when I purchase them online from Open Trolley, Book Depository and occasionally, The Groovy Giraffe.

But getting books and replenishing our library often requires a regular exercise of me getting updates from my go-to-sources and searching for them online (plus comparing prices and wait time) and this can only mean that our collection can get quite stale if I get too busy to support their voracious reading appetites.

So boy am I glad to learn that books can fly to us if my schedules get busy and the kids want to be reading new titles.

You heard me right, books can fly to you, regularly and thoughtfully.

Flying Books is a book subscription that curates books for your little ones and sends them to your doorstep. The books are selected based on the little one’s age group and come from a carefully handpicked list of best published children’s books. The format of books vary between board books and picture books (either paperback or hardcover) and will always take into consideration of the age group of the child they are sent to.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Nicole Martins who founded Flying Books and learned that her dream of bringing stories to children to ignite their imagination was the reason for starting this business. Nicole works out of Trehaus which I co-founded, and we get excited just talking about our dream of having our children loving to read. I’ve also asked her if parents like me who buy A LOT of books for my children were a good fit for her curated subscription service, and she answered me by letting my children experience the ‘Siblings – One Time Gift Packgage‘ for myself (customised for 3 instead of 2 kids, though). I was mainly concerned about having repeats (which Nicole says would be avoided because an email would be sent out to the parents to ensure that the child will be getting a surprise in the mail and not an existing title) and that the books would be suited for my three children who were at very different reading milestones.

And what a surprise we got when we received our Flying Books delivered to us.

What's in the parcel?

What’s in the parcel?

It’s like Christmas coming early with all the prettily wrapped up presents.

Christmas came early!

Christmas came early!

After we unwrapped the books, we found a personalised letter introducing the books that the kids have received.

When I learned what the titles they received were, I instinctly knew that the selection was age-appropriate and helps in developing their reading milestones: Nat would get some texture play and a colourful story read to him; Becks could try blending words to help in her reading complete with lots of visuals; and Ben could definitely take off on his own, reading an exciting sequel to a book he’s previously read and loved.

Such details to fill the parents in on what her kids would be getting!

Such details to fill the parents in on what her kids would be getting!

Nat received Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson; Becks got Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems and Ben received the sequel to Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit, which was The Day the Crayons Came Home.

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Books to read, hooray!

 

Wasted no time in reading

Wasted no time in reading

The books had extremely good mileage for the entire month. The kids exchanged their books frequently and bugged various storytellers in the house to read them aloud, namely me and their father, and occasionally Ben who is great doing voices.

We thoroughly enjoyed the glitter from Sharing a Shell, particularly the littlest who was kinda obsessed with rubbing every page (never too old for some sensory experience!). We had a good time role-playing the narrator who’s tasked to not let the pigeon convince us of staying up late. And there’s nothing not to love about Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations of the flustered, whiny, frustrated crayons in Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Came Home and we had many nights of laughter with both the quitting book and the coming home book.

We love the crayons most, definitely.

Altogether now, rubbing the glitter on the book

Altogether now, rubbing the glitter on the book

We’re thankful that Flying Books lets us experience so much reading pleasure from these titles, and I’ll be the first here to recommend this to parents with young children at various age groups (take the Siblings package!) because it saves you the trouble of handpicking books for your kids in line with their development and literacy skills. Although the subscription service currently only curates for 12 months to 6 years, I am confident that a 7 or 8 year-old can still enjoy the titles meant for a 6-year-old.

Or gift them (buy one-time packages) to a child whom you know would love to receive exciting titles on a special occasion. How’s that for a really thoughtful birthday present?

And for those who wish to make reading a lifelong habit for your kid(s), Flying Books is a good way to start. It’s all the guess work done for you, which means you don’t have to constantly check for the latest popular published titles and rifle through bookstores. Plus, I know Nicole goes to great lengths in curating only the best for your child because I watch her work passionately every day, which means that you’ll always be promised quality and awesome books!

Giveaway & Discount Code, courtesy of Flying Books

  • And just for readers of this blog, Flying Books is doing a giveaway of 3 x Flying Books Gift Package (one-time package) to be sent in July to 3 special kids!

Participate using the Rafflecopter app here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends 17 July 2016. Please note that Flying Books curate books for 12 months to 6 years only. Winners will be notified via email and information about your child’s age will be collected by Flying Books so that the age-appropriate gift package can be delivered to you.

