Archive for January, 2017

Kid Wars

January 27, 2017

Calvin and his friends frequently have ‘wars’ when they have disputes. I’m not sure who came up with this kid logic of “We don’t agree on something. Let’s have a war and the winner gets to decide what is right”. And over something as trivial as what did the substitute teacher ask us to use: pen or pencil? Something that could be solved by asking the teacher is somehow just not obvious to the little 6 and 7-year-olds.  They’d rather fight over it (apparently, catching each other and pinning them down) and then get in trouble with the teachers for violating the rules. Well hopefully, I’ve sufficiently educated our own little barbarian on how to resolve conflicts and convince each other with EVIDENCE instead of resorting to the barbaric ‘might is right’ way.



I yield, I yield!


More on ‘Tiger’ Parenting

January 25, 2017

Reading another book now called ‘Beyond the Tiger Mom’ by an Indian who was in the USA doing her degree and subsequently teaching for about 15 years before moving to Singapore. She was comparing the different types of education styles she observed in both places and her take on the benefits and shortcomings in both. There is a lot more literature on western style parenting and I’ve read similar research on how to create a literacy rich environment. I never thought it was a western culture. It was something I knew I wanted my child to have – the pleasure of reading. Deep down, I felt that a person who reads widely and voraciously will do well in their life. So my first goal in educating Calvin was to introduce him to the joys of reading. I showed him soft cloth books from when he was just a few months old and we read and read and read tirelessly every day. In fact, reading has become a calming activity for him. Sometimes, when he feels upset and out of control, I’ll send him to his room to calm down and I will find him reading to himself. When he is calmer, we can then talk about what went wrong and how we can do better. So on that front, I think we’ve done a good job.

I don’t restrict the books that he reads either. I grew up learning to read by looking at comic books with no words (老夫子),then to comic books with words (小叮当) and finally to picture books and novels. I was lucky that my family reads. All of us are faithful readers of martial arts novels (金庸的武侠小说). I was lucky to be enrolled in a Primary school that emphasized learning in English and that had a whole collection of Enid Blyton books right in my classroom which I can borrow. My mum would bring me to the 2nd hand bookstore to rent English books that I like. It felt really natural to be reading and I thought it’s normal for kids to do it. Now,  I’m not really sure if most of my classmates in Secondary school really reads the way I do. Reading is such an important part of my life, I remember telling myself at age 18 that if I ever marry, it must be with someone who loves to read.

I never realized the need to have a math rich environment. I instinctively loved the STEM toys and building toys and acquired those for Calvin. Calvin is the proud owner of a humongous tub of Lego and many other building toys (wooden blocks, Knex, Trio blocks, marble machines, Magformers). I did little to teach him basic counting and arithmetic. When he finally started school last year, I realized that his math was at best at grade level by American standards, which is piss poor by Singapore standards since those kids have been drilling their subtraction and addition since preschool.

Even though I grew up in an environment of rote learning and worksheets, I was worried that if I pushed him hard to complete lots of worksheets, his natural interest will be snuffed. I’ve since adopted a more balanced view. While repeated practice can be boring, it has a place in gaining mastery.

So we spent K year working on mainly getting used to doing homework every day. I started teaching math as well as language arts, except I realize that I didn’t know anything about teaching and I went on to read many books about how to teach both.  Like how math has to be learned from concrete to representational to abstract. Or how to teach phonics (which I’ve never learned). I’m proud to say that we are now on track to keep up with SIngapore’s math and Calvin still thinks of homework with me as being fun even if he sometimes wishes he could just go off and play.

Calvin’s Bad Dreams

January 24, 2017

Mum, I dreamt that I can’t speak.

Dreamt that he forgot his sight words. (He knows most of them (?)  and I didn’t teach him any of it. He seems to pick up language like we both did, just by reading lots)

Dreamt about Woktoktok (some imaginary monster? Seems to be too scary to even talk about)

Dreamt about there being a fire/ some random disaster but couldn’t bring all his Lego along when we try to escape.

P.S: In contrast, my bad dream involved scrubbing the potty and having things fall into it and got poopy stains….

To be or Not to be – Tiger Mother

January 20, 2017

In the past 5 years, the term tiger mom has been somewhat derogatory at least in our household. But I changed my mind as I finally got around to reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I think many of her critics either did not read the book or have comprehension issues. Case in point where they talk about how she ‘locked a three year old outside in the 20 degree winter’ when she really threatened to do it and when she found that her three year old was so stubborn that she would rather freeze than obey, she relented and gave her a warm bath and a treat (hot chocolate with marshmallows, I think). People forget that the book was written to be dramatic and funny so many of the crucial pieces are missing here. Dotted in various parts of the book are her own misgivings about what she is doing. I don’t think she thinks she has been a perfect parent, but seems like she is glad the gamble with using the so called “Chinese parenting” worked out.

They also ignore her dedication as a mother. She sits through music practice with her two daughters while holding a full time job as a professor. She wrote copious notes on their performance pieces and how they can improve.  She didn’t let her tiredness be an excuse for not doing what she thinks what needs to be done. While she is hard on her children, she is equally hard on herself.

