Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Moving on to Chapter Books

May 6, 2017

Little C is starting to read more complicated chapter books that don’t come with pictures on every page. He devoured two Geronimo Stilton books the day they came back from the library. I inducted him into the series via the graphic novels before moving on to the chapter books. For a while, I was wondering how I could help to encourage him to move on from picture books and graphic novels and the dreaded Captain Underpants series.  He seems fully capable of reading and comprehending the more verbose books but showed little inclination to read them. He really enjoys audio books of the classics like Roald Dahl and the Narnia series but never picked up any of the books. I guess reading stamina isn’t something that happens all at once. Hopefully, this will open up a wider range of books for him to enjoy.

I remember when I was young and at that stage. I was reading mainly Chinese at that time since I barely have 10 English books in our house at that time. It was my brother who introduced me to the first interesting novel – 侠客行 by 金庸. It is a martial arts novel but it had ‘funny’, crude, curse words which appealed to me then.  Kinda like potty humor that my son enjoys >.<

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.





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.

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



Looking Back on 2013

January 3, 2014

It’s funny how much can change in one year when you are watching a child. One year ago, Calvin started feeding himself during mealtimes and was learning how to gargle. He also barely knew any chinese whereas I hear him singing a variety of chinese songs recently.

Throughout the year, he learned many more things like putting on his clothes and shoes, using the potty, falling asleep by himself at night and jumping with two legs off the ground. He had many new experiences too like joining the gym, visiting the kids museums, playing with sensory bins, planting and harvesting strawberries and tomatoes, lapbooking, hiking at Shenandoah National Park, playing with Lego and of course our trips to Virginia Beach, Washington and San Francisco.

On our part, we have overcome some personal hurdles and also Johnny passed his qualifying exams. Woot.

It certainly has been a hectic year. I didn’t even realize that so much has happened.

A Good Mother is Better Than a Good Teacher – 好妈妈胜过好老师

November 10, 2013

I read this Chinese book that another mother recommended on her blog, <<好妈妈胜过好老师>>. It’s written by a Chinese teacher talking about her experiences in raising her own daughter and what she believes are good practices in bringing up a child with good attitude and character.

I agree with her philosophy though there are some things that I do not agree with of course, like when she recommends letting kids read 古文, an old form of written Chinese instead of modern Chinese. My Chinese is pretty decent but I never liked the 古文 that they made us memorize in secondary school in Malaysia. I guess this is mostly cultural because we don’t have need to have such scholarly proficiency in Chinese. To be honest, no one even writes that way anymore. That’s the equivalent of saying I should read Shakespeare to Calvin and hope he’ll learn how to use the words ‘thee’ and ‘thou’.

There were many things that I agree with though, like how she says studying should be kept fun and parents shouldn’t obsess over things like scores and ranking. What is more important is to focus on whether the child is learning. I think it is similar to the Western theory about giving praise to the process and not the outcome/ person. E.g. ‘You really worked hard to learn to ride the bike’ as opposed to ‘Good girl’, ‘Great job’. I’ve been working hard on that for a while and I’d like to think I’ve improved. I’ve been trying to point out how he has worked hard on putting on his socks and he’s much faster now because of the practice etc. I’m thinking of taking it one step further with a little notebook for all his good ‘deeds’. This is a suggestion from the book that I thought was worth trying out. She calls it the ‘记功簿‘, where you record the good things your child has done and also emphasize their efforts on things you hope they will improve on. I’m not sure if Calvin will take to it, but there’s no harm trying 😛 I started it today and he was interested in putting the little sticker stars in and he also remembered what I praised him for. I think maybe the biggest benefit of this is that I’m more focused on the positive side of what he does and helps me to be more zen, especially when I’m tired and grumpy.

I also liked how she emphasizes the importance of reading. It’s a little contradictory to what she said about reading classics to your kid, because she also says it’s okay for children to read any kind of book as long as the writing is not trashy and the values are not dubious I would guess? As I said, I’ve always thought that children who read widely can’t do that poorly academically. And J is a good example of having good English despite reading mostly non-classic, popular science fiction/ fantasy books and those choose your own adventure books. I personally read a lot of popular fiction and trashy romance novels, albeit I also put in conscious effort to read classics and award winners. I think we’ll probably let him read whatever he likes unless it’s not age appropriate.

Tough Days

November 5, 2013

It’s daylight savings yesterday, so technically we got an extra hour. Except in the case of Calvin and his sensitive body clock, it meant that I got an extra hour of energetic Calvin at 6am in the morning. It’s been tiring for me when he doesn’t nap in the afternoon, so I’ve been sleeping earlier and waking up earlier. I kinda miss the time when he takes a nap but it’s inevitable that he will outgrow naps.

It’s especially tiring when he wakes up early, then proceed to have tantrums when we had an argument. There was a small chunk of bread from his breakfast and he chewed off the PB and jelly from the top of it, leaving the remaining because he was full. Sometimes I wonder if I should just let him do things like that without passing comment, but I’m not sure if I really want to encourage him to do this. To me, it’s the equivalent of eating the chicken skin off all the chicken and not eating any of the meat. Or when he eats the skin of the spring roll without eating much of the filling and THEN continues to ask me for more spring roll (skins). Or when he ate mainly the toppings and crust of the homemade pizza. He did much better with the spring rolls after we talked about it. Chicken skin I’d sometimes only give him near the end of the meal and usually he is ok with eating his bread. I just let him be with the pizza. I guess giving him smaller portions and insisting he finishes everything before getting the next helping is a pretty good tactic.