  • Flying Books is also offering a 5% discount off the 3-month subscription plans (for both regular & siblings) in addition to the published discounted rate. Use the promo codes MOTHERKAO & MOTHERKAOSIB respectively when you check out.

~~~

Happy reading!

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.” – Dr Seuss

Going Out! Learning fun! Motherkao loves... Reviews The Kao Kids

4 places you absolutely need to play at this June holidays

June 19, 2016

We’re left with one more week to the start of school and if you’re back from your wanderlust and crazy travelling schedules finally to settle back, here’s 4 very enriching places to play at while you ease into the week before school reopens.  I’m recommending them because these places resonate with me so much about my beliefs on play (if you don’t already know I co-founded Trehaus and run the programmes in TrehausKids inspired by the Reggio approach, and moderate a group called ‘Let the Children Play (Singapore) on FB).

I believe in back-to-the-basics kind of exposure and providing children calming yet engaging and mind-stimulating opportunities. As far as my own kids are concerned, I pretty much want them to remember childhood like that. I advocate for children wondering, exploring and imagining as capable and curious individuals without too much adult interference. And I strongly believe that we should always ‘rope in’ the environment as the third teacher in a child’s journey of discovery, play and learning.

Bring back play at its purest, I say.

1. PLAYEUM

If you haven’t visited Playeum‘s new hands-on exhibition – Hideaways: Creating with Nature – you absolutely should. This new installation invites children to explore, observe, construct, reflect, innovate and engage with nature and natural materials through hands-on exhibits and interactive artists’ installations.

Led by Creative Director Jeremy Chu, and joined by artists’ collectives The People’s Atelier and Shogun Creatives as well as artists Madhvi Subrahmanyan, Isabelle Desjeux, Bartholomew Ting and Richard Kearns, each installation provides an interdisciplinary and engaging experience serving as an important reminder of the world’s ecosystem.

It was a full sensory experience here at Playeum and I watched my kids as they played with all 4 senses (except taste) and did a whole lot of observation. A whole lot. Rarely do I see bouts of silence from quiet observation and keen eyes. At Playeum, I witnessed my children engage in a kind of somewhat structured (yet at many times, free) play that stimulates cognitive thinking and critical questioning.

Some of the questions my children asked at Knock Knock, Who Lives There?:

Ben: How do you hide a camera in all the shrubs? You mean I can watch the insects live?

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Becks: Would the insects hurt me? Are they alive?!?!

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Nat: I can write to the insects?! Is that true?! How will they hold a pencil and reply me?

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It was a relief to have Isabelle Desjeux, the creator and artist behind the installation, on site that day we visited to answer all the Kao kids’ questions about insects, show them how to make sense of a bug hotel and all. Phew.

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Knock Knock, Who Lives There? invites children to view insects via special surveillance screens in their natural habitats and record what they see in a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with creepy crawlies in their natural environment.

Questions asked at Make Believe Hideaway:

Ben: We’re making ant homes? How? Are they going to let ants live here? What about termites? Can we let termites stay here too?

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Becks: Can we make this for a caterpillar? I’ll make a nice flower shape home!

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Nat: Eww, why is clay so sticky and also like powder on my hands??? MOM!!!!

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Make Believe Hideaway is an installation that invites children to experience playing with clay and building imaginary habitats inspired by nature, resulting in a collaborative installation.

Convos overheard at Sounds of the Earth:

Ben: Can we go outside? What’s that outside? Can these really be musical instruments?

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Becks: Hey look, guys! I found a watering can and flowers!

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Nat: (wandering away from Sounds of the Earth) HEY GUYS! COME SEE THIS!!!!

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Did someone mention termites earlier? Ewwwww…

Sounds of the Earth – Nature’s Ensemble is an interactive sound installation where children can create and build musical instruments with natural materials.

As you can see, my kids weren’t too immersed in any musical extravaganza. They couldn’t shake off the distractions of flowers and insects. We made music later nonetheless, on our way out.

Questions at Welcome to My World:

No questions asked actually. These kids just gravitated towards creation and construction. Immediately. Such pros.

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Later Ben did finally ask something and it was about tying the most secured knots. Which became a teachable moment between father and son, and great chance for his father to show his son what he’s learned as a scout.

Welcome to My World is where children can imagine a world where they are as small as insects and encouraged to create shelters on a giant scale. Lots of creative fun to be had here – without glue, or any man-made materials. Au naturel, for the win.

Like, like, like! that the four hours we were there equated to curiosity in action and translated to hunger for knowledge and interaction with natural materials to make sense of the world we live in.

This is an extremely well-conceptualised children exhibition with very strategic artistic direction to engage children to think about nature and its ecosystem. There’s no better teacher than nature itself, and Playeum has thoughtfully recreated a “classroom” for learning right within its doors. Amidst the bouncy castles, iPads and mobile phone games our children are growing up with, I’m so glad a place like this exists here where we live.

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More details: 

