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Milestones and growing up

Milestones and growing up Nat Kao Thunderstorm days

The sudden case of not being able to walk

July 9, 2016

Nat has had two viral fevers over the past 3 weeks.  I’m not sure if this was a happy coincidence for him because he is now in the phase of really NOT wanting to go to school.

If you ever needed a heat pack...

If you ever needed a heat pack…

His last viral fever which ended last weekend was a pretty scary one. After three days of high fevers hitting close to 40 degrees, he woke up one day suddenly not being able to walk. He cried, clutched his calves, crawled out of bed and bawled his eyeballs out declaring that there was pain in his legs and “I CANNOT WALK!”

That was enough to frighten the s**t out of me because the last time I read about children who told their parents they can’t walk was when children were diagnosed with meningitis.

Thankfully, after the morning had passed, he gained some strength in his legs and by the time he was at the PD in the afternoon, he was all smiles. The doctor said he could have been lacking electrolytes in his body or dehydrated after an illness or perhaps going through growth spurts.

Well, whatever that’s not meningitis sounds great.

And this boy’s really just milking my anxiety and excessive mothering this entire week for as much as he can, occasionally dramatising his pain and saying he can’t walk and sniffing and coughing in more exaggerated ways than I can imagine so he can get away with not going to school.

So what’s a mother to say to a 4-year-old who’s gone through a pretty traumatic 3 days of high high fevers and an episode of “WAAAAAA…I CANNOT WALK! SO PAINFUL, MAMA, HELP ME!” that frightened the pores out of her?

She lets him have his way.

The last child gets away with all these, I tell you.

And the best caption in Singlish would be: got fever, cannot walk, still can smile! AIYO!

And the best caption in Singlish would be: got fever, cannot walk, still can smile! AIYO!

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.

Flying Books (11)

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

Happy days Milestones and growing up The Kao Kids

Run fun

May 30, 2016

One of the best things about the kids being at 7,6 and 4 is that they love to run these days, and wish to run with purpose.

Gone are the days where you have to stop them from running into danger (think the toddler years) and running with no idea of danger (think those years where the idea of road safety was still an obscure concept). These days my kids play tag a lot and race one another to finishing points at the playground, void deck and corridor and love the thrill of starting races.

Best time to participate in runs ever.

We’ve had tremendous fun doing the Safari Zoo Run earlier in February as a family when Nat finally turned 4, thanks to the kind invitation of HiVelocity and Wildlife Reserves. It was the first time 5 km became a reality for Becks and Nat and the second time for Ben (not counting the Hello Kitty Run in which we walked all 5 km in the rain). A while ago, late last year, we already did the OSIM Sundown with Ben in which I was super impressed by his stamina and ability to persevere at 6 years old then.

At the Singapore Zoo earlier this February to participate in the Safari Zoo Run

At the Singapore Zoo earlier this February to participate in the Safari Zoo Run

Run completed, and medals collected!

Run completed, and medals collected!

Doing a run almost always guarantees a host of life lessons the kids can experience which can never be taught in any other setting. First, it brings out the complainer in every pampered child I have; and with every run we do, we get to deal with the whining head on admist the heat, humidity and discomfort. Nothing beats telling Becks to deal with it and suck it up in a run more than anywhere else because there was nothing really anyone can do about her sweat / mosquito bite / need for water / blah blah blah except to finish the run (hurhurhur).

Second, it brings out the competitive nature of the kids – my boys, at least – and lets them show off their athletic flair and drives their desire to win and overtake. And sometimes, a run becomes an opportunity for the kids to realise that they ain’t as good as they think they are and that finishing a run is not as easy as one thinks.

Fatherkao and Ben had the opportunity to do just that – dash 800m – in the recent Cold Storage Kids Run which we were invited to. They did it in what? 6? 7? minutes and felt such a tremendous sense of accomplishment that I know Ben would remember for a long time, although I know the run also showed him that there were stronger, tougher, better 7-year-olds than him out there, and that he could have been better and faster than them.

Off to run - dad and son!

Off to run – dad and son!

Easy peasy, fun and happy, to have completed the run

Easy peasy, fun and happy, to have completed the run

This kind of healthy competition – un-said, un-verbalised and un-intended – and getting kids motivated together with a bunch of like minded people, is what I think is the best takeaway for my kids in any run organised here in Singapore.

And the reason why we would likely be participating in more since the kids are now at the age – the golden age – for any form of running.

Time to put on our running shoes this year!

Family life as we know it Milestones and growing up The Kao Kids

Goodbye, Jay

May 14, 2016

My kids have crushed insects, witnessed the death of a flattened bird on the streets of Melaka with its guts spilling out and handled dead lizards, but no dead animal would burn in the kids’ memory as much as losing their very first pet.

