Archive for October, 2013

Getting Out of my Box

October 31, 2013

It’s funny. Every time I visit the school for my weekly volunteering, I feel like I learn more than what I’m actually teaching my kid. Just looking at the different types of personalities in the small classroom, learning about the American school system and even the chapter book I read in front of the library while I was waiting for my session to start, all these new experiences triggered a lot of new thoughts in me. No wonder they say volunteering is good for the elderly.

Like when I heard that the first graders only get their only recess in the afternoon around 1:30pm, I was shocked. It’s tough for kids to stay in the classroom and focus on learning for such long hours. Calvin would be aghast that there is no snack time in the mid morning! I’m guessing they still have lunch break before that. I don’t see why the children can’t all have a short morning break though. In my primary school, my favorite times were recess when we played all sorts of games – five stones, jump rope, catching ants and spiders with the boys, playing tag, ice cream sticks etc. Mine was a full day school so I think we had a mid-morning break, lunch and then mid afternoon recess too I think? I remember cracking a hard-boiled egg that my mummy gave me for snack and eating it all up in a gobble so I could join in the jump rope game. I’ve never thought that recess time would be something I care deeply about when choosing a school for Calvin.  I just can’t imagine denying him the joy that is recess time. And when I saw all the fidgety boys in the first grade class today, I felt sorry that school had to be a boring full morning of formal education where you have to focus, keep quiet, stay seated, follow instructions etc.

I was also looking at recess time in Singapore schools and the norm seems to be about 25 minutes, which means I’d probably pack him a snack so he doesn’t have to spend time queuing up for food. As I was looking for the information, I also saw some forum thread where the parents were worrying about their children’s results. It was so funny to read about how the parents analyze the children’s exams after they have been returned. It’s something my mum used to do as well so I could learn from my mistakes, though mostly what I learnt was that I was a careless person who tends to screw up on easy tests because my brain likes to do brain farts when it’s feeling arrogant. I can’t imagine a mother of a different ethnicity doing something like that (Would Jewish moms do it too?) I start to worry about whether I would be just as stressed out like those parents and whether I can help him learn to be self motivated for his studies.

For myself, my motivation started with me coveting the bigger prize someone else got for taking first place in kindergarten. I got a much smaller one, which was a pencil case and I remember thinking to myself that I should be able to best that ‘botak’ boy who got first and get the big present! But research says that reward systems would likely backfire and make people lose interest in what you are rewarding them for. Something like people need bigger and bigger rewards to stay motivated and even though they are motivated, some perform worse because of the presence of the reward. It certainly worked well for me at the beginning though. We’ll see how it goes when the time comes. It is after all a few years down the road. The best I can do is to help nurture his love of reading. After all being good in English helps in all your academic work. I’ve certainly never heard of a child who loves reading but does poorly in school.

Lapbook #2 – Butterfly

October 30, 2013

We started our next lapbook on butterflies last week after we finished the one on cars. We finally finished it up today after getting the butterfly book from the library. I needed it to show him the different types of butterflies. There were plenty of pictures online but I didn’t really want to use the ipad with him too much and our printer can’t make colored pictures so printing them is out (plus it’s expensive for something he may not even look at again).


Cover with a little pocket for the butterfly art. It has since been garnished with Calvin’s scribbles.

I taught him about butterfly anatomy, life cycle and also did some counting and the letter B last week. We looked through our work again today for a refresher and I was surprised that he could recount the details to his dad e.g. how compound eyes are kinda like many, many eyes stuck together, how the wings are called hind wings and fore wings etc. Then we talked about caterpillars and butterfly predators and defenses. He made a nice butterfly art at school previously, so I wanted to include it too. It was a little too big, so I stuck it at the back. When Calvin saw it, he was upset “I don’t like it. Take it out. Now he can’t flap his wings anymore.”