2. Imaginarium

Imaginarium at Singapore Art Museum @8Q is back for its second year. The annual children-focused exhibition is titled ‘Over the Ocean, Under the Sea’ this year, inviting adventurers of all ages to explore the watery realms of our Earth through immersive and interactive artworks from Singapore and beyond. It promises to be a whimsical introduction to the many stories and ideas that surround seascapes and presents tactile and interactive works that encourage discovery through exploration and play.

One of its key installations on the first floor is called Dimana Mogus – which is an awesome visual and sensorial burst of colours and textures made from knitted yarn displayed as coral reefs and sea creatures – has appeared on several IG feeds this entire month alone (#dimanamogus). My mom blogger friends have excellent visuals on this installation here (MummyEd) and here (growinghearts123) and you can read their reviews on this children-focused annual exhibition, back for its second year.

But what I’d like to draw your attention to is this particular installation which I feel needs to be given a mention here because it provided such an immersive experience walking through it. For me at least. It  struck a chord, created a poignant teachable moment for my kids and delivered an experience that no other exhibits and installations could.

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Aptly called Plastic Ocean, this installation was, in my view, tapped on the transformative power of art to confront the audience with a pressing issue.

In this case, the issue of ocean pollution.

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We walked through a sea of 14,000 pieces of non-biodegradables, and when we reached the end, I actually felt an unexplained sense of suffocation.

Suddenly it dawned on us that we have walked through this entire room like sea creatures, swimming in a dark world of floating trash.

Well, I really didn’t have to say much to the kids. But I did ask them how they thought the fishies would feel if this was their home. My kids looked at me with an overwhelming sense of helplessness, and I knew they got the message right away.

Plastic Ocean is the best reason, in my opinion, why you should pay Imaginarium a visit this year. Just for this experience alone is worth your while.

More details: 

Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea will be held at SAM at 8Q from 14 May 2016 to 28 August 2016.

Find out more about the exhibition and its programmes online at www.singaporeartmuseum.sg. You can also download the exhibition brochure here.

3. KidsSTOP™ at Singapore Science Centre

Recently, KidsSTOP™ launched a new exhibit that deserves a mention and many thumbs up for supporting and educating children about environmental conservation causes. Called ‘Ocean Buddies’, this new immersive and interactive exhibition and activity corner features 3-dimensional sea creatures to engage preschoolers and lower primary school goers on the topic of marine conservation.

Children will learn through experiential play by personalising their own sea creature (through colouring). They can then scan their sea creatures and watch them come ‘alive’ in the virtual ocean floor.

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I like that immersive technology was used to wow my kids. I’m pretty sure every child that participates in this would be awed too.

But what REALLY wowed me wasn’t the fact that the shark, puffer fish and clownfish that Ben, Becks and Nat coloured appeared on the virtual ocean and swam around but the fact that KidsSTOP™, in conducting this activity, was actually living the message of reduce, reuse, recycle.  They’ve partnered with Pilot Pen to educate the public about environmental conservation, and the kids were actually colouring with the world’s first pen with erasable ink!

The Pilot FriXon series used in the Oceans’ Buddies exhibit lets KidsSTOP™ reuse every single piece of paper coloured by each child. The ink is thermo-sensitive and disappears when subjected to heat at 65°C. Toshiba then comes in to provide the special ink recycling machine to emit heat and erase the ink on the paper, which then allows each sheet to be recycled and reused up to 5 times.

I get thrilled just knowing that trees won’t die for this Ocean Buddies’ cause of watching fishies swim virtually, and I am actually more excited learning the fact that corporates are practising social responsibility here.

I’m seriously considering stocking up on these Pilot FriXon pens and turning the thermostat on my oven to 65°C to save more paper with the kids doodling so much at home. Brilliant idea.

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More details:

KidsSTOP™ is located next to the Singapore Science Centre at 21 Jurong Town Hall, S609433.

Admission charges in this link here and operating hours here.

4. The TrehausKids Atelier!

This place gets an exclamation just because I co-founded it (*insert victory sign), and hence this disclosure: affiliation to mentioned organisation.

If you have very young children, this Reggio Emilia inspired Atelier is an aesthetically beautiful and open space for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to wander and wonder. Play becomes an organic process as the environment invites children to explore and discover. The facilitators in TrehausKids also engage children in child-centric activities like drama, art, sensory play and music.

We’re pretty much also in sync with all the main children’s exhibitions’ theme on conservation this month in all our provocations and invitations to explore at the Atelier. This month, we delve deep into learning about the earth being our home, its endangered species, and the flora and fauna around us.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking and I hereby invite you to come join us in play!

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More details:

Make the best use of the remaining one week, and bring back PLAY before the madness of school starts!

 

All this blog's PR Stuff Reading fun Reviews The Kao Kids

Sleepyhead attack, here comes… [Review of ‘Meet the Wakersaur’]

June 6, 2016

Have you met the Wakersaur?

The wwwhaaat-wa-saur?

It’s a new monster in da’hood whom we’ve recently had the pleasure to meet. He apparently wakes any sleepyhead from slumber when it’s time to.