For all who know us and have visited, you would know Ben, Becks and Nat have pet terrapins. I embarked on a responsibility project for the Kao kids last August when we went to Nanyang Aquarium to pick out three terrapins. Each of them chose one and their task was to learn to be a good pet owner. They named their terrapins Jay, Jillybean and Jojo and have had them for company since then. They fed their pets, walked them (yes, they did), brought them out of the tank to play and even talked to them. The only area of slack was the cleaning and changing of fresh water for the tank (and you would know that water smells foul every two days). The complaint was that they would make a mess handling the pebbles at the bottom of the tank (well, they did try), and so my helper would rather do it for them instead.

Terrapins_IG2

Terrapins_IG1

Even when we left for Bangkok for 3 weeks, we left them in good hands.

YeeyeeIG

My sis would send an update to let the kids know that the three Js were alive and well.

It was until we returned from our trip last December that we realised that one of the terrapins never grew. It remained small while the other two have tripled in size.

Terrapins

We thought that the bigger ones may have deprived the smallest from food, and so as a family, we went back to Nanyang, got a separate tank and made sure the smallest ate its fill every day.

Nat and Ben were in charge of making sure every terrapin was fed. These boys, I have to say, have more guts than their mother and sister. I can never watch them feed their terrapins. They don’t throw the food in the water. They hold the pellets with their pincer grip and make the terrapins come to them. (I wished I’d taken photos of them doing so!) They would pat the little fellas on their heads even though those fellas looked all ready to chomp my boys’ fingers.

I would shriek and ask them to stop for fear they might break a bone. They would laugh and shrug their shoulders, and give me the roll-eyes-at-their-mother look .

Boys.

My little girl, still slightly afraid of anything remotely resembling an animal, was always happy to have her brothers do her pet-caring job.

Unfortunately, the isolation gig didn’t work and the smallest, which the kids identified to be Jay, was still not growing. They decided that Jay was too lonely and needed to be with friends, and so he went back to the bigger tank and continued the fight for food with the other two.

Until he lay motionless with his eyes shut last Saturday morning.

***

The Kao kids went through the four stages of grief pretty much within the same day upon discovering the lifeless terrapin. The denial bit was witnessed throughout our Mother’s Day dinner. Once in a while, I would ask them about Jay and how they were feeling, and they would come up with suggestions that he wasn’t really dead and we (the adults) were all mistaken.

He must’ve been taking a nap! Just closing his eyes what.

Well, I saw him move lah. 

Yea, he was swimming. 

Fatherkao reminded them that we’d have to do a proper burial and they got so excited about where to bury him, forgetting that it was their dead pet they would be burying. The conversations in the car revolved around topics like how to dig a hole, where to find a shovel, what would happen if it rains, and where in the world in our vast ‘downstairs’ can we bury a dead terrapin.

When we reached home, they checked on Jay to see if we were all really mistaken. And clearly, we were not, and so the anger stage set in almost immediately.

Someone picked a terrapin with a defect!

It got sick!!!

Why did it not grow? We’ve all done our best to feed it!

The other two are the naughty ones that always snatch food from Jay! 

And when they were finally done with all the talk, their father sat them down, took an old shoe box and some old wrapping paper, and proceeded to pick Jay up from the tank. It had gone limp and its shell had turned soft. Fatherkao asked everyone to bid Jay goodbye and we all said ‘See you in heaven’. He wrapped the lifeless Jay up in the paper and put him in the shoe box. Then he covered the box.

And here comes the teachable moment. “Let’s remember that it is the weak we need to protect. We all could have done better,” he said.

The kids were very quiet by now, and the third stage of depression was starting to set in. Jay was thrown down the chute after the goodbyes. We didn’t bury him because it was late and dark, but the loss – whether we had a burial or not – was already keenly felt in their hearts.

How did I know?

When I held Nat and thanked him for taking care of Jay every morning, he hugged me tight and wailed like a baby.

I saw – for the first time – that look of helplessness in his eyes, as if to say, he’s tried his best.

I saw tears filling Ben’s eyes.

I saw Becky sit in silence.

I watched my 3 kids sit around quietly to draw memories of Jay.

Nat drawing_1

Nat drawing_2

Nat's drawing

Nat draws his impression of Jay – he specifically looked for this shade of green

Ben drawing

Ben drawing_Jay's memories

Ben draws Jay’s life from Day 1 in his sketch book

Becks writes what she knows and draws herself feeling sad

Becks writes what she knows and draws herself feeling sad

And so through drawing, they went through the last stage – that of acceptance – before the day ended.