Well, the other thing was when I told him that what he did was wrong, he started to kick me so that’s another different kettle of fish altogether. I had to hold him and sit him down for our talks again. And then he got another stern talk by me again when he started fiddling with his Lego while I was talking. I hate to keep lecturing at him but also feel it’s not right to let him do it without letting him know why it is wrong.

Part of it may be because he is feeling sick, though he didn’t look too sickly this morning. Now, at night, he developed a nasty sounding cough though and is whiny and demanding me to stay by his side. *sigh* looks like it’s one of those tough days. I guess eventually, I will look at these tough days fondly too even if it’s tiring and frustrating now.

It’s Not Too Late to Say Sorry

November 1, 2013

Recently, I must have been short of sleep, partly because Calvin has decided not to nap in the afternoon and I’ve lost my opportunity to get some rest too. I guess I should have gone to bed earlier but it’s easier said than done. The maladies of modern life! I feel like I have so much to get done that I sacrifice sleep. It’s certainly not just me and Johnny. In fact, Calvin is very resistant to sleeping as well. Maybe he feels left out when he has to sleep early. He’s certainly curious about what we do when he’s sleeping.

Back to the topic of sleep, I’ve always been the type where sleep cannot be compromised. If I don’t get long hours of uninterrupted sleep, I’ll fall asleep anywhere, even during class while copying out chinese characters onto my notebook. I remember looking up to see what it is, then looking down and closing my eyes and writing with my eyes closed. I was that desperate to rest. Or like today, while I was reading a book to Calvin, I dozed off and said some hilarious nonsense about “The cat said to the mouse, “please let me go””, when I was supposed to be reading about the things Bad Kitty did that was good.

Not only does my concentration lapse, my temper is short too and I feel terrible about it. Like when Calvin insisted that he wanted something complicated for lunch today after we spent an hour in school with him for the halloween parade. It was already lunchtime and I had some leftovers so I told him that’s what we are having. Then he started being stubborn and said he won’t eat any of it, which made me mad. So I told him he can go hungry for lunch if that is the case. At that point, I was feeling quite annoyed so I kept quiet and walked off just because I knew nothing good was going to come out of my mouth when I’m mad. I guess Calvin felt abandoned because he ran after me, sounding very upset. I did wait up for him and we were okay after that, but I still haven’t had a chance to apologize and explain to him why I do it. And I got upset with him one morning too when he told me he wanted to do a project on nemesis in little einstein – a jet that is a bully. In Calvin’s words we argued about it, but on hind sight maybe I didn’t listen carefully to what he was saying. In those situations, I wished I could channel some zen and been a cool mum but I guess it’s ok to be wrong. It might be a learning experience for him too when he sees that mummy makes mistakes but is willing to do the right thing to make amends.

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.

Schooling Systems – America vs Singapore?

October 17, 2013

In an effort to get me more connected to the world outside our home and Calvin’s preschool, I decided to join up to be a volunteer. Since I’m contemplating teaching tuition in the future as a part-time job, I decided to go for an assignment where I help out with reading in a classroom.

So that’s how I got to experience America’s elementary school for an hour a week. I was surprised by the amount of work the teacher has to deal with. There are kids moving in and out for different programs and classes that she has to keep track of. At the beginning of the literacy session, one kid went off to see xxx teacher, then halfway through our reading session, the kid I was helping had to go for another language lesson. And even for the kids in the classroom, they were split into 3 or 4 groups working on different things like sight words or independent reading, depending on their ability. And then there’s the kid who is still struggling with recognizing letters and letter sounds. I feel bad for him because he clearly felt discouraged by how difficult it was. In just one small classroom of 22 children, there are such a variety of competencies that the teacher needs to group them by what they need to work on.

In that sense, I see the logic of streaming in the Singapore system. instead of having one teacher split her attention 4 ways on 4 different groups. Isn’t it more efficient to gather all the children who are of the same ability and have one teacher dedicated to teaching them what they need to learn? I guess that is the theoretical ideal. In reality, it seems like there is a lack of upward mobility once you are streamed into the lower levels, which then leads to the whole crazy tutoring craze. I read on the kaisuparents forum that some parents even send their kids to two enrichment classes for English. So that’s like 3.5 hours of extra classes and that’s not including all the other classes he might have for Chinese, Math and Science(?).

The Finnish way I think is to let the students who have already mastered the material help the ones who have trouble. This sounds quite good in theory too as it helps encourage more social interaction. On the other hand, if teachers need training to be able to teach well, will students who are still maturing emotionally and socially be able to teach too?

I wonder how we would be like when Calvin is schooling age? Certainly I wish for him to be interested in learning for the sake of learning itself but that seems too naively idealistic. The fact is when you try hard but still end up doing worse than others, you’ll feel like your efforts didn’t pay off. Why would a child continue to put in effort? I think this is probably true of the children who are forced to endure the drudgery in the form of enrichment classes or repetitive assessment books. I heard some of the English classes get the children to memorize model essays and vocabulary etc to quickly improve their scores but ultimately it does not raise their standard of English very much because the most important part of learning  a language is to read. I don’t think I do my child any favors by making him spend time memorizing boring texts when he would have enjoyed a book during that same time. That’s why I’ve been working hard to find more Chinese books for Calvin to read especially since there are barely any chinese books in the library here. While I’m not hoping that he will be a wiz in Chinese, I hope he will learn enough to not have a painful experience learning Chinese if/ when we go back to Singapore. I saw some of the work that a colleague’s child is doing and I’m not sure Calvin will be able to handle that by the time he is primary one.

As it stands now, I hope never to enroll him in any enrichment classes. If any, it will probably be Chinese… but hopefully we would not have to resort to that.