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Something like an alarm clock. Only more invasive.

Meet the Wakersaur is a light-hearted and funny children’s story about a made-up creature that’s specially “equipped” to wake sleepyhead children up in the morning. It is written by an old friend of mine from college – local author Shervin Seah – who tells me that this story was inspired by his own experiences of trying to wake his own kid up on a typical school day. As with all parents who’s got lazybones and sleepyheads, he’s ended up having to resort to a host of crazy antics from stubble-rubbing to tickling and furious kisses.

The book is also illustrated by up and coming local illustrator, Candice Phang, and contains wacky, entertaining visuals for the little ones.

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The Kao kids enjoyed the story and shared many laughs over the many reads they’ve had with Ben as the storyteller (since he’s able to be reading aloud well). Nat and Becks dig the idea of their brother doing voices and being the Wakersaur, and find his various versions of the Wakersaur’s  ‘Still asleep???’ extremely amusing.

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Meet the Wakersaur (1)

But nothing beats having their father read aloud this book. There’s the part where rubbing stubbles is part of the game and my kids totally love rolling on the bed having to endure that from their dad. With Fatherkao as the storyteller, the story comes complete with tickling, snorting and startling, and a whole load of guffawing and cackling on the bed.

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Snuggle time in bed to meet the Wakersaur

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There’s a part about grubby nose and everyone can identify!

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What are stubbles, Dad? the littles ask. They would soon find out!

Meet the Wakersaur promises to be an entertaining and interactive read and draws the playfulness and imagination out of children and adults alike. Quite a bit of fun to be had with this book, in my opinion – and helps in bonding too.

I know my kids and their dad did!

More details:

Meet the Wakersaur is authored by Shervin Seah and illustrated by Candice Phang. The book retails at Popular and MPH at SGD 16 and is suitable for ages  2-6.

If you’d like to meet the Wakersaur too, the blog is doing a giveaway for 5 readers! Simply participate in the giveaway here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends 20 June 2016. Get ready to meet the Wakersaur!

All this blog's PR Stuff Learning fun! Product Reviews Reviews The Kao Kids

Clicking and creating – Miclik construction fun [Review]

April 11, 2016

The kids love to build. They love to build and demolish; and then build and build and build some more. We’ve amassed a whole lot of building toys from blocks to Lego bricks, including the Duplo, as well as Playmobil sets and a whole bunch of rods and magnetic balls for creating and constructing for hours on end.

As part of my work at Trehaus, I recently got to meet the youthful and enterprising people behind Explorer Junior. These folks take entrepreneurship to a whole new level – they started this enrichment enterprise wholly believing that every child is a curious explorer and unique in his own way. Their keen interest in early childhood led them to create programmes to engage little hands and minds in topics like science, history and current affairs. And they started this while being undergraduates in NUS. Woah. I was only looking for internships as an undergrad.

Talk about getting a headstart, these enthusiastic folks.

Clearly, I am already impressed! So when they approached me to review these construction toy called Miclik from Barcelona, I know my kids would be thrilled.

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Other than its really hard to pronounce name, Miclik is a bundle and burst of colours. Every box comes with 48 connectors in four different colours. A girl like Becks was terribly excited to see construction toys come in hot pink at last and it made me very happy to see her beam and think that she could now at last create a world of princess possibilities.

And made she did:
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The boys took their favourite colours – Ben yellow and Nat green – and created dragons that could fly and monsters, barricades and snakes. It’s funny how they threw the suggestions from the Miclik instruction booklet out of the window (not literally) and embarked in creating things long and beast-like.

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Miclik (1)

Boys.

I found the Miclik plastic connectors a pleasure to hold and use. There are no sharp corners and every piece is of the same shape and size – a huge reprieve from all those Lego bricks I have been constantly stepping on and finding in odd corners. It’s easy to pack and keep, and perfect for an OCD mother to sort. However, I must say, it didn’t have as much mileage as the huge bag of unsorted Lego we have. The kids were a bit challenged after a while. Because the dragons and beasts need to be slayed by wizards and knights and they needed to go back to their Lego minifigures. And guess what happens when they open up their Lego bag? They forgot what they wanted to do with their Miclik creations.

Nonetheless, it was a pleasure building with Miclik. I guess the little girl had the most fun. At least until the pink pieces ran out.

Miclik is sold exclusively at Explorer Junior (here for more details) at SGD 49.90, and in my opinion, makes a great gift for birthdays and Christmas. It’s extremely kind for little hands that are 3- 6 years (and even older), especially if these hands are not ready for Lego yet. I hear too, that Miclik is designed and produced with the philosophy of being “respectful to the environment” and “safe and honest with the materials” in mind (source). Ok, more reasons to buy this as gifts, and for our little ones!

Now, for the GIVEAWAY!

The folks at Explorer Junior are giving away 3 boxes of Miclik to keep three pairs of little hands engaged and busy with building and creating! Participate in the giveaway through Rafflecopter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway ends 30th April 2016 (12am).

Disclosure: We were given two sets of Miclik for the purpose of this review. All opinions here, especially on OCD, Lego constuction and a little girl’s preference are all my own.