Certainly, I can see where her fiery temper, stubbornness and unwillingness to back down has made many situations much worse. Sometimes you find yourself in a place where you  just can’t back down (or as the Chinese idiom goes 骑虎难下, riding on a tiger and can’t get off) , especially if it means you agree with you agree with your child that he is not talented/ your child learns that if she prods hard and long enough, she’ll have her way.  Of course in hindsight, it is easy to say that the key is to not get to that stage in the first place.

I don’t see her book as saying this is why Chinese children do well academically. It is just an anecdotal story about what she did. I think her kids were incredibly intelligent to begin with so a softer approach might have gotten the same results anyway. Many more children who grew up under authoritarian regimes have crumbled and suffer from psychological damage or committed suicide.

I strangely identify with her. That feeling of frustration when you try to hold your child up to standards you know they should be able to achieve but is somehow not – like trying to climb a tree without giving up after a few feeble attempts, or writing neat working for math problems. I’ve done similar things like refusing to budge from the tree until he succeeds in climbing it (I tried it out myself and guided/ helped him up in the end)or let him off from homework until he got it right (homework took more than 2 hours but we both learned what not to do next time….) . It made me terrible after that, but I really wanted him to have the experience of success after working hard on something.

She would even research relentlessly on things like how to train their dog which kind of reminds me of myself. I’d research all kinds of strange and irrelevant things like which basketball hoop is better.

Reading the book really inspired me to work harder on my teaching research and to set higher standards for Calvin now that he’s seven and Primary 2 in Singapore. I don’t agree with her method of learning by rote but it is true that many things in elementary schooling like math and English just have to be mastered by deliberate practice. I mean math facts, no matter how you disguise it and sugarcoat it, just can’t be learnt through only fun and games. Perhaps it’s time to ramp up my ‘tigering’ skills a little…



January 8, 2017

Having experienced his friend’s and cousin’s younger sibling, Calvin has decided he is really glad he doesn’t have them. He said he only wanted an older sibling which is obviously not going to happen. To him, younger siblings are like uncontrollable monsters that can’t be reasoned with and keeps on disrupting his playing or destroying his creations. 

Coincidentally, my mum in law was telling J that we should have another one because “Calvin will help take care of him/ her”.  My mum, on the hand, tells me that it’s enough to have one and take good care of him.  I am really reluctant to start the sleepless cycle of taking care of an infant, especially when we can finally enjoy life as a family. I definitely don’t function well without sleep and Calvin still needs my guidance in many things.

Calvin the Romantic Roboticist

January 7, 2017

Calvin: I need to find some land that no one wants and build my lab there. I’ll do it in Seattle.

Mom: As long as you have money, you can buy whatever land you like.

Calvin: Then I’ll sell my robot first, and build my lab and then build more robots!

Calvin has been talking about building robots to help people like one that can let deaf people hear again or a household robot that does all your chores and he’ll give them away for free! Because he thinks that he’ll get all the parts from the junkyard and won’t have any costs.

We talked about saving up to buy him the Lego Mindstorm kit and he volunteered to pay for half of it since it’s “not fair that it’s for me  but you pay all of it”. We talked about splitting it 3 way instead. I’m really proud of my sensible, sweet and kind boy 🙂

P.S After That, we heard that Lego was launching the new Boost programmable blocks later this year. It looks to have quite a lot of interesting functions and sensors and the programming part looks a lot like Scratch Jr which we have been working on.

Christmas 2016

January 3, 2017

I haven’t been blogging quite enough recently.

We came back from a trip to California to spend time with in-laws. Calvin had a fun time with his cousins, running around having lightsaber battles, pretending to be pirates, playing hair salon (? They took turns being customers etc…), pillow fight against a randomly passing grown-up, snowball fights (where each kid took turns crying at some point), sledding with an inflatable tube, sledding with the deflated tube, and other general snow play.

Next week, Calvin will be having his second round of advanced learning testing by the school district. I guess that means he is moderately advanced but I’m not sure he will really test as gifted at this point. His performance in tests is definitely unstable so I have no idea how he will fare for a 2-3 hour test. He is like me in the careless department =_=; he’ll jump to conclusions on the first answer that looks right instead of checking all the choices. He is certainly advanced verbally but his math abilities needs more work.

He’s such a sweet boy and is trying his very best. I wish he could be more serious about his schoolwork though. I’m not sure if it’s a symptom of boredom but he often gets distracted in school. The bad part though is that he doesn’t do good work either so he can’t get excused from doing the possibly ‘easy’ work since he’s not demonstrating mastery. We’ve been working on recognizing what good work should look like. I have never really taught him about it before and it seems like most things that I thought were obvious has to be explicitly taught. Maybe that’s the case with boys? I think girls seem to pick up on the social aspects of what is expected of them more easily.

He is very accommodating to his friends and cousins and genuinely try to get along with them. During this trip with his cousins, he had a taste of being the oldest and being a leader that the youngest one follows. He was very proud that he “sacrificed” himself to be attacked by pillows so that the others will be safe/ can retaliate even though “it hurts”.

He is also very mortified that he’s “one of the last few to lose a tooth” in his class. He has one very wobbly tooth right now and he’s hoping to “catch up” to his classmates. He was wondering if the tooth fairy would come and mum the practical told him that the tooth fairy is the same as Santa Claus which is to say it’s the parents who does it. I’m just not a romantic about believing that fairies etc drops money/ candy under pillows…



Dec 2016: Building a snow fort in Yosemite