Archive for September, 2014

Hiking at Shenandoah National Park

September 29, 2014

074We took advantage of the good weather and the free park day to visit the national park again. We had to squeeze in our weekly shopping trips in the morning before We packing a picnic lunch as per Calvin’s request – a grape and tomato and cucumber (instead of lettuce) salad, chips for snack; papa had a turkey bacon wrap from HT; I made some ham and cheese rolls and a banana and strawberry yogurt that Calvin and I shared.

This time, we tried the Story of the Forest trail, which is a well maintained nature trail that brings you through the forest from Big Meadows to Black Rock trail. It was about 1 mile and mostly flat ground. Not terribly exciting but it was a nice place for a walk. Having gamboled through it, Calvin was naturally tired and we waited by the road close to Black Rock campsite while papa walked the remaining 0.7 mile back to get our car. While I whipped out Calvin’s chip snack (it is a rare treat for our outing), a group of three deer wandered out frommthe forest and started grazing at a patch across the road. It is funny how we didn’t see any wild life during our walk, only to find some out here in the open.

When papa came back with the car, we went off to Blackrock trail. This has been our 3rd time there I think. Calvin enjoys it a lot. It is a very short and easy trail to the outlook and he likes to play among the rocks. Today, there were a couple of puddles there and we spent our time trying to write and draw with water and a variety of painting implements – rocks, ferns, leaves, cattails… After we tried to have our little waterfall on the rocks, which turned out to be more like a trickle, we decided to head home. Being in the sun totally knocked me and Calvin out in the car. Poor J had to drive on with two snoring piglets behind him.

On our way back, we stopped to see a monster truck called the Raminator on display outside a car showroom. Calvin was very excited though he started off a little drowsy and reticent. It turned out that the Raminator team is as famous as the Big Foot team in monster truck circuits.


My Little Projects

September 23, 2014

This school year, I have been feeling much more energetic and purposeful with the feeling that with my sweet loving family, I can weather anything that come my way. Now that Calvin seems to be learning how to socialize in school and is showing improvements in his gross motor and fine motor skills, I can embark on my other little projects with him. He is still behind his peers in many skills but as long as he is showing progress, there isn’t a point in stressing about it. That’s what many of my projects are about anyway, to help him build up skills in interesting ways.

Writing Skills

Objective: To be able to write comfortably with a tripod grip by the end of the school year.

He generally prefers to use the immature digital pronate grasp which is supposedly typical of 2.5 – 3 year old kids. I’ve been coaching him to try using a tripod grasp instead with varying success. He has tried it when I correct him but still generally reverts to the more comfortable immature grip.

He often reverses his letters. Though that is supposedly common till age 6, it’s disturbing when he inverses every single letter in a word =_=

Most mornings, he’ll do a little handwriting practice while I prepare breakfast. I have some tracing sheets in a file with pictures and letters that he can trace.

We work on fine motor activities like opening clothes pegs, play doh, baking alphabet cookies etc. He plays with Lego all the time so that should help too.

We also do cutting and craft. His cutting skills are surprisingly good. Perhaps from all the car magazines he used to cut out. Having sharp left handed scissors certainly seemed to have helped too. We’ve been working on his skills like cutting zig zags and right angles. After a few tries, he seems to have grasped it. Looks like we should be doing shapes soon?


Reading Skills

Objective: To be able to read simple books with comprehension.

We are working on both Chinese and English languages. For Chinese, we are going through the 基础汉字 books I bought on our Singapore trip. We are now on book three and he can recognize at least 45 words. We used another book before (四五快读) but the material is more dry and pictures not attractive so it was hard to get him to practice enough to remember the words we learned but the main objective then was to introduce new vocabulary to him because our spoken chinese is still pretty much like 3 year old level or worse? These set of books repeats the words in different settings and he seems surprisingly willing to work on it. I’ve also tried a few games to help him revise the words we learned like word treasure hunt, secret code stuck at the front door, pointing out familiar words as we read and word bingo. He finds it discouraging when he does not remember too many of  the words and would sometimes be reluctant to work on our lessons, so I’m providing some scaffolding by offering to read over the sentences one time so he can repeat after me. I’ll need to think of some novel ways of helping him revise.

I’ve been putting in more chinese audio stories during his quiet time music. I rotate them out every 2 -3 days. With repetition, he seems to be getting familiar with the stories and will sometimes talk to me about them or ask me the meaning of the words. I’m surprised at how much he was able to understand. We are also resuming our 巧虎 videos in the morning for greater exposure to spoken chinese.