All this blog's PR Stuff Everyday fun! Learning fun! Milestones and growing up Reviews The Kao Kids

Sparking a child’s creativity: How “messy” can be good

February 7, 2016

This story first appeared on Yahoo with edits: http://lego.featured.yahoo.com/post/134763175341/sparking-a-childs-creativity-how-messy-can-be

******

Have you seen our LEGO mess? It’s one of those massive ones that you need to close both your eyes, hold your breath and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Over the years with LEGO, I realised that there are two schools of thought. The first one belongs to the sorters, people who like their LEGO bricks organised, categorised and colour coded. I’ve seen a few mom friends make many return trips to DAISO to get plastic boxes to sort them out prettily and systematically, and posting the glorious outcomes of their labour on IG and FB, and I am envious. Bless those eyes, how hard they must have squinted!

Every fibre of my human make belongs to this category, if you don’t already know. I am quite the OCD person in my more than my 3 decades of existence.

But every ounce of my mom-being has forced myself to subscribe to the second school of thought – the one that advocates for a creative, happy mess.

I’ve held my tongue, resisted the urge to sort, and have never once told the kids to leave whatever they build as they are (so counter to the OCD nature, I know).

The refrain has always been: you build, you play, you dismantle, you keep; and the cycle repeats.

And this big pink drawstring bag containing a happy unsorted massive mess has inspired creativity in the Kao kids to infinity and beyond:

Case in point: the LEGO and Yahoo folks dropped me a mail a few weeks ago to say they were sending across a Ninjago Master Wu Dragon LEGO theme set, and I had announced to the kids that they would soon start a new LEGO project, much to their jubilation.

Now, my kids have a mother who is strict with screen time. And so while they are familiar with Ninjago from that very one LEGO magazine Ben has, they don’t know who’s who, what names belong to what ninja, much less the fact that there’s a dragon in the picture. In fact, their mom’s a Wu, and that by defaults makes me the Master Wu of the house (hurhurhur), and that’s about all the connection we can make with this thing coming our way.

But does it stop them from getting excited about the story of Ninjago, Master Wu and the dragon?

You guessed it right, if you know them by now. The answer is no; and the extension of it is that they can totally make up a whole LEGOverse filled with ninjas, masters, dragons, monsters, robots and funky people and spin many stories, talking for hours on end.

And play for a long time even before the theme set arrives.

And when it did, they admired (and used) the box for a few days first!

Legoverse2

Legoverse3

When it was finally inviting enough for them to decide to open the set, all it took was four solid hours of concentration from 6-year-old Ben, some sorting help from 5-year-old Becks, and lots of encouragement from 3-year-old Nat who took on the role of fixing minifigs for his brother to get this out.

Ninjago Master Wu Dragon

Ninjago Master Wu Dragon completed

And this dragon, complete with the ninjas, are now ready to enter the story that’s been spunned, imagined and reimagined days before they were being made, which provided many hours of storytelling fun for all three kids.

Ninjago fun

I believe one of the benefits of not sorting their LEGO out is that it promotes on the spot, thinking on one’s feet kind of inspiration to create as one thinks and finds. I am amazed by the endless stories my kids are telling while constructing, arranging and piecing, and that itself is stimulation and fodder for creativity, oral language development, and entertainment for me, that’s for sure!

Disclosure: This post was brought to you by Yahoo. The set mentioned in the picture was generously sponsored by LEGO. All opinions are my own.

P/S: I still believe in the goodness of being organised, and am thinking that as the kids get older, they would need to start sorting for more efficient building. Till then!

Learning fun! Milestones and growing up The Kao Kids

Creativity Lost and Found

January 24, 2016

The problem is real, and as an educator, I’ll even go as much to say, the problem is serious.

Children lose their creativity as they age, and many start losing that ability to think in divergent and non-linear ways when they enter school. Although there’s some shift in the focus now in the local school system to develop a child holistically and encourage creativity through project work and problem-based learning, schools still very much “teach to test” because our system hasn’t moved much to making formative assessment a mainstay in education yet. Think the PSLE and the GCE ‘O’ Levels most students go through, and you’d get a pretty clear idea that nothing much has changed in the summative method of assessment. A benchmark is used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition and academic achievement in a one-time sitting of an examination, and this compels teachers and students alike to rely on a formulaic approach to ace the examination.

So yes, the problem of losing creativity as a child grows older is real – and serious, as a matter of fact – but as a parent, I say all is not lost. We don’t have to resign ourselves – or our children – to fate, or to the fact that research and statistics has proven it to be so, because there is much we can do as parents – our children’s first teachers – to help our kids develop those hungry and wondering minds so they can continue to be creative even as they get older.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Foster the imagination

If you follow me on my blog for a while, you’ll know that the number one thing that I’ve introduced to my three children are books, books and more books. Children stories ignite the imagination and take little ones to worlds far and beyond, and children can only go on adventures that can only be experienced with a good book in their hands. No TV show and no award-winning programme can ever replicate that firing up of a child’s imagination and turn them into life-long readers. I say, cut the screen time, and give your child a book. Or better still, immerse in one with your child on your lap, and read away!

