Tag Archives: methods

Letting my children play

It’s December. Time of the month-long vacation at the end of the school year. For the past few years, it was also the time when C would be busy attending holiday enrichment classes – art, drama, music, and so on. I would do research to find the “best” programs, in order not to “waste” any time that could otherwise be put to better use.

Time for play

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” -Friedrich Froebel (Father of modern kindergarten)

This year, I did things a little differently. No commercial holiday programs for G and C. Inspired by a parenting book that I’m currently reading, I’ve decided to allow more time for free, unstructured play. By free play, it means that there are no parents sitting beside the child to “guide” or “direct” the play. The child is given free rein to explore and do whatever they wish, with a simple guideline: no damage to people or property. Given the freedom and time, children are then able to engage in real play, where more complex models of interaction and role play take place.

Stepping out of my comfort zone
For some, this could be a natural choice, but not for me. It’s a conscious effort not to interfere when they are playing, not to dictate how play would be carried out, or to interrupt with some comments when an “educational moment” presented itself. When I made the decision late November, I felt  hesitant – will it be a total waste of time to let the children play all day (ok, maybe not the whole day, but two to three hours at least) instead of knowing that they had picked up new knowledge like making mosaic art? I was definitely out of my comfort zone here.

A happy result
It’s almost the end of the month, and I’m happy to report that my worst fears were not realised. The kids did not sit around doing nothing the whole day (I think that happens only to adults!). Instead, they found ways to entertain themselves – pretending to be explorers with Dora (complete with a flag and treasure map), learning acrobatics, or simply running around and having fun! C took on the big sister role naturally, teaching G and modifying the play when he was not able to catch up. G tagged along and also initiated games. I sat and watched from a distance – there was absolutely no necessity for me to step in (much as I wanted to!)

Over the course of the month, I noticed a change in the behaviours of both children. Being allowed to play and experiment by themselves gave them more confidence to try new things, and they surprised me with their creativity and their focus during play. In addition, the quality time spent together brought them even closer to each other.

G having fun!

G having fun!

I think I need to step back and relax a little. And let my children play. Will you?

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Product review: Noddy fun book vs Bambino LUK

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Noddy Fun (top) vs BambinoLUK (bottom)

I’m always on the lookout for interesting educational systems for my children.

Recently, I purchased the Noddy fun book used in Shichida classes, based on good word-of-mouth reviews from fellow mums. When the Noddy fun book arrived last weekend, I noticed that it was actually quite similar in concept to the BambinoLUK, which I had bought last year.

When I did my research, I did not find many reviews online for the Noddy, but there were plenty online for the BambinoLUK. Hence, I thought it would be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of the 2 learning systems for those considering getting either set, with G (16month old) and C (5 years old) as the reviewers. Here are the results:

Price
BambinoLUK – I purchased it online for about S$140 (including shipping)
NoddyFun – Retails at the Shichida Tensai shop for about S$120

Recommended age
BambinoLUK is part of the LUK learning system, targeted at children from ages 3-5.
Noddy fun book is used in Shichida class, targeted at children from ages 2 and above.

Controllers
Both learning systems come with controllers and tiles, featuring self-checking designs.

Bambino: 6-tile controller in a transparent 2-sided case. Tiles are labelled with pictures. The self-checking design features a pattern of coloured dots. The solutions are such that the dots would match perfectly.
Noddy: 12-tile controller in a 2-sided grid. Tiles are numbered from 1 to 12. The self-checking design consists of 4 sets of different coloured tiles and 3 different shapes.

Noddy controller (left) vs Bambino controller (right)

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Self-checking design – Noddy (left) vs Bambino (right)

For 16month old G, Bambino was easier to manipulate as the tiles are larger, and the tiles slid easily in place. Noddy had a grid structure that required precise placement else the tiles would fall though the grid. I had to help him place it properly. Pictures on the Bambino was also easier for G to identify, compared to numbers. C got a little frustrated with the Noddy tiles initially, as she wanted to do the puzzles quickly but had to take a little time to place it correctly.