I’m still quite unsuccessful at speaking chinese to him more frequently. I find that my grasp of chinese is much poorer and I am not able to express myself well. No big surprise since it has been more than 15 years since I actually read a chinese book and I’ve rarely spoken chinese for the past 12 years. I can read and comprehend but the right words do not always present themselves when I need to. I guess it all boils down to practice too and I’m not sure reading manga in chinese is of great help. On the bright side, he has been making effort to use chinese to communicate to me. It is usually in a single sentence like “我爱草莓优格” (I love strawberry yogurt).

For English, since he is familiar with the alphabet sounds, we’re now working on word families, beginning with the easier consonant -vowel-consonant  types like -an, -at, -ig etc. We do word sorts and talk about how the words are the same or different.  Calvin is also learning sight words every week, using some of the activities I found online e.g. sight word mazes, sight word search, mini books with sight words. We also did sight word bingo before. He also loves to play with his magnetic letters and pretending to make “Word World” words that looks just like the word they spell i.e. a sheep made out of the letters s-h-e-e-p. His speed at sounding out words has been improving though he still gets ‘a’ and ‘e’ sounds confused. I’ll try to have more word sorts that help to differentiate that. I’m still constantly on the lookout for fun games to make practicing more fun.

It’s funny, before I read the books on motivation and the growth mindset, I kinda thought things like reading would just come naturally without much intervention from me but now I’m acknowledging that we need lots of practice before we’ll become good at it. I guess that is a good change and helps sets us up for success a lot better, plus it gives me better perspective on the things as I see them as essential practice and inevitable mistakes rather than failure.





Calvin Making Friends

September 18, 2014

For some reason, I have many unfinished drafts sitting around but I seem more interested in starting new posts because I worry that I will forget my new ideas. Somehow my old ones are all neglected and dying a slow death by neglect. It’s ironic that I’ve wanted to be a writer when I was young but I haven’t been putting effort to do actual writing or even reading for a long time. Anyway, enough of the ramblings.

I am very pleased to see Calvin’s social skills beginning to blossom. Everyday, he has been playing with his best friend, Cy. The teachers have dubbed them ‘inseparable’. He comes home telling us about how they play ‘mixy-mucks’ out in the school yard by mixing up the brown and white sand and also having the occasional stone; they play with blocks in the Bird room pretending to drive boats. Calvin has become better at listening to others and playing cooperatively. In fact, he has also been conversing with some other children. I saw him talking to L**m and D****n while waiting at the wall or having lunch. I am glad to see him venturing out of his comfort zone of playing by himself.

The funny thing is, just as he is getting comfortable, we start to worry about the time when he has to say goodbye. With a possible big move looming up ahead, I especially feel the need to make wonderful memories. Sure, they will attend different schools next year even if we stayed but if we moved away, chances are they may never see each other again. It’s a little sad to think that our choices will affect him in such a big way. Which reminds me that I should bring my camera along to school next time I co-op so I can take some pictures of them together. Maybe we’ll put together a memento when we leave. I laugh to see my hallmark preemptive thinking in action, always preparing for the negative things that might happen but hopefully for a good cause which is to sharpen our appreciation for the present.

Calvin with his best friend at the last day of school May 2014

Calvin with his best friend at the last day of school May 2014

Keeping a Growth Mentality and Growing with my Child

September 16, 2014

It took me a while to notice, but I’ve been growing together with Calvin. A part of me thought I was already all grown up and mature but as we all know that is the fallacy of youth. When I think about how confident I was in my late teens, I start to cringe at my naivety. I guess true maturity is when you can acknowledge that you are not perfect nor invincible nor  knowing, but still essentially a work in progress with much more room for growth.

I’ve been reading the works of Prof Carol Dweck recently on how the different mindsets of people can affect their motivation and performance. It all started because Calvin will be starting formal schooling soon and I’m wondering what I should do to prepare him for it so he can have a good experience, but I probably benefited just as much from it.

People with a fixed mindset are those who believe that qualities such as intelligence or talent or personality are determined and cannot be changed; they also avoid challenges because of the risk of not appearing smart. They believe that talent alone will create success – effort is for those without talent.

With a growth mindset people believe that they can develop their intelligence or talent by determination and hard work. I can see a mix of both in myself. Having gone through the Singapore system with the multiple streams and focus on results, I have inevitably picked up the fixed mentality that fixation on results encourages.

And I think it was partly this mindset that made me sink into depression before. I felt like I was not rewarded for my talents and by proxy felt that I was inferior and trapped. I think if I had thought not so much on how I should be rewarded but how I can learn better, I would have felt better.