For a list of inspiring children’s titles, you can check out the recommendations here, here and here. I bought all 50 books in the last list, and we’ve been reading and re-reading them at tuck-in every night, which is an awesome bedtime ritual to have, by the way.

2. Teach creative problem solving

I’m probably going to get some stones thrown at me here, but I think the first step to get kids to solve problem creatively is to allow them to talk nonsense.

You heard me right. Let them talk – no holds barred – and don’t judge them (unless the nonsense includes bad language, that is).

Hear me out on this. In a world of model answers, rule-following memorisation and waiting for the right answer have become acceptable and almost compulsory. I prefer to let my children take me on a spin first with what they think can help solve a problem and then help them do a little critical thinking along the way.

Case in point: My six-year-old son wants to increase his savings (to buy a book from the bookstore which I am not buying for him) but doesn’t know how to.

So Ben comes to me with this problem and hopes I can help him find the answer, but I encourage him to think crazy, talk crazy and solve his problem with whatever comes to his mind instead. And amongst his solutions over a span of weeks, he tells me about taking money from a bank (also called robbing), waiting for ten-cent coins to drop from the sky, taking $10 from my wallet (also known as stealing, in my opinion), help our helper and ask her to pay him, and performing for people so they can give him money (like a busker).

Every suggestion he came to me became a teachable moment to ask, ‘What might be a possible outcome?’ (as in the case of taking money from the bank), ‘How would so-and-so feel?’ (like my helper who might have to part with her hard-earned money) and even ‘Do you you think you could carry it out?’ (perform in front of an audience or standing under the sky for I-dunno-how-long to wait for ten-cent coins to fall), which helped him consider more perspectives and evaluate what went through his mind.

Finally, he told me that he could ask the neighbour if he could throw her trash for her nightly so she doesn’t have to walk out to the common chute. It was something he could do, he said. It was something he felt he could commit to, he also added. And he was going to boldly ask her for 20 cents every night he helped her walk out to throw trash.

And he did. Much to my neighbour’s delight and his satisfaction.

That’s some entrepreneur talk already, for a six-year-old. Ben discovered a possibility ALL by himself.

3. Surround your child with construction toys and natural materials

Construction toys and your typical egg carton, cardboard and bottle caps can hardly match the latest battery-powered robot or video game for their flashiness value, but the former helps children develop divergent thinking, not to mention motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial skills and creative thinking.

Make LEGO bricks and wooden toy blocks the staples of play for your child. Throw in some kitchen rolls or toilet rolls, empty Yakult bottles, ice cream sticks and milk bottle caps, and encourage your child to create, design and innovate. Open-ended materials like these allow for divergent – as opposed to convergent – play and give children an intuitive grasp of how things work, fit and align, together with a visual-spatial sensibility and lots of fun creating, dismantling and building.

You’ll be surprised like I have been.

Openendedplay01

Openendedplay02

4. Let your child decide what he wants to learn

I’ve been very inspired by the Reggio-Emilia approach for early years education which is based on the fundamental premise that “the child is made of one hundred” – a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking, of listening, of marveling, of loving a hundred joys… (Loris Malaguzzi, the guiding genius of Reggio). What strikes me most in this approach of teaching young children is the use of “provocations” which are deliberate and thoughtful decisions made by the teacher to extend the ideas of children, who are viewed as capable, inquisitive learners. I like how in this approach the teacher extends what the children want to know or learn and become the facilitator to help children explore.

One of the things parents can do is to give the child a say on what he or she wants to learn and embark on a learning journey together with the child by putting together open-ended materials for exploration, miniature museums at home or simply tapping on that “hundred” ways of thinking, playing and marveling for learning.

For more Reggio-inspired teaching and learning, follow these awesomely creative people and blogs:

1. ‘Miss Reggio’ Blog

2. An Everyday Story

3. Let the Children Play

5. Encourage curiosity (by allowing your child to feel bored)

Children need to be given the room to feel boredom because this negative emotion can be such a motivating force to push them to create their own entertainment (source). Nobody is responsible for amusing them and if you would just try to resist the urge to turn on the TV and let your kids get bored, you might be surprised to see what they can entertain themselves with. My kids would sometimes grab a book and sit quietly on the couch or grab their stuffed toys and suddenly find reason to go on a “holiday”, “excursion”, “theme park visit” or “picnic” with them. Sometimes my eldest would lie in bed and talk to himself, dreaming up worlds in his imagination, and my youngest might decide to roast some “chickens” (he once used a hanger, some strings and pegs to hang and tie all the caps at home and called them chickens, “roasting” them by the bedside lamp!). My little girl would start combing her ponies’ hair and sort her paraphernalia out, or just sit by the window and watch the world go by. Whatever they set out to do from the state of boredom has always yield more rewards and surprises than anything negative (some people think children become destructive when they are bored but inquisitiveness can be managed with boundaries set).

The unpleasant sensation of boredom have often propelled my children to search for something engaging, and this, to me, keeps them constantly creative.