Art from school


Inside with all the flaps and pocket for the life cycle cards

Luckily, I managed to placate him by telling him we can make more later. Calvin wanted a butterfly ‘factory’ where we make lots and lots of butterfly art. Then I had an idea, it’s a good opportunity for him to learn about the butterflies with distinctive butterfly shapes. I looked through the book and picked 4 – swallowtail, monarch, comma and black swallowtail. While he was at Little Gym, I was doing lots of cutting and glueing >_< It sure feels like I’m back in primary school again.

Then we went outside after his quiet time and had a great painting session. Calvin as usual mixed up all the colors but he actually kept the three primary colored jars relatively untainted, which is a first! It was a totally unplanned painting session but i’m glad we got to have fun outside. Today, I was more craft-y than I had been in the last 10 years. I drew, cut, glued, painted, folded and I quite enjoyed myself. I wonder what we will work on next…001 (3)

Little Adventures

October 29, 2013

After a cold week last week, it has been warm again the last two days so I took advantage of the weather to get little Calvin out of the house. Yesterday, we had a long walk out before nap time to go play at the courtyard and picked up lots of fall leaves. For once, Calvin has started to observe the surrounding plants and actually noticed some interesting looking cat tail weed and some little purple flower. When we went for walks, he’s usually too busy running around to notice. As for me, I’ve For a person who never knew the name of any tree by sight, I’ve finally been able to at least identify the gingko, magnolia, oak, tulip and maple trees. We took the leaves back and spread them out on a mat while I tried my best to identify them.

Today, I thought we should try out the tricycle again, after using my foot as pedals for him to practice the night before. He was surprisingly amenable to the idea and wanted me to push him around in it. Good thing we bought the kind with a parent push bar! We went out and collected more leaves in the back of the wagon from our backyard and he actually managed to pedal for a short distance. Not very well and not very fast either but at least it’s moving forward! We went around to McCormick bridge again, weaving noisily in a carpet of dried leaves, going uphills, up stairs and down the ‘secret stairs’ to head home because I needed to start cooking my special order for the day – pizza, making this the 3rd day in a row eating pizza. The first two days was a pizza from the grocery store. Then yesterday night , Calvin commented, ‘I like mama’s pizza better than this pizza. Mama, can you cook your pizza please?” so it triggered a great frenzy of dough making, meat browning and pizza making. It’s a lot of work but when the little guy says it like that, it’s hard to resist.

And later after dinner, we were reading Babarpapa in Chinese. It’s supposed to be a French classic or something that was shown in China in the 70s? Well at any rate, it had colorful aliens that can transform and it totally captured Calvin’s interest. I was asked to read it two times in a row. The words are simple too so it fulfills my criteria of Chinese books that has an interesting story but not too many words. barbapapa_d_01I decided to buy the full set from dangdang too! It’ll probably take two months for the books to get here but it’s much cheaper than buying from the US websites that sells Chinese books. Calvin was outraged by the part where planet earth was so polluted that the animals had to go away. “The people shouldn’t do that, They should clean up”

The day ended with a sweet note when Calvin told me, “mama, come and check on me every week when I sleep?” “Yes, Calvin. I’ll check on you every 10minutes, every day.”

Goals for the Mama – 10/18

October 24, 2013

Goal 1: Confidence Building
– Put on socks by himself. It got stuck on his toes a few times but he tried and tried again.
– Practiced a little jumping and balancing on one leg
– He laid out the mat for play dough with verbal instructions from me. On hindsight, maybe I should have demonstrated for him.
– Had him clean up his potty accidents (there has been many these two weeks)

Goal 2: Chinese
– Read 我是霸王龙, 你真好,要是你给老鼠吃饼干, 我爱你, 窗外送来的礼物, 机器人心里的蓝鸟 x2,
– Understands words in context of the book we were reading e.g. 不见了, 鱼,
– Understood when I told him 去找书看, 脚放前面
– Watched 2 巧虎episodes
– Showed him Chinese words 3 times based on the book 四五快读: 人,口,大,小, 哭, 笑, 爸, 妈, 太, 天,一, 中