For solution checking, it was easier using the dot pattern, as the matching of shapes needed slightly more time.

Verdict: Bambino controller wins in terms of user-friendliness

Layout
Bambino: layout is simple with a plain background. The pictures are displayed in a simple border. Background remains consistent.
Noddy: Questions are incorporated in a picture. Background varies on each page.

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Layout – Noddy (left) vs Bambino (right)

I found the background somewhat distracting in the Noddy, and the pictures were a little messy. However, I found that the distracting background didn’t affect G’s or C’s performance. It seems that they are able to concentrate better than adults. C preferred the Noddy as it was more colourful.

Verdict: Noddy layout is more appealing to the kids.

Contents
The contents in both learning systems are similar – a mix of observation skills, number recognition, critical thinking.
Bambino: organised by skill sets, there are a total of 15 books in the complete set, covering visual perception (sorting, matching), critical thinking (association, inference), beginning math, theme based learning and concentration (spatial recognition, patterns). Each book contains similar puzzles based the subject, e.g. “See and Sort”. Difficulty level is indicated on the cover of each book.
Noddy: organised by theme. There are a total of 10 books: Number & Amount, Math, Animal, Shape & Colour, ABC, abc, Weather, Plant, Time and Daily Life. A variety of puzzles are contained in each book, covering all the skill sets mentioned in the Bambino description earlier. Noddy also contains some topics not covered in Bambino – time-telling, letter recognition, vocabulary. Difficulty level is indicated by the number of stars at the top of the puzzle.

I noted two interesting details in the Noddy fun book. Firstly, it was designed to be used both with and without the grid controller. Various activities (maze, plant knowledge, letter tracing, colouring, etc) are included in the books, resulting in the somewhat distracting layout I mentioned earlier. Here’s one of the examples of the puzzles used without the grid – as a maze. Coloured markers are also included in the box for colouring and writing activities.

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Maze incorporated in Noddy puzzle

Secondly, there are some fine details included in the illustrations. In the example below where the child is to associate the silhouette to the animal, note the position of the sun vs the shadow?

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Note the position of the sun vs shadow?

Verdict: Bambino includes more activities suitable for G (see and sort), who gained more confidence as he tried the puzzles. C preferred the Noddy as there was a variety of puzzles and she was able to appreciate the fine details of the illustrations. I liked the versatility of Noddy.

Conclusion:
BambinoLUK would be suitable for those looking for a learning system for younger babies (like 16 month old G). Books are also well-categorised by difficulty level so the child would be able to attempt all the puzzles by herself once she understood what was to be done. This is good as a confidence builder, and serves to enhance a specific set of skills.

Noddy contains a range of activities that cater for a wider age range, but would be more suitable for 2 year olds and above (as the age recommendations suggest). Parents would have to select the appropriate activities to be attempted by the child. It serves well as a all-in-one option.

Parenting – the SMART way

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As a working mother, I’ve found that knowledge gained at the workplace can be applied at home too.

In an earlier post, I’ve mentioned that one of the ways to encourage confidence in a child is to be able to set and reach goals.

How do we do it? I do it the SMART way. SMART is a tool used in performance management in the corporate world to ensure appropriate goal setting and achievement of objectives in a systematic manner.

SMART is actually an acronym:

Specific
State your request clearly. Breakdown the task if necessary and work on one area of improvement at a time.

More often then not, without realizing it, we issue vague requests to the child. When we say “Write properly” – we expect her to (1) write with even strokes, (2) letters of equal size, (3) spaced out evenly and (4) written in a straight line, with the (5) correct letter placement on the line. That’s a lot to ask – do we blame her for not following instructions?

Measurable
Quantify the objective

Let her know how many times, how big, how high so that she knows exactly what is expected. If necessary, show her an example of what the result is expected to be.

Achievable
Check that the child understands the goal, and that your expectations are realistic.

As adults we often neglect the fact that what seems simple to us may be a challenge to our children. Try writing with your left hand (if you are right-handed) and see if it’s as simple!