***

Creativity fosters mental growth in children by providing opportunities for trying out new ideas, and new ways of thinking and problem-solving. Somewhere along the way we might have lost it growing up, but we could always make it a part of our parenting philosophy to help our children so they never lose that creative spark even as they grow older.

All this blog's PR Stuff Food, glorious food! Going Out! Learning fun! Motherkao loves... Reviews The Kao Kids

Family Day Out at City Square Mall

December 27, 2015

If I could give out an award for the most family-friendly mall in the country, it has to be City Square Mall. I’m not just saying this because the kind folks from City Square Mall hosted us to a day out in November, but because every time I go to the mall (which is frequent enough), it’s like a one-stop for so many possibilities for every single one in the house. We’ve had lessons at Eye Level there since 2013, attended the ZooMoov launch party there, gone to Fun N Laughter for birthday parties, shopped at Babies ‘R’ Us for presents, ate at Food Republic, Astons, Swensen’s, Pasta Mania, Streats Hong Kong Cafe – all the food that the children liked, and chilled out for a cuppa at Delifrance and Starbucks when the kids were busy playing at a party or having lessons.

I really love this mall.

Like I was saying, the folks at the mall deepened my love for it even more when they hosted us for a family day-out last month and showed us even more things we could together as a family. It came at a time when I badly needed to spend quality time with my husband and children, and I am so grateful that I got to do that amidst the craziness at work.

First Stop: Art Jam for the Entire Family

I like the notion that we would be doing something so artistic (hurhurhur, like I am so in tune with my artsy self!) and yet so differentiated all at the same place. Which is what the entire hour (and a little more, I thought) was about at Global Art (04-23) to kickstart our Family Day Out. I had gotten my hands dirty and my nerves flustered once with acrylic painting – and then never tried it thereafter – so I was so glad that both the husband and I got the chance to learn the techniques step-by-step. What a difference a guided session makes. And how important it is to have a patient teacher, too.

Paying close attention to the teacher so we can model after her

Paying close attention to the teacher so we can model after her

Practising on paper first before starting on the canvas

Practising on paper first before starting on the canvas

Following the instructions on the task sheet and getting familiar with the palette knife

Following the instructions on the task sheet and getting familiar with the palette knife

And we started when we were ready!

And we started when we were ready!

Whilst the adults were busy learning the basics of acrylic painting, the Kao kids were equally engaged learning the techniques of colouring and shading with oil pastels, something I am grateful that they got to pick up. I am also impressed that teaching instructions and tasks were differentiated for Ben, Becks and Nat at our session at Global Art, and the kids were all engaged sufficiently.

It was crucial that the tasks were differentiated as each child was at a different skill level, and Global Art teachers made sure of that

It was crucial that the tasks were differentiated as each child was at a different skill level, and Global Art teachers made sure of that

All three of them of pressed on through the hour to complete their respective tasks.

Presenting the Kao Kids' masterpieces...

Presenting the Kao Kids’ masterpieces…

And so did Fatherkao and I!

And our completed flowers painted on canvas with acrylic paint!

And our completed flowers painted on canvas with acrylic paint!

Second stop: Flying on flavoured wings at Wingstop

When we were done with painting, our stomachs needed to be filled. Lunch was calling out to us in the form of wings. Chicken wings, that is. I thought the kids would be thrilled, but it turned out that I was more thrilled than them. This was like a dream come true, eating a buffet of flavourful, marinated wings and challenging my spice level at the same time. I thought Nene Chicken did it for me; but I’m happy to say Wingstop (B1-33) did more.

Did what?

Filled our tummies with American-style buffalo wings that contained too much goodness.

Warning: Drool-inducing pictures of food ahead First, the deliciousness of the salsa chips and fried mushrooms

Warning: Drool-inducing pictures of food ahead
First, the deliciousness of the salsa chips and fried mushrooms

And then they kept coming... This is Garlic Parmesan

And then they kept coming…
This is Garlic Parmesan

The Lemon Pepper and Louisiana Rub

The Lemon Pepper and Louisiana Rub

The Mango Hanebero

The Mango Hanebero

Teriyaki... And then my hands got too busy and too messy to be taking pictures

Teriyaki…
And then my hands got too busy and too messy to be taking pictures

Kids loved the Garlic Parmesan and Teriyaki, husband loved the Louisiana Rub and I loved the Mango Habanero best, although I also did challenge the Atomic.

Wingstop is all about “sauced and tossed, and made to order” chicken wings with 11 flavours to choose from – the first ten comes from the States: Original Hot, Cajun, Atomic, Mild, Teriyaki, Lemon Pepper, Hawaiian, Garlic Parmesan, Hickory Smoked BBQ and Louisiana Rub; and the 11th, the Oriental Soy Pepper is specifically made for the local market. It already is in 660 locations in the U.S; and this is its 2nd store in Singapore at City Square Mall. You have to absolutely try them to love them.

Nat loves the drumstick!

Nat loves the drumstick!

And this was me before I conquered the Atomic

And this was me before I conquered the Atomic

Third Stop: Becoming Baking Geniuses

All ready to bake

All ready to bake

When we were done with lunch, we proceeded to Genius R Us (07-07/08) for a time of mother-and-children bonding session. If you followed this blog since I first started, you would know I baked a fair bit with the kids and for the kids when I stayed home. Baking has always been therapeutic for me before the kids and when they were younger and could only assist in some tasks.

Unfortunately, I’ve become a little bit more OCD as the kids got older, and I’m quite sorry to say that I’m a pain in the neck when it comes to precision for measuring out ingredients, and becoming really, really fussy about mess.

So you can imagine me doing the happy dance inside when I learned that I would get to bake and not need to worry about cleaning up.