Goal 3: Math
– Counting clothespins
– Doing addition with fingers ( I’m wondering if i should definitely not going to buy those Montessori golden beads. They cost a whopping $200++. No wonder those Montessori schools cost so much to enroll in. I tried to get him to count with the abacus without success. Maybe we’ll try other things as counters)

Goal 4: Reading
– Making words with magnet letters and sounding them out e.g. pie, pam, tam, rust, sweet,
– He’s still not very certain of the vowel sounds. I’m actually not very good with vowel phonics either. i never learned about phonics till upper secondary i think. but it’s really confusing because some words can have the same vowels but sound different. For example, bear and dear. It never occurred to me how confusing it can all be…
– Looked at words that start with B as part of the butterfly lapbook, matching them with pictures & words under it

Goal 5: Fine motor skills
– Opening and closing clothespins using two hands.
– Practicing tripod grip while drawing birthday cards/ invitations
– Drawing robots and attempted to write letters. Drew a good circle and a 3 sided rectangular-ish robot
– Snipping and tearing the car picture to decorate his lapbook
– Letting him snip masking tape and pasting it all over his playground ‘to make it looks more like Autobot city’. His grip on scissors is much better. I’m thinking of getting him leftie scissors.

First Lapbook – Cars

October 24, 2013

On a whim, after reading all the different curriculum for homeschooling (including the freaky gnome-believing Waldorf philosophy), I thought maybe we could give this whole lapbook thing a try. So I asked Calvin what he would like to learn about that morning. He said “Cars.” Ok, not entirely surprising but also a pretty broad topic that can go anyway he can think of.

So I went to handy google and typed “car lapbook” and voila! there was one with a template. Her child was much older I think, so he could do a lot of the writing etc. So I went through it, printing out only the parts I wanted – car exterior, car engine parts, where cars are made, different gauges, different types of cars and I threw in a car maze and dot to dot race car for good measure. While I was doing all that, he had his quiet time and didn’t sleep. He said he was so excited about this project and there I was thinking “uh-oh, what if he thinks it’s so boring and ho-hum”.

Well we braved on and when his quiet time was over, we started on the project. First we decorated the cover. I asked him to pick a car from our car magazine and cut out a car to decorate the folder. He has been holding his scissors in the correct grip though he still struggles to open and close it. He made good snips all around but didn’t seem to know how to cut around it. I’m thinking maybe I should get him lefty scissors which is supposed to really help because of the way the handles curve. He ended up ripping up the car in parts even though I tried to show him how to cut a rectangle around the picture. Oh well, guess we could always make a collage. He dotted the glue in a neat vertical row and stuck all the bits of paper on.

Now that it’s done, we started to do the minibooks. I helped him write out all the labels on the car parts. I could have printed it out but I thought I might as well show him examples of me writing.


The final product!

Homeschooling is Not For Me

October 24, 2013

I’ve been reading up a lot more about homeschooling curriculum ever since I vowed not to enroll him in any enrichment classes, hopefully ever. On the other hand, I also felt that formal schooling doesn’t do a good job of arousing interest in learning itself. I survived well in the formal school setting. But recently, I realized how poor my general knowledge is. I hardly knew anything about plants and animals besides the most generic things we learn in school. I’m sure Calvin will soon know more about nature than I do – like things about dinosaurs, solar system, sea creatures etc. I did read lots of Chinese folk lore when I was young though – all those stories about fox spirits (狐狸精),snake spirits (白蛇精) etc. Certainly, my Chinese is all the better for it. I’m surprised at how easily I picked up Chinese again after 10 years of not reading much Chinese except in manga and speaking only a smattering at best. This summer, I actually easily read two Chinese novels – 蓝血人 卫斯理 and 鹿鼎记 by 金庸, which honestly surprised me.