Relevant
Choose only the important items to focus on.

Nit-picking on all the little details only causes frustration for you and your child. Focus on important details. For example, when writing, focus first on the correct letter formation, followed by size and so forth.

Time-bound
Set a checkpoint to monitor results.

Keep the duration to a reasonable period. For younger toddlers, keep activities limited to about 5 to 10 minutes. Older children will be able to concentrate on a task for longer periods of time.

So, how do I apply it? Let me quote an example of how I used it recently when coaching my daughter in her piano practice:

S: I broke down the session into individual components to work on. A specific bar was highlighted, to work on achieving the correct rhythm.
M: An agreement was made between C and myself on the target – to play that bar with the correct rhythm for 5 times.
A: I clapped the rhythm, then requested her to repeat it after me. I then played rhythm on a single key before starting the actual practice.
R: I focused on only the rhythm correctness. Even when she played it with the wrong dynamics (loud or soft) I did not correct it.
T: I limited the session to 15mins.

Review
As with managing performance in the corporate world, correct goal setting depends on being able to understand the child’s ability and adjust accordingly.

At the end of the 15mins, she still had some trouble getting the correct rhythm, so I modified the objective to perfecting the rhythm between just 3 notes. By breaking down the task further and finetuning the objective, she was more motivated, as the intermediate goals were simpler to achieve. Although we took smaller steps to achieve the final goal, and it took a longer time, she was able to play the piece of music beautifully eventually, with less frustration for both of us!

The same principle can be used in all goal setting situations. I do hope this method will be as useful for you as it was for me. Do give it a try, practice makes perfect!

Do share how you used the SMART strategy with your children 🙂

Teaching young children effectively

One of the key responsibilities as a parent is that of an educator. When my daughter was born 5 years ago, I was at a loss on where and how to start. What was the best way to teach her?

Over the past few years, I’ve come to learn from experience (both good, and plenty of bad) that there is no such thing as THE best method to teach young children (if you’ve found one, please let me know!). There are, however, some ways to make the task easier. Here are some useful tips I’ve picked up in my learning journey so far:

1. Know your child’s learning style
Spend time observing your child when she learns. Experiment with different methods to appeal to her different senses. Does she remember better when she sees it? Or responds when she hears the words or concept in a song? Or when she traces the word in the sand? Remember that children learn differently – what works for one does not mean that it will be effective for the other.

2. Incorporate play
Learning does not mean sitting down at a desk and listening to you talk. Make learning fun! Teach the concept of primary and secondary colours by allowing her to mix paints, dyes. Bring her out for a walk in the rain and explain the water cycle. Teach units of measurement when baking cookies. Be creative – if you aren’t, don’t worry, there are always plenty of ideas and resources online!

3. Check that activities are age appropriate
Expecting a 1 year old to hold a pencil properly and start writing her ABCs would only frustrate the both of you. Conversely, telling a 5-year old to put a 4piece puzzle together not only insults her intelligence, it would be a waste of time. Vary the difficulty level so that the child can manage it with a little help – challenge them a little to keep the interest level up!

4. Timing is the essence
Catch the child at a timing when she is most responsive. No one will be interested to learn when they are tired or hungry. For quiet activities such as reading, try to schedule it at a fixed time each day so that it becomes a habit.

5. Go with the flow, let the child lead
Be spontaneous. Sometimes, well-laid lesson plans go south, but you don’t need to stick to the schedule. If your child decides that throwing blocks is more fun than stacking them up, get out a few boxes, label them and get them to throw into the correct categories instead.

6. Encourage questions
This is a challenge for most parents. Answering a list of “whys?” for 10minutes is no joke. Don’t be afraid of admitting that you don’t know. My favourite responses when I don’t have the answer: “What do you think?” and “Mummy doesn’t know, why don’t we find out together?”

7. Patience, patience, patience.
Enough said =)

8. Enjoy yourself
Children will enjoy themselves if they see their parents having a good time learning with them too. Relax, have fun, and your child will too!