Even now, I sometime catch myself feeling down at being contented to stay at home and not have any ‘achievements’. It made me feel worthless. I appreciate the time I have to take care of Calvin, teach him and mold him and to be supportive of J, but still I wonder if I’m wasting my life not achieving. Recently, as I start to learn more about motivation and the growth mindset, I feel surprisingly liberated. I learn to recognize that in these years as a stay at home mother, I have worked hard at learning to cook a variety of meals; I have learned to be more patient and understanding how to build a strong relationship with our dear son; I have learned about how to motivate and communicate appreciation for other’s hard work. I’ve also had lots of practice mirroring and emphathizing and I feel that overall, I’ve become a better person. I think in view of all that it has been a great three years for me. I start to feel younger, filled with hopes for our future, unburdened of my own baggage of needing to look successful. I hope I will keep this new sense of wonder and hope as I move on.

Day Trip to Staunton

September 2, 2014

We took a day trip to Staunton to visit the Frontier Culture museum and the miniature train at Gipsy Hill Park. It was a perfect day to be out – sunny but not scorching, cloudy but not raining and blustery gusts to cool our weary feet. We started at the museum since it involves a lot of walking and a good thing too because about an hour after we started, Calvin was already clamoring to go home. We still had half the exhibits to explore and we haven’t even been to the park yet! We persuaded him to have a rest and a snack to refuel before continuing since it was close to noon, which is our customary lunchtime. Children can be such primal creatures though, tired = rest = go home. I guess he has not learnt that sometimes being hungry or thirsty may affect energy levels too.

True enough, after some refreshments and a cooling face wash, we were able to continue and finish walking through most of the exhibits. My favorite part was the live animals. We saw a dirty pig squelching in the mud, half his body submerged and his snout all covered in mud from rooting around in it. There were plenty of  other farm animals like ducks, geese, chickens, cows and goats too. The authenticity of the place was refreshing – you could really draw water from a well, they had working looms that can weave, they planted real corn, sunflowers, squash, the forge was burning coal and had bellows attached etc. In fact, the farm buildings were even moved all the way from the various places in Europe i.e. England, Germany and Ireland.

We had lunch and set off to the park. It was pretty fun even though we arrived in the heat of the mid afternoon sun and couldn’t enjoy the playground very well. There were ducks to feed at the duck pond, the miniature train ride, a big playground with some interesting equipment, exercise station, swimming pool … Me and Calvin were both tired out by the time we headed home. I was admittedly the stronger “carcoleptic” – I fell asleep almost instantly. I blame it on the sun.

Gipsy Hill Train

Sep 1 – Gipsy Hill Train Ride

Frontier Museum

Sep 1 – Frontier Culture Museum

On Motivation

September 1, 2014

To my great annoyance, my post disappeared after I retyped it a second time on the ipad. Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve been fervently perusing parenting books recently, especially those pertaining language learning, motivation and other behavioral related books. Perhaps I’ve been gripped by the frenzy of preparing Calvin for imminent formal education. Or maybe these are subject matters that have always interested me.

The one I’m reading now is about motivating children to love learning. The author talks about three factors that will help: competence, autonomy and relationship.


Humans enjoy feeling competent. You feel competent when you complete a challenge not when you finish an easy task. Children need to be encouraged to challenge themselves to help with feelings of competency. Help preschoolers gain competence by

– using rich language in everyday dialog

– listen attentively when they recount their experiences or a story

– write down make-believe stories

– explain vocabulary that he/ she hears

– teaching songs, rhymes, word play

– reading and asking questions, pointing out pictures, predicting story

– sorting, learning shapes, estimating, comparing, , measuring in everyday activities

– teaching children to feel competent by giving positive feedback, but also balance with costructive criticism that encourages improvement

– agree when he tells you a task is difficult and then give suggestions on how to tackle problem, help break down tasks



– Giving the freedom to choose among acceptable alternatives

– Do not nag or force them to do things. Use empowering language where they make the decision in the end. E.g. “You may want to try etc…”

– Discuss consequences with them but no negotiations after that.

– Use factual statements instead of commands E.g. I use the thesaurus to avoid repeating the same words.



– Acceptance: Your child knows you love him unconditionally

– Connection: Interested and involved in his life and understands his needs

–> Use ’emotional coaching’: instead of denying his negative feelings, acknowledge them but still set limits on behaviour (no hitting etc)

– Support: Respect him for who he is. Support his autonomy

– Teaching children value of trying hard in school, learning is important