I am grateful that I got a chance to watch all these emotions from my children unfold. To see loss through my children’s eyes, and to behold that capacity that they have within themselves to feel sad and yet be able to handle that sadness.

Though things will not be the same again without Jay, I am glad that Jay gave them a lesson that no school or textbook can teach.

They handled their loss with compassion and acceptance, and with much finesse and quiet strength – even if it was meant for a small creature like a terrapin.

Milestones and growing up Mommy guilt Nat Kao The Kao Kids

What my children prayed

May 12, 2016

Every night during tuck-ins, the kids and I would pray. Sometimes I would pray and they would say “Amen”; some nights they would repeat a prayer after me. A while ago, I invited the children to pray for me and Fatherkao.

This was what transpired…

Ben: Dear Lord, I pray that you protect my Mama and Dada from harm and danger. Keep them safe. Amen.

Me: Thank you, Ben. I say ‘Amen’ too.

***

Nat: Dear God, make my Mama eat a lot. So she can be fat.

Me: Ugh! Nat! Did you just ask God to make me fat? Why?

Nat: If she eat a lot, she will grow and grow so she can be as tall as Dada. Amen.

Me: Mama doesn’t want to be fat, Nat!

Nat: *silence*

***

Becks: Dear Lord, make my daddy strong. Give him a strong back. And make my Mama not angry so she won’t be angry with us. Amen.

Me: That’s nice, Becks. You know Dada’s back has been acting up, and Mama’s patience has been running low every day, huh? Thank you for your prayer.

And then a loud wail happened…

Nat: *crying loudly*

Me: Why are you crying?

Nat: Why you like Becky’s prayer and korkor‘s prayer but you don’t like mine??? WAAAAAA!

***

That night, a selfish mother happened. I had heard my youngest child’s words of prayer but not listened to his heart. In his world, my four-year-old saw that his mother was smaller in size than his father and felt that she should be as grown as he was, and went on to pray that his mother – his world, his everything – would never be at a disadvantage in size, ever.

After all, she was the centre of his universe.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Out of a gentle heart and the kindest spirit, Nat prayed. For me.

That night, I held him tight and thanked him for his prayer.

That night, apart from needing to smack myself in the head, I thanked God that I received from all three of my children who’s made me everything in their world, and that I received most from my littlest whose heart has remained so pure he just genuinely wanted his mother to eat well and grow.

May I learn to be a mother who listens and not judge, and one who receives when her children give.

Amen.

My children, my world, my everything

My children, my world, my everything

Ben Kao Getting all sentimental now Milestones and growing up

7

February 29, 2016

This post essentially marks my firstborn turning 7.

S.E.V.E.N.

All five letters of it. All 7 years of it. All 2, 555 days of it.

This was the baby that started me on my journey to motherhood. He came to rock my world, and boy, did he rock it hard and shake it well.  I became acquainted with all things mum, thanks to him, from babywearing and mastitis to classical music and puree-ing food. Because of him, I could apply all the wisdom gleaned from all the mistakes made for #2 and #3. I learned how to trim nails, scrutinise the colour and smell of poo and administer medicine (which required lots of skill through a syringe, by the way). I also mastered the art of tiptoeing all around the house, dancing and clowning around and reading labels on every single thing I wish to buy from the stores. I learned how to handle mum guilt, studied how to apply reality discipline and read copiously on all things parenting. Thanks to this boy, I charged full steam ahead like I’ve been given a new lease of life in my sluggish twenties, and wore the title “MOTHER” like a badge of honour.

BenKao at One

Ben, oh, Ben. How much you have taught me. And how much I have learned because of you. All these seven years.

And every day I learn and grow, as your mother, and as a person. They say motherhood brings out the best and worst in you. It is true. I saw what I could do – in every sense of the word – good and bad, and learned above all else to manage myself in order to mother you.

BenKao at One_Kiddy Ride

Birthdays are always the toughest for me. While I sing you the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, I am always choking on the inside. Look at you, you’re a big boy now. And whilst the thought of you growing tall and strong and leaving me someday as you become independent flashes through my mind, I reminisce the days when you toddled, grinned and laughed.

How mixed my feelings are, every single year on this day.

Happy birthday, Son. You made me Mum on this day and I am proud of single minute of it.

Ben turns7_01

Ben turns7_02

 

 

Getting all sentimental now Milestones and growing up Nat Kao

Letter to my littlest #10

February 23, 2016

 

Nat turns 4_01To my dearest Nat,

YOU ARE FOUR! How did we get there so fast?