The Kao kids were really thrilled to be baking with Mama again, although I think the Mama three years ago (when we all started baking together) and the Mama now is very different; the former being more relaxed in the past and the latter now being a tad naggy. I had to constantly nag at the kids to listen to instruction, wait for me to help them with measurements and not break the eggs.

We're making ice cream cone pops today!

We’re making ice cream cone pops today!

My little bakers

My little bakers

My littlest baker

My littlest baker

And their ice cream cone pops

And their ice cream cone pops

Nonetheless, I think the kids did a terrific job despite their naggy mother. We had many cake pops to eat after that, and I had to nag them about hydration and pacing their chocolate intake. Well, the successful cake pops made everyone happy at least!

Last stop: Sweetness in Cocoa Heaven

Who was I kidding when I nagged about pacing chocolate intake with the cake pops? Our last stop was choco heaven and that was the most joyous part of the day for the kids. I think all nags from Mama was quickly thrown out of the window. Bring on the adrenaline, and the cocoa here at Cocoa Colony, is what they said.

And after the first few round of cocoa drinks, I succumbed too and asked for more.

Ordering our drinks...

Ordering our drinks…

From this list of Top 10 Faves at Cocoa Colony

From this list of Top 10 Faves at Cocoa Colony

And going 'wow' at all the desserts!

And going ‘wow’ at all the desserts!

We got to try the signature creations at Cocoa Colony (01-12) and learned about the history and origin of each cocoa gem in liquid form, solid form, gelato form and even powdered form. Cocoa Colony is a local company that believes in using quality cocoa in everything they make and sell, yet keeping prices affordable and accessible for everyone. That’s great news because the last time I went to another specialty cocoa place at the Esplanade some years ago, it dented my wallet a fair bit.

I’m hopeful now that we’ve all tried the deliciousness of the liquid gold that is cocoa in drinks, tasted it in gelato and savoured it in other forms like their Cocoa Bolas and chocolate bars at Cocoa Colony and can safely say that their avant garde cocoa isn’t any lesser in quality than the famous one we all know that’s moved to Vivo. I love the affordability at Cocoa Colony which gives me the option to try many more items on the menu.

We sampled the best cocoa in Cocoa Colony hot

We sampled the best cocoa in Cocoa Colony hot

...and cold

…and cold

I tried the pure cocoa in powder form

I tried the pure cocoa in powder form

And the kids couldn't stop savouring the gelato

And the kids couldn’t stop savouring the gelato

Oh well, cheers!

Oh well, cheers!

What a sweet, sweet end to the Family Day Out!

***

I couldn’t believe that I had spent ONE entire day doing so many things with the family, and that a mall with its family-friendly tenants provided this opportunity. All in all, it was a fruitful weekend well-spent with the family at City Square Mall, and I cannot say enough that it’s altogether impressive and convenient as a one-stop to do so many things!

Disclosure: We were invited to spend a day out with the family at City Square Mall and hosted by the kind people from the mall mentioned in this review. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions here are strictly our own.

***

LATEST EDIT: Cocoa Colony has since ceased operations at City Square Mall as of 2017. For a list of updated stores, visit their site here. The menu and drinks remain largely unchanged and are wonderful sweet treats to have to make your day, nonetheless.

Ben Kao Enrichment Homelearning fun Learning fun! Reviews

Exploring vocabulary through My World of Words [Review]

June 19, 2015

I guess one of the good things about being a language person is that it translates to being a mom that’s extremely particular about vocabulary building for your kids. I am big on making sure my children have a rich deposit of words in their vocabulary bank and make it my mission to introduce new words in English (and in Chinese too) wherever we go.

Like telling Ben, ‘Look, the snake is slithering up the tree. And it’s sticking out its forked tongue.’

So a snake doesn’t just move. It slithers. It doesn’t just have a tongue. Its tongue is forked.

Or telling Becks that there are many shades of pink. It can be bright or dull in its simplest. But it can also be luminous. Or fuscia. There’s bubblegum pink, coral pink, flamingo pink. And no, it’s not good to say Mama has pink cheeks but rather she’s applying blush.

And so am I glad that Scholastic sent these Ben’s way – because here in this house, we’ve all gotta be building our vocabulary foundation well, brick by brick so that we can speak a little more descriptively in English!

These books provide early and transitional readers (see the type of readers here) a very colourful experience of reading thematically through picture stories, as well as discovering specific meanings and definitions of nouns and verbs. There are some simple writing exercises, creative writing tasks, as well as fun activities like crosswords that follow each picture story, and is a very good resource to hook a 6-year-old up with.

First, a picture story

First, a picture story

Then reading the definitions and filling the numbers into the blank bubbles

Then reading the definitions and filling the numbers into the blank bubbles

And then trying out the suggested activities

And then trying out the suggested activities

What I really like about these books is that they provide the plural form of each noun beside each noun description; and like a good dictionary, they have sentences to illustrate the meaning of every verb and noun. There is no differentiation between US English and UK English as well, because the book follows Standard English, covering a range of nouns and verbs used the standard way. There’s really nothing to complain about, because the book is really thoughtfully and colourfully designed to educate and enrich the early reader. Perhaps some sticker-activities, to keep the little hands occupied, would be my humble suggestion.

My World of Words and My World of More Words can be found in major bookstores.

Disclosure: The books were sponsored by Scholastic Education for the purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions here are our own.