So basically, I hope that he can be free to explore his interests and learn because he enjoys it. While school teaches children knowledge, they don’t necessarily nurture a love of learning. Having him attend public schools will mean he has less time for fun projects we could do that interest him. Despite that, I would still like him to attend school so he can make friends and have a common childhood like everyone else. Sure enough, as antisocial as I am, it would be hard for me to seek out other homeschooling parents just so he can make friends with their kids and he doesn’t even have siblings to interact with. That and the fact that I would like some breathing space for myself. Preparing interesting curriculum is time consuming work. Granted, anything is better than reading from a textbook like it’s done in school, but if I’m going to do it, I’d rather it be done well.

So in a bit of compromise, he will probably go to school as planned and I can plan out his ‘enrichment’ activities with him. For now, that means more nature walks, even when it’s cold and all I want to do is huddle at home, and we are trying out lapbooks. We made one yesterday and he seemed to enjoy it. I’ll blog about that another day.

Recipe: Little Apple Tarts

October 23, 2013

We visited the apple farm last Wednesday when there was a rare day of good sunny weather after a whole week of non-stop raining. It was a rather hectic day because I had to go for my volunteer work and then Calvin had his first field trip to the boathouse. I’m glad we went then because it turned really cold this week. It is our second trip to the apple orchard. The first time we went, there were only Jonagold and Golden Delicious. We bought a bunch of Jonagolds just coz we’ve never eaten it before and most of that was promptly eaten or turned into apple crumble (the ones I brought to our Shenandoah National park trip)

Last year we really liked the Fuji apples that we picked so this time, we were all prepared for a big haul home. We went on a weekday so there was no shuttle bus and we had a nice hike up the mountain to where the Fuji apple trees grow. We saw piles of apples lying at the side of the road. They must have been too ripe and that one week of rain when few people were picking them probably meant a lot of them just fell off the tree. What a waste! I wonder if the orchard owners pick those up and make them into apple cider or something. It’s a good thing we don’t actually buy the apple products they sell because I can’t help but wonder whether the fate of those fallen apples involves something in their kitchens!

It was fun looking for the apples and picking them. We let Calvin picked many small ones that are within his reach. Last year, we found that the small ones tasted better than the big ones. When I went to pay for it, it turned out we had a big haul of 14 lbs of apples!! I’m not sure what we’ll do with it. I’ve made some apple tarts which was gobbled up in a jiffy but it’s so much work that I’m hesitant to make more. Looks like it’ll be lots of sliced apple snacks for a while.


Recipe: Apple Tarts

2 apples, cubed
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS cinnamon

Tart Dough:
1.5 cup whole wheat flour
0.5 cup butter (I substituted 2 Tbs with applesauce)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Cream sugar and butter, then add remaining dough ingredients. Mix well until moist crumbs form.
3. Grease muffin pan with butter
4. Press dough into pan and up the sides. Use a measuring cup to press the dough down firmly so it’s not lumpy.
5. Mix apple with sugar and cinnamon and put into the empty tarts until it is full.
6. With remaining dough, make flat little covers to put on top of the apples. Mine was covered up pretty haphazardly and there are plenty of gaps in between.
7. Bake at 400 F for 18 to 22 minutes or until the top is browned. I started checking every minute from 15 minutes.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (Artisan Bread in 5 mins)

October 21, 2013

I’ve been making all the bread we eat for almost 2 years.  Granted, we do not consume much bread in our house. On a slow month, a loaf can sometimes last the whole month. I started off with the Mark Bittman’s famous no-knead bread that was posted on NYTimes. Since I don’t have any bread machine or mixer, I didn’t want to deal with kneading bread especially not with my arthritic fingers that hurt if I exerted my hands, so this recipe was perfect. Except when I made it whole wheat instead of normal white bread, it was usually very dense and very crusty. I tried using a loaf pan but the dough does not rise very well and resembled a brick more than bread. Initially I made free-form loaves but that made rather flat long pieces of bread, so I ended up making rolls instead so that the cross-section is now round instead of long and flat, which makes for strange sandwiches.