I can barely believe that my last baby, the one that’s destined to never grow up in my eyes, growing up. You’re almost as tall and heavy as your sister. You’re quite the chatterbox that you are and the funny bone of the family. I’ve found you singing and shaking your bum in the shower, laughing insanely like there’s not a care you have in the world (with that infectious laughter of yours) and making crazy machine gun sounds with your mouth and pretending that you are Ninjago / Transformer / Spiderman / Hulk / Batman / Green Lantern and hero of all heroes.

Boy, do you play like a boy, for sure.

You are balm to my soul and I know I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again – the apple of my eye. You make me throw all rules out of the window and become a Mama who helplessly breaks into baby-talk when she’s never ever believed in it nor done it with your older siblings.

Yes, this is your superhero ability, sweetie pie munchkin.

On your birthday, I hugged you tight and teared and asked for a hundred of those “true love’s kiss”. You must be wondering, whatssup with Mom, she’s gone mad on my birthday, making me eat cake twice and singing me the birthday song again and again and asking for hugs and kisses every single minute. Truth is, I am going through my rite of passage at a parent – letting you grow up one year at a time. And reminding myself that next time this year, you’ll grow taller, heavier, bigger, smarter, cooler and more of a superhero than you already are this time this year.

And I can’t handle it yet.

So baby boy, can I just say it again – here – which I know someday you’d read, that I love you to the moon and back and you’re the reason why my heart turns to mush every day.

Because it’s just such a happy, happy thing to be your mommy, and I wish to baby you forever.

Happy Birthday, Son. I’m glad I have you at four for a year.

Nat turns 4_02

Love,

Mama

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.

Family life as we know it Milestones and growing up Mommy guilt The Kao Kids

This too shall pass

January 8, 2016

When I had a baby who fell sick pretty often, having suffered HFMD twice, needing to draw blood for running high fevers every week, I thought I hit the rock bottom of motherhood.

But that eventually passed.

When I had an infant and a toddler – oh, correction: a screaming infant and a needy toddler – and my husband very unfortunately broke his leg and was wheelchair bound for 6 months and I had a full-time job to do, I thought I hit rock bottom again in this arduous journey called motherhood.

But that eventually passed as well.

When I was pregnant with a bigger-than-his-siblings baby who made me breathless all the time and gave me an almost hip dislocation which caused the doctor to order bed rest, and I was towing a screamy toddler who was tantrum-prone and an inquisitive, chatty and eager-to-learn preschooler who needed to field questions at his mother almost every waking minute and still at a full-time job, I thought I was stretched beyond thin in this motherhood gig.

Well, that too, eventually passed.

And then soon enough I had a nursing infant in my arms (who needed to nurse all!the!time!) and two preschoolers; and as if that wasn’t already crazy enough, I made the insane decision to stay home, living those years thinking that I could very well have gone mad with having to cope with 3 kids with such close age differences.

But that eventually passed and although I had lost my sanity again and again, my screw’s pretty tight right now thankfully, so phew.

This is 2016 and there are now 2 preschoolers and a primary school goer in the house. There’s now, in addition to the neediness from the younger ones (because Mama’s back to full time work launching something exciting and can no longer send them to school so they take the school bus), insecurity and uncertainty from the primary one goer who has homework, bag-packing, sorting out pocket money and spelling to do and learn. Add to that also – the new kindergarten is pushing my middle child in typical P1-ready fashion from Day One already, which is totally stressing me out. I saw the words ‘canopy’, ’emergent layer’, ‘understory’ and ‘rainforest’ in my K2’s spelling list for Week 6 which left me FLABBERGASTED beyond words because my dear girl can barely read, let alone spell.

For the first week of the year, I felt nothing but stress to have to rush home in time to make sure everyone is in bed by 8.30pm (which still ended up to be 9ish, 10pm – my poor, sleep-deprived children!) and making sure all 3 bags are packed, that spelling is learned, homework is done and everyone gets some air time to share their day at school. I feel guilty for leaving them in the hands of my helper for most parts of my working day and having to turn on the TV for them so the helper can cook and they would not be up to any mischief shooting catapults at birds from the window or drawing on the walls or making 1000 calls to me. With three of them at different developmental milestones in learning and always wanting to play and be their active selves, it is impossible to implement a self-directed learning routine.

It has to involve me and me setting the routines with them, and helping them follow a schedule while instilling discipline, which I unfortunately can’t do; because this year, I’ve gone back to vesting my time fully at work.

Which leaves me again with three needy kids whose love language of quality time I can’t speak on week days  – well, at least this first week of school – and a definitive surge of suckiness all round.

I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes. This sucky, yucky feeling.

And this too, shall eventually pass.

RIGHT?

Back to school in new environments!

Back to school in new environments! My big babies!