Cross-section of the different no-knead bread

Cross-section of the different no-knead bread

Then this year, I ventured to a similar recipe called Artisan Bread in 5. It is another no knead recipe which also features a long first rise. As with the first recipe, I mixed up all the ingredients, then leave it in a mixing bowl or container for 12 hours except for this artisan bread in 5, after 2 hours, the rise is happens in the fridge instead. The beauty of this recipe is that after refridgerating, the dough is a lot easier to handle and I can actually shape the loaf so it looks like a loaf. And then recently, I decided to challenge the fully whole wheat sandwich bread again – this time with dough enhancers. Dough enhancers are stuff you add to help whole wheat bread rise. I made my own ‘enhancer’ by adding lemon juice, ginger powder and vital wheat gluten and viola! the bread rose so well, you can hardly tell that it’s whole wheat! I made some sausage rolls, raisin buns and even a whole loaf that actually looks like a loaf. (See comparison to what I made before :P) I’m not sure if it’s a testimony of how yummy this new recipe is, but Calvin has been eating two slices of it every single morning since I first made it. I’ve left a copy of the recipe below.

My very first free form loaf in 2011. Tasty but totally the wrong shape

2011: My very first free form loaf. Tasty but totally the wrong shape

A loaf that actually looks like a loaf

2013: A loaf that actually looks like a loaf

Recipe: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread


3.25 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cup water (substitute 1/2 cup milk)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoon flaxseed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoon vital wheat gluten (needs additional 1.25x liquid)
1/8 teaspoon ginger powder

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a lidded container until well mixed. Let rise for 2 hours then place in fridge for 8 hours. Put the lid on loosely or the gases might cause an ‘explosion’ in your fridge.
2. After the first rise in the fridge, cut out the size of the dough that you need. Pat flour all over to prevent it from sticking. Shape it into a loaf and make 3 cuts on top with a serrated knife.
3. Put it in a oiled loaf pan and let it rise for 90 mins in a warm room or oven.
4. Preheat oven to 375F for 20 mins. Bake for 30 mins until the top turns brown.
5. When done, remove the loaf from pan and place on a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices once it has completely cooled.

About Little Einstein

October 20, 2013

Calvin’s new favorite recently is little Einstein, most notably the music robot one which i thought would be a hit since he likes robots so much. At first Johnny thought “no way would any kids like this.” Especially the parts where they ask the kids to dance and do some actions like clap or raise their hands etc. That was until he saw Calvin starting to put his hands together and do the snake slither motion to “help” the robot zig zag. I think we can safely conclude that after all that extensive research done by the TV producers, they know what children like more so than their parents.

Calvin has even been role playing the music robot and its batteries while singing the tune from Rondeau by Mouret. i have to admit i probably know more classical music from watching these ( and listening to his little music player last time) than I’ve ever learnt about in my life.

After watching that same episode every day for 5 days, it seems like he decided that he liked the series enough to venture out and watch the other episodes. At least it takes him away from the much more violent Transformers.

Halloween Dressup

October 20, 2013

Today, we went to Little Gym’s halloween party where they basically have open gym time for the kids to play around in. The kids are supposed to come in costume. Since we haven’t prepared any costume for Calvin (because he said he didn’t want any),I decided to at least minimally dress him up as a superhero with a shirt I bought a while back that comes with a removable cape. He was giggling with glee when he saw the shirt.

He can swing and climb over the crossed bars very well. He loves to run all over the padded gym and climb up the cushiony stairs but he’s still too cautious to jump down from high places without holding my hands or walk or the balance beams by himself regardless of how low or high they are. We were doing a skeleton puzzle with another older boy but they would snatch the pieces out of our hands so quickly, I didn’t even get to tell them off. Well to begin with they were not listening to me and they are other people’s kids. On hindsight, I should have said directly “I am using that. Please give it back” instead of trying be subtle and say “it’s ok. Calvin can do it”. I guess I need training in positive assertiveness too… >.<